Which matters more, calories or hormones? Not an easy question, right?
Calories influence hormones, and hormones influence calories.
The truth is that both matter.
From my perspective, hormones matter more because when adequately 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 before they started the diet.
Switching to a hormone centered approach is not that hard. It just takes some understanding of 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.
HEC & FAT LOSS
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 a subjective measure of hormonal balance, as you’ll see below.
You can’t win a battle of wills against your physiology; therefore, willpower is a poor success strategy. 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:
Many factors and multiple hormones impact hunger. Low blood sugar can trigger hunger, which is why keeping blood sugar stable is an essential component of this.
Insulin also shuts off hunger in the brain, so having insulin resistance would mean increased hunger at the brain level.
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, etc.
Energy is related to many 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’s interesting to note that those with metabolic disturbances can often suffer from low blood sugar reactions even though blood sugar is within the standard laboratory range (often called pseudohypoglycemia).
This is why energy is so vital to measure in fat loss. Of the three biofeedback clues, it has the broadest scope. Suppose cravings and hunger are stable, but energy is not. In that case, 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 some other approaches to balance HEC.
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 (typically, these are foods with more water, fiber, and protein). If you have issues not feeling full from meals or quickly becoming hungry after a meal, these are your strategies.
For cravings, the first thing to do is to check lifestyle factors. Stress, sleep, and overexercising are the biggest culprits.
All of these factors can impact neurochemicals that stabilize brain chemistry.
Blood sugar regulation certainly plays a role as well, so strategies like preemptive eating and the Carbohydrate Tipping Point (the type of, timing of, and amount of carbohydrates that balance energy and cravings but do not hinder fat loss).
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).
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
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:
- Less than 5 for hunger and cravings
- Greater than 6 for energy.
Hunger and cravings above five and energy below six signal 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, but this isn’t wise, as it can throw you right out of your fat loss formula.