Losing, maintaining or gaining weight is often boiled down to calories in vs calories out. The idea that your body has a certain amount of energy it requires and as long as you are in deficit, equal or surplus respectively, you can control it.
Then how come people find it so challenging sometimes to achieve their results? Hormones.
Most commonly heard about hormones include ghrelin (hunger hormone), cortisol (primary stress hormone), insulin (promotes energy use) and leptin (controls energy expenditure long term).
Several facets affect your hormones including exercise, meal composition/macronutrients, meal frequency, sleep and stress. So i want to put simple terms down below and I’ll attach the research papers at the bottom for your own digestion.
I want to start with the effects of exercise on your hormones because it may seem like all exercise has an equal response, you’ll find it doesn’t.
Short, intense bouts of resistance/hypertrophy training has shown to have minimal or no insulin response compared to longer bouts of low intensity or moderate endurance (cardio).
What does that mean? It means you are less likely to feel excessively hungry after shorter more intense training sessions.
There is one exception to the above rule and that is when a protein+carbohydrate supplement is consumed beforehand. Insulin will rise increasing your energy expenditure and also hunger levels post training.
When it comes to planning out your meals, understanding the macronutrients can help you with sustaining you your satiety or sense of being full if you’re trying to control your calorie intake.
Carbs are often demonised in favour of higher fat diets which shouldn’t always be the case. Higher fat caloric meals lead to less ghrelin/hunger suppression than higher carb caloric meals.
However, when several meal-composition studies are compiled the number one factor in maintaining a healthy body weight and controlling appetite more easily is consistent protein across the meals/days. Generally aiming for approx 1gm/lb of bodyweight.
Which leads us to meal frequency.
In short, having more frequent meals throughout the day (4-6 meals) with an equal protein serving in each, leads to a more steady production of insulin, less cortisol and more suppression of ghrelin.
Basically, you are a happier, more satisfied human when you spread the meals out a little.
Sleep plays probably the largest role managing hunger more so than weight itself. We know 8 hours is important but why?
With a healthy amount of sleep the body can perform it’s functions at full capacity and thus regulates insulin, ghrelin, leptin and reduces it’s cortisol production.
Every found yourself craving all the food after a big night with little sleep, or when you are out late finding the biggest snack you can…? It’s because your body is trying to compensate for the hormone changes that are occurring.
In short, get sleep. It’s crazy important.
Psychological stress plays a contributing part in managing weight as the stress hormone cortisol can be associated with production of visceral fat (around organs) when it is chronic and this can lead to other health issues.
Finding quality coping mechanisms (that don’t revolve around food) for major stress points in your life can lead to maintaining a healthy body weight and healthy relationship with food.
So with all these factors around hormones then how can we say that calories in vs calories out is the best way to manage body weight?
What changes in these hormones do is change the body’s basal metabolic rate. The energy requirement of your body. So if hormones are affecting your BMR then your cals in/out have to change to accommodate… so calories are still the #1 factor in controlling a healthy body weight.
I want to reinforce that if you have had trouble regarding weight and you’ve stuck to a controlled meal plan 100% then it could be worthwhile checking in on your hormones with your doctor or registered dietitian to come up with a plan moving forward.
What I’ve shared above comes nowhere near close to explaining in full exact detail the research that has been done, if you’d like to learn more, make sure to check out the full combined studies and it’s 176 referenced research papers here.