When it comes to losing weight and being healthy, there’s never a shortage of diets and exercise plans that claim to keep the secret of how to lose weight easily and stay that way.
Among the most popular recent diets are ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat), carnivorous (meat and other animal products only), and intermittent fasting (which involves eating for a restricted period of time or on certain days).
But another eating plan that has recently caught the eye is the hormonal diet, which argues that the reason people have difficulty losing weight is because their hormones aren’t working properly.
Many books have been written on the subject in which hormone diet advocates claim that people can quickly lose a significant amount of weight by following this diet and exercising to manipulate or restart their hormones.
There are some variations, but the main idea of diet is that the key to weight loss is to correct hormonal imbalances in the body.
The role of insulin
Hormones play an important role in the processes our body performs on a daily basis, from the digestion of food to the growth of our bones.
Hormones circulate through the body through the blood and act as “chemical messengers” that instruct cells to do certain jobs.
For example, insulin is essential for regulating metabolic processes and allows the body to store food carbohydrates as energy in our muscle cells.
When we eat, it causes our blood sugar levels to go up, and this in turn causes the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream.
Insulin sticks to cells and gives them the signal to absorb blood sugar and store it for later use.
Insulin was once thought to play a crucial role in weight gain, but recent research shows that total calorie consumption is the main factor in gaining or losing weight.
Fewer calories – less weight
Fat loss can only be achieved by creating a calorie deficit, which means you simply have to burn more calories than you consume.
This is also why many people are given results by the intermittent fast diet, as that makes them eat less and therefore eat fewer calories.
A popular book that promotes hormonal diet uses a three-step program that promises to help people lose weight, gain strength and feel younger.
Steps one and two of the diet focus on changing nutritional habits. Step three focuses on exercise.
According to its author, readers must “detoxify” their body.
In step one, the reader must remove from his diet foods such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, red meat, cow’s milk and its derivatives (such as cheese or yogurt), and simultaneously consume more fruits, vegetables, birds, fish, eggs and dairy products derived from sheep, goat, and milk made with plants.
In the second step, processed foods, sweeteners and refined grains should be removed.
The third step involves an increase in cardiovascular exercises and gaining strength.
The dietary recommendations included in steps one and two require a reduction in foods that are typically high in calories and poor in terms of nutritional value such as alcohol, high-sugar foods, and processed foods.
The diet also promotes foods such as vegetables, fish and fruits, which increase fibre intake (important for the digestive system) and provides the body with a variety of vitamins and minerals that fulfil many bodily functions needed for overall health and wellness.
These foods are generally lower in calories than alcohol or foods high in sugar or processed foods.
And, combined with the exercises recommended in step three, this “hormonal diet” is likely to increase calorie burning and provide other health benefits.
Does it work then?
Generally speaking, the hormone diet recommended in this book does not contain bad nutritional advice.
But here the key is that any potential weight loss will probably be linked to the change in calorie input, stead than the effect (if any) on your hormones.
Weight loss (or body fat) is achieved by creating a caloric deficit, not “re-establishing your hormonal balance”.
Despite what hormone diet advocates claim, hormonal imbalances are usually the result of a more serious underlying health problem, such as diabetes (insufficient insulin function) or hyperthyroidism (where the thyroid produces too many thyroid hormones), which cannot be solved simply with a diet and require medical treatment.
Currently, there is no viable theory to show that a person can “restart” their hormones to influence weight loss.
There is also no review of studies by an important journal that has specifically studied the hormonal diet and its effects.
But there may be a simple explanation for why people think the hormonal diet works: it helps create a calorie deficit by improving nutritional habits and exercise, which is likely to result in weight loss.
Ultimately, anyone who wants to lose weight or body fat should focus on creating a calorie deficit.
How everyone creates this deficit can vary from person to person, and can even be following a popular diet like ketogenic or intermittent fasting.
However, it is best to follow the method that is most compatible with our lifestyle.
*Robert Naughton is a professor at the University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom. This article was originally published in The Conversation and reproduced here under the Creative Commons license