We've evolved into modern women who control our lives and bodies in so many ways. However, we still carry with us some of our ancient ancestors' behaviours and makeup, including the hormone that creates the 'fight or flight response; Cortisol.
Created in the adrenal glands, Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and it's essential for survival. Whenever our bodies or minds perceive we're under stress, Cortisol enters the bloodstream to help jack us up. The trouble is, we can feel stressed out way too often, making our bodies produce more Cortisol than is good for us.
How does too much Cortisol affect weight gain?
Ever notice how you eat when you're stressed? I know I did, and I see a lot of women who do it too. Studies have shown that higher than normal cortisol levels are linked to overeating and weight gain, and people with elevated cortisol levels also had an increase in belly fat.
How to get Cortisol under control.
What relaxes you? Is it meditation, a walk, a bubble bath, or doing something creative? Listen to your body, find out what relieves stress, and add that into your daily routine.
Exercise regularly. If you've never tried yoga, why not give it a go? The synchronised breath work calms the nervous system and reduces Cortisol while giving your body and mind a thorough workout.
Listen to your favourite music. If it helps relax and reduce Cortisol levels in patients undergoing surgery, it can also help you.
Get enough sleep at night. Have you ever noticed how easily stressed and anxious you become when you're sleep-deprived? This happens because, during a night of deep, restorative sleep, your body balances all hormones, including Cortisol.
As women, we all know about Estrogen. When Estrogen is balanced, the right amount of fat helps carry out female reproductive functions; however, weight gain often occurs when there's too little or too much Estrogen.
Just like women in the first months of pregnancy, women who are overweight typically have high amounts of Estrogen. Then there's peri-menopause and menopause, when the amount of Estrogen decreases. During this time, some women opt for hormone replacement therapy to replace declining Estrogen levels.
How to keep Estrogen at optimal levels
To balance Estrogen levels and prevent the weight gain that happens with an Estrogen imbalance, you can:
Take regular exercise. Many studies explain how exercise lowers Estrogen levels in obese women.
Eat your fibre. Fibrous foods help decrease elevated Estrogen levels.
Eat veggies in the cruciferous family. These include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and Bok choy. Anything green and leafy is always a good idea, too!
Choose organic foods and paraben-free cosmetics, and personal care products when possible.
Consider HRT, which uses plant-based hormones identical to those produced naturally by the human body to keep hormones balanced.
Here are also some relatively obscure hormones you probably have yet to hear of (and neither had I until I started research for these posts) that also impact weight.
This hunger-stimulating hormone is made in the brain and nervous system. It influences appetite, especially for carbs. During times of stress and fasting, levels of this hormone increase dramatically. To maintain healthy levels, eat plenty of protein and soluble fibre. If you have a fasting routine, don't overdo it. Intermittent fasting is great for some people, but if you fast for too long, you could disrupt the delicate balance of NPY and sabotage your weight-loss goals.
This hormone is produced in the intestines when nutrients get digested. It supports the balance of blood sugar and helps you feel satiated. You can maintain healthy levels by eating enough protein, probiotics, leafy green veggies, and anti-inflammatory foods.
This hormone is very similar to GLP-1. It's made in the gut and helps you feel full. If you're having weight issues, try increasing levels by eating heart-healthy fats, plenty of fibre, and adequate amounts of protein with each meal.
So, as you can see, hormones and weight gain is a tricky subject. It requires patience and attention, but eating a balanced diet which includes all food groups, is probably one of the best ways to look after your beautiful and brilliant body.
Studies referenced in this piece