The second (of four) elements of healthy weight loss: your hormones

Image: Alexandre Chambon via Unsplash

Image: Alexandre Chambon via Unsplash

As part of my exploration of healthy weight loss this month, I’m sharing what I consider to be the four most important elements when trying to shed pounds in a sustainable way.

In my last post, I explored what is arguably the most important factor in weight loss: food. Eating whole foods, slow carbs, good fat and sugar-free options is incredibly important if you want to lose weight.

But. Here’s the one and only caveat: if you’re eating all the right things, have been doing so for at least three weeks, and are still seeing and/or feeling absolutely no change in your bodily make up, you could be dealing with the second most important element of healthy weight loss: your hormonal health.

What’s a hormone, really?

Hormones are chemicals emitted by our glands that carry messages to the different parts of our body. They control all kinds of our bodily systems, from our metabolism to our reproduction. Some hormones whose names you might recognize include estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and melatonin - to name a few. Each of these hormones carry a “message” that helps our body function optimally - for instance, melatonin regulates our sleep patterns, and “tells” our body when to be sleepy.

It makes sense, then, that when our hormones are out of whack, our body’s won’t behave as predicted - including holding onto stubborn weight we should otherwise be losing.

The top three hormonal imbalances that affect weight loss

When someone is eating fairly well and exercising a moderate amount, they should, technically speaking, at least stay the same size. But when our hormones are unbalanced it’s not uncommon to put on extra weight that feels impossible to lose - often accompanied by extreme fatigue, severe food cravings, and sudden mood shifts.

If you’re experiencing any of these, you may be contending with one of the following hormonal imbalances - these are the most commonly associated with weight gain.

1. Adrenal fatigue

Our adrenals are located above the kidneys, can regulate the release of the hormones cortisol, and adrenaline. Both of these hormones put our body into a state of fight-or-flight, and are a response to stress. If the adrenals are triggered too often for too long (think chronic stress for 3 months or more), they will grow fatigued - and so will we.

Adrenal fatigue exhausts the body, triggers it to hold on to calories stores (because the body thinks danger is imminent), and makes it very, very challenging for us to deal with any level of stress.

2. Estrogen Dominance

The hormone estrogen is typically associated with females, but it’s actually present in both women and men - and too much of it in either gender can create some serious health problems, from unwanted weight gain to cancer.

So how do we end up with excess estrogen in our bodies? We use chemically-laden cleaning and cosmetic products, eat modified foods, and breathe in contaminated air full of xenoestrogens, sometimes called environmental toxins. These toxins mimic estrogen in our bodies, causing a dominance that seriously impact our reproductive system. Early signs of this dominance definitely include weight gain that, once again, feels impossible to lose.

3. Thyroid Disorder

The thyroid gland is located in our neck, and creates two kinds of hormones: T3 and T4. These hormones are responsible for the metabolism, and an imbalance in either can lead to symptoms of hypo- or hyperthyroidism.

While hyperthyroidism is often characterized by anxiety and nervousness, and hypothyroidism symptoms seem to align more with a depressed state (trouble sleeping, extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, etc.), both have the tendency to encourage weight gain.

What to do if you think you have a hormone imbalance

If, after reading through this list, you think you might be hormonally imbalanced, I highly recommend visiting a healthcare professional.

There are many things we can do on our own to start the process of rebalancing our hormones, but having specific tests done and getting advice from a naturopathic or medical doctor will fast track your recovery and ensure its tailored to your specific needs.

When you have your appointment, be sure to ask them about your thyroid, your adrenals, estrogen dominance and peri-menopause - any one of which may be having a negative effect on your health, and your weight.

Above all, try not to get discouraged! If you’re eating well you’re already on the track to sustainable loss; you may just need a little help from your glands & hormones.

Steph Bowen