Almost every woman I know has struggled with their weight at some point in their lives. Whether it’s ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred pounds they need to lose, the feelings when the numbers on the scale refuse to budge are the same. They feel defeated, angry at themselves, hopeless and frustrated – especially when they know they’re doing everything “right.”
Women are so often sent the message that weight loss is a matter of will power. It isn’t! Trust me when I say that if it was that simple, there would be no need for the myriad weight loss programs out there, and women wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars each year trying to shed those stubborn pounds.
Weight loss is complicated and individual. That’s why one program won’t work for everyone. What goes on inside your body is so very unique, and different than what’s going on for anyone else. Every single person alive has a distinct biochemistry, and if you don’t know what yours looks like, it can be nearly impossible to meet the goals you set for yourself.
Hormones are a major piece of this puzzle. Hormones send messages about everything that’s going on in your body to your brain. And if the messages aren’t accurate, your body may hit the brakes on weight loss in a noble – but unnecessary – attempt to protect itself.
I’ve written about hormones a lot, but let’s take a closer look at how hormonal imbalances are connected to weight loss – and what you can do to shift the balance and start losing weight!
How Hormonal Imbalance Can Affect Weight Loss
Hormones are chemical messengers that let your brain know what your body needs – including how fast your metabolism needs to work, and how much fat you need to store for leaner times. But here’s the problem — those messages often get distorted, and your body ends up holding on to fat even when you’re survival isn’t threatened.
The levels of specific hormones circulating through your body can vary hour to hour – or even minute to minute, depending on the signals your brain is receiving. Different levels of hormones are released at different times of day, and change throughout your menstrual cycle as well.
As we age, some hormones naturally decrease, which isn’t a problem on its own. Difficulties begin when the levels are out of balance with each other. Ratios between certain hormones are important, and if the balance is off weight loss becomes incredibly difficult no matter what you do!
Hormone production begins with the HPA (hyothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and so many things can go wrong right from the very beginning of the process. That’s why it’s so important to look for the root cause of weight loss resistance instead of taking drastic measures to try and drop the weight. That weight is a symptom – and you need to know what caused the gain in the first place if you want the interventions you choose to be effective.
My Own Experience with Hormones and Weight Gain
Cortisolis one of the biggest problems when it comes to hormonal imbalance. When cortisol levels are skewed, so many other hormones are impacted as well. That’s why I suggest starting with looking at your cortisol production – and the stress in your life.
I know first hand the effects that stress can have on weight. I was in perimenopause when my mother got sick, and not only was I caring for her, I was also raising three young children, and working insane hours in my thriving practice.
During this time, I gained 20 pounds, seemingly out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe it — I had changed nothing about the way I ate, but my body was certainly changing! I tried everything to drop those extra pounds. I joined a weight loss program and actually ran to meetings for weigh-in then ran back home again. I didn’t recognize that I was increasing the stress on my body, thereby making the problem worse!
It wasn’t until I took a step back and realized that I was directly contradicting the advice I gave other women that I knew what had to be done. Stress reduction was a necessity, not a luxury!
It’s funny how much you can miss when it comes to your own life, isn’t it? I knew that stress and rising cortisol levels could impact weight, but it’s like I forgot it all when I got caught up in my own personal stress cycle. I’m so grateful for my education and training, because it allowed me to remember all the things I passed along to women in my practice every day.
As soon as I stopped and took the time I needed for myself to reduce stress, get present in the moment, and enjoy the life I had instead of simply tearing through it, the weight began to come off.
Other Hormones That Impact Weight Loss
As important as cortisol is to hormonal balance and weight loss, it’s certainly not the only hormone to have an effect on weight. Let’s take a quick look at some other important players.
Insulin regulates the amount of glucose that can be absorbed by your cells. When insulin levels aren’t right, or your body can’t produce insulin as needed, insulin resistance can result. What that means is that the glucose made by the food you eat can’t be properly absorbed. But your body has to do something with this extra blood sugar, so your liver converts the glucose to fat.
Leptin is a hormone directly connected to appetite. Leptin carries the message “I’m full” to your brain, which in turn sends out the signal to stop eating. When you have too much leptin circulating, however, you may find yourself constantly hungry, eating too much or too often, and consequently gaining weight. That’s because your brain can’t keep up with the constant flood of leptin. Receptors stop working, the “full” signal is missed, and you just keep eating.
Thyroid hormones and metabolism are intimately connected. The more thyroid hormones your body produces, the faster you’ll burn calories. So if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism, where your thyroid gland can’t produce enough thyroid hormones, your metabolism will slow. This can cause you to gain weight — along with a host of other uncomfortable symptoms.
Estrogen and Progesterone
Estrogen is on every woman’s mind as she gets older and enters perimenopause or menopause. The effects of estrogen dominance are well documented, including weight loss resistance, mood disorders, PMS and irregular periods. With estrogen dominance, the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is off. This balance is essential to healthy functioning. Estrogen levels may fall in the “normal range” but if you have too much in comparison to the amount of progesterone in your body, you could still have big problems.
