METABOLISM IS NOT a calculator, but more like a see-saw or thermostat. It adapts and reacts to everything you do and it does this through hormonal function.
When your metabolic hormones, including hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are out of balance, losing weight or maintaining weight loss is almost impossible.
And the sad thing is, the standard approach to dieting and exercise, known as the eat less and exercise more approach, leaves you more hormonally imbalanced as opposed to less. This is why they often fail.
But how do you know if your hormones are balanced or not? How do you know if your metabolism is working appropriately or getting ready to send you into a fat regaining frenzy?
You don’t need fancy blood labs to tell you. All you need to do is listen to your body.
Biofeedback tools give you a subjective indication of hormone balance.
The most powerful three I call HEC (pronounced heck), which include:
If your HEC is in check, you can be pretty sure your hormonal system is balanced correctly to ensure weight loss and metabolic stability.
Other biofeedback sensations include:
- digestive function
- menstrual function
- sexual function
- recovery from exercise
To really get a sense of what is going on with your body’s hormones, you need to understand what these sensations may indicate.
Here is how some of them breakdown.
There are direct associations here with hunger hormones Ghrelin (hour to hour hunger) and leptin (day to day hunger). Feelings of hunger are associated with these hormones but are also impacted by hormones regulating blood sugar balance.
High stress hormone levels can raise blood sugar and therefore suppress appetite, but this can also cause a secondary response of triggering insulin and insulin resistance (in some but not all people), which can increase hunger.
Hunger tells you a lot about how your body is registering the stress of your lifestyle. When the body perceives need, it will increase hunger through hunger hormones.
Hunger is not all biochemical though. It is also behavioral. If you eat six times daily, you will become hungry at those times of the day. It is important to distinguish between hormonal hunger and behavioral hunger.
Behavioral hunger is entrained to your habits and schedule. A change in those habits and schedule is often all that is needed to change this hunger response. When you move from eating six meals daily to three meals for example, you will spend a few days feeling hungry at the times you ate your other meals. If this is behavioral, this will go away after a few days.
We have people assess their hunger weekly by considering their average subjective hunger over the course of the week:
On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 low and 10 high, hunger should be less than 5.
If hunger is less than 5, it is unlikely to interfere with exercise and diet plans. But if it isn’t, it will be almost impossible to overcome with willpower alone.
You don’t need some fancy appetite suppressant to help regulate hunger. Manipulating your food is all that is required.
Protein is the most satiating of the macro-nutrients due to its impact on gut and hunger hormones that slow digestion down and turn off hunger signaling to the brain, respectively.
In studies on the hunger suppressing effects of food, meals with higher protein, water and fiber perform best.
Fat and starch definitely have a role to play here as well, but the their effects are more individualized. Be careful of combining these two as they can create a hedonistic response and increase hunger at that meal and cravings at future meals.
It is important to remember, hunger and cravings are different. Hunger is felt in the gut while cravings are felt in the head. It is important to distinguish between boredom eating and the desire for a taste of something. Those are more likely cravings.
Click to Tweet –> Hunger is felt in the gut while cravings are felt in the head.
Energy is impacted by a ton of things. But for most people with a normally functioning metabolism, energy is tied mainly to two things:
- Blood sugar balance
Blood sugar balance tells much about the activity and function of the adrenal hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, etc) and the pancreatic hormones (insulin, glucagon) which together regulate blood sugar tightly in the body.
Often those with unstable and unpredictable energy need to eat more frequently than others to keep their energy levels up and stable.
Energy is also related to thyroid hormone function. One of the most common complaints among hypothyroid patients is fatigue.
On a scale from 1 to 10, energy should be 6 or better.
It should also be tied to food and rest. If it’s low, this can signal trouble for the metabolism.
If you are dealing with chronic low energy you need to rule out:
- sleep apnea
- chronic infections
- adrenal fatigue/over-training syndrome
- blood sugar abnormalities
Stress hormones are notorious for causing cravings, and stress can deplete nutrients like magnesium that are used to make brain hormones. Low brain hormones can definitely lead to cravings.
If you suffer from insatiable cravings look to stress levels from life. Are you not sleeping? Are you over exercising? Is there a lot of stress in your personal or professional life. Stress management is critical when dealing with cravings.
Ghrelin, a hunger hormone that rises when we skip meals, can also trigger cravings which is why skipping meals is not a great idea if you want to be in control of cravings.
Remember, cravings are more in the head while hunger is more in the gut.
Your subjective craving level should be 5 on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 high and 1 low.
Other hormonal balance indicators:
Digestion – Is a parasympathetic dominant activity. The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that is turned on when we are in rest and digest mode.
Impaired digestive function has much to do with over-activity of the nervous system and may relate to dysfunctional stress hormone activity. It also can indicate you are eating something not suited to your metabolism. Watch for loose stools, constipation, gas & bloating, and adjust your diet accordingly.
Menstrual Function – Breast tenderness, moodiness, heavy bleeding, PMS, etc. may signal a progesterone deficiency relative to estrogen. Progesterone and estrogen are both lowered with stress, but progesterone seem to be impacted more. Watching your menstrual symptoms is a great way to assess metabolic balance. PMS and other menstural complaints may indicate imbalances in your levels of estrogen exposure.
Mood – Mood can be highly variable and associated with blood sugar balance since the brain requires a constant supply of glucose. Again this can be related to the balance between pancreatic and adrenal action and therefore give indications about insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, glucagon, etc.
It also gives indication about brain chemistry. Anxiety may signal overactive stimulating brain chemistry, and depression may mean overactive relaxing or deficient stimulating brain chemistry.
Sexual Function – Remember the acronym Point & Shoot. “P” for parasympathetic nervous function and “S” for sympathetic.
Arousal is about parasympathetic action, and therefore overactive stress hormone response can suppress this.
The ability to achieve orgasm is about sympathetic tone and therefore can clue into balance regarding the balance between the two. Testosterone also has much to do with libido and desire.
Exercise Recovery – Tells much about anabolic (HGH and testosterone) vs catabolic (cortisol) balance in the body. It also is directly related to nutrition status. So, being excessively sore for a long period of time should be a consideration.
Your biofeedback systems tell you much about hormonal balance.
Standard diets of eat less and exercise more often fail because they disrupt the delicate hormonal balance of the metabolism. This then causes compensatory reactions like increased hunger, unstable energy, increased cravings and other hormonal changes that suppress and disrupt normal body function.
By understanding the the signals your body is sending, you will be able to pinpoint what it going wrong and adjust accordingly.