I talk to many women in my clinic who are tired and trying to maintain or lose weight but feel it’s just getting harder and harder.
Often, it’s not about the exercise and it’s not about the food. Sure, we can tweak these things, but if there are important hormones which are out of balance, it’s going to be near impossible to maintain your energy and have a great (or even functioning) metabolism. So, it’s time to talk hormones.
There are five major hormones in your body that may be stealing your energy and stopping your weight loss. Let’s look at them.
1. Oestrogen (dominance)
That major female hormone that we’ve all heard of that gives us our breasts, our shapely hips and our curves. It keeps our joints (and other bits) lubricated and happy. It keeps our skin firm and elastic. It makes us clucky and helps keep our libido strong.
Many women (and some men) have oestrogen dominance, where one or more types of oestrogen in our body (there are three types) are higher than they should be. Or, our oestrogen levels are high in comparison to our progesterone levels. When can this happen? Any time in our lives.
I see oestrogen dominance in teenagers, in women who are in their twenties and thirties, women in their forties and even in menopausal and postmenopausal women. It’s a very common issue in our current society. In oestrogen dominance, think symptoms like:
1. Bloating, fluid retention
2. Weight gain, sore breasts
3. PMS, mood swings
4. Acne or Rosacea
5. Heavy or painful periods or short cycles
6. Larger breasts, bottom or thighs (can be out of proportion to the rest of you)
TOP TIP: Start increasing your veggie/salad intake (especially greens) on a daily basis. An ideal amount is up to 450 grams of vegetables per day. You will need to build up slowly though to avoid bloating and a grumpy bowel. The extra fibre will help your body to mop up excess oestrogen and help it to be metabolised and excreted. P.S. – organic broccoli and baby spinach are my faves.
2. Insulin (resistance)
Insulin resistance is a term that’s becoming more well-known these days.
Why? Because many of us have it! Insulin is our blood sugar regulator and is made in larger amounts when we eat carbohydrates and sugars. It allows the sugar from our food to be absorbed and used as fuel for energy immediately or stored (as fat) for later use.
Because we are now a society that consumes too much sugar (it’s in pretty much everything), over time, our bodies become less and less responsive to the insulin that is produced time and time again when we eat these foods. Eventually, we can become insulin resistant. This means that insulin is being produced by the pancreas but our body isn’t recognising it or responding to it the way it used to. Think symptoms like:
• Craving sugar
• Needing to eat between meals so you don’t feel faint, shaky or cranky
• Disturbed sleep
• Weight gain around your middle
• Feeling sleepy after a meal or in the middle of the afternoon
• Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
TOP TIP: Before a meal drink a small glass of water with either a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a teaspoon of apple cider or rice vinegar. This helps you absorb and digest your meal without raising insulin levels too high.
3. Cortisol (often too high, but it can also be too low)
Many of us know about cortisol, a hormone produced by our adrenal glands in response to stress. Yep, we need it if we’re running from a threat (you know, like a tiger that’s about to attack us) or if we’re dealing with a really stressful situation.
But the problem is that our lives are so busy and generally stressful that we’re producing far too much cortisol on a daily basis, and if we do this for too long, we eventually become adrenally fatigued, which pushes us further out of balance. The result? Think symptoms like:
• Major energy drops – especially in the afternoon, early evenings
• A second wind later at night – then you can’t get to sleep
• Constantly racing from task to task and feeling generally overwhelmed
• Needing caffeine to function
• Needing sugar for energy
• Putting on weight around your middle
• Difficulty losing weight, no matter what you do
TOP TIP: Ditch the caffeine or start reducing it until you get to either one coffee or two ordinary teas for the day. Caffeine revs up your cortisol and stresses your adrenals.
4. Leptin (resistance)
Leptin is the new kid on the block in relation to what we know about weight loss and fat burning. To put it simply, leptin is our satiety hormone. It tells us when we’ve eaten enough and when to stop. But, like insulin resistance, leptin resistance can happen over time too.
The result? Our bodies don’t know when they’re full, and they keep signalling to us that we’re hungry, so we keep eating. How do we become leptin resistant? Our modern food contains high levels of added sugar, but particularly fructose. Many of our packaged foods now contain high fructose corn syrup, and we’re also getting too much fructose from fruits and fruit juices.
So, we keep feeling hungry and we keep storing fat. It’s a vicious cycle. leptin resistance? Think symptoms like:
• Poor Sleep
• A diet high in sugar or fruits
• You never really feel full, even if you’ve had a big meal
• You put on weight REALLY easily
• If you can grab a “roll” of belly fat when standing then you probably have some level of leptin resistance
TOP TIP: Mild Fasting. Start delaying your breakfast or eating dinner as early as you can. If you’re eating within a smaller window of time through the day (for example – between 9am and 6pm), your body starts to regulate its ability to burn fat again, and leptin sensitivity starts to return.
5. Thyroid hormones (low)
An under-functioning thyroid gland is one of the most common causes of low energy and weight gain. The problem is that when our thyroid is tested in a standard blood test ordered by the GP, only one parameter (TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is tested.
This test has a really big range, so if you’re inside of this range, your thyroid function will be considered “normal” when it may not be normal at all. Your thyroid function may be way too low to support your body’s energy production and metabolism.
The good news is that there are a lot of natural ways to support a slightly underactive thyroid. If I suspect a low thyroid function I will always order further thyroid testing which is easy to do but often outside of our standard Medicare system. So, you do pay a small amount, but I believe it’s really worth it. For low thyroid function think symptoms like:
• Dry skin
• Heavy or swollen eyelids
• Hair loss (more than what you think you should be losing, and eyebrows too)
• Feeling sluggish, tired and worse after exercise
• Difficulty losing weight
• General puffiness and bloating, fluid retention
• Feeling sluggish and “slow” most of the time
TOP TIP: Swap to Celtic sea salt for cooking and you can even add a pinch to each glass of water that you drink throughout the day. This hydrates and energises your cells and gives you extra minerals (including Iodine) for a healthier thyroid.