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These are some of the things I hear women who have hit the big five-oh say in response to my weight loss posts.
“I’m not kidding I’m 50 years old and ravenous all the time.”
“These days invariably I wake up ravenous. So hungry it hurts. What is going on?”
“Recently my appetite has gone through the roof. I’ve just turned 50 and am shocked at how I’ve gone from someone who can live easily on 1000 calories a day to someone who could lie face down in a trough and still be ravenous. I’m scared of putting the weight back on.”
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Most common to these women is that they all usually insist that they eat less than they ever did. Many say they have a diet of healthy nutritious food, not much sugar and exercise regularly but still put on weight around their middle.
This post addresses the question:
How do I balance my hormones to lose weight?
At this time of our lives, there is more to weight loss than just diet and exercise.
There are as many different ways to lose weight as there are women trying to do it and we all have an individual set of circumstances that play into our weight loss journey.
Why can weight loss be difficult for women over 50?
If you are having difficulties with losing weight at this age it is not likely to be just down to your diet and exercise.
Weight gain and difficulty with weight loss are two of the many symptoms of hormonal imbalances. If you are in midlife and have gained weight around your middle the main culprit or culprits, in this case, are likely to be your hormones.
What causes hormones to go rogue and cause weight gain?
There are too many reasons as to why hormone levels get out of kilter but here are a few of the more common ones:
- poor nutrition
- chronic inflammation
- metabolic difficulties
- gut health issues
- environmental toxins
There is a big change in the usual harmony of estrogen and progesterone that happens during perimenopause. Our bodies already have difficulty managing these hormones and when we add in any other factors such as stress, environmental toxins etc… it can be much worse.
Hormone imbalances show up in the form of symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, cravings, constant hunger, no hunger, acne, weight gain and many more.
Working to level out the hormones mentioned below will be hugely beneficial in improving your ability to lose weight around your middle.
It is important to remember when we get on the road to improving our hormone balance that we address the cause and not the symptoms. Sometimes that area can be a little grey but if you always come back to addressing the hormone that is likely to have caused the symptom with a natural approach you are likely to be on the right road.
If you find things do not improve for you then it would be wise to visit your doctor.
#1 Estrogen Imbalance
If you are suffering from excessive hot flashes, you may have an estrogen imbalance.
What do I mean by imbalance?
Ideally, our bodies have four times more estrogen than progesterone to even out the effects of menopause. During perimenopause, estrogen levels can rise by as much as six times more than progesterone. This is estrogen dominance and what causes many of the menopause symptoms.
Read this post on estrogen dominance:
While progesterone has many benefits for weight loss it is when it’s in tandem with estrogen that is the most important.
How to balance your estrogen:
There are some easy things you can do to improve your estrogen levels.
1. Limit your exposure to environmental toxins as some can mimic estrogen in the body:
- limit polystyrene cups and food containers
- avoid buying plastic water bottles unless they say “BPA free” on them
- use glass bottles for storing foods and drinks.
- try to use natural products on your skin.
2. Make sure to have your daily recommended fiber. Fiber binds to excess estrogen in the intestine, excreting it rather than reabsorbing it.
This helps to detoxify the gut and a healthy gut means a healthy body and brain.
3. Include more cruciferous veggies such as
- Brussel sprouts
These contain a nutrient that helps to block the production of estrogen.
4. Include estrogen balancing foods:
Some of the best are
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- hemp seeds
- green leafy veggies
5. Reduce stress levels if you’re chronically stressed your chances of developing cancer increase up to 80%.
6. Limit alcohol and caffeine as these can hike up your estrogen levels, negatively impact detoxification processes and cause inflammation.
7. Exercise using a combination of the following:
- 20 minutes of strength training 2 to 3 times a week
- brisk walking 5 – 6 times a week
- a little HIIT maybe 12 minutes twice a week
- and stretching most days is all it takes
This should be enough to keep hormone imbalances that contribute to weight gain in check.
#2 Insulin Resistance or Imbalance
Insulin is the hormone responsible for the storage of glucose (energy taken from your food) in your muscle, liver and fat cells to either be used when needed or stored.
If you have an insulin imbalance it can get complicated but here are some of the things that can happen:
- Your body will tend to release more and more insulin the more carbohydrates you have. Take note that protein will cause a much lower spike.
- Your pancreas becomes exhausted with all this making of insulin, and as we do when we’re bloody tired it slows down. It will eventually struggle and fail to produce enough insulin for your body’s needs.
With so much insulin running around in our bodies our cells stop responding as well as they used to and so are unable to take up glucose. This is called insulin resistance.
It’s a vicious circle. Too many carbs cause weight gain around our middle which then causes insulin resistance which means we put on weight… around our middle.
There are many causes of insulin imbalance but they usually come down to two things, either too much stress is causing you to release far more cortisol than normal and the body’s response to cortisol is insulin, or your blood sugar is out of balance.
Cortisol is the key player when it comes to difficulties with gaining weight in women over 50.
If you continue to eat sugar when your cortisol is high it is turned into belly fat before you can say “can I have another glazed doughnut?”.
All of this can make it very difficult to lose belly fat after menopause.
How to Balance Your Insulin:
- Eat protein, healthy fats and vegetables at every meal and avoid packaged meals and processed foods that are high in sugar.
- Include complex carbs that won’t convert to glucose so easily rather than simple carbs. For example swap rice for cauliflower rice, pasta for veggie spirals etc.
- Build muscle with strength training which will burn glucose rather than it being stored as fat.
