Balancing Hormones to Manage your Weight (10 Reasons your Weight may not be Budging!)
You’re working out, dieting, tracking your food- but weight still not budging?
“I exercise 5 days a week, watch what I eat, and have even tried eliminating dairy and excess carbs and STILL don’t see a change on the scale or in the way my clothes fit. I feel hopeless.”
If this sentiment sounds familiar, rest assured, you are definitely NOT alone. If you’ve struggled to lose or maintain weight or have packed on pounds in areas like the hips, thighs, and middle, you could have a hidden hormonal imbalance that’s been sabotaging your best efforts to look and feel the way you deserve!
What’s the ideal way to correct these imbalances? Through individualized testing and natural hormone re-balancing – using specific herbs & supplements, stress-reducing techniques and mindful nutrition. (You can view our at-home saliva testing + all natural rebalancing packages HERE).
But first, let’s break down the top reasons WHY you might be dealing with this unwanted weight gain!
#1 You Are Estrogen Dominant
Estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormonal imbalances women experience today, yet many of us are still unfamiliar with the term and don’t realize that this mother of all imbalances is often the culprit behind our shared weight loss frustrations.
In short, estrogen dominance occurs when the ratio between your estrogen and progesterone (female sex hormones) levels gets thrown out of balance from any number of lifestyle factors that include aging, chronic stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, exposure to toxins, etc. Hormone-dependent weight gain like that caused by estrogen dominance is particularly stubborn and often accompanied by sister symptoms of estrogen dominance like heavy, painful periods and PMS, water retention and bloating that make losing weight that much harder - as long as the imbalance goes undetected.
Ideally, our hormones should be like a beautiful symphony playing in harmony together, and just like a symphony, when one instrument (hormone), plays out of tune (gets thrown out of whack), the entire orchestra (endocrine/hormone system) suffers. And when it comes to estrogen dominance, we often see fat distribution in the butt, hips and thighs that can feel impossible to shift.
So what can you do to prevent and reverse Estrogen Dominance?
First step should be testing your hormones to detect possible estrogen dominance. We are proponents of testing hormones in saliva, which collects ‘bioavailable’ or ‘active’ hormones found in the target tissues of the body where hormones do their work! (Allowing us to match imbalances more closely to the symptoms you are actively experiencing). If estrogen dominance is identified, we will provide natural rebalancing suggestions to support a healthier balance of estrogen and progesterone, including herbs/supplements to rebalance and help you find relief from symptoms -- along with specific lifestyle+diet suggestions and educational resources! (See our test kit + rebalancing packages HERE).
From a diet perspective, we can start to move the needle by focusing on nutrient-dense, low-glycemic foods that are non-GMO, organic, “hormone-free” and that clearly state “these animals were raised without artificial hormones or antibiotics.” If you drink milk or consume dairy, it’s important to stick to organic, hormone-free variations and enjoy them as a treat rather than an everyday staple. Read our recent blog HERE where we discuss our favorite hormone-free dairy & meat brands, as well as our blog HERE where we share the best ways to find organic, hormone-free products! You can also check out our recent post on Vital Farm's pasture-raised eggs (and what the key difference is between ‘types’ of eggs listed on the carton) HERE.
Also, make sure to incorporate more cruciferous vegetables & phytoestrogens!
Cruciferous vegetables are in the Brassica vegetable family and include Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, and other similar green vegetables. Not only are they great because of the feeling of fullness you get from the fiber, but they also play an important role in estrogen metabolism through a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). This is the natural source of DIM (3,3-Diindolylmethane) that promotes estrogen balance via the metabolic pathways of the body AND helps clear the body of the toxic xeno "fake" estrogens we pick up from the environment. This is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to get your hormones and your weight in balance and reduce Estrogen Dominance. Take a trip to your local Farmer's Market, see what variations are available & ask the booth attendants how they'd recommend preparing them!
Phytoestrogens are also important to incorporate, as they are plant-based estrogens found in a variety of foods (soybeans, miso, tempeh, flax, sesame seeds, wheat, berries, etc.) which can protect the body from high estrogen levels picked up from exposure to “xenoestrogens,” in the environment like heavy metals and pesticides that manage to ‘fake’ their way into the cells of the body and disrupt the delicate balance of hormones that make up the endocrine system. Additionally, the accumulation of excess estrogens can occur when we suffer from poor digestion, so higher fiber phytoestrogens like lentils, beans, and flax will keep you more regular in the restroom!
