Calories Are Not All That Matter… Hormones Matter Too


“The ‘classical theory’ that fat is deposited in the adipose tissue [body fat] only when given in excess of the caloric requirement is finally disproved.”– E. Wertheimer, in Physiological Reviews

Calorie quality (SANEity) influences the hormones which control our set-point weight which controls the amount of fat we store. More simply, hormones play a critical role in our long-term body fat levels.

The critical effect hormones have on body fat has been well known in scientific circles for a long time. Especially the hormone insulin. Most of us know insulin only in reference to diabetics. They need insulin shots. Yet a true understanding of how hormones generally—and insulin specifically—work in relation to body fat reveals the cause of, and solution to, weight gain and related diseases such as diabetes.

At the risk of being gross, one way scientists discovered the important relationship between hormones and weight is through the procedure known as parabiosis. Parabiosis occurs when researchers cut two live animals open and then join them so they share the same blood supply and hormones. In other words, researchers create Siamese twins.

Before Parabiosis


After Parabiosis


Why would researchers create a Franken-rat with one set of hormones but twice as much of everything else? Because it allows them to conduct studies showing the impact hormones have on body fat. For example, when researchers join an obese rat to a lean rat, the lean rat gets leaner regardless of the quantity of calories it eats. How is that possible? Think back to how the set-point works.

The obese rat’s metabolism is producing a massive amount of body-fat-burning hormones in an effort to get the obese rat back to normal automatically. But because the obese rat is clogged and cannot respond to the body-fat-burning hormones effectively, it stays heavy. However, the lean rat is not clogged. The clog-free rat is able to respond to all of those body-fat-burning hormones. Lots of body-fat-burning hormones plus the ability to respond to them equals burning body fat despite eating the same quantity of calories.


In a similar manner, when researchers stitch a normal rat and a starved rat together, the starved rat’s body-fat-storing hormones make the normal rat get fatter regardless of the quantity of calories the normal rat eats. The starved rat is producing body-fat-storing hormones in an effort to get back to its set-point. These body-fat-storing hormones enter the normal rat, and its unclogged metabolism does exactly what the hormones tell it to do: the normal rat stores body fat without eating any more or exercising any less.


Besides the horror of joining living animals together, these and hundreds of other experiments clearly show that hormone levels strongly influence weight gain or loss. In the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, J. Le Magnen captures the importance of healing our hormones before we are free of body fat: “Humans that become obese gain weight because they are no longer able to lose weight.” Le Magnen’s statement is brilliant.

Gaining body fat because we lost the ability to burn body fat thanks to a hormonal clog is totally different than gaining body fat because we eat too much or exercise too little.

If we are gaining body fat because our body has lost the ability to burn fat, then what good is pushing harder to eat less and to exercise more? That’s like pushing harder on the gas pedal of a car with no wheels. The solution is not to push harder. The solution is to restore the car’s ability to burn rubber…and to restore our body’s ability to burn fat. Once we give our body “wheels” and get rolling with high-quality food and exercise, we’ll be surprised and delighted with how little we have to push and how far that gets us. We’ll be working smarter instead of harder and we’ll be slimmer and healthier because of it.

