Though you might blame intense period cravings on your hormones, those little guys also have the power to make you put down the Rocky Road, build more muscle during every workout, and rev your metabolism. So yeah, you might owe them an apology.
Here’s how to naturally boost your hormone levels and make weight loss so much easier:
1. Curb Cravings All Day Long
Commonly dubbed the “satiety” or “feel-full hormone,” leptin decreases your appetite. After it’s released from your body’s fat cells, the hormone acts on your brain’s hypothalamus, where it combats its nemesis ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In overweight and obese women, chronically high levels of the satiety hormone can lead to leptin resistance (the more fat you have, the more leptin your body will produce). But most women actually have low levels of the hormone, making you super hungry.
Your move: sleep. Sleep deprivation significantly slashes leptin levels, according to a 2012 review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That explains why people with sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, commonly battle with their weight, says Brian Quebbemann, M.D., a bariatric surgeon with the Chapman Medical Center in California and president of The N.E.W. Program. For optimum levels, research from Brigham Young University suggests that women get between 6.5 hours and 8.5 hours of sleep per night, and crash at the same time every day. So start working on that sleep schedule! (Start your weight-loss journey with Women’s Health’s Body Clock Diet.)
2. Build Fat-Burning Muscle
Women generally think of testosterone as a manly hormone, and ladies do have far less T than our hairy counterparts. But teeny levels of that hormone mean tiny weight-loss results.
Testosterone is actually one of your body’s primary muscle-building hormones. And the more muscle your have, the more calories you burn while doing literally nothing, says Quebbemann. What’s more, low levels of testosterone promote insulin resistance, encouraging your body to store calories as fat, says Pat Gilles, C.S.C.S., a Wisconsin-based trainer.
Your move: Pick up something heavy. Lifting heavy weights is the best way to promote the release of muscle-building, fat-burning testosterone, says Gilles. (By heavy, we mean enough resistance that you can only do three-to-four sets of six-to-10 reps with proper form). What’s more, performing compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and assisted pullups uses more muscle fibers and spurs optimum testosterone levels, he says.
3. Give Your Meals True Staying Power
Every time you eat, your intestines release cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide 1, and peptide YY (otherwise known as CCK, GLP-1, and PYY, stick with us). These hormones slow down the movement of food through your GI tract. The result of slow-moving food is that you literally stay full long after your meal, which prevents overeating, says Rumsey.
Your move: Eat protein, fat, and complex carbs at each meal. To increase your meal’s staying power, first focus on consuming at least 20 to 25 grams of protein at every meal. After all, research from the University of Cambridge shows that high-protein meals, breakfasts specifically, lead to the greatest increases in some of these satiating hormones. Then, make sure to add in vegetable fats and fiber from complex carbs, both of which will improve levels of the gastric-delaying hormones, she says. Think: a veggie and avocado omelet with a piece of whole-wheat toast.
4. Set Your Metabolism Straight
Your thyroid, a bat-shaped gland in your neck, produces various thyroid hormones including T3 and T4, which control how many calories you burn just sitting on your butt.
Generally, autoimmune diseases are the cause of big problems in your thyroid hormone levels. So if you suddenly gain weight, notice your hair thinning, or experience extreme fatigue, reach out to your doc, ASAP, says Steven Lamm, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and author of Fighting Fat. However, even healthy women can experience thyroid hormone dips that cause your metabolism to stall.
Your move: Eat more seafood. Since iodine deficiency can cause your thyroid to malfunction, try to eat more iodine-rich seafood, such as cod, tuna, and shrimp. Seaweed is also one of the best sources of iodine around, according to the National Institutes of Health. Just check your package’s label, as iodine content can vary widely between brands.
It’s time to get those hormones turnt, baby!