Your hormones impact so many things—from your mood and energy levels to 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. Hormones can become imbalanced due to a variety of factors, including perimenopause, menopause, or lifestyle choices.
In this article, we cover ways to naturally balance four hormones that can impact your weight—estrogen, cortisol, leptin and insulin—so you can lose weight naturally and feel great.
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.
The typical thought process is that menopause is an estrogen deficiency disease. Basically your ovaries stop producing it which is true. But if you’ve been on any hormone replacement or if you have lifestyle habits that expose you to environmental estrogens, then no surprise—you could have estrogen dominance.
Exposure to environmental estrogens which are estrogen-like chemicals in our environment can cause issues. 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.
Integrative Medicine Doctor Sara Gottfried, M.D., recommends eating a pound of veggies per day, as she states the fiber will help remove any excess estrogen from the body.
Gottfried also recommends that women should aim for 35 to 45 gram of fiber intake per day, increasing their amount slowly so as not to cause stomach upset.
You can also naturally balance estrogen dominance by:
- Reducing your red meat intake
- Eliminating excess sugar or processed foods
- Exercising 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, like the need to communicate across a variety of channels, that our bodies are creating a surplus amount of cortisol.
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 your favorite choice. 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:
- Taking a magnesium supplement or B vitamin
- Consistently get better, longer sleep
Leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells, and its 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.
PS – do not get this confused with the naturally occurring fructose in sugar. Natural sugar combined with fiber is used differently in the bloodstream, and is generally not a problem. Fruit can (and should) remain part of a healthy diet.
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.
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 let that be your motivation.
Other ways to balance your leptin levels include:
- Taking an Omega 3 supplement or eat more Omega 3 rich foods such as fatty 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 which helps regulate glucose, or blood sugar, in your body. If you’re overweight or storing too much visceral fat around your organs, your body’s glucose regulator (insulin) gets thrown off balance and you may 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. Insulin stores extra sugar as fat.
How To balance insulin For weight loss:
One small step you can take is by starting the day drinking filtered water with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. This will help you regulate your blood sugar first thing in the morning.
If apple cider vinegar sounds too harsh for you, 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.