Hormones and Weight Loss
For many women, even those who have never struggled to control their weight before, peri-menopause and menopause become a time when it seems no matter what they eat or how much they exercise their weight keeps going up and up.
Also, where your body stores fat changes. All of a sudden your once flat stomach starts expanding and becomes what is sometimes referred to as the "meno-pot"!
Of course, this doesn't happen to everyone, and I'm happy for the lucky ones who have escaped this fate.
However, if you struggle with this issue as I do, know that there is hope!
Menopausal weight gain isn't just a lack of willpower on your side, there are many forces working against you and you can overcome those forces with some simple (but not always easy) lifestyle changes.
What Changes as Women Age?
For starters, genetically, everyone's body carries its weight differently. Other changes include:
- Your metabolism slows down up to 5% every ten years after you turn 40.
- Your body, as you age, doesn't need as much energy and it retains more of the white type of fat that makes up the majority of the fat in the body. This fat is mainly used to store any excess calories you consume.
- The human growth hormone also lowers significantly for women over 50, thus lowering other hormones such as thyroxin that is produced by your thyroid gland including testosterone and estrogen naturally.
You could be eating and exercising the right way, but a combination of genetics, slowing metabolism, and hormones are a major contributor to weight gain for women after age 40.
There are a few things you can do to mitigate weight gain. Consider the following tips:
Hormones control our emotions, they determine our weight, physique, and digestion. They help regulate electrolyte balance in the body and blood, they manage development, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
Hormones are produced in the endocrine glands (mainly thyroid, hypothalamus, adrenal or pituitary gland).
Women face the effects of hormone imbalance as they undergo various stages of hormonal changes from their teenage years all the way to menopause.
Mastering how to keep your cortisol, thyroid, insulin, leptin, estrogen, and testosterone in perfect balance may help mitigate weight-related issues.
The ovaries secrete female sex hormones estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
As we age, estrogen levels decrease significantly, especially during menopause, but it’s all about keeping a fine balance between your progesterone and estrogen hormones.
Too much estrogen will make you gain weight and store visceral fat.
In order to avoid estrogen dominance, women over 50 should aim to consume at least 35 to 45 g of fiber per day, reduce their red meat intake, avoid processed foods, eliminate sugar, and have a workout regimen.
You may have high cortisol levels if you find that you are struggling to lose weight, are constantly fatigued or stressed out.
Also known as the stress hormone, a cortisol imbalance has been linked to:
- weight gain
- high blood pressure
- acne, anxiety
- sleep disorders
- fertility problems (not usually an issue for women over 50)
Following a diet that is low in processed foods and high in antioxidants, fiber and essential nutrients can help manage cortisol levels.
Consuming refined and trans-fats, drinking too much alcohol and coffee, an insufficient intake of micronutrients and antioxidants, as well as not eating a diet high in fiber will contribute to inflammation and high cortisol levels.
It’s important to get plenty of sleep, have a workout regimen, and manage your stress levels.
You can also use adaptogen herbs and superfoods such Reishi mushrooms, basil, licorice root, and cocoa which are known to:
- naturally lower high cortisol levels
- reduce inflammation due to their strong antioxidant properties
- lower fatigue
- balance hormones
- promote sleep, and much more.
Essential oils have also been shown to work the same as adaptogen herbs in their ability to reduce inflammation, aid in relaxation, balance hormones, and aid in better sleep.
The thyroid gland is located in front of the trachea (windpipe) in your neck.
It secretes hormones that regulate, among other things, your metabolism, including how quickly you burn calories, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, and more.
Where the thyroid is underactive, it can result in a condition known as hypothyroidism, which is linked to weight gain, tiredness, feeling cold, dry skin, and frequent periods.
Drinking at least one liter of purified water and eliminating refined and processed foods, sugar, grains such as rice, corn, or potatoes has been shown to be natural ways to restore thyroid health.
Women over 50 with an underactive thyroid can also benefit greatly from taking iodine supplements, including dietary sources of iodine such as seafood, seafood vegetables such as nori or dulse, eggs, raw wheat germ, and whole-milk dairy products.
Getting at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and having a workout regimen can also restore your thyroid health. (Are you sensing a pattern with sleep and exercise?)
