Published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Feb 2014
Are you struggling with losing weight?
We all know that there is no magic pill, potion or powder. And I am not here to tell you there is. Any long-term successful weight loss program requires a healthy eating plan and a program of regular exercise. However, there is some information that may be useful to you on this journey. Information that may explain why you’ve had such a difficult time losing weight despite doing everything “right”, and how just a few changes might make all the difference.
Many of us have been on multiple weight loss programs, eating as healthy as we know how and exercising as much as we have time for. And somehow the weight just won’t budge. This is because, as much as we have been told time and again that weight loss is merely a mathematical equation (calories in must be fewer than calories used), there is actually more to it, especially if we wish to keep the weight off. Namely, hormonal balance.
Do you know that our bodies create 3 hormones that cause fat-building and others that cause fat-burning? Though most people think of hormones as only relating to male and female characteristics (sex hormones), we have many others that serve vital purposes in our bodies. They are chemical messengers created by our endocrine glands including our thyroid, pancreas, adrenals, pituitary, hypothalamus, etc. If we can better regulate our 3 fat-building hormones then our fat-burning ones will work better and make our weight loss goals more attainable.
So, what are these 3 hormones?
1. Cortisol. Produced by our adrenals glands, we need cortisol in small amounts to get us out of bed in the morning and ready to start our day. But, it is also produced in reaction to stress and to stimulants such as caffeine. When produced in excess, this hormone negatively impacts our blood sugar metabolism, depletes our adrenal gland function over time, and puts weight on us in the middle of our bodies (think lower abdomen and muffin top) as well as upper back (buffalo hump area).
Action steps to help balance cortisol:
- Reduce your stress levels and stress responses. Adopt a stress-reduction practice, such as meditation, yoga, breath work, or prayer; anything that has you feel calm and emotionally uplifted afterward. Of course, acupuncture qualifies, but you also need something that you can do in the moment, when you need to bring your stress levels down quickly. Even taking a stroll outside can be stress-relieving; anything that is sustainably pleasurable to you without being taxing.
- Eliminate or restrict caffeine intake, including coffee, tea, energy drinks and sodas. (If you must have something, the best option is one cup of green tea in the morning. Green tea doesn’t spike cortisol like coffee and black teas do.)
- If you have pain, get acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic or other treatment to address the cause of it. Pain, especially chronic pain, is a major stressor, and triggers significant cortisol release on a regular basis. It is very likely that if you have chronic daily pain, it will be quite difficult for you to drop weight until you can get the pain under control.
- Allow yourself plenty of sleep. Sleep is amazingly healing to the body, to recharge the adrenal glands, and to heal the damage done to your tissues and glands as a result of too much stress. Sleep also triggers the release of growth hormone, which is a fat-burning and anti-aging hormone. The more stressful your life, the more sleep your body requires. Aim for 9 to 10 hours per night.
2. Insulin. Insulin is released by the pancreas after we eat. Our bodies turn all of our food calories into “blood sugar” or glucose, so it can be used by our body cells. Insulin ushers glucose from the blood into muscle cells and other cells to fuel them. However, if our body cells already have enough glucose from the previous meal, insulin instead diverts that excess glucose into our fat cells, making them grow bigger.
Action steps to help balance insulin:
- Avoid sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup and white sugar), refined carbs (especially white flour products), and overeating at meals. All of these spike the blood sugar releasing large amounts of insulin.
- Do not skip meals (yes, this includes breakfast). This drops your blood sugar too low so that you will be more likely to overeat and make unhealthy choices at your next meal. It also slows your metabolism.
- Use regular exercise to burn up the glucose in your muscle tissues. This way insulin can feed your muscles, rather than your fat cells, with the glucose from your meals (and even burn fat to feed your muscles). This does not have to be high intensity exercise (even walking, bike riding, or yoga can be great options). Try to do at least 30 minutes of some type of physical activity every day. Exercise also triggers the release of growth hormone, like sleep does.
3. Estrogen. We all need estrogen. Women need more and make more estrogen than men do. However, we are all exposed to toxins in our foods, water and air that mimic estrogen in our bodies. These chemicals can displace our natural estrogen from the estrogen receptor sites on our cells. As a result, our displaced estrogen instead goes into our fat cells, growing them larger, typically in the hips, buttocks and thighs.
Action steps to help balance estrogen:
- Reduce exposure to chemical toxins. These include hormones in non-organic meat, poultry and dairy, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, genetically modified foods (which always contain higher levels of pesticides), preservatives, plastics, chemical household cleansers, bug and weed killers, chlorine bleach, and personal care products containing artificial fragrances, parabens, phthalates and sulfates. Drink only filtered and purified water.
- Be loving to your liver. It is your liver that must process all chemicals and toxins in our bodies, as well as excess hormones such as estrogen. Liver function is also vital for the proper functioning of all of our hormones, including thyroid, blood sugar balance, adrenal sufficiency and sex hormone balance. When it gets overburdened in its job due to too many toxins, the liver can fall behind in performing all of its vital work for us.
- The liver loves fresh lemon water, beets, green veggies, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables, organic apples, fiber rich foods, plenty of clean water, and flax seed. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, fast food, trans fats, deep fried foods, artificial food additives, fumes of all types, vehicle exhaust, smoking and unnecessary drugs. And, reduce or eliminate intake of animal proteins, to give the liver a well-deserved break.
If you have weight or bloating in your upper abdomen, this could be excess fluid build-up from your liver struggling to keep up. In addition to the above action steps, it is recommended to reduce sodium intake and consume more potassium rich foods such as avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, beet greens, tomatoes, spinach and peaches to help flush this excess fluid.
Take these action steps and expect to have a much easier time dropping the pounds. If you find that you are still struggling, come in for an evaluation. You may have a deeper imbalance that we can address with acupuncture, herbs and more specifically-targeted nutrition. These could include a clinical or subclinical thyroid imbalance, adrenal gland imbalance, sex hormone imbalance and/or a liver burdened with too many toxins, all of which can be improved, and in many cases optimized, through natural means.
Please note that if you are on medication for any hormonal or glandular condition, you should not stop your medication. You can safely implement the above suggestions while on your medication. If you wish to get off of your medication, or reduce the dosage, this is something we may be able to do, gradually, with proper natural treatment, and with the appropriate lab work findings, while keeping your prescribing physician in the loop.
Recommended Viewing: Hungry For Change. This documentary is available on Netflix.
Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM