Hormones. We like them, or at least we would if we knew what they were up to all day long. These little couriers of cause spend their days telling our bodies what to make more or less of, to care more or less about, and whether or not we should attempt second base or call it a night.

They also tell us when to sleep, when to wake up, when to elevate blood sugars or drop them. In fact, they are involved in pretty much every process of our daily function.

Hormones are made of various components, but cholesterol and essential fatty acids are a key factor. It’s why we like butter, bacon, fish, coconut oil, and other healthy sources of these fats.

Many of us think that these tiny things are responsible only for vague symptoms of PMS and male virility. While they do affect both, we’re going to focus on the ubiquitous role they play in how our bodies regulate blood sugars.

The idea of regulating blood sugars is that we have a stable amount of glucose in our blood at any given time. We need it for our brains to function and to provide energy to our cells if we want to move our bodies. Some days, we want neither, but staying alive still demands the glucose, so our bodies have a system of hormones that can make glucose for us if we aren’t eating it.

But our bodies are lazy and efficient at the same time. Before a body tries to make its own glucose by breaking down muscle tissue or fat tissue, it will send you a message that says something in a whisper like “Cake…”

If you ignore that, it releases some other hormones (stress hormones like cortisol and glucagon) to start the process of, basically, self-cannibalism. At the same time, the whisper graduates to a whine and then a sort of angry scream.

You know the one: It’s responsible for your last Twinkies binge, the last time you ate dinner while you were making dinner, then ate that dinner again. And gas station food—I’m pretty sure no one eats gas station food unless a myriad of hormones are sending a message that impending death is moments away unless a corn dog and fried burrito are administered stat.

If we eat too much of those carbs (trust me, no one having a blood sugar crash ever craves steak), our body releases another hormone that gets a lot of press: insulin. This one signals cells to accept glucose and store it for later in its preferred format: fat. Or sometimes we call it ‘adipose tissue’ to make it sound like it’s not bad. Fat isn’t bad, but as our increasing wardrobe expenses will prove, too much of it is a problem.

The release of all that insulin and the storage of all the glucose in cells means it is not in the blood stream anymore. Wait, what? We just had high blood sugar and now we have low blood sugar? Exactly. The whisper begins again…

This roller coaster is how many of us spend our days. We skip breakfast and have coffee and a protein bar instead. By lunch we’re famished and we shove a Hoagie into our pie hole then wonder why we feel like we need a nap (post-sammy-blood-sugar-crash) and, sometime between 2 and 4, we need a cup of coffee and a doughnut to get back on track. If this is your story, it’s time to get off the ride.

If that isn’t motivating enough, I’ll spend some time explaining how that roller coaster ride eventually begins depleting your sex hormone production. No Twinkie is ever worth a decreased libido. The cascade of resulting health problems (inflammation, low testosterone, chronic fatigue, weight gain, elevated cholesterol, and on and on and on) can be avoided with a little planning and a little less starch.

Save your hormones and eat breakfast. Wake up in the morning and start your day with some protein and fat. If you’re a morning exerciser, throw some fresh fruit and complex carbohydrates in there to replenish those glucose stores. If you have a mid-morning dip in energy, skip the coffee and have some apple with almond butter.

At lunch, unless you have an afternoon workout planned, avoid heavy carbohydrate meals (pizza, bread, pastas) and stick with some good protein and vegetables with healthy fats to sustain your energy throughout the day. Plan another light snack in the afternoon if it always feels like nap time (boiled eggs, beef jerky, nuts and fruit).

In the evenings, if you’re exercising then, refuel with some carbs. Then make sure you’re getting good fats to keep your blood sugars stable while you sleep. That’s a good time for tacos and pulled pork! If you consume alcohol, stop a few hours before bed and hydrate well. You’ll sleep better, too. //

Ammi Midstokke lives in Sandpoint, ID, where she raises her daughter on a deeply-ingrained fear of gluten and an arguably-dangerous appetite for adventure. Her Eatology column appears in every issue of Out There.

 

Originally published in the March 2017 print edition of Out There Outdoors under the title “Hormones: Tiny Messengers with a Lot to Say.”

 

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Ammi’s other articles including New Years and the Neurology of Change, and BCAAs: Nutrition Witchcraft or Food Science?