Ask the Expert—Erin Holt

Erin Desharnais

Are you feeling overwhelmed with how to workout? Do you want to lose fat, gain muscle, have more energy, get bigger, faster, and stronger, but are confused with all the diet books and conflicting information out there? This two-part series will get back to the basics and take a look at how HORMONES are a huge catalyst to whether fat is being released or stored.

The body triggers hormones through many different forms of stimulus such as food, drink, perceived stress, and sleep. Certain hormones tell the body to release stored “energy” while other hormones trigger the body to store “future energy” into the fat cells. In other words, our fat cells are the body’s emergency storage tank. Unfortunately, in today’s world, they’re getting all the wrong signals. The body was not designed around constant intake of food, especially processed food that’s high in sugar.

Four of the major fat loss hormones are insulin, glucagon, growth hormone (GH), and cortisol. Insulin is primarily known as a fat-storing hormone, as it reacts to high blood sugar and looks to store it somewhere—mostly in fat cells. Glucagon and GH are more fat-releasing (“burning”) hormones. Insulin is inversely related to glucagon and GH. So, if insulin is present and elevated, the other fat-releasing hormones decrease. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, is closely related to blood sugar and can lead to excessive muscle breakdown for fuel—a phenomenon that we don’t want on the quest to keep metabolism strong and lifestyle healthy.


For Fat Loss, You Want:

  • Minimal Insulin–No chronic high levels or spikes throughout the day
  • Maximum Glucagon–Which is in direct inverse proportion to insulin levels
  • Maximum GH–Mainly controlled by insulin, exercise, and sleep
  • Controlled Cortisol Levels–reduce stress levels and increase sleep

For Insulin Control:

  • Do not eat sugar or processed foods that quickly break down into the bloodstream. Break the habit and cravings for sugar by saying, “I want to store fat on my body,” every time you are about to eat sugar/processed foods!
  • Have protein with every meal. Protein will slow down the digestion of any sugars and stimulates the release of glucagon.
  • Incorporate resistance training into your workouts. You can improve insulin sensitivity with glycogen draining exercise (resistance training) which will in turn reduce your insulin resistance. (Insulin resistance is one of the biggest reasons for obesity and seriously increases the risk for many other diseases including heart disease, cancers, diabetes, accelerated aging and more!) Simply put, resistance training will increase your lean muscle mass and your metabolic control.

For Max GH Response:

  • SLEEP! The majority of your daily GH is released in the first couple of hours of sleep at night. Keep insulin levels low, which means no big meals or sugar right before sleep, and GET TO BED.
  • Exercise with intensity for fast twitch muscle recruitment. Think interval training, resistance training with short rest periods, sprints, hill repeats etc. This will trigger the body to release GH.

To Minimize Excessive Cortisol:

  • SLEEP! Lack of sleep can cause an increase in cortisol levels.
  • Reduce stress levels. Learn to channel bad stress and effectively manage it by taking a few deep breaths, taking 5 minutes a day to close your eyes and just “be”, exercise, manage your time more efficiently, SMILE AND LAUGH MORE, spend time with people you love, and get out in nature.


Take home points for looking and feeling your best:

  • Nutrition is one of the biggest factors in losing fat, controlling hormones, and maintaining energy.
  • Eat real, whole foods and avoid sugar.
  • Train your fast twitch muscles with resistance training, sprinting, and hill intervals.
  • STOP STRESSING OUT–take some deep breaths, get outside, relax, and exercise.

A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and TPI fitness professional, Erin Desharnais also holds a B.S. in Exercise Science from the University of New Hampshire.

Erin Desharnais photographed by Richard Salas. Remaining photos from

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