Note: soy is the most phytoestrogen-rich plant found in a typical Western diet. Unfortunately, about 93 percent of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified — which is not something you want to have in your body. We recommend removing soy milk, soy protein, and most other forms of soy from your diet, especially those found in processed foods and meat alternatives. An exception that can be made is for soy lecithin, a fermented soy product that is also approved by one of our go-to functional medicine doctors, Josh Axe. Another safe bet is to eat soy as the Asians do, in fermented forms such as tempeh, tamari, and miso. Finally, when making or ordering a soy dish, try to choose whole food, organic sources such as organic edamame beans, tofu and tempeh!
Birth Control: If you’ve been on hormonal birth control for an extended period of time and/or are not using birth control for contraceptive reasons, it is a good idea to take a break or consider switching to a non-hormonal form such as the copper IUD known to be 99% effective (however, there are some side effects so be sure to do your research before making the choice that's best for you). Hormonal birth control suppresses ovulation and natural hormone production, which is one of the key causative factors in the development of Estrogen Dominance. You can learn about safely transitioning off the pill and using a birth control app like Natural Cycles. See our post on it here!
Reduce Xeno-estrogens: You can also take steps to combat excess estrogen by becoming your own detective of fake hormones (Xenos) lurking in everyday products. Look for “hormone-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, BPA-free, GMO-free” natural brands and use the Skin Deep database and the Think Dirty App to find great non-toxic brands and products. Make sure to visit our “product swap outs” on our blog for our favorite non-toxic brands. Also visit DetoxMeTuesday.com for tips and tricks on how to switch to safer products in an easy, approachable way. As the founder, Clean Living Consultant, Lauren Breiding says, “every single change matters…it’s not about what happened in the past, it’s about the decisions you make moving forward!”
#2 You’re over-exercising!
Most of us have been taught that in order to lose weight we must burn more calories than we consume.. but in regards to hormone balance, working out excessively can cause our cortisol “master stress hormone” levels to spike too high which can actually signal our bodies to hang on to the very fat we are trying to lose! Therefore, it’s important to take rest days between high intensity training days and to focus on workouts that are toning and strengthening like pilates, swimming and moderate weight lifting. If you are a woman of reproductive age, consider downloading the My Flo app to track your menstrual cycle, learn about the 4 phases of your cycle, and help give you recommendations for workouts/ movement that will be most supportive for your metabolism and hormones during each phase i.e. more restorative movement the week before & during your period & higher intensity (in moderation) before & during ovulation.
Your body needs to recover from all of the breaking down that happens during workouts so it’s equally as important to create space to unwind every day with calming activities like stretching, deep breathing, yoga, swimming and casual walks in nature and/or brisk walking to stabilize cortisol and balance our master hormones. Not to mention figuring out forms of movement you genuinely enjoy (not dread) - so that you aren't feeling stressed going into your workout!
#3 You’re Not Managing your Stress Well
High levels of cortisol (the “master stress hormone”) are tied to increased appetite, sugar cravings, and weight gain. It's the reason we tend to store fat (particularly in the belly and around the waist) that won’t budge until stressors are minimized.
The main factors behind high cortisol levels include high-intensity workouts without rest days, too much caffeine (especially from coffee), chronic job stress, lack of sleep, and an overall state of “rushing around.”
Of course, we all have varying levels of stress in our lives, but allowing stress to rule our lives can lead to adrenal imbalances (see below)!
#4 Your Adrenals Need Some TLC (i.e. cortisol imbalance)
The adrenal glands are involved in producing over 50 hormones including our sex hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline to help you take daily stress in stride and react to a threat (i.e. the “fight or flight” response).
Adrenal imbalance occurs when the adrenal glands have been on overdrive, working nonstop under periods of heightened stress to meet increased energy needs, but overtime have trouble keeping up with the bodily demand. When stress levels stay high without reprieve, the adrenals remain in survival mode to keep us going by increasing alertness (sleeplessness), appetite (overeating) and fat reserves (stored as belly fat).
A first clue that you may be experiencing cortisol/adrenal imbalance is if the following symptoms sound familiar:
- Stubborn belly fat
- Steady progression of weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Increased appetite
- Sugar cravings
- Hair loss
- Body aches
- Waking up feeling tired or exhausted even after adequate sleep
- Feeling lethargic all day
So what can you do to prevent or reverse adrenal / cortisol imbalance?
>> The best way to pinpoint adrenal imbalance is to test cortisol "stress hormone" levels in saliva, considered the "gold standard" for measuring adrenal function - 4 x over the course of one day (which we measure in our test kit packages). For women with regular menstrual cycles, this day is based on a specific time in your cycle, unless you have irregular cycles- then you can test any day of the month that you are not bleeding (or if you have no cycles, you can test any day).
