Nearly all women will face at least something of a struggle with her weight as she moves into her 30s and beyond. The most common focuses in evaluating what’s causing you to gain weight are on diet and lifestyle choices, but it is a fact that one of the most predominant causes of weight gain for women is a hormonal imbalance.
That’s not to say diet and lifestyle don’t factor in. For most people, it’s a combination of diet, lifestyle, and hormonal balance that promotes their packing on too many pounds. And of course the problem being is that fat tends to accumulate in the hips and buttocks for women, the same way it does in the abdomen for men.
So the solution – and we’re sure this is nothing you haven’t heard before – is to eat better and burn greater number of calories via physical activity. That’s likely not as difficult a plan to put into action, but that’s not the case when it comes to ways to balance hormones for weight loss. So let’s discuss 3 of these hormones and the balancing of them in greater detail.
The process by which the body balances estrogen to progesterone levels in the body is tied to how estrogen regulates insulin. To explain briefly – eating makes your blood sugar rise, while insulin lowers it by directing glucose into three different spots in your body. When – and only when – insulin is balanced it sends a small amount of that glucose to your liver, a large amount of it to your muscles to use as fuel, and very little to fat storage, if any at all.
When you’re healthy and in good shape, your pancreas secretes no more or less than the right amount of insulin to have your blood sugar gently rise and fall within a narrow range (fasting levels of 70 to 85 mg/dl if we want to be technical). As estrogen levels climb above and beyond their optimal balance, however, the cells that produce insulin become strained, and when unchecked over a significant period of time you can become insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance has a long list of negatives, but most relevant here is that it initiates the sending of less glucose to the liver and muscles, raising the levels of sugar in your bloodstream and then storing the glucose as fat. And that’s what happens – your midsection, hips, and buttocks are designated as receptors for all of it.
Leptin is a hormone that, like many, works in direct communication with your brain. In the case of leptin, the communication is specifically regarding the perceived need for nourishment via food. You see, when the body is hungry for nourishment, a hormone called ghrelin is released into the bloodstream to prioritize you with the need for sustenance. Leptin is used to counteract ghrelin, when you body senses it’s had sufficient nourishment.
When everything’s balanced, leptin is released from your fat cells and moves along the bloodstream to your brain, where it states loud and clear that you’re full. Leptin can – and often is – hampered in its message transmission by a type of sugar called fructose that’s found in fruit and processed foods alike. Eating small amounts of fructose is perfectly OK. Eat more than the recommended 5 daily servings of fruit (and it’s also worth noting that conventionally-grown fruit has more fructose than it used to), however, and your liver can’t deal with the fructose fast enough to use it as fuel.
Instead, your body starts converting it into – you guessed it – fats which are introduced to the bloodstream as triglycerides and then deposited into the liver and elsewhere in your belly. As more fructose is converted to fat, your levels of leptin increase (because fat produces leptin). Too much of any hormone circulating in your system results in your body becoming resistant to its message. In leptin’s case, your brain doesn’t comprehend leptin’s signal that you’re full and so you’re likely to continue eating and thus gaining weight.
Here are tips for balancing leptin hormone levels for maintaining weight:
- Consume healthy fats and protein in the morning to create building blocks for your hormones.
- Eliminate fructose and sugar of any kind from your diet
- Eliminate refined or processed food
- Limit your carb intake during the day
- Eat to eliminate food cravings and give your liver and hormones a rest – snacking destroys the timing and circadian clock that works in unison with leptin
- Allow 4-5 hours between food and sleep (not counting the sleep hacking recommendations for energy maintenance during sleep)
- Make sure you’re getting enough Omega 3 in your diet from grass-fed meat, fish or high quality oils such as Krill
- Lower Omega 6 consumption from grains, conventional meats, processed and vegetable oils
- Don’t workout an hour before or after breakfast
- In instances of severe imbalance, get to bed by 10pm each night and optimize your sleep
Cortisol is aptly named the stress hormone, and the deleterious effects it has on the body are both wide reaching and well documented. As you experience stress or anxiety, your cortisol levels rise in the blood, and it sends a message to the brain that the best choice for dealing with it all is to convert blood sugar into fat for long-term storage. There’s a biological impetus for this response, as hoarding body fat was an often necessary survival adaptation for our ancestors when they faced stressful famines. In those instances the fat was burned for fuel when diet wasn’t supplying it, but of course these days we continue to ingest food while our brains are wired – via cortisol – to hold onto our fat deposits.
Here are tips for balancing cortisol hormone levels for maintaining weight:
- Be increasingly physically active
- Relieve stress more effectively via yoga or a similar pursuit
- Balance your blood sugar
- Sleep more, sleep better
- Try to keep a positive perspective on life
- Up your vitamin C intake
- Reduce your use of electronic devices
- Eat foods like wild salmon, red bell pepper, beans, black tea, garlic, avocado, spinach, herb teas, fruits
- Ingest more magnesium
There’s much more to this topic, and we encourage you to do your own digging to learn more. But the supplements and tips suggested above are quick and easily-incorporated ways to balance your hormones and stay at a natural weight. Best of luck to you, and do make sure you eat right and stay active to set the best stage for these changes.
About the Author
Amy Trotter is a freelance writer and certified nutritionist from Vancouver BC Canada. She currently works for Yeswellness.com. In her spare time, Amy likes to explore local mountains with her puppy BamBam.