Our hormones control almost every aspect of our daily lives, from our reproductive functions and our appearance to our sleep, and even the way we store and burn fat. No matter how a hormonal imbalance manifests itself on the outside, the internal reality remains the same – any and all hormonal imbalances lead to difficulty losing weight and an increased risk of obesity. Unfortunately, the most common imbalances cannot be solved by dieting alone. In fact, they can prevent successful fat loss, even when great diet and exercise plans are in place.
Most of us experience the very subtle symptoms of a hormonal imbalance every day. These are things like feeling tired after eating, having difficulty falling asleep, or waking up each night between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Or maybe you notice that you don’t wake up as fresh and bright as you used to, or you’re having food cravings every day at 3 p.m. Another sign of a hormonal imbalance is that you’ve walked into a room and can’t remember what you’re there for, or you can’t recall someone’s name as quickly as you used to. (Worried yet?) Changes in libido, mood, memory, focus, food cravings, sleep habits: All of these are signs of a hormonal imbalance – and the ones I most commonly see in my practice.
Different hormones also contribute differently to weight gain (and weight loss). For example, if you have too much of the stress hormone cortisol, it’ll increase your appetite and cause you to store more fat around your waist. While excess estrogen (another common hormonal imbalance), fuels weight gain particularly around your hips in pre-menopausal women. Just last week I had a woman come into my office who had horrible PMS symptoms. I started her on the first step of my program and she came back four weeks later. Her PMS was gone and she had lost two inches off her hips. When we corrected the imbalance that was causing the PMS, it caused the weight loss for her as well.
Here’s a quick look at the three main hormones that can put your weight-loss efforts on hold:
1. High insulin – Insulin is a signal in the body that allows glucose from the food we eat to be used as fuel. These sugars, if not used or burned off, will be stored as fat, so essentially, insulin is responsible for our flab. When insulin levels are too high, weight tends to accumulate in the “love handles” area around the waist. This poses a serious long-term health risk – excess weight around the middle is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. A fasting insulin and glucose test given by your doctor is an excellent way to determine if abnormally high insulin levels are causing your weight gain. High triglycerides, cholesterol and/or blood pressure may also accompany this hormonal imbalance. How to help yourself? Balance your protein, fat, and carbohydrates for three meals and two snacks each day, and consider adding a fiber supplement to your protein shakes to improve your insulin sensitivity.
2. High cortisol – Persistent elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol are very detrimental to your health, as well as to your body composition. Not only does cortisol increase your appetite and cravings, it causes a loss of muscle mass, libido, and bone density and also contributes to depression and memory loss. Stress is not to be overlooked or accepted as normal. Relora is one of my favorite supplements to help reduce high cortisol levels and boost DHEA. In conjunction with stress management practices and proper sleep habits, it can make a huge difference for the patient.
3. High estrogen – Estrogen naturally causes water retention and increased body fat, especially around the hips and thighs. Women suffering from conditions like PMS, abnormal pap smears, ovarian cysts, stress, or depression may have abnormally high estrogen levels compared to progesterone. As estrogen levels rise, so does the tendency to accumulate more abdominal fat, which fuels the situation. To remove this weight-loss obstacle, try indole-3-carbinol – this product assists with a healthy hormonal balance by decreasing the amount of harmful estrogen metabolites in the body. Calcium-D-glucarate may also help ensure the proper breakdown and elimination of hormones in the liver.
By addressing the most common fat-packing hormonal imbalances, including excess cortisol, high insulin, and too much estrogen, and putting proper plans in place, you can get back into balance. You’ll know you’re on the road to hormonal wellness when you’re free of cravings, your energy is high, your mood is balanced, and your body is running efficiently without the ups and downs created by an improper, imbalanced diet. Best of all, you’ll also notice improvements in body composition, as well as better and healthier hair, skin, and nails.
Dr. Natasha Turner (pictured) is a naturopathic doctor and founder of Clear Medicine, an integrated medicine wellness boutique in Toronto, who recently authored a ground-breaking wellness tome called The Hormone Diet: Lose Fat, Gain Strength, Live Younger Longer. Dr. Turner is one of Canada’s leading naturopathic doctors and natural health consultants. Bright, energetic and practicing what she preaches, her goal is to inspire others to make positive lifestyle choices in order to enjoy healthier lives. Her passion for promoting wellness, fitness and integrated medicine makes her a sought-after speaker for corporations, the public and the education of other medical professionals. This is her debut weekly post for Blisstree.
above photo: Thinkstock