>> Create a calming bedtime routine like reading a favorite book or applying a skin soothing face mask while listening to music. Also dimming the lights at least 1-2 hours before bed can help move you into a restful, sleep state.
>> Deep breathing! Simply adopting a daily breathing practice can make a major difference & it's free! One of the simplest techniques we love is the 4-7-8 breath by Dr. Andrew Weil (video tutorial here). This is a great technique to add in before bed.
>> Slow down when you eat and eat without distractions. Our habitual ‘hurriedness’ rushed state puts our body in “fight or flight” which creates digestive issues, cravings, and hormone imbalances. Challenge yourself to take one meal or snack away from digital devices and other distractions and enjoy in a peaceful place!
>> Make more time for fun! Take time to do things that bring you joy to give your adrenal glands a break and maintain homeostasis in the body. Commit to doing something you really love this week!
>> Remember: overtraining can cause stress on your adrenal glands. Swap a couple of intense workouts for yoga, walking, or mild strength training.
>> Take a 20-minute power nap when you feel tired! A nap is never a waste of time, and it can give us the boost we need to power through the rest of the day.
>> Learn to say “no!” This is so challenging because we’re programmed to be “yes people,” but we have to take some pressures off our plate for the sake of our health and wellbeing. What can you let go of this week?
>> Reduce the time you spend focused on negative attitudes and beliefs. Negativity only breeds more of it, skyrockets our stress levels, and depletes our energy reserves. Now is the time to support one another, to take back control of our health, to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love. And if we have to get creative with our time these days, then so be it!
>> Journal! Take a look at your life and all of the habits that may be contributing to your tired adrenals. Ask yourself questions like:
What stressors am I dealing with right now? In what ways could I swap some of these stressors for more “me-time” or remove some of the unnecessary social/work related commitments?
How much coffee do I drink per day? What alternatives could I try to reduce my consumption? Our health coach Jess Suchan (@bodyblissbyjess) has a line of sugar free detox & energy latte blends (matcha, cacao, chai & pumpkin spice) that are great alternatives. Use code BALANCE10 for a 10% discount. Four Sigmatic elixirs and Dandy Blend latte’s are great options! (Use code YHBALANCE for 10% off Four Sigmatic).
What kinds of workouts am I engaging in? Could I swap 2-3 days for more calming forms of movement like walking or yoga?
Do I have sugar and carb cravings? How often do I find myself reaching for something sweet after a meal? What healthier alternatives could I find to soothe my sweet tooth? Beauty Bar Chocolate is a creamy sugar-free dark chocolate bar that really does the trick (use code "BodyBliss20" for 20% off).
Once you come up with answers to these questions, put these new priorities into action by journaling, adding reminders to your calendar, and making small steps in the direction of change.
#5 You’re Not Sleeping Well
This part goes in tandem with the above section (adrenal imbalance) because lack of sleep (and corresponding stress that usually accompanies poor sleep) greatly contributes to tired adrenals and symptoms of high and/or low cortisol levels.
The two hormones that are key in the relationship between sleep and weight loss are ghrelin and leptin. At the same time, the lack of leptin means that you don’t get the signal that you’re full and thus feel hungry. Ghrelin is the so-called ‘hunger hormone’ that tells you when to eat, and leptin is its partner ‘satiety hormone’ that tells you when to stop. When you’re sleep-deprived or haven't slept soundly throughout the night, you release more ghrelin and thus, you have a bigger appetite all the time. These appetite hormones operate on the sleep-wake cycle, so anything that disrupts that cycle, such as a high nighttime cortisol (the stress hormone) level can upset the balance –leading to overeating and constant cravings for sugar, carbs, and everything in-between! Pass me the chocolate or else…
So what can you do to improve your sleep?
>> Banish electronic gizmos from the bedside. Turn off the computer, iPad, iPhone, etc. at least 1-2 hours prior to sleep. The blue LED light penetrates the retina to disrupt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, so even if you are able to sleep, you will not be getting into the deep restorative rhythms. Consider also wearing blue-light blocking glasses and downloading the f.lux app to block blue light from your computer.
>> Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends if possible. Good sleep hygiene helps to regulate your body's biological clock so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
>> Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading, deep breathing, a soothing soak away from bright lights. Creating a routine bedtime ritual helps separate your sleep time from activities that make it harder to sleep soundly.
>> Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees and free from any noise or light that can disturb sleep. Check your room for noises or other distractions. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, fans, and other devices – such as the Dohm machine, which we highly recommend.