  1. Accurso A, Bernstein RK, Dahlqvist A, Draznin B, Feinman RD, Fine EJ, Gleed A, Jacobs DB, Larson G, Lustig RH, Manninen AH, McFarlane SI, Morrison K, Nielsen JV, Ravnskov U, Roth KS, Silvestre R, Sowers JR, Sundberg R, Volek JS, Westman EC, Wood RJ, Wortman J, Vernon MC. Dietary carbohydrate restriction in type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome: Time for a critical appraisal. NutrMetab (Lond). 2008 Apr 8;5:9. PubMed PMID: 18397522; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2359752.
  2. Drent M. Effects of Obesity on Endocrine Function In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 753-773.
  3. Drent M. Obesity and Endocrine Funtion. In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 697-707.
  4. Flatt, Jen-Pierre. Tremblay, Angelo. Energy Expenditure and Substrate Oxidation. In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 513-538.
  5. From Research to Practice/The Art and Science of Obesity Management: Betsy B. Dokken and Tsu-Shuen Tsao the Physiology of Body Weight Regulation: Are We Too Efficient for Our Own Good?  Diabetes Spectrum July 2007 20:166-170; doi:10.2337/diaspect.20.3.166
  6. Goldberg M, Gordon E. Energy Metabolism In Human Obesity. Plasma Free Fatty Acid, Glucose, And Glycerol Response To Epinephrine. JAMA. 1964 Aug 24;189:616-23. PubMed PMID: 14162576.
  7. Harris RB, Martin RJ. Influence of diet on the production of a “lipid-depleting” factor in obese parabiotic rats. J Nutr. 1986 Oct;116(10):2013-27. PubMed PMID: 3772528.
  8. Harris RB, Martin RJ. Metabolic response to a specific lipid-depleting factor in parabiotic rats. Am J Physiol. 1986 Feb;250(2 Pt 2):R276-86. PubMed PMID: 3511738.
  9. Harris RB, Martin RJ. Specific depletion of body fat in parabiotic partners of tube-fed obese rats. Am J Physiol. 1984 Aug;247(2 Pt 2):R380-6. PubMed PMID: 6431831.
  10. Havel PJ. Update on adipocyte hormones: regulation of energy balance and carbohydrate/lipid metabolism. Diabetes. 2004 Feb;53 Suppl 1:S143-51. Review. PubMed PMID: 14749280.
  11. Kopelman P. Endocrine Determinants of Obesity In: Bray GA, Couchard d, James WP, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997: 475-490.
  12. Le Magnen J. Is regulation of body weight elucidated. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1984 Winter;8(4):515-22. Review. PubMed PMID: 6392951.
  13. Murray I, Havel PJ, Sniderman AD, Cianflone K. Reduced body weight, adipose tissue, and leptin levels despite increased energy intake in female mice lacking acylation-stimulating protein. Endocrinology. 2000 Mar;141(3):1041-9. PubMed PMID: 10698180.
  14. Nielsen JV, Jonsson E, Nilsson AK: Lasting improvement of hyperglycaemia and bodyweight: low-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes – a brief report. Ups J Med Sci 2005, 110(1):69-73.
  15. Obesity and leanness. Basic aspects. Stock, M., Rothwell, N., Author Affiliation: Dep. Physiology, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London Univ., London, UK.
  16. Parameswaran SV, Steffens AB, Hervey GR, de Ruiter L. Involvement of a humoral factor in regulation of body weight in parabiotic rats. Am J Physiol. 1977 May;232(5):R150-7. PubMed PMID: 324294.
  17. Porte D Jr, Woods SC. Regulation of food intake and body weight in insulin. Diabetologia. 1981 Mar;20 Suppl:274-80. PubMed PMID: 7014326.
  18. Wertheimer, E., and Shapiro, B., the physiology of adipose tissue, Physiol. Rev., 1948, 28, 451.
  19. Westman EC, Feinman RD, Mavropoulos JC, Vernon MC, Volek JS, Wortman JA, Yancy WS, Phinney SD. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;86(2):276-84. Review. PubMed PMID: 17684196.
  20. Whitehead, Saffron A.; Nussey, Stephen (2001). Endocrinology: an integrated approach. Oxford: BIOS. pp. 122. ISBN 1-85996-252-1.
  21. Woods SC, Benoit SC, Clegg DJ, Seeley RJ. Clinical endocrinology and metabolism. Regulation of energy homeostasis by peripheral signals. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Dec;18(4):497-515. Review. PubMed PMID: 15533772.
  22. Woods SC, Figlewicz Lattemann DP, Schwartz MW, Porte D Jr. A re-assessment of the regulation of adiposity and appetite by the brain insulin system. Int J Obes.1990;14 Suppl 3:69-73; discussion 74-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 2086517.
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply