TCC Science of Fat Loss Series Part 6 – Hormonal Control of Fat, Appetite and Hunger

Belly FatIn the last couple of posts, we looked at what happens after a meal and between meals purely from a substrate level response. Which somewhat contrasts what we learned in the first few parts, where we discussed what was happening from a cellular level and the enzymes that control fat being under hormonal control.

Remember from very early on in the series how we looked at the enzymes LPL (fat storage enzyme) and HSL (fat releasing enzyme). We learned these enzymes are mainly regulated under hormonal control. We also learned that insulin not only stimulates LPL but also inhibits HSL to promote fat storage. The main antagonist to this process being adrenalin.

Now we get to the exciting part of the series. The part where we start filling in the gaps. Now we start looking at what you eat and what you do and how it influences the hormonal environment as well. And how these hormones affect fat loss – or gain – at the cellular level. We are now moving on from the substrate level of control, to now also include the metabolic, enzymatic and hormonal control.

This is definitely NOT a comprehensive list. But it does serve to highlight some of the main players involved in this whole process. This instalment we are introduced to the main players, what their role is. In the next two posts we will categorise them in to which ones promote fat storage and which ones promote fat loss.

I will try and keep things as simple as possible. You don’t have to remember all the details, just as long as you understand the basic principles. Remember, hormones are messenger molecules, they tell your body to do things. These hormones operate simply to signal your body for a reaction to something that has taken or is taking place. Most of these are usually under strict regulatory control. Any thing too high or too low is often undesirable and can have consequences to your health. Also be aware, these hormones usually have an “opposing” hormone, and / or they work with others in different feedback loops. That levels start to rise or drop too far, this usually signals for something else to take place. Some hormones also affect the output of others as you will see.

Hormones that control Appetite and Metabolism:

Insulin – released by your pancreas in response to blood glucose and parasympathetic nervous system response. It is a storage hormone that promotes fat storage and prevents fat loss. This is the main regulator of your fat cell influencing not only fat storage but also inhibiting fat loss.

Grehlin – as you eat and your stomach gets full, your stomach starts releasing this hormone to tell your brain you are full. Think of Grehlin as your short term control of your appetite. If your stomach feels full, you are not hungry. This is one reason why eating high volume, nutrient dense, less energy dense foods help you feel fuller, without all the “calories”.

Leptin – remember how we learned that your fat cells act like an endocrine organ? Well this little baby is one of those hormones your fat cells release that has important implications in your fat loss efforts. Leptin is release by your fat cells and “talks” to your brain. In an oversimplified version, think of Grehlin as controlling short term appetite, but Leptin controlling your appetite over the long haul. The bigger your fat cells get, the more leptin they release. This Leptin tells your brain you don’t need to eat as much, in a sense it is telling you your fat cells are full. Leptin is a good way for your body to naturally suppress its appetite. Likewise, if you lose a whole bunch of body fat, your fat cells start to get “hungry” and they will tell your brain you need to eat more to fill them back up.

Leptin not only controls appetite, but it also has a direct effect on your metabolism and immune system as well. One of the biggest issues with people who are overweight is they start to become resistant to leptin.

Important*** You can become resistant to some of these hormones if they are pumped out in your system all the time. We have already discussed Insulin resistance. Quite often, insulin resistance will go hand in hand with leptin resistance. This means that you will have a high output of insulin promoting fat storage, but, even though more leptin is getting pumped out of your fat cells, your brain doesn’t listen any more. So you don’t feel full!!! So you keep on eating. And you get fatter…And the process goes on. This is one of the reasons why it is easier for fat people to get fatter. They don’t have the same off switch any more. This is also one of the ways in which your hormonal environment can influence your behaviour. We are quick to tell people just to “eat less and move more”, but we fail to give respect to the internal hormonal environment also influencing their metabolism and their behaviour.

We are quick to point to things such as testosterone for making people “angry” but when it comes to people that are overweight it’s all of a sudden their “will power” that’s lacking.

One thing I will say though, behaviour influences this internal environment, which then influences behaviour, which influences…and so on. It comes back to that age old adage you have to control the things you have control over.

Thyroid hormones T3 and T4 – Most people have heard of it. The hormones released by your thyroid are powerful regulators of your metabolism. T3 is the active form, with T4 having to be converted at the target cell in order to be used. Either way, this little sucker is responsible for how your body regulates your energy output.

Sex Hormones:

Oestrogen – typically known as the “female” hormone, but it is present in both males and females. As well as influencing a whole host of body processes, we are mainly concerned with the fact it increases fat storage.

Testosterone – typically known as the “male” hormone, but again, is present in both males and females. It promotes fat loss and an increase in muscle mass.

Stress Hormones:

One thing to note here is there is a difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress, say from exercise, is good. Chronic, or long term, stress is bad. Both of following hormones are released by your adrenal glands located above your kidneys.

