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How do hormones make you gain or lose weight?

Updated on June 11, 2007

Hormones are important to all of us, and while having effects on emotions, our sex-drives, our sleep, ect- they also have effects on our weight. Unfortunately I have found that there isn't much hormones can do tohelp us lose weight, it is only a lack of them that leads to this- but they are greatly accosiated with weight gain.

Human Hormones

Hormones and Weight Gain

Whenever we're angry, scared, anxious, or tense, the brain produces cortisol and adrenaline: hormones specifically designed to incite the "fight-or-flight" response that was once crucial to our survival. Adrenaline's main role is to make you alert and focused, with exceptional concentration and memory. Cortisol also helps increase heart and respiratory rates and getting your muscles tensed and ready.

These physiological processes were extremely important for our prehistoric ancestors living in the woods, however they're not as useful in a world where physical dangers are few. The trouble is, whenever we're stressed these hormones are released into your system. Though adrenaline levels plummet as the stress subsides, cortisol remains in the body much longer. Since, physiologically speaking, your body thinks you've run a mile or two or done something active in response to the 'threat', the hormone sends signals to refuel the body as soon as possible. It's a biological green light to indulge in foods loaded with carbs and fat that leads to weight gain in the chronically stressed. It's a vicious cycle of stress, followed by elevated cortisol, followed by that scone you don't need.

Weight Gain

What's even more worrisome is the type of weight gain this cycle encourages. Cortisol, along with adrenaline, travels to the body's fat cells, allowing them to open and release fat - what the body knows as fuel - into the bloodstream, to the liver and then to the muscles to use as energy.

Toxic Abdominal Weight

It has been found that fat cells deep inside the belly are especially good at attracting cortisol. Simply put, the cascade of responses caused by stress encourages the accumulation of excess 'stress fat', the layer of fat below the abdominal muscle. This creates "toxic weight" - or extra fat inside the abdomen - which is the only type of fat on the body associated with death. This type of fat has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Midlife Weight Gain

So how to break the vicious cycle of midlife weight gain and stress? Doctors suggest, among other things, a combination of healthy eating, regular exercise and stress management techniques.

Diet - Reduce Processed Foods

One of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is to eat foods that give you long-lasting energy, such as whole grains. Avoid foods that release sugar into the bloodstream too quickly, such as highly processed foods made with white, refined sugars and white starches - pasta, white rice, potatoes, and white bread. These increase the amount of insulin, another hormone that plays an important role in weight gain and appetite.


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