If you've always struggled to lose weight and keep it off, you may have a "hormonal clog," which causes your setpoint to remain elevated.
In a nutshell, setpoint refers to the level of stored fat that your body works to maintain by regulating your appetite and metabolism through your hormones, genes, and brain, regardless of the number of calories you consume or burn off through exercise.
You see, there's an invisible force inside you conspiring to keep the pounds on, and it has nothing to do with calories, points, mail-order meals, cardiovascular exercise, or any of the conventional diet nonsense you've been fed — which has failed you repeatedly for the majority of your life.
Your setpoint is what is truly holding you back — and what can permanently set you free. The good news is that you have some control over it. And when you keep it under control, you stay naturally thin.
How Hormones Influence Your Setpoint Weight
You can't see or hear it, but there's a lot of chatter going on inside you all the time. Hormones are chemical messengers that your gut, organs, muscle tissue, and fat tissue use to communicate with your nervous system and brain. They "discuss" things like how much fuel they believe you need to maintain your weight at your setpoint. If they believe you are at risk of losing weight, they send chemical messages that increase your appetite and cravings while decreasing your daily calorie burn.
This conversation goes well when you eat high-quality calories. Fat-burning hormones are activated by higher-quality calories. The appropriate hormones are used, and the desired message is communicated: "Burn body fat."
When you consume low-quality, processed calories, however, the phone lines break down. Your body doesn't know how much fuel you require. Hormones become "dysregulated," and your body craves more food and stores calories because it is unsure what is going on and prefers to err on the side of caution rather than starvation.
This "hormonal clog" raises your setpoint, causing a 24/7/365 increase in appetite and cravings as well as a decrease in energy and calorie burn. More calories in and fewer calories out is what nearly every cell in your body tells you to do in order to survive. Even if you grit your teeth and stick to your starvation diet and daily jog, this hormonal clog will cause your body to store more of the calories you consume as fat while burning fewer during exercise. In other words, you "try harder" as instructed by the "boot camp" instructor, but basic human biology causes your body to fight back by storing more and burning less.
What Hormones Influence My Setpoint?
Hormones, as you can see, play a significant role in regulating your setpoint. You, fortunately, are not at their mercy. You can do a lot to influence your hormones and how they influence calories in, calories out, and setpoint. All you need to know is what they are and how they work. There are several major hormones that influence your setpoint and how efficiently your body burns fat.
Your fat cells produce a hormone called leptin, which alerts your brain when you've eaten enough. More leptin is secreted as fat stores increase, traveling to the brain with the message, "Your levels of body fat are rising, so I'm going to make you feel full and fidgety so you unconsciously 'eat less and exercise more." When your body's fat levels drop, so do your leptin levels, and your brain receives a strong hormonal signal to eat more and burn less. Leptin, not willpower, motivates you to eat and move.
Please understand before you are duped by internet ads for leptin supplements: Overweight people already have a lot of leptin (remember, it's secreted in proportion to your body fat). The problem is that your setpoint rises when you have "leptin resistance," which occurs when the hormone is unable to send its message. Increasing leptin levels to treat an elevated setpoint is therefore as effective as adding water to a fish tank with no bottom.
You can ensure that leptin does its job by repairing the metabolic breakdowns that cause "leptin resistance." Guess what aggravates metabolic breakdowns? Traditional low-calorie, high-carbohydrate starvation diets.
This hormone is all about hunger. Remember that when you restrict your calorie intake and undereat, your body revolts. It begins to defend a higher setpoint. Your brain signals an increase in ghrelin as part of this defense to get you to eat more. Ghrelin levels rise on traditional starvation diets. Another major reason why traditional diets have failed you is because of this. They only make you hungrier and tell you to eat the foods that caused the hormonal clog to begin with! Again, there is nothing "wrong" with "you." Rather, ghrelin is out of balance, and you'll be taking the necessary steps to restore it.
We can't discuss fat-burning hormones without mentioning insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. It is necessary to open "doors" to the cells in order for glucose to enter and be burned for fuel. Insulin receptors on the cell's surface serve as these doors. Insulin's function is to transport glucose into cells via these receptors.
When you eat sugars and starches, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is absorbed into your bloodstream. Your insulin levels rise automatically in order to transport glucose into cells.
When you consume an excessive amount of sugary, starchy, and highly processed foods, your glucose levels remain elevated for a longer period of time than is necessary. More insulin is produced, and it must work overtime. When insulin levels are high all the time, insulin receptors on cells become accustomed to it and stop recognizing it, a condition known as insulin resistance. Consider this a case of stuck doors; they (the cell receptors) simply will not open.