- Make sure to eat a reasonable amount of protein as this helps build muscle, doesn’t produce as big a spike in insulin and helps you feel fuller for longer.
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If you have been feeling bloated it may mean your insulin levels are off and you are flirting with possible insulin resistance. To help with this you can reduce your intake of carbohydrates.
Do not skip meals, keep blood sugar stable by eating small, frequent meals throughout the day (about every three hours)
#3 Cortisol Imbalance
The hormone cortisol tells us we are hungry and tired and, well, pretty much drives every single feeling we have every day. It is released in our bodies when we wake up and it should be at its lowest levels before bedtime to allow deep restful sleep.
There are a few reasons why cortisol can get to a level that can cause weight gain:
- not sleeping enough
- being overly stressed
- eating too many high sugar foods
Cortisol is often called the stress hormone. If there is only one thing you do for healthy body weight control then keeping stress levels down would be it. Managing your stress keeps cortisol levels where they should be, and it’s not difficult to do.
If you want to balance hormones and lose weight you need optimum cortisol levels especially after 8 pm when they should be lower.
When you lower cortisol levels with a low glycemic diet and regular exercise it can be much easier to balance your hormones and you’ll achieve weight loss at the same time.
How to Balance Your Cortisol:
- A good sleep pattern. Our bodies are designed to be resting when the sun goes down so give yourself this gift of sleep.
- Limit tv, and other screen time in the evenings for a better chance at sleep.
- Eat a nutrient-dense whole food diet to nourish your body and brain.
- Practice mindfulness whether in the form of meditation or yoga or some other practice that brings you back into your body and the present. Why not try a restorative yoga sequence that you can practice before bed for better sleep this will help to improve cortisol levels but other hormones as well.
- Try some grounding. Get outside each day to soak up the sun and connect with nature.
- Most importantly take time for you to do something you enjoy. Read, have a bath, have a dance party for one with your favourite song.
#4 Thyroid Imbalance
If you are tired all the time this could be because your thyroid hormones are out of whack.
Your thyroid is key to balancing blood sugar levels and insulin production. When our thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones it can make us feel fatigued, with weight gain being one of the side effects.
For women over 50, hypothyroidism can be considered a precursor for menopause weight and imbalanced hormones.
It’s not the only cause but it plays a role and if you improve your thyroid levels, there is an 80% chance you will balance your estrogen production as well. That’s two birds with one stone, perfect!
This can make it much easier to lose weight after menopause.
How to Balance Your Thyroid
- Sugar is the nemesis here so lower your blood sugar levels by avoiding foods containing refined sugars and carbohydrates and improve your cortisol levels.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory nutrient-dense diet. This will help to even out thyroid hormone production, reduce inflammation in the body and allow you to lose body weight that much easier.
- Get some sunshine every day. Your body produces about 80% of its thyroid hormone when you get sunshine, so get your hormones into balance and lose some weight at the same time.
If your gut is not healthy it can cause problems with your thyroid production so eat foods rich in fibre and probiotics. Some good examples of these are:
- greek yoghurt
- chia seeds
#5 Leptin Imbalance
Leptin is made by the fat cells and is a critical part of the weight-loss equation because it tells you when you are full.
When your body doesn’t produce enough leptin you are more likely to experience cravings. And they will be the cravings that have you binging on all the bad stuff, hello sticky date pudding with toffee sauce.
Your metabolism will slow down and when that happens, weight gain becomes inevitable.
Balanced cortisol, blood sugar, thyroid and estrogen levels can all contribute to balanced leptin production and therefore balance leptin levels.
Balanced hormones will mean you’ll be less likely to finish that cheesecake in the fridge when everyone else is looking the other way. So it’ll be easier to lose weight.
How to Balance Your Leptin levels:
- STOP DIETING! When you starve yourself your body goes into starvation mode, slows your metabolism and produces less leptin so you want to eat more.
- Eat to fuel your body with good protein sources, lots of plant-based foods and healthy fats.
- Sugar is a big dietary culprit here so avoid all added sugar.
Can Supplements Help?
Vitamins can support your body in healthy hormone production. But if you have lots of symptoms or a health condition, it is important to talk to your doctor before taking vitamins as some might interfere with any medicines that you are taking.
The most important tips to remember
1. Eat plenty of protein
Protein helps your body produce hormones that tell you you’ve had enough to eat.Manage your stress
The stress hormone cortisol is responsible for creating much havoc amongst our hormones. Keep it down by practicing mindful activities.
2. Get plenty of sleep
Poor sleep can produce more hunger hormones and the stress hormone cortisol.
3. Avoid sugar
Help insulin to work for you in a balanced way by avoiding sugar and high-carb foods.
4. Exercise regularly
Doing any physical activity that burns fat and builds muscle will encourage your hormones to stay balanced and increase fat-burning ability.
5. Consume healthy fats
Healthy plant fats can help you to control your appetite and guard against insulin resistance
When it comes to our hormones, the food and nutrients we consume, as well as the lifestyle we choose, can have a significant impact on our mood, sleep, memory, and feelings. They may also have an impact on certain physical aspects such as skin condition and weight.
While we shouldn’t attempt to control our hormones, we must sustain and nourish them in our everyday lives in order for them to operate efficiently. Eating a nutritious diet, taking vitamin supplements if required, getting enough exercise and sleep, and maintaining a well-balanced weight can all help to balance hormones. And you’ll be happier and less stressed as a result.
For some excellent further reading on balancing hormones to lose weight try:
What I Tell My Patients Who Want To Lose Belly Fat: A Hormone Expert Explains by Sara Gottfried, M.D. Integrative Medicine Doctor