Even with a healthy diet and regular exercise, some people find it difficult to maintain their desired weight.
This is especially true for women who are approaching or entering menopause. Many women report weight gain during menopause and say it’s harder for them to lose weight.
Functional medicine practitioners may regularly encounter patients who complain that they’re weight loss resistant. Age, diet, and exercise are likely factors, but sometimes hormones are to blame.
Do Hormones Affect Your Weight?
The cause of weight gain or weight loss resistance isn’t always as simple as getting older or lack of exercise. Complex changes in our hormones play a significant role in weight loss resistance. Yes, these hormonal changes are most prominent when we hit a certain age—which varies per individual. But the bright side of this fact is just because someone is passing middle age, doesn’t mean the weight gain-weight loss battle is lost. Active people with a healthy diet who are struggling with weight loss can get back in the fight by working with their functional medical practitioner to balance their hormones.
Estradiol estrogen (E2) levels tend to plummet around menopause. The reduction in this hormone can cause weight gain in women and make it much more difficult to lose any weight they’ve put on. Estradiol helps women regulate metabolism and directly affects body weight.
When women gain weight, they tend to put it on around the hips and thighs. But during menopause, they may gain weight around the abdomen and acquire visceral fats around the organs. Reduced estrogen levels also lead to muscle mass loss, so fewer calories get burned passively throughout the day. In this way, changing levels of estrogen can have a cascading effect when it comes to weight maintenance.
How Do You Know Your Estrogen Is Low?
A blood test is the easiest way to tell if there’s an estrogen imbalance. Here are a few key symptoms that indicate a possible change in estrogen levels:
Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
Lack of natural vaginal lubrication
While the loss of E2 (estradiol) without the proper balance of E1 (estrone) is typical of menopausal weight issues, estrogen dominance causes problems as well. When progesterone levels fall below estrogen levels—even when estrogen is low as well—women tend to gain weight around their middle. Outside influences known as endocrine disrupters can influence progesterone levels and contribute to estrogen dominance. Chemicals in plastics, various animal hormones in the foods we eat, and pesticides can decrease progesterone and cause an imbalance.
Fat cells produce leptin hormones. If leptin is out of balance, overeating is easier. The principal function of leptin is to tell the hypothalamus when we’re full. The problem is excess sugars are stored as fat. And today, there’s so much sugar (fructose) in the average person’s diet that people become leptin resistant. The result is the body doesn’t know when it’s full. So, people keep eating, adding calories, and gain weight.
Thyroid health has been a hot topic in recent years and for good reason. Studies show low thyroid function occurs in 20% of women and 10% of men. Gluten intolerance and weight gain are common symptoms of thyroid problems. The thyroid hormones, Triiodothyronine, and thyroxine interact with your muscles, fat cells, pancreas, liver, and hypothalamus (the area of your brain that lets your body know when it is full) to help regulate the way the body metabolizes the foods we ingest.
Many traditional doctors don’t test correctly to find the source of thyroid issues. Like progesterone, the thyroid is easily affected by environmental toxins. Heavy metals such as mercury and lead can throw the thyroid out of whack, and pesticides also contribute to low thyroid function. Testing is needed to determine whether thyroid hormone replacement is necessary. However, detox and a healthy diet along with supplements rich in Omega-3 fats, zinc, iodine, and selenium like THYRO BENEFITS™ (60) can help to get the thyroid functioning at optimal levels once again.
Having an excess of the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to increase unhealthy visceral fats and increase the risk of heart disease. The visceral fats that build up around the internal organs will add to the appearance of having belly fat.
In addition to reducing visceral fats, regulating cortisol levels can help with stress-related eating, glucose utilization, hypertension, anxiety, and migraines.
How to Balance Hormones for Weight Loss
Estrogen: eating plenty of vegetables (1 pound per day) will help reduce excess estrogen to avoid estrogen dominance through an increase in fiber. Reducing red meats and eliminating processed foods and sugar will also help. Finally, daily exercise is critically important for detox.
Leptin: the best thing you can do to self-balance leptin is to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. Research has shown that sleep deprivation lowers leptin levels and increases the bodies craving for carbohydrates. Radically reducing processed foods and simple carbohydrates will also help to balance leptin levels. A healthy, balanced diet with a lot of Omega 3s (like fish, soy, walnuts, and chia seeds) and plenty of exercise along with being well-rested is great to get leptin back in line.
Cortisol: cortisol release revolves around how a person reacts to a stressful situation. So, working on how you respond to stress is key. Meditation and mindfulness practices can help the body handle stress more effectively. Don’t sweat the small stuff; slow down. Take a moment to breathe and relax. Like leptin, consistently getting a good night’s rest goes a long way in regulating cortisol. Magnesium and vitamin B supplements have been shown to help support cortisol regulation.
Thyroid: goitrogenic foods contribute to thyroid dysfunction, but it isn’t as simple as creating a thyroid meal plan, exercising, and getting good sleep (though these are extremely important). Testing is needed to determine the exact thyroid issue at hand and then diet, supplements, and any replacement hormones can be planned accordingly.
Balancing the hormones that affect weight loss will differ for each individual. It may be one hormone, a subset, or multiple imbalances that are making it difficult to meet your weight loss goals. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to self-diagnose. It’s best to consult with a functional medical practitioner to determine exactly which hormonal inconsistencies are contributing to weight gain or weight loss resistance. Then, they can help you create an all-encompassing health plan to get your hormones back in balance.