Supplemental Talk: Hormones and Food

Hormones 101

  • Hormones are chemical substances produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells and organisms
  • Many hormones are secreted by special glands, such as the thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland
  • Hormones are messengers that help regulate energy levels, mood, appetite and essential life functions
  • Hormones impact other hormones and systems (e.g., cortisol levels can impact the effectiveness of insulin). 

Hormones to Know and Understand 

Insulin (storage hormone/pancreas)

  • Insulin Sensitivity – one’s ability to efficiently get blood glucose/sugar into our body’s cells to feel energized and stable
  • Insulin Resistance – a negative state in the body during which blood sugar can’t efficiently get into your cells. It enhances the appetite, promotes weight gain and is correlated with risk for various chronic diseases.

Cortisol (stress hormone/adrenal glands)

  • Stress – those in chronic “fight” mode are putting the body at risk for insulin resistance, enhanced appetite, inflammation and increased visceral fat 
  • Circadian Rhythm – cortisol is naturally released during certain times of the day in order to match our natural 24-hour cycle that may be modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature.

Ghrelin (hunger hormone/stomach)

  • Hunger – Ghrelin levels increase roughly every four hours while getting to their lowest point approximately one hour after a meal has been consumed  
  • Hunger Scale – 1 = starving and 10 = so stuffed there is pain. Aim to eat around a 3 and stop around a 7 or 8.

Peptide YY (satiety hormone/small intestines)

  • Secretion – secreted in response to food consumption, more is secreted with protein and fat sources. This hormone is highest one to two hours after a full meal. 
  • Satiety – tells our body and brain that we are satisfied. Consider slowing down in order to give the body and brain time to register what is consumed.

Leptin (satiety and thermostat hormone/fat cells)

  • Leptin Sensitivity – One has the ability to stay satiated while having the ability to
    decrease food intake. Leptin is in sync with the brain to optimize food and body fat satisfaction.
  • Leptin Resistance – Leptin no longer has optimal capability to attach to leptin receptors in the brain. We may feel under-satisfied with our food as well as always feeling the need to eat. Typically in conjunction with insulin resistance.

Supportive Eating Behaviors 

  1. Break the fast: the body needs time to fast, recover, repair and sleep. Having breakfast on a daily basis is strongly encouraged.
  2. Eat your fats: fat is satisfying, digests and absorbs slowly and supports hormone regulation and production 
  3. Eat adequate protein: protein has been shown to better regulate hunger as well as provide essential amino acids necessary for mood, especially at breakfast 
  4. Eat plant food/fiber: feeds the healthy bacteria (microbiome) 
  5. Move after eating: can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels 
  6. Practice regular eating patterns: e.g., eating three meals and two snacks per day 
  7. Slow down: your body needs time to recognize nutrients as well as time to enjoy and savor the food 
  8. Use the hunger scale: scale of 1 through 10 (avoid the extremes of starving/famished as well as eating to the point of pain and strong discomfort)
  9. Avoid extreme dieting: restriction can lead to overeating and food fixation 
  10. Avoid rapid weight loss: give your body time to adjust and adapt to regular eating patterns versus rapidly losing weight.

Set Point Theory (Internal Thermostat) 

Recommended Reading

Food and Mood by Elizabeth Somer

Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

The Obesity Code by Jason Fung

Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnston