There once was a time when doctors educated their patients about how to lose weight by telling them to “eat less and exercise more”. Now, most researchers realize that the advice is a bit too simplistic to effectively deal with the complicated problem of being overweight or obese. Things like hormones and genetics also play a big role in weight issues. But, while you can’t do anything about the genes you were born with, there are ways to influence, through your diet, the levels of several hormones which have been linked to weight gain.
1. Aim for a High-Fiber, Low-Sugar Diet
Insulin is one of the hormones which has been linked to weight gain, since it encourages cells to take the sugar you eat and store it in your body as fat. This begins a vicious cycle: as you put on weight, your body requires more insulin to bring sugar into the cells, which in turn encourages you to put on weight. Eventually, your body is unlikely to be able to keep up with the insulin needs of your body – and this is where Type 2 diabetes can begin.
A low-sugar, high-fiber diet, however, is a good choice to control insulin levels naturally: fiber will break down slowly in the body and help to avoid the spikes in blood sugar which also spike up insulin levels. Fiber also helps improve digestion and avoid hunger pains, making it easier to lose weight.
2. Eat Protein Throughout the Day
While you don’t have to pile on the steaks and pork chops with every single meal, it is a good idea to eat a little protein throughout the day. This doesn’t always have to be animal-based foods like meat, eggs, or dairy but can also include nuts and seeds and legumes (beans, lentils or peas).
Why is the protein so important? It has been shown that a diet with adequate amounts of protein helps to regulate a hormone called Ghrelin. Most people have probably never heard of this hormone, but it is incredibly important in regards to weight and is called the “hunger hormone”: high levels of it in your system will send “feed me now” signals to your brain, making it easy to overeat. The good news is that at least one study by the American Diabetes Association found that, at least in lab rats, protein could help suppress this hormone and shut off the hunger signals it sends.
3. Choose Your Dairy Wisely
Unless you are lactose intolerant or have a specific allergy to milk, dairy products as such aren’t bad for you. But you need to choose those products wisely. Many large dairy owners in the industry have been using artificial growth hormones in their cows for years to stimulate the production of milk and meat and while this may increase profits, the hormones in this milk – which were not designed for humans – has been linked to weight gain and the early onset of puberty for those who use them regularly.
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So when picking out milk, yogurt or other items in the dairy case, choose those that are organic and/or labeled as “hormone free” so that you can enjoy these items without worrying about the long-term effects they could be having on your weight.
4. Be Careful of Grains
Grains – especially whole grains – aren’t necessarily bad for everyone. However, if you have a problem with sluggish thyroid hormones, you might want to seriously cut down on them. Several studies have found that a grain-rich diet can have the effect of slowing down the thyroid even further.
This is a problem, since thyroid hormones are some of the most important players in the weight loss game: they help to regular the metabolism, the process by which our body breaks down calories and fat and turns them into energy. The lower the thyroid levels, the slower your metabolism – and the harder it will be to lose weight.
5. Skip the Soy Products
Soy is tricky: while it is a low-fat, low-calorie, plant-based source of protein, it also contains chemicals called phytoestrogens that can block the utilization of real estrogen in the body. When estrogen levels are optimal, this optimizes the levels of a hormone called leptin. Leptin is incredibly important in regards to weight, because it regulates satiety, for the feeling of fullness. When leptin levels are normal, the body feels satisfied when it eats rather than being constantly hungry.
So, due to its effect on estrogen and leptin levels, it is best to avoid the soy altogether if you are trying to lose weight.
6. Cut Down on Caffeine
Coffee and tea are not as demonized as they used to be, since researchers have found that these drinks are also rich in antioxidants that can provide the body with a wide array of health benefits. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you might want to consider seriously watching your caffeine intake.
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Why? Caffeine can raise the levels of cortisol, the now-infamous hormone that rises in response to stress and signals to your body that it is time to pack on the fat, especially in the abdominal area, where it does the most harm. So if you are dieting, consider keeping the caffeine intake to a minimum and replace coffees and teas with their decaf equivalents or simply drink more water and other non-caffeinated beverages.
These dietary changes are not necessarily about calorie intake – they are more about using the components of the food you eat to help regulate – naturally – the hormones that play a role in weight gain. If you eat wisely, you can turn those hormonal changes to your own advantage and make it easier to achieve your weight loss goals.