Adrenalin – the “short term” stress hormone. This gets released during your “fight or flight” response and signals your body to release glucose and fatty acids. This is the main antagonise to insulin and promotes fat being released. This is one of the reasons why High Intensity Interval Training has been found to be such an effective means of stripping body fat over steady state cardio. Steady state cardio doesn’t have the same effect on adrenalin output.

Cortisol – the “chronic” stress hormone. I’ve written a little about cortisol and its effects in previous posts. More is written about it below. Suffice it to say, this one isn’t one you DON’T want chronically elevated in your system. It promotes fat storage and muscle loss over the long haul.

Sleep Hormones:

Growth Hormone – this powerful hormone affects muscle mass and fat loss. It gets a spike about an hour or so after you fall asleep, so sleep quality is important. It is also affected by protein / amino acid intake, blood glucose levels and also the type and intensity of exercise you do.

Serotonin – suppresses appetite, regulates mood, and influences sleep quality. You know how someone feels better and can sleep better after a few carbs? This is one of the reasons. One of the biggest complaints you hear about people preparing for a comp is they are cranky and they don’t sleep very well. This is one of the reasons.

Melatonin – another sleep hormone that affects the output of some of the other hormones listed here. One of the reasons why a lack of sleep can also affect Thyroid output.

One of the most important things to note is that most of these hormones do NOT act in isolation. They form complex interactions with one or more systems simultaneously. A dysfunction in one system will most likely cause a dysfunction in another. One example of this is Cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol work to actually inhibit your Thyroid output which works to DECREASE metabolism. Cortisol also increases insulin resistance to again promote fat storage. When cortisol levels are elevated it will also disrupt sleep cycles which in turn will affect Growth Hormone output. Cortisol also negatively impacts testosterone levels and the immune system. It’s no wonder why cortisol is the buzz word in the health and wellness industry at the moment.

The Good News:

In an effort to optimise certain systems, you will inadvertently optimise a number of them at the same time. This is the great thing about the body. When you eat the right amount of foods, of the right composition and the right quality at the right times, etc. You will optimise all of these systems on multiple levels.

The Bad News:

If you want to screw up your system completely, the reverse is also true. As noted above, if you are under chronic stress (sometimes there are times in your life when this can’t be avoided) it will have a knock on effect on multiple systems of regulation. This can put the whole system in to turmoil.

In the next couple of posts we will explore the optimal environment to promote fat loss and also the optimal environment for fat storage. The obvious point is to want to optimise the fat loss environment and inhibit the fat storage one as much as possible.

Take a look at all of the above hormones that affect fat loss and fat storage. And tell me honestly how many of them are directly influenced by the amount of “calories” you ingest?

But it still comes back to energy in vs energy out right? It’s still something to this day I question myself over and over again. And the short answer is yes. And no.

One thing to keep in mind though, is all of this does happen in conjunction with the type and amount of substrate involved!!!!

The amount of “calories” in doesn’t account for where it goes and what it’s used for. Whether this energy in is used up, lost as heat, stored for later, stored as potential energy, or stored as a structural organ / muscle, etc. It doesn’t account for other factors such as Thermic Effect of Feeding (see some previous Courage Corner posts for this), and so on.

There are so many factors to account for!!!!

But again, it will all come back to just a few key things well in order to optimise ALL of them.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! Even just from that list above, what do you think you can influence by diet? By training? By sleep patterns? By stress management? By the end you will find there are really just 3 key things (well, maybe 4, or more…) you need to do well to optimise this whole scenario on every possible level.

How many diets do you know of or can you list for me that even in the past couple of years you have heard of that really only try and focus on ONE of these factors???

– IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) – Looks purely at the calorie intake as being the most important factor. In it’s proper form has some great merit. At worst it’s misinterpreted and used as an excuse to eat pop tarts and nutella.

– Intermittent Fasting – looks to reproduce the fasting state as the key to fat loss. Works on a couple of different levels, but again, falls short on a couple of factors.

– Low Carb / Insulin control – apparently you can just eliminate carbs to eliminate insulin and then eat all the butter and lard you like and not get fat…

– Adrenal fatigue whatever – don’t get me going again…

One of the latest ones seems to be all about the Thyroid, or carrots and ice cream or something…

And don’t even get me started on everything from the past 20 years. There’ll be some people in the industry now who won’t even remember what Atkins means. Or they think that Paleo means low carb.

THE INDUSTRY IS F#CKIN NUTS!!! It always has been. It always will be. When it comes to fat loss, people want the latest thing. People want a quick fix. People want a pill. People want something easy. What they don’t realise, is, just like every informercial. All that happens is some old piece of SH!T gets reworked and repackaged in to some new form of SH!T that we think somehow is going to revolutionise the industry.

Just like Crossfit apparently did by reinventing the exercise wheel. But hey, at least they gave us the kipping chin up and a way to murder a KB swing. Enjoy your F45 or whatever it is the kids are in to these days, there’ll be something new in 6 months.

I better stop now before I really get going…

Coming Up in Part 7 – The Ultimate Fat Storage Environment

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.