Does it feel increasingly difficult to maintain your weight as you age? If so, there may be a biochemical reason the number on the scale keeps creeping up. As you age, your body becomes much more susceptible to inflammation and less resistant to hormonal and environmental fluctuations.
The good news is that you can take steps to control your own biology and optimize your body’s natural functions. As all of the processes within your body and the factors that influence them are connected, regulating what goes on around you and what goes into your body, also called biohacking, is a great way to become the most energized, productive, and healthy version of yourself.
Biohacking for Weight Loss
Targeting the biochemical basis for metabolism is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. There are three major hormones that play a crucial role in metabolism: insulin, ghrelin, and leptin.
Insulin is in charge of energy storage — it tells your cells whether to store energy as glycogen or as fat. High insulin levels, which are stimulated by eating simple sugars like carbohydrates, lead to the storage of energy as fat, which causes weight gain. Low insulin levels, on the other hand, allow our bodies to burn the energy that was stored in fat, stimulating weight loss. The goal: to lower insulin levels.
Ghrelin is the hormone that signals hunger. When ghrelin rises, you become hungry and are prompted to eat. Thus, lowering ghrelin levels can help you control cravings and naturally need to eat less. The goal: to lower ghrelin levels.
Leptin is the counterpart to ghrelin — it is your natural appetite suppressor, the hormone that tells you when you have had enough to eat. When you eat, your body fat levels go up, which in turn causes leptin levels to go up. Elevated leptin levels signal to the brain that you are full.
However, one of the underlying biological issues related to obesity is leptin resistance, which is when leptin stops working normally and cannot tell you when to stop eating. Leptin resistance is often a result of inflammation induced by a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet (think sugar, soda, and refined flour). This in turn leads to weight gain. The goal: to lower leptin resistance.
So, how can you use biohacking to influence these hormone functions naturally in order to improve metabolism and gut function?
The key is to target your habits and environment, both of which can affect your hormone levels. Dr. Karrie Hohn, internal medicine and functional medicine physician at PALM Health, says, “Insulin, leptin, and ghrelin levels will diminish when you eat a balanced, whole-food, healthy diet and get regular exercise.” Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and managing stress are also crucial to regulating hormone levels.
A lack of sleep or bad quality sleep has been linked to suppression of metabolic function by fluctuating our levels of leptin and ghrelin. In order to get a good night’s sleep, try dropping the temperature in the room, turning off devices two hours before bed, avoiding blue light (which suppresses sleep hormones) from screens, and sleeping a full eight hours per night. “Eight hours of high-quality sleep nightly is a key component in any weight loss program,” says Dr. Hohn. Establishing a consistent sleep cycle will regularize the circadian rhythm, which helps stabilize ghrelin levels.
Physical activity helps to fight leptin resistance by making the central nervous system more sensitive to leptin, consequently fighting weight gain. An important form of physical activity in relation to weight control is building muscle mass. Muscle tends to burn calories, while fat simply stores calories and contributes to weight gain. However, muscle naturally begins to deteriorate after the age of 35, making it progressively harder to lose weight — for every pound of muscle lost, you lose the capacity to burn 35-50 calories per day.
Actively exercising to build muscle can help slow down this process. Good ways to build muscles include resistance training such as weightlifting, bodyweight training, and using resistance bands. It is crucial to eat plenty of protein in conjunction with resistance training to stimulate muscle growth. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts are another great way not only to build muscle and cardio endurance, but also to increase metabolism.
High stress levels are directly associated with increased ghrelin levels, which in turn can lead to weight gain. Stress management techniques are highly dependent on the person, but there are many great ways to start.
First and foremost, better sleep and exercise reduce stress levels. Cultivating strong relationships, spiritual development, yoga, and eliminating automatic negative thinking are all effective methods of stress management as well. At PALM, we offer services such as salt room therapy, cryotherapy, acupressure, well-being coaching, and a stress management program to help clients manage their stress levels.
Cold thermogenesis is heat production stimulated by exposure to cold temperatures. The activation of this process in the body not only improves sleep, energy, and mental well-being, but can also help burn excess glucose as heat, which aids in fat loss. Some at-home methods of cold thermogenesis include taking a cold shower or an ice bath. PALM also offers cryotherapy sessions as a simple and effective way to give your body a needed boost.
Some foods may trigger inflammation, which can lead to leptin resistance and therefore weight gain. Specific foods to avoid include processed foods, MSG (flavor enhancers used in many processed and canned foods), and anything with high fructose corn syrup.
A diet too high in simple carbohydrates can cause a high level of triglycerides in the blood, which also contributes to leptin resistance and triggers weight gain. A simple way to reduce carbohydrate intake is by cutting down on starchy foods such as bread or pasta. Carbs should not be cut out completely; however, it’s best to stick to complex, healthy carbohydrates like beans, oatmeal, whole grains, and quinoa.
Including foods that are high in dietary fiber, such as fresh vegetables, can help to lower ghrelin levels and stimulate weight loss. According to Dr. Hohn, it’s best to aim for 8-10 servings of colorful vegetables each day. “Vegetables are high in fiber and low in sugar. They satisfy your nutrient needs, help you feel full, and can improve your metabolism.”
Protein and healthy fats are also a crucial element of a biohacking diet because they help maintain muscle mass, provide fuel for energy, decrease inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. Good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, beans, and eggs, while healthy fats include fish, nuts, and avocados.
Many people opt to follow stricter dieting habits that lay out an eating plan. An example of this kind of dieting is intermittent fasting, which has become very popular as a method of hormone control. There are a few different versions of intermittent fasting, such as the 16/8 Method, the Eat-Stop-Eat method, and the 5:2 Diet.
The 16/8 Method restricts eating time to a 8-hour window with 16 hours of fasting in between. The Eat-Stop-Eat method involves a 24-hour fast 1-2 times a week, and the 5:2 Diet calls for a normal diet five days out of the week paired with two non-consecutive days of a 500-600 calorie restriction.
For any intermittent fasting method, there are also guidelines for what to eat during the specified eating window. As mentioned earlier, the common themes are to avoid sweets and processed foods, be selective with carbohydrate intake, and eat plenty of protein and vegetables. If intermittent fasting is something that interests you, PALM medical providers can help you decide on a plan that works best for you.
If you are feeling frustrated with your weight, take a step back and consider what habits and environmental factors can be adjusted to help put your hormones back on the right track to maintaining a healthy weight. Incorporating new habits may make the difference in your metabolic functioning. At PALM, we have a dedicated team of professionals devoted to helping you figure out how to make these adjustments and become the best version of yourself.