“I’ve hit a stubborn weight-loss plateau,” writes this week’s house call, “even though I seem to be doing everything right, like eating the right foods and exercising. How can I overcome that obstacle?”
I’ve discussed different reasons for weight-loss resistance in past blogs. Many obstacles have nothing to do with what you eat or how much you exercise. Instead, they involve things like nutritional imbalances, chronic inflammation, metabolic challenges, leaky gut, changes in your microbiome, environmental toxins and your genes.
One huge but often-overlooked reason for weight-loss resistance involves hormonal imbalances.
No contest: The monster hormone that causes weight gain, inflammation and chronic disease is excess insulin. Think of this hormone as your fat cell fertilizer! My new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, discusses how to naturally regulate insulin so you can shift your body from fat storage mode to fat-burning mode.
At the same time, insulin isn’t the only player; other hormones also affect your weight and health. Three big disruptors are: thyroid, cortisol and sex hormones. I discuss these hormones in-depth in The Blood Sugar Solution, however, let’s briefly look at each of them here.
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.
Many things contribute to these imbalances. In my e-book The UltraThyroid Solution, I explain how diet, nutrient deficiencies, stress and environmental toxins impact your thyroid and how to address these problems.
A common cause of hypothyroidism is gluten intolerance.
Other major culprits that interfere with thyroid function include pesticides and heavy metals. Nutrient deficiencies can also slow things down. Your thyroid needs specific nutrients to run optimally including selenium, zinc, iodine and omega 3 fats.
Most doctors don’t test for thyroid function correctly. Even when they do diagnose it, they don’t treat it effectively by optimizing thyroid function through diet, supplements and the right thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
That’s unfortunate, since thyroid function plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy weight, and hypothyroid is a major player in weight-loss resistance. Among my patients, I’ve found these four strategies can optimize thyroid function and weight loss:
Another source of weight-loss resistance is stress. Yes, you actually can think yourself fat or think yourself thin, and science proves it. Stressful thoughts activate metabolic pathways that cause weight gain and insulin resistance.
Remember, stress is a response to stimulation that makes you feel threatened and not always provoked by real circumstances, rather a perception that you are being attacked.
Most stress isn’t real. A worry, thought, fear or projection into the future of what might go wrong can all become real stressors. While short-lived, we carry them with us and don’t know how to reset our mindset. If you have survived trauma, it can live in your body even after the original stressor is gone.
Regardless, stress is any real or imagined threat to your body or ego. While that might mean someone putting a gun to your head, it could also mean thinking your boss is mad at you (even when they aren’t).
Stress creates hormonal responses that cause weight gain and insulin resistance. Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that helps you to run faster, see further, hear better and pump fuel into your bloodstream for quick energy. It is the hormone that helps us survive in the face of true danger. It also shuts down digestion and slows your metabolism.
All of this is perfectly normal in the short term, yet if left unchecked, prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol cause high blood sugar, increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and muscle loss.
You can’t eliminate stress completely, but you can reduce it with meditation, yoga or deep relaxation. These activities activate pathways that promote weight loss and health.
A few simple ideas I find helpful to reset the stress response include:
Sex Hormone Imbalances
Sex hormone imbalances, such as estrogen and testosterone, can also cause weight problems. Having too much estrogen causes weight gain whether you’re a man or a woman. Do you know how ranchers fatten steer before they go to market? They implant them with estrogen pellets.
For both genders, too much sugar, refined carbs and alcohol spikes estrogen. Keeping your gut healthy also cultivates healthy sex-hormone metabolism. Too little fiber or too many antibiotics damage the gut, triggering estrogen spikes because your body can’t properly detoxify or excrete waste. Environmental toxins thrive on pesticides called xenoestrogens, because even at lose doses, they act like estrogen in your body.
Symptoms of excess estrogen in women include breast tenderness, fluid retention, bad premenstrual syndrome, fibroids and heavy menstrual bleeding.
In men, excess estrogen can cause loss of body hair (including chest, legs and arms), a beer belly, and “man boobs.” Low testosterone in men can also accelerate aging. Lack of exercise, alcohol, stress, environmental toxins or diseases like diabesity or even pituitary problems can also lower testosterone.
Low testosterone causes men to lose muscle and gain fat, leading to sexual dysfunction, low sex drive, fatigue, mental fogginess and bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis.
Interestingly, cholesterol produces testosterone and other sex hormones. Eating a low-fat diet and taking statin drugs that block cholesterol production can negatively impact your sex hormones.
If you suspect imbalances, you’ll want to get tested for imbalances. In my free e-book, How to Work with Your Doctor To Get What You Need, I explain exactly how to test for these and other hormone imbalances. These five strategies can help get you started:
While many culprits contribute to weight-loss resistance, I find addressing these three hormonal imbalances helps many patients lose stubborn weight. Hormonal balance might require working with a Functional Medicine practitioner, yet for most patients these strategies become the ticket to ignite weight loss.
If you’ve struggled to balance your hormones, what strategy would you add to this list? Comment below or on my Facebook page. Please keep submitting your great questions to drhyman.com. Let’s continue to inspire others to balance their hormones, ignite their weight loss and get healthy!
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD