Why Fat Loss Has Nothing to Do With Calories
Introducing essential hormones that play critical roles in burning fat in simple terms
I am inspired to write this story after receiving substantial feedback on my recent viral story titled "Fat Loss Has Nothing To Do With Calories: Our hormones have the final say for fat burning." This story was also featured in a post by Carol Price, who is a senior editor and retired medical doctor.
In the viral story that received substantial views on multiple platforms, I shared my experience on my exciting fitness journey and showed my readers how I found effective ways by trial and error over a decade. My story resonated with many readers who left supportive comments and contacted me via email and social media.
Although most readers enjoyed and endorsed the method and techniques I followed, some readers asked more questions and requested me to explain specific hormones affecting fat burning. These requests motivated me to create a new and enhanced post based on my years of searching literature using mainly PubMed as a portal to access the body of knowledge for health.
I sorted my reading list and notes by extracting and cross-referencing them with the progressing research in the medical field. I am not a medical researcher; however, I have advanced research credentials hence know how to find credible information from reliable sources.
In this post, I introduce key hormones that directly or indirectly affect fat burning. This article is not about weight loss, but it is about fat loss. The difference is people may lose weight by losing fluid, glycogen, muscle, and even bone density. However, of course, no one wants to lose valuable muscle and critical bone density for the sake of losing weight. Thus, my focus is losing fat, more precisely, using fat as energy for sustainable vitality, fitness, and health.
From my experience and research, the most impactful hormone on fat loss is insulin. Let me explain what insulin and particularly insulin resistance means for fat loss or fat gain. While insulin has multiple roles in our metabolic health, one of the critical roles of insulin is to manage glucose in our bloodstream. Our bodies cannot handle excessive sugar and regard it as toxic. We can measure and monitor blood glucose.
In fact, in simple terms, the acceptable sugar level in the bloodstream is believed to be equivalent to a teaspoon at a given time. This gives a guide for consuming carbohydrates, especially the refined ones.
Elevated blood glucose is known as a health condition called hyperglycemia. This condition is a kind of glucose toxicity causing nephropathy, neuropathy, reactive oxygen species.
When our bloodstream experiences hyperglycaemia, the insulin hormone can spike. The purpose of this metabolic reaction is to prevent blood from glucose toxicity. At first attempt, insulin sends signals to cells in various organs to use the glucose. However, if cells of those organs, such as muscles, cannot use the offered glucose, our body has a mechanism to turn the glucose into fat.
So in simple terms, the eye-opening scientific finding is that sugar can turn into fat. Many medical textbooks and scientific papers documented this fact. For details, you can check this paper titled "From Sugar to Fat" explaining lipogenesis occurring in the liver, where dietary carbohydrates control the expression of key enzymes in glycolytic and lipogenic pathways.
One key piece of information is that after excessive use of insulin, we experience a phenomenon called "insulin resistance". It means that our cells cannot get the required signals from insulin. They stop responding to signals. The bloodstream may need more insulin to function. Insulin resistance is a common condition and one of the root causes of Type 2 diabetes .
Fat utilization is associated with hunger. Hormones also control our hunger and satiety feelings. Thus, the second critical hormone associated with fat loss is leptin. To understand the role of leptin, we also need to know its antagonist hormone, ghrelin. These two hormones are chemical messengers running the metabolic show in our body. These hormones are like "yin-yang". They work together. It means that while ghrelin increases hunger, leptin lowers it. So, when one hormone is active the other one gets passive.
Ghrelin hormone makes us hungry. The goal is to feed our bodies and obtain vital energy from food. For example, we need protein, dietary fat, minerals, and vitamins to nurture our cells. Without ghrelin, our body will not know when we need nutritional support.
However, our body has a specific capacity for food. It is unique for each person. So after a while, we need to stop eating. This mechanism is realized by leptin which makes us feel satisfied and prevents us from overeating. So leptin is a satiety hormone. Ideally, these hormones work well until a tricky situation happens.
The trick is caused by leptin. Similar to insulin, there is also a phenomenon called "leptin resistance". The tricky bit with leptin is a condition known as "leptin resistance". This condition causes excessive and unnecessary hunger. As mentioned before, leptin instructs the brain to stop eating. If we have "leptin resistance", our brain does not get the signal from the leptin hormone. Thus, we feel hungry even if we eat more than what we need.
Leptin is a regulator of energy balance. It acts on cell receptors. Another cool fact is that leptin is mainly made up of the adipose (fat) cells. However, ironically, it attempts to diminish fat tissues. In other words, it regulates fat stores. Leptin acts as a thermostat in the body. If leptin senses our fat stores are full, it sends satiety signals to the brain. This is kind of a secret to fat loss.
When I say "calories have nothing to do with fat loss" in previous article, I used this premise in making my assertion. We may consume many calories, but if leptin does not sense satiety, we will still feel hungry. Thus, apart from insulin resistance, leptin resistance may be another root cause of obesity.
From my experience, chronic stress has also had an impact on storing and utilizing fat. The primary hormone affecting this situation is cortisol. Chronic stress increases cortisol and other stress hormones. When we have too much cortisol, our body fails to use fat stores, especially from the abdominal area. It is a comprehensive topic, but I shared my experience about cortisol in this article.
In a nutshell, the symptoms of high cortisol can be anxiety, sleep disorder, food cravings, mood swings, aching muscles, and overall discomfort. In my experience, the higher the cortisol was, the lower the testosterone hormone was. When I had elevated cortisol, I did not lose any fat, especially from my abdominal area, even though I lowered my calories substantially. But I lost weight that was mainly muscle, as proven by a DEXA scan. I shared my experience on how I managed to gain defined abs after the age of 50.
Inflammation also plays a role in fat gain and loss. Related to inflammation, I want to touch on one more hormone affecting fat gain and loss. It is adiponectin. As mentioned in this credible paper, "Recent research has shown that adipose tissue is not simply an inert storage depot for lipids but is also an important endocrine organ that plays a key role in the integration of endocrine, metabolic, and inflammatory signals for the control of energy homeostasis".
A study points out that "adiponectin has been postulated to play an important role in the modulation of glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin-sensitive tissues in both humans and animals. Decreased circulating adiponectin levels have been demonstrated in genetic and diet-induced murine models of obesity and diet-induced forms of human obesity. In addition, low adiponectin levels have also been strongly implicated in the development of insulin resistance in mouse models of both obesity and lipoatrophy."
The key point for the adiponectin hormone is if our bodies have high inflammation markers, we cannot burn fat. Inflammation has a hidden role in fat burning, as explained in this article. Inflammation halts fat-burning. "Immune responses prevent conversion into slimming cells".
There may be, of course, many other conditions that we need to consider for fat burning that is impossible to cover in an article. Even simple things like dehydration causes uncomfortable emotions hence make us feel deceptively hungry and force us eat unnecessarily.
When I learned about my mistakes in the form of misinformation and understood the roles of these hormones, I transformed myself from a pre-diabetic stage to a fat-adapted metabolism phase. I also improved my mental health by reducing chronic stress, emotional discomfort, and anxiety. One way of reducing cortisol and inflammation for me was staying in ketosis.
Ketones energized my body and brain, and helped me stay in fat-adapted state. It has been an ideal hormonal balance for my genetic makeup.
Consequently, I lost fat and lost undesirable loose skins and gained a defined body after the age of 50. It was a paradoxical situation for me. Rather than hiding this vital life lesson, I honestly and transparently want to share my knowledge and experience with many other people who might be suffering as I did for many years.
Please note that the points in this story are not a piece of medical advice but they serve the purpose of sharing my personal experience to give perspectives to my readers. We are all different and unique with different genetic makeup. Something working for me might not work for others. The important point is we can customize knowledge suiting our needs. My friend Eliza used a customized approach hiring a coach. Her story was inspiring to me and many others. She lost 30 pounds of fat in six month.
And of course, obtaining medical advice and guidance from qualified healthcare professionals is essential. During my trial and error, I always consulted my trusted healthcare professionals who helped me and guided me in this exciting journey. Fat loss is achievable but require knowledge, a proven method, and taking consistent action.
To conclude, hormones play a crucial role in fat storage and utilization. Therefore, even if we cut calories substantially if our hormones do not balance, such as experiencing insulin and leptin resistance, it will be challenging and even impossible to tap into body fat stores.
In theory, calories may play a role. For example, we can try starvation mode by cutting calories substantially, but you can guess what we will lose instead of fat. No one wants to lose crucial muscles and bone density. And everyone wants to keep their mental health. The viable solution is to work to get our hormones in balance and functioning at their peak.
Thank you for reading my perspectives.
The original version of this story was published on another platform.
About the author
I'm a writer and published author with four decades of content development experience in business, technology, leadership, and health. I work as a postdoctoral researcher and consultant. My background is at https://digitalmehmet.com.