Genetics, stress, nutritional deficiency, autoimmune attack, toxins in the environment, or pregnancy can lead to an over-active or a sluggish thyroid.
While thyroid impairment can affect men as well, it is almost always due to an under-active thyroid that women gain weight.
This hormone that is produced by the body's fat cells has now been directly linked to fat gain.
Also known as the satiety hormone, leptin signals an area called the hypothalamus in the brain to let it know when we have had enough to eat.
Leptin resistance is common in overweight individuals, and when the hormone decreases, it leads to:
- an increased feeling of hunger and appetite
- a decreased number of calories burned at rest.
The key to preventing, even reversing leptin resistance is to eat plenty of protein-rich foods.
Not only does consuming high-protein foods boost metabolism, but it also reduces appetite and alters weight-regulating hormones to help you lose weight and most importantly, stubborn visceral fat.
Individuals with leptin resistance should:
- avoid all processed foods
- reduce carbohydrate intake
- eat plenty of soluble fiber to improve gut health
- manage their sleep patterns
Insulin is a hormone that stores fat. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and has many actions within the body, such as metabolic control and regulating blood sugar levels.
Insulin imbalance is closely associated with obesity and consuming foods that break down into glucose such as simple and complex carbs throws it off balance.
Eliminating sugary foods and consuming low-glycemic carbs and including protein with every meal may help balance your insulin levels.
Balancing your Hormones
While all of that sounds very complicated, when we break it down it becomes much easier to understand how you can balance your hormones and lose weight.
Always consult a doctor first to rule out any underlying medical causes of hormone imbalance.
After clearing everything with your doctor it is time to do a little bio-hacking! Bio-hacking is basically experimenting with different lifestyle changes until you find something that works for you.
Some of the requirements for balancing your hormones are the same for all imbalances such as:
• Increasing your fiber intake
• Eliminating processed foods
• Eliminating sugar
• Improving Sleep habits
While these 4 steps are universal for weight loss, you may still need to dig a little deeper to find the exact foods that will help you lose weight and feel your best.
There are some healthy foods that may increase inflammation for some women, which leads to weight gain but are okay for others.
Some women may feel better on a high protein diet, while others may feel better with higher carbohydrates and lower protein. Others may feel their best with a diet that is high in healthy fats!
Why does it have to be so complicated?
This is where an elimination diet comes in handy! An elimination diet helps you learn which foods may be causing you problems and which are better for you to eat.
In general, all elimination diets start out with foods that are anti-inflammatory for most people. After a few days of letting your body rest, you start testing different foods to see how your body reacts.
One popular elimination diet is called "The Plan" by Lyn-Genet Recitas.
This is a great eating plan to find out if foods that most consider healthy, are actually causing inflammation and weight gain in your body.
She also focuses on healing the thyroid. I learned a lot about which foods my body likes the best from using this plan!
Other plans that are not specifically elimination diets, but will help you learn what foods make you feel your best and lose weight are The Whole 30 or the One 3 One Method.
Both of these plans focus on eliminating processed foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc., and give you great recipes and ways to replace them with healthy, healing foods.
While you will likely lose weight on an elimination diet (sometimes significant weight!) remember that the real purpose is to learn about your body.
You can then make modifications to your lifestyle that promote not only weight loss and maintenance but also help you feel more energetic and happier with your life.
Keeping a food and exercise journal is important for this phase of learning about your body. It's important to not only record what you eat but when you ate, and how you felt before and after eating. Also, record your sleep patterns, emotions, and exercise routines.
A review of your journal will help pinpoint patterns and foods that make you feel your best and avoid those that don't improve your life quality.
Once you get things figured out you won't need to continue writing everything down but plan on keeping track of as many facets of your daily life as possible to really hone in on the things that work best for you. After you know what your body loves, keep doing what works!
You can simplify this process by starting with one of the 5 steps listed above and get that fully integrated into your life before choosing a second one.
Each step should bring a positive change to your life and once you have all 5 incorporated you can try an elimination diet to further drill down on your symptoms if any remain.
Please comment if you have tried an elimination diet before and how it worked for you!
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