Eat More And Balance Your Hormones
How I Went From Barely Eating 1200 Calories a Day to Eating Over 2000 calories without gaining weight.
My struggle to stay fit and lean didn't start till after I turned 40. Most of my life I was able to maintain my ideal weight by eating healthy, indulging occasionally, and consistent exercise. And I was able to easily drop a few pounds when I wanted. But it is much harder to lose weight as we get older, especially in your forties and beyond. When we gain weight our natural inclination is to decrease the amount of calories we eat. Decreasing your calorie intake far below what you should be eating may result in weight loss initially, but it may also cause serious damage to your hormones, specifically your leptin hormone.
Leptin, a hormone released from the fat cells located in adipose tissues, sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain. This particular hormone helps regulate and alter long-term food intake and energy expenditure, not just from one meal to the next. The primary design of leptin is to help the body maintain its weight.
Because it comes from fat cells, leptin amounts are directly connected to an individual’s amount of body fat. If the individual adds body fat, leptin levels will increase. If an individual lowers body fat percentages, the leptin will decrease as well.
Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone. It helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so the body does not trigger hunger responses when it does not need energy. However, when levels of the hormone fall, which happens when an individual loses weight, the lower levels can trigger huge increases in appetite and food cravings. This, in turn, can make weight loss more difficult.
Leptin regulates metabolism and appetite. It lets your brain know how much fat is in your body. As leptin levels rise, your appetite diminishes. As leptin levels fall, your appetite increases. It also regulates the rate of fat breakdown. As leptin levels rise, your metabolic rate increases. As leptin levels fall, your metabolism slows.
The body doesn’t always listen to the leptin message and leptin resistance occurs. The leptin signal isn’t being heard, so it cannot stimulate your metabolism or suppress your appetite. Leptin resistance can make losing weight very difficult if not impossible.
As a result of eating way less (or eating way more) than what your body requires, this will cause damage to the leptin hormone and make it virtually impossible to lose weight and sustain weight loss long term. Most women will gain weight due to hormone imbalance from a variety of factors. They will then eat less, too little in fact, and cause damage to the leptin hormone which will result in cravings and feeling hungrier creating a vicious cycle.
The good news is you can balance your hormones with proper nutrition, a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, reducing your stress levels and getting enough exercise that includes weight training.
When I gained weight in my early 40's I immediately cut my calories. I also stopped eating carbs because I thought by doing so would help me lose weight. But in fact it did the exact opposite. I was eating less and gaining more weight. My weight gain was not a matter of will or discipline, but a hormonal imbalance. While many still think that losing weight is simply about willpower, eating less and exercising more, the latest research indicates the problem is far more complex, involving many factors.
When I switched to a whole food plant based diet my primary goal was to lose weight. But it also taught me to appreciate and love whole plant foods. I stopped eating high protein animal foods, which contain little to no nutritional value or fiber. I started incorporating more complex carbohydrates and once I learned how to balance my carb intake and fill my plate with mostly plants, the weight I was gaining (mostly in my hips) started to fall off.
This did not happen overnight, in fact it took me a year to figure out how many carbs my body could handle. But as I started to eat more calorie dense food and lose the weight, I was hesitant to increase calories because I was afraid I would gain the weight back.
When Covid hit I was home and working out more often (thanks to our small but mighty home gym). I went from eating 1 - 2 meals a day to eating 5 meals a day. And from eating 1200 calories a day to 1500 calories a day. And I did not gain a pound.
My body was at a healthy place; my metabolism was working; my weight training was helping my muscles burn fat; and my low fat diet that included healthy carbs was keeping me fueled. My hormones were finally in balance.
Later, when I started increasing weights at the gym I started counting my macros to make sure I was getting enough protein to fuel my workouts and build more muscle. I steadily increased my food intake to over 2000 calories a day and still, no weight gain. These days I wake up hungry, fuel my hunger with plant based foods and never feel deprived. And because my hormones are balanced I am able to dine out and have occasional "cheat meals" and not worry about gaining weight as long as I am consistent with my diet and exercise routine. I can occasionally eat pizza, burgers, french fires, and any of the foods I enjoy with zero guilt. I am now eating appropriately for my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) at 2000 calories a day.
So figure out what your minimum daily calories should be by calculating your TDEE (click here for link to calculator) based on your weight, height and activity level. A good rule of thumb to lose weight is start with 100 - 200 calories below your TDEE number which will put you at a calorie deficit. If you are struggling with losing weight and are way below your TDEE you'll need to gradually increase your calories by eating more nutrient dense foods. This will help you to better balance your hormones and improve your metabolism. Combined with a good exercise routine this will set you on the road to becoming a fat burning machine!