Am I Destined to Gain Weight in Menopause?
Let’s stop for just a second and look at menopause and weight. So many women come to me with incorrect assumptions about menopause – including the false notion that weight gain is inevitable and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
But there’s always something you can do. That doesn’t mean I think it’s easy, and I’m certainly not saying that it’s all about willpower. It’s more than that. It’s not about having the desire to change – it’s about having the tools! And the first tool you need is information.
It’s really no surprise that so many women struggle with weight gain in menopause. Hormone production is changing while at the same time, stress is hitting an all time high.
Parents are aging but children are still young; careers are heading towards their peak; women are pulled in so many directions, tending to everyone else – and forgetting to care for themselves!
You can’t always change these stressors, or when they hit. What you can change is your attitudes and beliefs. Rather than being a period of life that is feared, perimenopause and menopause should be celebrated!
With the right perspective, this can be the best time of your life. And that starts with not throwing up your hands and giving in when a few extra pounds mysteriously appear. Instead, stop and take a close look at all the areas that can impact your hormonal health and stall weight loss. I can help get you started.
5 Tips to Promote Hormonal Balance
I know that it’s hard. I know that when it feels like stress is the only constant in your life, finding the motivation and strength to make even small changes can is supremely difficult. That’s why extreme diets and weight loss programs so often fail.
When I was struggling with all that stress and those extra twenty pounds, and responded by trying an intense weight loss regimen, I failed. But when I took a step back and tried to find small ways to decrease stress – and subsequently lower cortisol levels – things began to shift. It didn’t happen overnight; there are no quick fixes. But it did happen. Every small thing I did to care for myself helped me make a little more headway, until those pounds were just a memory.
And here’s another “lightbulb” moment I had, which has kept me moving forward all these years. The weight loss was just a bonus! When I started focusing on myself, and what I needed, I began to really feel good for the first time in years. I had more energy, I felt joyful, and I was better able to cope with the everyday stressors. By taking the time to get my hormones in check, I became a better mother, better daughter, better health care professional — an all around better me! You can too, starting today with these five tips.
1. Honestly Assess Your Diet and Make Small Changes Wherever You Can.
Remember how I said extreme programs rarely work? That’s because they simply aren’t sustainable. Cutting out everything you love, every food that has positive memories attached or has comforted you for years, will soon lead to a crash. No one enjoys feeling deprived!
The key here is to add healthy choices while slowly eliminating the less healthy options. So instead of saying you won’t eat anything sweet at all, try baking with xylitol, and paying close attention to portion size. Substitute a salad filled with colorful veggies for a starchy side. Instead of a glass of wine, pour seltzer into a wine glass and add fresh fruit for color.
There are so many small ways to change your diet a little at a time – and soon, you may find you don’t miss your old habits at all!
2. Don’t Try to Manage It All Alone
So many women I know think they have to manage everything all on their own. But trying to do it all without support only increases stress levels.
If you have a partner, talk openly and honestly about what you need – they can’t read your mind, and it’s not fair to expect them to. Discuss symptoms with a trusted healthcare professional who can help you determine the best treatment for your unique situation.
Don’t ignore the emotional side – a counselor or personal growth experience can identify internal stressors you may not even recognize, and help you let them go.
3. Supplement Wisely
Hormonal balance depends on your body getting all of the nutrients it needs. When there are nutritional gaps, which are so common in our modern lifestyles, you might need to add a little extra support until your hormones level out. I recommend that all women take a high-quality multivitamin, along with omega-3 and Vitamin D supplements. Targeted supplements that help ease stress and allow for better quality sleep might be necessary while you heal.
4. Cultivate Joy and Self-Care Every Day
If you never take time to stop and give yourself the loving attention you need, it’s very likely that your hormonal balance will suffer. Self-care is more than a massage or manicure once in a while. You deserve attention every single day, in whatever form makes you feel happy and at peace.
Whether your love spending time in nature, dancing, singing, writing, socializing with friends, or reading a good book purely for pleasure, it’s crucial to find time every single day to pursue your passions — whatever they are!
5. Be Mindful and Present
If your mind isn’t fully focused on whatever you’re doing in the moment, it’s far too easy to lose track of healthy choices that influence your hormonal health. How many times have you mindlessly eaten an entire bag of chips without even realizing it? Had one too many drinks at a party? Gone a full day without a single glass of water because you were “too busy” to stop what you were doing? Realized it was 1 o’clock in the morning and you are still working, when you need to be up at 5 am?
Setting up a daily mindfulness practice – even for five minutes – can help you stop and take notice of the choices you are making all day long.
Balanced Hormones Make Weight Loss Easier – and Life a Lot More Fun!
I’m not trying to make light of the hard work it takes to be sure your hormones are working for you instead of against you. Trust me, I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to stop and alter the course of your life. But with a few lifestyle changes and attention to hormonal balance, you can create a life you love. I’m here to help every step of the way!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD