Our body is like a big machine with a whole bunch of parts that all work together. Hormones are just one of the “parts” involved in helping everything to run smoothly. Even with a healthy approach to life with a good eating plan and regular exercise, hormones may be unbalanced and cause some women the inablilty to lose weight and reach their fitness goals.
I want to talk about some of the most common hormonal issues that can affect weight loss in this blog today. If you think that some of these could be relevant to you, the best thing to do is consult your doctor and see if you are indeed affected by these.
Inflammation within the body is one of the main causes for a number of diseases that we see in the world today. Some types of inflammation are things like arthritis, eczema, digestive disorders and so on.
So what exactly is inflammation?
An easy way to understand inflammation is to look at a scenario where you roll your ankle; within a few minutes your ankle may feel a little tender, hot, and maybe even be a little swollen. All of these things are caused by the activation of your immune system, which tells particular cells to help fix the problem. When we are talking about inflammation within the body, this isn’t always as obvious as a swollen ankle may be, which is why it can be hard to realise that it is happening at all.
Certain aspects of our lifestyle, such as the foods we eat and other choices we make (such as drinking alcohol and smoking) can increase the amount of inflammation within our body. Did you know that when our body is in an inflammatory state, it may actually make it harder for you to lose weight? One reason is that inflammatory factors can influence other hormones that help to regulate and control blood sugar levels like cortisol, and leptin, which helps us to recognise when we are full.
There are many causes of inflammation that can stretch beyond what you put in your body. It is important to try to reduce the amount of inflammation and to consider your lifestyle which includes the food you eat and what you drink and what habits you are involved in.
While many people know this as the “stress hormone”, cortisol is actually an important hormone that is involved in a number of processes within the body such as regulating our blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and our metabolism.
Its normal for our bodies to increase the amount of cortisol produced when we are going through a period of stress, the real problem arises when you are constantly in a state of stress and cortisol levels are high for a long period of time.
There is a lot of research that shows that increased cortisol over long periods of time may cause weight gain, and more specifically, it can cause more fat to be stored around your middle. I’m not talking about the fat that determines how defined your abs are (called subcutaneous fat), but the fat found deep inside your abdomen and surrounds all of your major organs (called visceral fat). There is a lot of evidence suggesting that obesity and high levels of visceral fat may cause a lot of health problems later in life.
Serotonin is a hormone that plays an important role in controlling our appetite. Like cortisol, it is significantly affected by stress.
Long term stress can cause a massive decrease in serotonin levels, which can cause us to crave carbohydrates and sugary foods. This is because these foods can help encourage the body to increase serotonin production (it's a lot more detailed than this brief sentence but you get the idea). While your body needs carbohydrates to function and sugary foods can be eaten in moderation, eating too much on a regular basis can lead to unwanted weight gain.
A small amount of stress from time to time is perfectly normal. When it comes to both cortisol and serotonin, it is really important to understand what it is about your life that is causing you to feel stressed and then make an active decision to reduce this as much as possible. It can be as simple as writing a checklist of things that you need to do each day and allocating some time to achieve each of them. Also try to take some time out for yourself and do things you enjoy.
"Writing a list can clear your mind of all the things you need to do each day/week and can help you get things done. There is nothing more satisfying than scratching them off one by one - this is exactly how I run each and every day to make sure I accomplish all my tasks and don't get too overwhelmed."
Thyroid hormones can play an important role in maintaining a healthy weight because they help to regulate our metabolism. Without getting too technical, the word “metabolism” essentially describes all of the chemical reactions that take place within our body that help keep us alive and functioning.
If your body is not able to produce enough thyroid hormones (called hypothyroidism), it can cause your metabolism to slow right down, which can make it more difficult to lose weight. On the other hand, if your body produces too much thyroid hormones (called hyperthyroidism), then it can essentially send your metabolism into overdrive, which can make it very difficult to gain weight.
Healthy levels of thyroid hormones (not too much or too little) are really important when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. While some thyroid abnormalities can sometimes be caused by diet, it is also important to understand that these issues can also be genetic. It you think that you have either of these conditions, it is super important that you speak to your doctor to determine if this is what could be making it difficult for you to lose or gain weight. what the best treatment is, as this can vary from person to person. I always get my clients to get a check up at the doctor if there is any possibility of hormone imbalance - at least we know what we are dealing with and can take to most appropriate action to get the fastest results.
As you can see, hormones play a huge role in our body’s ability to function each and every day. Whilst these are not ALL of the hormonal issues that can affect weight loss, these are some of the more common ones. I believe it is so important to be aware of all of the factors that can affect weight loss. I hear so many girls who feel dejected because they are struggling to see results despite doing their best to live a healthy lifestyle. While weight loss might be your goal, it is so important that you focus on correcting any hormonal imbalances first. At the end of the day, it is more important that all of your body’s systems are in check and working at their best.
What can you do to address these imbalances?
Get a better night’s sleep.
There’s probably nothing that will help your hormones more than making quality sleep a priority. Bedtime should be a sacred ritual that calms and soothes you: Take a relaxing bath, turn off electronics at least two hours before you go to sleep, and make sure your room temperature is not too hot.
Gluten intolerance is a very real problem that doesn’t just affect people with coeliac disease. It’s been linked to estrogen imbalances, menstrual disorders, and diminished ovarian reserve. Try an elimination of gluten or try to cut out or minimise gluten and opt for whole grains like brown rice or quinoa instead.
Stress is like pouring petrol on an already roaring hormonal fire. It raises cortisol levels, taxes the adrenals, and zaps you of energy, joy, and a healthy libido. Stress causes the depletion of the hormone progesterone while increasing the long-term stress hormone cortisol. As the body makes more cortisol it leaves less progesterone to be available for use. Stress also depletes your levels of serotonin and dopamine which are two neurotransmitters responsible for mood-enhancement. These neurotransmitters are responsible for alleviating PMS and hormonal symptoms such as breast pain, digestive upset, cravings, depression, insomnia, anxiety, poor concentration, and lack of motivation. Stress also raises the hormone aldosterone which contributes to water retention and magnesium loss. Advanced testing that looks at your cortisol and progesterone levels can lead to a clear understanding of what could be causing your problems and what specific treatments would be most effective in helping you. Something you can start doing immediately to help with this is to adopt a consistent practice of stress-busting activities: yoga, meditation, massage, walking in nature or whatever other activities mellow your mood.
Unfortunately so many people turn to the wrong treatments – pain medications, anxiety medications, and depression medications, and even surgical interventions to improve their symptoms. Because these interventions fail to address the true cause of hormonal imbalances, many continue to suffer and in many cases their conditions worsen which can lead to more serious disease and illness.
Having a state of hormonal balance is a critical component to health and well being. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance are very common, which can make detecting and remedying problems difficult. While we can all take steps at home to create a healthy lifestyle and reduce the potential causes, we’re all unique, which means it’s crucial to go through this process with a practitioner competent in individualised medicine.