Insulin must still remove glucose from the bloodstream, so when most of the cells in the body refuse to "open up" to it, the insulin has no choice but to take the glucose somewhere else: to your fat cells. More energy will always be accepted by fat cells for storage. This sets off a vicious cycle of high insulin, high blood-glucose levels, and, of course, increased fat storage. If this cycle continues long enough, all of your body's nonfat cells will scream, "We are starving!" As a result, the body responds by raising its setpoint. Obesity, insulin resistance, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and diabetes are all on the rise as a result of this trend. As a result, controlling insulin levels is critical not only for preventing diabetes, but also for maintaining a healthy, low setpoint and weight.
This hormone is commonly regarded as a male hormone, but both men and women require adequate testosterone levels to maintain a low setpoint. Most adult women have testosterone levels comparable to a 10-year-old boy. That is one of the reasons why it is more difficult for women to burn fat and build muscle than it is for men. Low testosterone levels promote fat storage and inflammation. Excess testosterone in women, particularly near menopause, is linked to insulin resistance and belly fat. You can see why having this hormone in the proper balance is critical.
In both men and women, eating a lot of refined carbohydrates and soy foods lowers testosterone and raises setpoint. Nutrient-dense proteins and whole-food fats, as well as "eccentric" exercise, on the other hand, optimize testosterone, lowering your setpoint.
Estrogen, like testosterone, is present in both men and women, though it is more prevalent in women. However, a woman's estrogen levels begin to fall a few years before menopause, causing her body to store fat. The good news is that the same nutrition and lifestyle factors that optimize testosterone levels to favor a lower setpoint also help women and men achieve a better balance of estrogen.
Hormones of Stress
Stress hormones, which are secreted by the adrenal glands, play a role in weight and hunger signals. Cortisol is one of the most influential on setpoint and weight.
One of cortisol's many functions is to stimulate the release of insulin, which allows glucose into cells and provides energy to deal with short-term stress. This is part of your body's stress-response response. If a tiger starts chasing you (a common type of short-term stress that humans have faced for the majority of our history), you need fuel quickly. The crisis then ends, the glucose is burned off, and the body's systems gradually return to normal.
This is a perfectly normal and life-saving response from your body. The problem is that your body reacts the same way to all stresses. From your body's perspective, if you're having marital problems, financial concerns, job stress, starvation, or worry, guilt, and shame about your weight, it's all "a tiger is chasing you right now."
This is bad because chronic sources of stress cause your body to continue producing cortisol as if you were always on the verge of becoming a tiger snack. Because cortisol stimulates the release of insulin, that hormone remains elevated as well, which is all sorts of bad given what you've just learned about insulin.
But hold on, there's more. Insulin resistance caused by cortisol chaos sends feedback to the brain that cells aren't getting enough glucose, which leads to cravings for more glucose. Can you guess where you'll find the most glucose? Starches and sugar What makes losing weight nearly impossible? Cravings for sugar and starch are intense. Also, you now understand why, when you are stressed, the comfort food you crave is always sugar and starch. Why? Because your brain "believes" it requires glucose to keep a tiger from tearing you in half, you end up tearing a bag of potato chips in half for your own survival.
In short, chronically elevated cortisol causes insulin resistance, sugar and starch cravings, even more insulin, even more intense cravings, an elevated setpoint, weight gain, prediabetes, and then type 2 diabetes.
Restrictive, starvation-style dieting slows thyroid and metabolism function, raising your setpoint. The thyroid gland produces two types of thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4), which is inactive, and triiodothyronine, which is active (T3). T4 is transported through the blood and converted to active T3 once it reaches each cell.
Both hormones control your metabolism, which affects your setpoint as well as your heart, brain, digestion, and other bodily systems. So if your thyroid isn't working properly, it can have an impact on almost every aspect of your health.
The most common issue is an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, in which thyroid hormone levels are less than optimal. Fatigue, feeling cold, dry skin, weight gain (about 5 to 20 pounds), insulin resistance, depression, hair loss, and memory problems are among the most common symptoms. Women are more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism, which is caused by fluctuating hormones during various life stages, including puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and postmenopause.
Other Hormones with a Setpoint
Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone that regulates satiety. Overeating, according to research, can make cell receptors less sensitive to CCK. This sets off a vicious cycle: the more low-quality food you consume, the less your body recognizes the signal to slow down.
Another hormone that influences setpoint is adiponectin. This hormone is secreted by fat cells and aids in blood sugar regulation and fat burning. It reverses insulin resistance when combined with leptin. When you lower your setpoint, replace starches and sweets with nonstarchy vegetables and nutrient-dense proteins, and improve your fitness, your levels will stabilize.