Protein & Hormones for Healthy Weight
Patients ask how to gain or lose weight regularly. It helps to look at the role of hormones. Timing meals plays major role as does protein intake. These along with mind-set are the four most important factors in maintaining a healthy weight throughout life.
Weight & Hormones
The body is very intelligent. When you eat less your body will adjust. You likely will have more energy because you’ll use less digesting. However, going into starvation mode will result in holding onto weight because of how our stress hormone, mainly cortisol, functions. In starvation mode, your sex hormones will also decline. Your period may stop and thyroid function may decrease. But if we’re talking about a small deficit to lose weight, there is a calculated and safe way to do this.
Having a realistic sense of how much food you need to fuel your life puts your physiology at ease. Eating at least one meal a day in a relaxed way sets your parasympathetic system up for success. Not snacking between meals can assist with blood sugar regulation. If you struggle with insulin resistance then choose high protein snacks between meals. Starting your day with 30-50 grams of protein is a great way to stabilize both cortisol and insulin while giving you a dose of dopamine to help you feel content.
There are 20 different amino acids and there is a different ratio in plant vs. animal proteins. You can target the total protein in a plant based diet but you will likely get three times the amount in carbohydrates. For example, six cups of quinoa or one chicken breast have the same amino acid profile. Supplementing with branch chain amino acids, like creatine, can be helpful but there are added benefits to having bone broth instead. Bone broth helps with tissue repair, skin health and healing the digestive tract.
Protein is satiating. People often struggle with eating enough in the earlier part of the day which will undoubtedly make cravings intense later. Eating breakfast and lunch means you won’t crash in the afternoon and evening. It’s much easier to eat well when you plan out your first two meals and focus on protein intake. As the day wears on choices can become more difficult and if you overeat in the evening you won’t sleep as well. Being tired makes healthy choices the next even harder.
What About Intermittent Fasting
Time restricted eating can work for some people as long as blood sugar and stress are well managed. Eating in a controlled 8 hour window and fasting the other 16 for example can help those with digestive issues. It gives the bowels a rest. Using intermittent fasting it to consistently rebound from a poor night of eating does not work. Focus instead on timing your nutrient dense foods earlier so you don’t over indulge late at night. For muscle building, it can be difficult to reach your food goals in only 8 hours so being flexible is ideal. On strength training days you may need a longer window. For cycling women the window may also need to shift. During the follicular phase we tend to build more muscle and during the luteal phase cravings can be stronger.
The other component to weight loss or gain is having the mindset to do it. It’s not about severe restriction or rigid rules. This creates all kinds of problems including self-esteem issues. Having some numbers to work with and tracking your protein for a few days makes it easier in the long run to create change. You are less likely to overeat or lose muscle mass because of how protein signals the brain. It helps you feel safe and calm. Calculate your daily protein need in grams by taking your lean body mass or your target weight in pounds. A person who is about 150 lbs can aim for 50 grams of protein at each meal. Those who plan to make changes over years and decades will succeed.