One of the most common questions women ask me as they get older is:“if I’m eating right and exercising, why is it so hard to lose weight?” You may be doing the same things you’ve always done, but suddenly find it’s not enough to stay fit. Even if you know you’re entering perimenopause or menopause, you might not realize that hormonal fluctuations could be playing a part in your weight gain. Your first thought now might be: “can estrogen cause weight gain?” Estrogen dominance can—it’s when you have a disproportionate amount of estrogen in relation to your progesterone. But there are also three other hormones that need to be balanced at any age in order to maintain a healthy weight. Read on to discover the four key hormones that affect your weight—estrogen, cortisol, leptin and insulin—and how to balance them naturally to lose weight and feel great.
How Your Hormones Affect Your Weight
Your hormones impact so many things—from your mood and energy levels to yes, your weight. Your hormones fluctuate monthly, but also throughout the course of your life as you go from puberty to adulthood and then into menopause. Unfortunately, our hormonal changes don’t get discussed much in the mainstream media. So I want to educate and empower you to know your body and know your hormones. If you have some stubborn weight that just won’t come off, you’ve probably gotten so frustrated that you feel like it’s impossible. But I’m here to empower you and show you that you can lose weight, and you can do it naturally by bringing key hormones into balance.
I’ve gotten a lot of great information on hormonal imbalances from Dr. Sara Gottfried. She is a Harvard-trained doctor and hormone expert, and she offers up ways to balance your hormones—whether they’ve become imbalanced due to perimenopause, menopause, or lifestyle choices. She has a fantastic program called The Hormone Reset Detox and lots of great tips about how hormonal imbalances make losing those last few pounds extra difficult. So let’s learn what hormones need to be balanced in your body to lose weight—and how to balance them naturally.
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for the development of female sexual characteristics (breasts and hips). There’s an interesting connection between estrogen and weight gain in menopause. During menopause, levels of all your hormones tend to decrease, including estrogen and progesterone. Your doctor may have told you that your estrogen levels are plummeting, which is why it’s confusing to hear that estrogen dominance can cause weight gain in menopause.
While estrogen levels decrease during menopause, if your progesterone levels are decreasing more than your estrogen, you can still have estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is really about the ratio of estrogen to progesterone—if you have too much estrogen compared to your progesterone (no matter how little it is) you can gain weight and store more fat around your middle. And, no surprise—it’s believed that most women tend to have an estrogen dominance. Another factor contributing to estrogen dominance is exposure to environmental estrogens which are estrogen-like chemicals in our environment. Some of these are things we ingest like pesticides, hormones in animal products, and plastics—all known as “endocrine disruptors.”
How To Balance Estrogen For Weight Loss
To avoid estrogen dominance, you want to keep a fine balance between your progesterone and estrogen. Dr. Gottfried recommends eating a pound of veggies per day, as she states the fiber will help remove any excess estrogen from the body. Of all the out-there medical recommendations or far-fetched advice, I have to say: this one is pretty simple! Gottfried also recommends that women seeking to lower their estrogen levels naturally aim for 35 to 45 gram of fiber per day, increasing their amount slowly so as not to cause stomach upset. You can also naturally balance estrogen dominance by:
- Take Wild Yam (Dioscorea Villosa) in capsule or dried herb form (This contains a compound called Diosgenin which has been used as the base for synthetic hormone drugs but taken in its natural form can still help)
- Reduce your red meat intake
- Eliminate excess sugar or processed foods
- Exercise daily to promote detoxification
Cortisol regulates your body’s response to stressful situations. Unfortunately, we are so inundated with a constant stream of modern stressors and the need to be task-switching and communicating across a variety of channels that many of us have a surplus amount of cortisol in our bodies. According to lead cardiovascular researchers at the University Medical Center in the Netherlands, having excess cortisol puts you at increased risk of heart disease, and it also cause you to store visceral fat around your internal organs, which often appears as excess belly fat.
Related: Can Stress Cause Belly Fat?
How To Balance Cortisol For Weight Loss
Simply put, you need to reset your body’s response to stress. Gottfried recommends slowly weaning yourself off excessive caffeine or switching from coffee to tea. If tea isn’t er, your cup of tea, you can also do other things to lower your cortisol levels, such as practicing mindfulness. This idea may seem vague, but it’s really straightforward: slow down, breathe, and pay attention to what you’re doing. So often we get distracted and rush from thing to thing, and this task-switching can significantly raise stress levels. Instead, try paying attention to one task at a time. Other ways you can naturally lower your cortisol levels include:
Leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells and it’s primary function is to tell a part of our brain (the hypothalamus) that we’re satiated, or full. Our modern diet is saturated with a type of sugar called fructose, found in many processed foods (everything from pasta sauce to salad dressings). When too much fructose floods your body, your body stores it as fat. This leads to an excess of leptin; when one has too much leptin it’s possible to become leptin resistant, meaning your body no longer can tell if you’re full or not—and you keep eating and gaining weight.
How to Balance Leptin For Weight Loss
A huge component to balancing your leptin levels is getting enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels are lower and you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. (Harvard studies show that sleep deprivation reduces leptin levels and actually increases your body’s desire for fatty or carbohydrate-rich foods.) So if you suspect a leptin imbalance is to blame for your weight gain, make sleep a priority each and every night—we should all be prioritizing sleep anyway for its myriad of health benefits, but if weight loss is the kick in the pants you need to start catching more zzz’s, then do it! Other ways to balance your leptin levels include:
- Taking an Omega 3 supplement or eat more Omega 3 rich foods such as fish, grass-fed meats, and chia seeds
- Decreasing your fructose intake by eating little to no added sugar
- Exercising regularly
Insulin is a hormone created by your pancreas and it helps regulate glucose (blood sugar) in your body. If you’re overweight or even “skinny fat” (storing too much visceral fat around your organs) your body’s glucose regulator (insulin!) gets thrown off balance and you have a harder time losing weight. In addition, if you tend to eat sugary foods throughout the day, you keep your insulin working overtime trying to clear the sugar from your blood. What does insulin do with the extra sugar you ask? It stores it as fat.
How To Balance Insulin For Weight Loss
Dr. Gottfried recommends starting the day by drinking filtered water with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to regulate your blood sugar first thing in the morning. If the apple cider vinegar sounds too nasty to try, ease into it or at least drink 16 oz of water every morning before you eat or drink anything else. This acts as a natural body flush. (I like to add lemon to my water.) Other ways to naturally balance your insulin levels include:
- Getting enough protein with every meal
- Eating smaller (healthy) meals more often
- Eating low-glycemic carbs (fruits, beans, non-starchy veggies)
- Eliminating added sugars from your diet
The bottom line is this: if you’ve been struggling to lose weight but can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong, your hormones may be to blame. You can ask your doctor to test your hormones, as well as use the above information to try different techniques to bring suspected problem hormones back into balance. It’s your body, and you should know everything you can to not only lose weight but feel happy, healthy and whole.