Is there a link between hunger – fullness hormones and fertility?

Ever wondered why you feel hungry or full? There are a number of systems that work together to tell you when to seek out food, with the key players being Leptin and Ghrelin.

Our fat cells produce leptin, which regulates food intake and energy expenditure. Leptin levels correlate with your fat mass; if your fat mass is lower than your genetics would like it to be, the brain will sense the lower leptin levels and stimulate your hunger. In women, low leptin levels will also mean reduced fertility and/or amenorrhoea (lack of periods). The rationale for this is: if your body is low in energy stores, it’s not safe to start growing a baby!

It doesn’t only matter how much ‘padding’ we have, but also the pattern of our eating. Our gut cells release a hormone called Ghrelin in response to lack of protein in our diets or irregular meals. Ghrelin has a direct impact on the hormones that regulate our menstrual cycles (talking to the ladies here): it suppresses the luteinising and follicle stimulating hormones, which in turn impairs follicle maturation and ovulation..

Being ‘within the healthy BMI’ range does not necessarily mean that your body will be ‘ready’ to have a baby. You need to be at a weight that is genetically set for you as ‘healthy’ and eat regular, and balanced meals. Other factors that are important include exercise (not too much!) and avoidance of too much stress. The latter two increase cortisol levels, which also tends to suppress those all important menstrual cycle hormones...


Widen your focus

With the first days of summer, for some, comes the dread of having to strip off the layers and have their body visible to the world.. so many of us suffer with negative body image or even body image dysmorphia..

We all have the tendency to focus on the things that make us feel shame, or the things that make us feel the most vulnerable. I hear similar sentiments echoed by my clients when they speak to me about having negative body image, or experiencing distress in relation to specific parts of their bodies.. They often describe this sense that they should be doing more/ not feeling stuck in the spot they're in. And they literally stop being able to move beyond whatever they’ve hyper-focused on.This perverse focus on their ‘faults’ disables them from being able to immerse in the things that are truly important.

I help them learn to focus on a broader picture and explore the futility of trying to ‘catch and hold’ happiness by trying to change their physical body. It’s freeing to get rid of this.


Is exercise always good for you?

Excessive exercise can have significant negative effects on your body, i.e. worsen inflammatory state if you have PCOS or even lead to irregular periods and fertility issues.. It’s important to recognise if you have crossed over the line into an unhealthy pursuit of compulsive exercise, which could also be a sign of an underlying problem, such as body image dysmorphia, an eating disorder or dysfunctional regulation of emotional states.

Some warning signs that your relationship with exercise may be ‘unhealthy’:

  • You decline engaging in social activities in order to exercise
  • You feel restless/ irritable if you take a day off or try to cut down your exercise
  • You increase the amount of your exercise if you think that you are ‘too much’
  • You continue to work out even when you are sick…

What is YOUR relationship with exercise?


Can you improve your body image without changing your body?

In the culture that we live in, we are surrounded by images of cisgender, white women in thin bodies. This is not representative of the population and leaves A LOT of people feeling invisible and ‘imperfect’. Research has shown that seeing those images of thin bodies maintain the female ideal and programme the mind to strive for it. Here are some tips on the first steps towards improving your body image: Reduce imagery of very small women from your media feed. Only 2% of the images we see on a regular basis are plus-size women (size 14+). This distorts our perception of body size distribution in our society. Images of smaller women are absolutely fine as plenty of people are naturally thin. Your goal is not to demonise small bodies, but to make your image intake more balanced. Whichever social media platforms you use most frequently, find people to follow that are different to you. Whether it’s their body size, skin colour, ability or sexual orientation. Let your social media represent the world you live in rather the skewed picture that we are being ‘fed’ every day by the mainstream media. Expose yourself to the new images on a regular basis. The more you see, the more normalised different body shapes will become.


Loving your body - self compassion

Many struggle with the concept of loving their body unconditionally, and allow it to depend on how many calories they’ve eaten/ burnt that day or how many compliments they received.. Years of dieting and being soaked in messages and images of ‘perfect bodies’ can make loving your body feel unachievable. Working on self-compassion and recognising that you are an imperfect human with strengths and weaknesses that don’t define your worthiness is the way forward