#6 YOU HAVE LOW VITAMIN D LEVELS
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is synthesized in our bodies by the action of sunlight upon the skin (our main source of D3) but we also get Vitamin D from fortified foods. When we are deficient in vitamin D, health issues such as constant fatigue, food allergies, increased body fat (particularly in the abdomen), depressive feelings and long-term cancer risks can arise.
According to Dr. Jolene Brighten, “obesity is associated with lower vitamin D levels because vitamin D synthesized by the skin or taken via supplement or diet can be sequestered in the fat cells. Studies have shown a “correlation between a high BMI and lower level of serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D.”
Levels of vitamin D are lower today than they were decades ago and more than 40% of the US population is deficient. Major risk factors for D-deficiency include lack of proper sun exposure (15 mins in sun without sunscreen is ideal), as well as inadequate dietary intake and malabsorption syndromes such as celiac disease.
You can test for D-deficiency in a blood spot test and if lows are detected, use supplements and sunshine to boost your D levels back up into the optimal range. You can also support your diet with D-rich foods like halibut, wild-caught salmon, mushrooms, fortified regular & nut-based milk, beef liver, and sardines (to name a few!).
Please note: food based D sources alone are typically not enough for the average person, so be sure to include foods in tandem with safe sun exposure and supplementation (if testing shows a need).
#7 YOU’RE EATING PROCESSED “HEALTHY”
Excess salt and sugar are often hidden ingredients that are both inflammatory and causes of weight gain. Just because you can find it at a health food store and it’s “gluten free,” “low fat” or “natural,” DOES NOT mean it’s good for you. It can take a long time to get over this, because packaging with the words “natural” and “healthy” can be very persuasive – and misleading.
#8 YOU’RE EATING TOO MUCH FAT
Paleo and other higher-fat diets work for some people, but keep in mind that it's easy to get too many calories with foods that are high in fat. Fat is a nutrient, and our bodies need some essential fatty acids – especially the “good fats” found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, etc. (even more nutritious when added to greens) – but be careful not to go overboard if you want to lose weight. Download @bodyblissbyjess' Sexy 6 Formula for building a hormone balancing meal (without restriction) here.
#9 YOU HAVE AN UNDER-ACTIVE THYROID
An under-active thyroid gland (or hypothyroidism) occurs when the gland cannot make enough thyroid hormone, which can be a result of: autoimmune disease, surgical removal of the thyroid, medications, iodine deficiency, and imbalances of other master hormones! Weight gain often goes hand in hand with an under-active thyroid because the low levels of hormones causes the metabolism to slow down!
How do other hormones play a role in this? Estrogen Dominance (imbalance of Estrogen to Progesterone) acts as a roadblock to the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 ( the most abundant thyroid hormone, but mostly inactive) to T3 active hormone levels. This causes overlapping symptoms of low thyroid like lethargy, weight gain and difficulty losing weight -- even when thyroid tests are “normal." Also, deficiencies of anabolic hormones that build bone and muscle can implode the metabolic rate to slow calorie burning and cause weight gain.
Testing TSH alone is not going to give us the whole story because it does not take the active thyroid levels into account. If you are suspicious of having an under-active thyroid, you’ll want to find a healthcare provider who goes beyond the standard TSH test to address thyroid imbalances in the greater context of hormone imbalance (as stated above).
#10 YOU’RE IN PERIMENOPAUSE / APPROACHING MENOPAUSE
Women of any age can have a hormone imbalance that causes them to gain weight, but those over 50 often find that the end of periods marks the beginning of weight problems. In the absence of ovulation, deficiencies of progesterone create a relative surplus of estrogen (i.e. Estrogen Dominance - mentioned at the start of this article), which triggers weight gain in the hips and thighs, and slows metabolism so that it becomes harder than ever to lose weight!
Click HERE to read our recent blog w/ tips for managing + reducing symptoms during menopause!
In short, eating nutrient-dense, hormone-free foods, getting in quality exercise, and keeping internal and external stressors low are essentials in balancing your hormones and therefore, kicking that stubborn belly fat and creeping weight gain to the curb. If you’re doing all of the “right things,” but nothing seems to change, testing your hormones can be incredibly eye-opening.
Salivary testing of active hormone levels is a highly efficient way to uncover hidden imbalances that may be sabotaging your efforts to slim down, and test results can serve as your guide for getting back in balance! Our easy, at-home saliva tests measure all reproductive (sex) hormones and adrenal (stress) hormones. Saliva testing measures "bio-available" (active) hormone levels which are more accurate than blood and it's completely stress-free since no needles are involved! View our packages HERE.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!