Many of us think of the body as a calories-in vs. calories-out battlefield. Like a scale, a teeter-totter or a perfect equation, if you reduce the amount of calories consumed or increase the amount of calories burned, you’ll lose weight. We call this the calorie model of weight loss and it’s often the reason people go to the gym—to get on an elliptical trainer and “burn off those french fries I ate last night.” This way of thinking makes sense. It just doesn’t work very well. The fact is, the body is a more complicated piece of machinery than a simple scale. For example, in the body’s never-ending pursuit of homeostasis, if you reduce calorie intake, the body will automatically reduce calorie burn. You don’t have a choice. Unlike the United States Government, the body doesn’t like to spend what it does not have. Ergo, the body will quickly figure out a way to operate on fewer calories, completely defeating your eat-less, lose-more strategy. If you decide to really tip the scales by dramatically reducing calorie intake, your body will go berserk. First of all, you’ll become calorie-obsessed (translation: nobody will like you). You’ll become an angrier, slower version of yourself. You’ll get cold. You’ll have no sex drive. You may even lose your hair. Now, don’t get me wrong. A dramatic reduction in calorie intake will help you lose weight, but you’ll become unlikable, angry, sluggish, frigid, sexless, and bald. Nobody wants that. So if the calorie model is a bust, what’s a better way of thinking about weight-management? Enter hormones. Eighth grade biology class taught us that hormones are chemical messengers floating around inside of us, which help one part of the body talk to other parts of the body. What eighth grade biology didn’t drive home is that everything we do affects our hormones which, in turn, affect everything we do. Our happiness? Totally dependent upon our serotonin levels. Stress levels? Cortisol. Sex drive? Testosterone. Motivation? Dopamine. Even our likeability has everything to do with our hormones. Hormones are the master puppeteers of our bodies and minds—they control our mood, our sleep, our strength and, yes, our body fat. So if you want to get shredded, let’s stop worrying so damn much about calories and figure out how to optimize our “lean” hormones. NEXT: THE THREE MAJOR HORMONES AND HOW TO CONTROL THEM >> The truth is, you could spend years studying endocrinology and still have a lot to learn. Even if your only concern is body fat storage, there is a myriad of hormones that play into the equation. Plus, hormones are exceptionally interdependent; a change in one hormone will undoubtedly affect other hormone levels. But let’s focus on a few that we have a lot of control over: insulin, estrogen, and testosterone.
What it does: Produced by the pancreas, which regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism, it tells cells to absorb glucose from the blood and store it for use as energy. But… Too much insulin means we’re always in glucose-absorption/fat-storage mode. The best thing about insulin is that we have complete control over it (unless you have diabetes) because insulin levels are dependent upon the types of food we eat. Fat has no effect on insulin levels. Protein has little effect on insulin levels. Carbohydrates are the insulin commanders. Smarter people than me have figured all of this out and even catalogued how certain carbs affect insulin levels. We call this the insulin index. How to control it: Look up the insulin index of the foods you commonly eat and opt for foods that are lower. White bread is the standard and is given a score of 100. I’ll give you a hint. You shouldn’t be eating white bread.
What it does: Known as the “female sex hormone,” it controls a lot of the magic that is the female reproductive process. In addition to this, it encourages the body to store additional fat—especially around the hips, legs, and booty. But… Estrogen dominance is becoming a common problem, especially amongst men (yes, men) because of stuff in our environment that our body absorbs and mistakes for estrogen. We call these xenoestrogens. Soy is an estrogenic compound. Commercially raised beef, chicken and pork are common sources, as well as plastic water bottles, cosmetics (are you wearing makeup?), detergents, and even household cleaners. How to control it: Check out the website EWG.org to review your products and to evaluate your exposure level. Using more natural products, cleaners, and household goods will help decrease your xenoestrogens exposure. Also, if you don’t already, switch to organic and “hormone free” foods.
What it does: Known as the “male sex hormone,” it controls a lot of the awesomeness that is the male reproductive process. In addition to this, it encourages the body to increase muscle mass and bone density, decrease body fat stores, and improve energy levels. But… No but. As long as it’s produced naturally, too much testosterone shouldn’t be a concern. How to control it: Lift heavy weights, get plenty of sleep (eight hours a night is ideal), eat meat and consider taking a fish oil supplement. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Omega-3 fatty acid (the good stuff in fish oil) has been linked to an increase in lean mass and a decrease in body fat stores. This crash-course in endocrinology only touches on the basics. If you’re looking for more solid information on the profound relationship between hormones, exercise, nutrition and life, check out Charles Poliquin at charlespoliquin.com. In the meantime, control your insulin levels, decrease your estrogen, increase your testosterone and you’ll become one ripped USDA cut choice human being. Rob Sulaver is owner and operator of Bandana Training. For more smart info, check him out at BandanaTraining.com or follow him on Facebook or Twitter @BandanaTraining.