Weight loss can be a struggle for many individuals. It seems to elude them despite hiring a personal trainer, following the prescribed fitness protocol, seeking professional advice on healthy eating and consuming the appropriate caloric intake. Frustrated with their lack of progress, many individuals either decide to give up, thinking that they will never be able to lose weight, or hop on the next weight loss bandwagon.
What they don’t realize, however, is that there is more to the weight loss battle than the commonly stated “calories in vs. calories out”. Hormones also play a key role in the weight loss equation. If you are struggling to lose weight despite your efforts, there is a good chance that your hormones are out of balance.
Unless you take the appropriate measures to bring your hormones back into balance, your weight loss efforts will continue to elude you, leading to increased frustration. The key to your weight loss success is to understand how hormones impact your weight loss efforts and what you can do about it.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted from our endocrine glands. These messengers are carried by the blood to specific organs and tissues of the body to trigger them to perform their required function. Hormones are targeted messengers, meaning that they will only be recognized by the specific cell receptor they were intended for. They play a key role in managing the body’s internal environment and are responsible for a number of important bodily functions including regulating metabolism, controlling hunger and cravings, managing your mood, and even determining where you store your fat!
How do Hormones Impact Weight Loss?
Since many hormones play a direct role in controlling functions related to weight management, an imbalance of one or more of these hormones will greatly undermine your ability to lose weight – regardless of diet and exercise habits!
A classic example of just how important a role our hormones play in managing weight loss is with abdominal fat. The struggle to shed abdominal fat is a common concern I hear from several new clients in my practice. Stubborn abdominal fat is a classic sign of hormonal imbalance. There are a number of hormones that play a role in the deposit of fat around the mid-section including insulin, cortisol and estrogen. What’s worse is often an imbalance in one of these hormones can lead to an imbalance in other hormones – further exasperating the problem.
A drop in estrogen levels, for example, as we might observe in a female that has hit menopause, negatively impacts the body’s ability to respond to insulin. Estrogen helps our cells respond better to insulin. Therefore, a decline in estrogen can lead to an increase in insulin since more insulin will be necessary in order to obtain the required cell response. Keeping insulin levels down is important in weight management since insulin is a hormone that triggers our bodies to store fat – particularly around the abdomen.
Cortisol, a steroid hormone released by our adrenal glands in response to stress, can seriously undermine your weight loss efforts when out of balance and also negatively impact other hormones such as insulin. When our stress levels are chronically elevated, our body is continuously pumping out cortisol to deal with the stress response. Cortisol, triggers our bodies to release stored glucose to prepare our bodies for fight or flight. The pancreas responds by releasing insulin to usher glucose from our blood into our cells. But here’s the problem – cortisol blunts our cells response to insulin. In other words, chronically high cortisol levels puts our bodies in a state of insulin resistance. And as I previously described, insulin is a hormone that triggers or bodies to store fat. To further add insult to injury, abdominal fat, otherwise known as visceral fat, contains a high number of enzymes that produce cortisol. So in addition to our adrenals pumping out cortisol, our viscera fat cells do too! It’s a vicious cycle.
How Can We Manage Hormonal Imbalances?
But all is not lost! Hormonal balance can be restored. The first step is understanding which hormones are out of balance so that the proper protocol can be prescribed to bring your hormones into balance and ultimately help shed those unwanted pounds. Hormonal balance can be restored through lifestyle changes, proper nutrition, and natural source supplements if necessary.
For my clients that suffer from low estrogen as indicated through hormone tests, I recommend natural herbal remedies such as red clover and Mexican yam extract. Fermented soy such as tempeh can also be helpful because they contain phytoestrogens that help to balance low estrogen. Additionally, Essential Fatty Acids such as flaxseed and evening primrose oil are good for balancing estrogen. Also, I recommend easing off of vigorous exercise which can cause estrogen levels to drop.
For high insulin levels, I recommend eliminating sugar and ensuring that you eat every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar stable. Additionally I recommend consuming a higher portion of protein than carbohydrates with meals. The amount of protein would vary by individual based on their size, gender and activity level.
Lastly, when it comes to managing cortisol the key here is reducing stress. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, avoid stimulants such as coffee, eliminate sugar and ease off of vigorous exercise. I’m not saying don’t exercise, this isn’t an excuse to sit at home! You just don’t want to be doing high intensity training on a daily basis when your cortisol levels are high because exercise is a form of stress on your body.
So if you are struggling to lose weight despite proper exercise and diet, your hormones may be out of balance. Work with a practitioner to have your hormone levels tested so that the right nutritional protocol can be prescribed to help restore your hormonal health and get you that Mirror Friendly body you desire!
To fitness with love,