"I eat right and I exercise 5 days a week for an hour but I'm still not losing weight!"
If the above sounds familiar, it's likely time to take a closer look into what your body is doing rather than what you are doing.
Hormones play a significant role when it comes to losing, maintaining and gaining weight. What exactly is a hormone? According to hormone.org, "Hormones are special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands. These messengers control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like reproduction, and even the emotions and mood" (source). The body is made up of so many different hormones that sometimes even slight imbalances can cause undesired shifts in weight and body composition.
While there are tons of little hormones swimming around in the body, there are a few that play a larger role when it comes to weight and body composition.
We've talked about cortisol in some of our other articles (1,2). Cortisol is the stress hormone and with the amount of stress many of us deal with, our cortisol tends to get out of whack. As cortisol increases, the body turns more food into fat as a survival mechanism (Source). The thing with cortisol is that even things we don't think of as "stressful" can cause cortisol to rise, such as working out intensely 7 days a week.
How You Can Tell Cortisol Might be High: You're exhausted all the time, you continue to gain belly fat, you can't sleep and all you want to eat is sugar.
How to Help Reduce Cortisol: Take some deep breaths (really!). Reduce stress through meditation, journaling or other self care techniques. Reduce intense exercise time in favor of more rest days and less heavy breathing. Maintain a healthy diet rich in vegetables and good fats.
Thyroid Hormones (T3)
The common adage of "I have a slow metabolism" is your thyroid talking. Your thyroid controls your metabolism. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, "Research shows hypothyroidism, or low-thyroid function, affects one in five women and one in ten men. Unfortunately, in over half of these cases, this condition isn’t diagnosed" (Source). While stress and cortisol play a large part in thyroid function, a lot of issues with the thyroid stem from outside endocrine disruptions, such as heavy metals, nutrient deficiencies, plastics and chemicals put into our soaps, foods and other items.
How You Can Tell Your Thyroid Isn't Working Optimally: You have chronic weight gain/it's hard to lose weight, you're tired all the time, brain fog and depression.
How to Help: It's impossible to self diagnose thyroid issues (just like anything else here), so request a full thyroid panel from your doctor to see if there is anything going on. Remove as many endocrine disruptors from your lifestyle as possible (Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors) and maintain good levels of Vitamin D.
When we eat (especially carbohydrates, specifically fast digesting sugars), the body responds by raising blood sugar levels. Insulin helps regulate your blood sugar and also triggers fat storage. If you eat a lot throughout the day, or eat many carbohydrates, your pancreas is working overtime by sending insulin to regulate blood sugar. Too much insulin all the time and body fat is inevitable.
How You Can Tell Your Insulin Is Off: You've been struggling to lose weight but can't, you have hypo or hyper glycemic episodes, you have diabetes.
How to Help: If you are not diabetic, pre-diabetic and have never been identified as having high blood sugar, you might consider eating less fast digesting carbohydrates/less times throughout the day to keep your blood sugar level stable.
*If you have diabetes, you are likely taking insulin to help regulate it. Work with a doctor and a trainer to find a sweet spot that works best for you in regards to nutrition and workouts.
These three are likely what you think of when the word "hormones" comes into play and estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are big culprits when it comes to body fat. Estrogen is significantly impacted by the endocrine disruptors listed above as well as several other factors. When estrogen is significantly higher than it should be or out of wack in comparison to the other hormones, it's called estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can cause bloating, fat gain, and other issues with energy levels and metabolism. However, estrogen dominance is not just something women experience. "...a certain amount of it is natural and important for men as well. Excess body fat in men, however, spurs an unhealthy rise in estrogen levels because fat cells are involved in converting testosterone to estrogen. In women, with stress and age there is a natural decline in testosterone and progesterone levels leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Estrogen dominance can also be an issue for men, as testosterone and progesterone naturally decline with age or stress while estrogen conversely rises" (source).
How You Can Tell if You Are Experiencing Estrogen Dominance: In women, PMS, hard time losing weight. In men, hard time building muscle, belly fat, lower libido, infertility. For both: anxiety, digestive issues.
What Can Cause It: Excess stress, external factors (soy, environment, toxins in the air/food), hormonal birth control.
How to Fix It: Reduce stress, consume more organic produce, include a probiotic to help digestion, go off hormonal birth control, maintain a healthy diet rich in vitamins and avoid soy products.
If looking at this list provides you with some insight or thoughts that something might be going on in your body, PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR and have blood work done before self-diagnosing using this article and WebMD. That being said, many of these hormonal problems can be maintained and reversed through a healthy diet, exercise and the removal of toxins from your body products and food.