Our resident nutritionist gives her advice on balancing hormones
Eat less and exercise more. This equation is perfectly logical as a weight loss plan, and while it works when hormones and metabolism are functioning normally, weight loss becomes more complicated after years of overeating, chronic stress, lack of sleep, and a diet high in sugar and processed foods. Our hormones get off balance and metabolism slows, making weight loss difficult. We need to first rebalance our hormones, and then the weight will ease off.
Hormones have the job of sending chemical messages throughout the body, and an imbalance causes a range of symptoms from fatigue, sugar cravings, bloating, belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability and constant stress, dry or greasy skin, acne, hair loss, unwanted hair growth, bloating, joint pain, reproductive issues, digestive issues and more.
While we have over 50 hormones circulating throughout our system, there are several biggies and that can greatly impact weight loss.
This is our main stress hormone. When you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode, cortisol raises blood pressure (so you can run) and blood sugar (to power your muscles). However, it also causes you to gain belly fat and keep it there making it impossible to lose weight in a state of chronic stress, which is how many of us live in this day in age.
One of the best ways to lower cortisol is to relax. Instead of multi-tasking, which can lead to stress; try engaging in one activity at a time. Take eating for example. Sit down to your next meal WITHOUT your phone. Notice the colors of your food, and take deep breaths through your nose and into your belly as you chew. Notice how relaxing this feels. Another great thing about eating in a relaxed state is that we become more able to absorb nutrients.
Leptin dictates when we’re full. However, when this hormone is out of balance, which is caused by excess stored fat, our bodies overproduce it, thus becoming overwhelmed, and then production stops. For those of you who’ve ever been overweight this explains why we can keep eating without feeling full. Talk about a vicious cycle!
To improve leptin function, eat foods containing zinc, i.e. pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and mushrooms. It takes around 15 minutes for your body to feel full so once leptin becomes more balanced, focus one chewing food to pass that time, instead of scarfing it down along with excess calories!
Opposite of leptin, is ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger. The more ghrelin in our system, the more hungry we feel.
Ghrelin production goes way up when we don’t get our zzzzz’s. Have you noticed feeling ravenous after a night of poor sleep? That’s because there’s a whole lot of excess ghrelin circulating in our system. Another excellent reason to sleep more: inadequate sleep is linked to increased body fat. Aim for at least seven to eight hours a night.
Thyroid = Selenium
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in our throats that governs our metabolism. When thyroid function is low our metabolism slows causing challenges with weight loss, and we experience brain fog and depression.
If you suspect your thyroid is under or over functioning, a functional medicine clinic should offer tests for TSH, T4, total T3 (active thyroid hormone), reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies to rule out autoimmune thyroid problems.
The more fat you carry, the more estrogen circulating through your system, and the high estrogen levels can lead to weight loss resistance, depression, fatigue, breast tenderness, and painful periods or heavy periods.
For healthy estrogen levels, eat more fiber to escort estrogen and other toxins out of your body. Fiber rich foods include all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. If you’re new to fiber add it slowly at first to increase intake and make sure to drink lots of water with fiber to avoid constipation.
Balanced testosterone makes us feel confident and promotes a sense of wellbeing. A lack of this hormone can lead to weak muscles, which leads to slowed metabolism. On the other hand, too much testosterone can lead to unwanted hair growth in women, greasy skin and acne, and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to name a few.
To balance testosterone: gently increase resistance training, this doesn’t have to mean lifting weights, you can increase resistance using body weight like in yoga, which doubles as a relaxation to reset cortisol. Another tip is to avoid sugar, which not only helps to balance testosterone but many other hormones as well.
Once our hormones are balanced, weight loss is simply an equation of calories in to calories out. From there, maintain a healthy weight and balanced hormones by eating a real food diet, reducing stress, getting adequate sleep and consistent exercise.
Disclaimer: While hormones can be reset through diet and lifestyle changes, some cases may require support from a healthcare practitioner.
 Epel, E. S., et al. “Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat.”Psychosomatic Medicine 62, no. 5 (2000):623-632.
 Farooqi, I. S., et al. “Leptin regulates striatal regions and human eating behavior.”Science 317, no. 5843 (2007):1355-1355.
 Grantham, J. P., et al. “The estrogen hypothesis of obesity.”PloS One 9, no. 6 (2014):e99776.