5 Surprising Ways to Lose Weight and Feel Great

Look your best by tapping into the health perks of your hormonesBy Leslie Pepper

Hormones have a bad reputation. Feeling bloated? Cranky? Craving carbs? Blame it on that time of the month. But hormones provide a host of health benefits and can help you lose weight, sleep better and stay sharp. Learn five ways they can help you be your best-and how to harness their positive power. Photo by Getty Images.

Soothe stress with endorphins

HOW THEY HELP: These "feel-good" hormones can ease pain and create an overall sense of well-being.

Kick up the heat.
Spicy foods can activate the nerve endings on your tongue that prompt your body to produce endorphins. Add a dash of cayenne pepper to roasted potatoes or popcorn, try hot sauce in scrambled eggs or on grilled cheese, or add chopped pickled jalapeños to sandwiches or potato salad.

Mellow out with mint.
Chewing peppermint gum or smelling potpourri that includes mint can help stimulate a nerve near your nose that signals your brain to make endorphins.

Focus and stay alert with dopamine

HOW IT HELPS: Produced by your brain, dopamine plays a role in controlling your concentration and long-term memory. A surge of dopamine can give you amazing focus and motivation.

Play your favorite music.
A study found that dopamine levels spiked when people listened to music they liked. Play your favorite songs the next time you sit down to pay bills-the music can help you power through an otherwise boring task.

Related: Discover 8 calming foods that ease stress.

Eat a protein-rich snack.
Tyrosine, an amino acid found in high-protein foods, helps your body produce dopamine. Snack on 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 hard-boiled eggs or a handful of nuts.

Keep your weight in check with leptin and ghrelin

HOW THEY HELP:
Leptin, released by your fat cells, lets your body know when you've had enough to eat and determines whether the food is stored or used as energy. Ghrelin, produced mostly in your stomach, sends hunger signals to your brain.

Eat dessert for breakfast. One study found that people had lower levels of ghrelin and fewer cravings throughout the day when they ate a carbohydrate-and-protein-rich breakfast including a small serving of a cookie, cake or chocolate. To avoid going overboard, make your sweet treat healthy: Try dark chocolate-chip whole-wheat pancakes with a dollop of ricotta cheese, whole-grain cinnamon raisin toast with 1 Tbsp almond butter, or ½ cup Greek or nonfat yogurt with 1 Tbsp honey.

Make sleep a priority.
A Stanford University study of more than 1,000 people found that those who slept less than eight hours a night had low leptin and high ghrelin levels and more body fat. Before climbing into bed, call your cellphone voicemail with a verbal to-do list, or write down what's on your mind to help prevent worrying from keeping you awake.

Related: Try these foods that will keep you feeling full longer.

Improve your mood with oxytocin and progesterone

HOW THEY HELP: Oxytocin is called "the bonding hormone" because it makes you feel loved and gives you a sense of trust toward others. Progesterone, produced by your ovaries, brings calm and balance.

Belt out a tune.
One study found that after singers took a music lesson, oxytocin levels increased significantly. Try starting off the day by singing in the shower-or humming your favorite harmony when you're feeling irritable.

Practice random acts of hugging. Research shows that women whose partners hug them more have higher levels of oxytocin and lower blood pressure. One study also found that feeling close to a friend increases progesterone. Walking arm in arm with a loved one or petting an animal can also have the same effect.

Related: Check out 7 instant mood boosters.

Boost body confidence with testosterone and estrogen

HOW THEY HELP:
Since it makes you feel more assertive, testosterone promotes self-confidence. Estrogen helps even out skin tone and adds water to cells, giving your skin a youthful glow.

Pick up your pace. Research has found that testosterone levels rise after intense exercise, so try weaving short periods of "burst training" into your daily workout. For example, walk for 3 to 5 minutes at a moderate pace, then speed it up as fast as you can for 30 seconds.

Go for zinc.
You need this mineral for both testosterone and estrogen production. Experts advise having at least 25 mg per day to balance these hormone levels. Try 6 oz lean roast beef, 1 cup yogurt, ½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds or a square of dark chocolate.

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