Which matters more, calories or hormones? Not an easy question right? Calories influence hormones and hormones influence calories.
The truth is: both matter.
From my perspective, hormones matter more because when properly controlled, the hormonal influences on metabolism reduce and even eliminate the compensatory eating reactions typical of a dieting metabolism. In a “calories first” approach, these compensatory reactions will get worse. This is the reason people are unable to stay on “eat less, exercise more” programs. Sixty-six percent of people, who use the popular calorie driven mantra of “eat less, exercise more,” end up fatter two years later than they were before they started the diet.
Switching to a hormone centered approach is really not that hard. It just takes some understanding about the metabolism. You may not be aware, but you have direct access to what is going on with your major metabolic hormones via biofeedback signals. Hunger, cravings, and energy levels are all dramatically influenced by hormones. By paying close attention to these sensations, along with measuring your fat loss results, you can begin to decipher your own metabolic formula.
Here is the process I use my fat loss clients: First I ask, “How have your hunger, energy, and cravings been (HEC)?” In other words, is your HEC in check? Next we measure fat loss results. When it comes to HEC they are either balanced or unbalanced. If any one of these measurements, say hunger, is creating an issue, then HEC is considered “unbalanced.” In that case, HEC is NOT in check. With fat loss attempts, we see either lost fat (FL), gained fat (FG), lost weight but not fat, which means muscle loss (WL), or no change (NC).
HEC communicates the sustainability of the nutrition approach and the degree to which willpower is an influencing factor. HEC in check, is really a subjective measure of hormonal balance as you will see below.
You can’t win a battle of wills against your physiology; therefore, willpower is a poor strategy for success. Weight loss relies on willpower. The “fat loss” approach seeks to remove willpower from the equation. A “diet” is not a lifestyle, particularly if you are relying on willpower.
There is a process to how we address these three biofeedback clues, and what they mean. Here is a little information on deciphering HEC:
Hunger is impacted by many factors and multiple hormones. Low blood sugar can trigger hunger, which is why keeping blood sugar stable is a very important component of this. Check out this video on controlling blood sugar. Insulin also shuts off hunger in the brain; so having insulin resistance, at the brain level, would mean increased hunger. Leptin, another hunger hormone, is released from fat tissue, and from which, the brain can also develop resistance. There are also gut hormones and peptides that suppress hunger in response to physical stimuli (i.e. stretching of the stomach) and nutrient content of the intestinal chyme (digesting food). These include glucose-dependant insulinotropic peptide (GIP), glucagon like peptide (GLP), PYY, CCK, ghrelin, and others.
Energy is related to a ton of factors, but one of the most potent factors is blood sugar balance. Low blood sugar levels can trigger hunger, cravings, and lack of motivation for exercise. It is interesting to note that, those with metabolic disturbances can often be suffering from low blood sugar reactions even though blood sugar is within the standard laboratory range (often called pseudohypoglycemia).
This is why energy is so important to measure in fat loss. Of the three biofeedback clues, it has the broadest scope. If cravings and hunger are stable but energy is not, this says an awful lot about other factors that might be involved, such as anemia, thyroid, adrenal issues and other factors.
Cravings are different from hunger. A craving is felt in the head, where hunger is felt in the gut. When you finish dinner and feel “stuffed” but just have to get dessert, that is a craving. Boredom eating is a craving, because it is a head response not a gut response. Cravings are very much associated with brain chemistry and stress hormones. This is why long-duration exercise and sleep deprivation can trigger cravings due to the cortisol reactions. Ghrelin, a hunger hormone, is implicated in cravings as well. In addition to the key lifestyle approaches in the metabolic feedback formula protocol, there are three major approaches I use to address cravings that work wonders.
Tips & Tricks
The single most effective clinical solution to HEC being out of check is a preemptive eating strategy. This is the first thing you should try when deciphering your metabolic formula, especially if all three sensations are out of balance. The downside is that frequent eating can keep HEC in check, but may also slow or block fat loss for some.
Hunger is often about slowing down digestion. This means foods with more water, fiber, and protein. If you are having issues not feeling full from meals, or quickly becoming hungry after a meal, these are your strategies. Remember, if you need the taste of something, like a sweet, despite being full, that is a craving. Se this article I wrote on the definitive guide to hunger.
For cravings, the first thing to do is to check lifestyle factors. Stress, sleep, and overexercising are the biggest culprits when it comes to cravings. All of these factors can impact neurochemicals that stabilize brain chemistry. Obviously, blood sugar regulation plays a role, so preemptive eating as well as the carbohydrate tipping point are key tools to experiment with when trying to find your metabolic formula. When you do need to go further to control cravings, there are five major strategies I use. Three of them have been blogged on, and lead you to a one-of-a-kind product: ME’s craving cocoa. Another great product is Crave Control. Finally, the blog on balancing brain chemistry can uncover some key insights.
Energy overlaps considerably with hunger and cravings, because blood sugar stabilization strongly impacts all three sensations. When only one of the three is an issue, there may be other areas that need to be considered. Anemia, thyroid, and adrenal issues are most notable.
Once per week you should assess whether HEC is in check or not. Rank each component of HEC on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being high and 1 being low. The optimal result should be a less than 5 for hunger and cravings, and greater than 6 for energy. Hunger and cravings above 5 and energy below 6 signals issues, and could mean you are relying too heavily on willpower. This is not a sustainable program, and you should work to adjust.
Along with this, measure your fat loss results. Did you gain fat (FG), lose fat (FL), lose weight (WL) or have no change (NC)? The goal is to achieve balanced HEC and FL. Achieving this result means you have found your unique formula, and you should continue on that course.
Consider what you have accomplished. By having HEC in check, you have eliminated willpower and you are losing fat. This is a sustainable place and makes long-term success far more likely. Many attempt to speed the process by taking their approach further. This is not wise, as it can throw you right out of your fat loss formula.
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