It's true that no hormonal issue, imbalance, or whatever, can negate a calorie deficit. But that doesn't mean hormones don't play a huge role in the fat loss process, and the proper regulation of the following is critical to how efficiently and easily you lose fat.
Any time we eat, our bodies produce insulin to help shuttle the nutrients to where we need them – either to our muscle cells or fat cells. And in a perfect world (for physique purposes), we'll eat so that insulin spikes around workouts to support performance, recovery, and growth. The rest of the time we'll try to keep these spikes minimized. However, most people are constantly stuffing their faces throughout the day, resulting in constant insulin production.
The problem is, the more insulin that gets produced, the less sensitive we become to its effects. That means the body becomes less effective at shuttling nutrients for workout recovery and muscle growth and more effective at storing excess fuel around your waistline.
Takeaway: Get your doctor to test your resting insulin levels. This will go a long way in helping you determine your best diet. Focus on timing your highest carbohydrate meals around your workouts to maximize post-exercise insulin sensitivity.
Leptin is produced in the fat cells and works by sending signals to your brain when you've stored enough fat and you don't need to eat any more food. The fatter you are, the more leptin you produce.
You'd think that having more body fat would make it easier to eat less food, but like trying to understand cryptocurrency, it's not that simple. Similar to what happens with insulin, you can become leptin resistant. This happens when too much fat produces too much leptin, and the leptin signals stop getting sent to your brain. When this happens, the body thinks it's starving and activates feelings of hunger, whether you need food or not.
Takeaway: The best way to control leptin is to stay lean in the first place. Sorry, no soft-touch tips here.
If you've ever been in a lean bulking phase and unintentionally skipped a meal, only to be met by ravenous hunger and a bellowing stomach, you've felt the effects of ghrelin.
Ghrelin is responsible for the physiological feelings of being hungry. It's produced in the stomach and it increases when your stomach is empty. Conversely, it decreases when your stomach is full. The less food you eat – like when you're trying to lose fat – the more ghrelin your body produces as a response.
Ghrelin can also be secreted at regular intervals when you're not dieting. This is one reason starting a diet like intermittent fasting can be brutal for the first few days. Once your hormones adapt to the change in your diet, things get better. But ghrelin doesn't care whether you're trying to lose fat or not – it's fired up and ready to devour anything you put in front of it.
Takeaway: Eat at regular intervals to control ghrelin. Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool in resetting and regaining control over hunger signals.
The stress you feel when you narrowly avoid a traffic accident is physiologically the same as the stress you feel when dieting, skipping out on sleep, arguing with your coworkers, and training hard. This stress causes the release of cortisol.
Chronically elevated cortisol makes it easy to break down muscle tissue, easier to accumulate body fat (specifically belly fat), and it suppresses levels of beneficial hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol are also associated with elevated levels of ghrelin, which is why your appetite increases in times of high stress.
Takeaway: Stress is inevitable, so you need to find ways to manage it. Sure, iron therapy is great, but take a daily walk, find a few minutes of quiet time in your car before leaving the gym, or adopt a meditation practice.
Your thyroid hormones, specifically triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), are primarily responsible for the regulation of your metabolism, as well as supporting fat loss and muscle growth.
Thyroid hormone levels are directly related to how we live our lives. Poor sleep, nutrition, and high stress can all reduce thyroid levels, as can chronic caloric restriction. This is one of the main reasons why, as you diet, your metabolic rate slows down.
Takeaway: Make sleep a priority and avoid long-term strict caloric deficits, which can bring your thyroid to a screeching halt.
Growth hormone (GH) is one of the most powerful hormones produced by your body. Growth hormone stimulates cellular repair and to a lesser extent, muscle growth. More importantly, levels of growth hormone promote the burning of stored body fat for energy while simultaneously limiting the storage of fatty acids.
Takeaway: Growth hormone naturally decreases as you age, which is why it's often considered "the fountain of youth" hormone. To maximize natural levels of growth hormone, sleep 7-9 hours.
Testosterone is primarily known for helping build muscle. It also affects sex drive, bone health, and bodyfat levels. The more testosterone you have, the leaner you tend to be. This is because it works to stop the body from creating fat cells. The less testosterone you have, the more at risk you are for obesity.
Like growth hormone, getting enough sleep can help naturally boost testosterone, as can intense strength training, a diet high in healthy fats, sex, and not being in a calorie deficit for too long.
Takeaway: Avoid long-term restrictive dieting, eat a diet of eat least 20% fats, train regularly, sleep 7-9 hours, and optimize your supplementation.
Estrogen acts as both a fat-storing and fat-burning hormone. Too high levels of estrogen, in both men and women, can lead to increased fat storage.
Takeaway: Overeating, excessive drinking, lack of sleep, and drug abuse can cause the body to produce too much estrogen, creating an imbalance.