I think we’ve all been here: wondering if there’s something deeper going on that’s affecting your ability to lose weight. How do you know if your hormones are okay or not?
This is a really good question, and, honestly, it can be a pain to figure out.
What even are hormones? Like, really, what do they do? What hormones affect weight loss? How do you test your hormones? It can make your head spin!
The first thing I will tell you is that if you are just beginning on your weight loss journey, I would not jump ahead to worrying about something deeper going on. Unless you are experiencing significant or concerning symptoms, your best course of action is to support a healthy metabolism over the next 6+ months. This includes eating to balance your blood sugar, moving daily, consistent strength training, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress every single day. This strategy in summary is everything we teach in Metabolism Makeover! It’s the best place to start for healthy weight loss.
Now, if you have already been thinking about these foundational pillars for a healthy metabolism and truly have been consistent for at least 4 months with ZERO changes – then it could be time to think about what else is going on “under the hood.”
Today, I just want to chat about hormones – but there could be other things to look into, like your gut health, blood labs, or even doing a detailed nutritional analysis to see if you’re eating enough/too much/in the right balance.
Ok, first things first: what is a hormone?
“Hormones are chemical messengers that coordinate different functions in your body. Several glands, organs and tissues make and release hormones, many of which make up your endocrine system.” – Cleveland Clinic
How are hormones related to weight loss? Well…they’re everything. Weight loss is not as simple as calories in vs. calories out (although I wish it was). Weight loss is highly dependent on several systems in the body related to our thyroid health, energy storage, blood sugar, stress response, and more.
Here are 3 hormones that can potentially affect your ability to lose weight:
Insulin (made by the pancreas) is the main storage hormone in the body. It signals the body primarily to store glucose from our bloodstreams (from the food we eat) to be stored in our liver, brain, and muscles.
Insulin resistance (which is becoming more and more common) is a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive or sensitive to insulin. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels and the body trying to produce more insulin to bring the levels back down to normal.
This is less than ideal for a couple of reasons.
1- Walking around with elevated blood sugar levels doesn’t feel great. You might be more fatigued, have brain fog, and feel more moody than normal.
2- Your body is also constantly spitting out more insulin and the body cannot be in a fat-burning mode while doing this. Remember: insulin is a storing hormone – therefore the body can’t prioritize energy burning at the same time.
How do you test for insulin resistance?
Ask your doctor to check your fasting blood sugar levels. The goal is to see a blood sugar level of less than 100 mg/dL, although 70-90mg/dL is ideal from a functional nutritional perspective. You can also check your Hemoglobin A1c level, which captures your average blood sugar level over the last 3 months. The goal for this value is less than 5.7%.
Something else to consider is testing your blood sugar levels throughout the day. You can do this at home with a glucometer. The goal is the same for fasted blood sugars and you can also check to see if your blood sugar is less than 180 mg/dL after meals.
What I highly recommend to get the most information is using a continuous glucose monitor (or CGM). This is a monitor you wear on the back of your arm or abdomen, and it gathers your blood sugar data all day long. This is really neat because you can see the trends as you eat, move, sleep, respond to stressors, etc.
Whatever CGM device you use will help you determine optimal blood sugar levels for you. It’s also really helpful to work with a Registered Dietitian or healthcare practitioner well-versed in blood sugar management.
If you’re interested in using a CGM you can save 15% off using code Makeover15 through this link!
Ahh, yes, the good ol’ stress hormone: cortisol.
This hormone (made by your adrenal glands) is a common culprit for weight loss. Why?
When we are under stress (whether physical stress or mental stress), the body responds as if it is a fight-or-flight situation and cortisol is produced. In other words, whether you are literally being chased by a lion or you’re simply stressed by getting everything done during the week, the body responds in a similar way. Your blood pressure rises and your blood sugar levels go up.
Imagine if we are constantly responding to stress (and the chances of this are high considering the fast-paced lives we live)….our cortisol levels are guaranteed to be more elevated without regular (or any) stress management in our lives. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels over long periods of time and eventually lead to insulin resistance as we just talked about…yikes.
Chronic stress is also a huge red flag to the body in general that there is “danger.” Fat loss is not required to keep us alive, but responding to stress is. Therefore, our body is not going to be the best supporter in prioritizing fat loss when it is constantly trying to figure out how to handle all the stressors coming up. And, again, these can be physical or mental stressors. Meaning the day-to-day overwhelm and emotions we face, especially when we are constantly “go, go, go” and have no time to manage or sit with these thoughts, is a recipe for disaster.
What can you do about this? You can certainly ask your doctor to test your cortisol levels. This can be done with bloodwork, although remember that it is normal for cortisol levels to fluctuate throughout the day so one lab draw is just a snapshot in time. Another option is the DUTCH test (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones). This is more in-depth and pricier as a result, however, it does capture the overall picture of cortisol throughout the day if you really want to understand how your body is responding to stress.
If you’re working on lowering your body’s cortisol levels in order to lose weight, here are some things to keep in mind:
Are you eating enough in general? Undereating can increase the body’s stress response due to inadequate fuel.
Are you sleeping enough? 7-8 hours minimum is super important to support overall health and the body’s ability to handle stress
Are you taking time to take care of yourself? We cannot always be on the go and taking care of everyone else. Consider adding more quiet time, spending time with a hobby you love, meditation, yoga, journaling, listening to music, laughing, etc. to your life.
Probably the most important hormone when it comes to weight loss and our metabolism is our thyroid hormone.
The thyroid itself is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It helps the body make many hormones in order to regulate your metabolism, heart, digestion, muscle control, brain health, and mood.
The first step in all these processes is for the brain to release TSH, or thyroid-stimulating hormone (this is the “go-to” lab to monitor thyroid health in a conventional medical setting). TSH triggers our thyroid gland to make and release T4 (AKA thyroid hormone).
T4 is converted to T3, or active thyroid hormone, in all kinds of cells in different tissues of the body. This is when the magic can happen. Remember this part for later because when T3 is not able to get inside the cells, we run into issues.
T3 is the influencer for (and I’m repeating myself a bit here) metabolic rate, energy levels, body temperature, cholesterol levels, wound healing, digestion, mood, skin health, mental function, sleep quality, ovarian function, and fertility. THIS IS A LOT!
The thyroid hormone touches so many areas of our health and can be considered our hub for feeling healthy as a whole.
How do you know if something is wrong with your thyroid hormone production?
Oh gosh, there are so many signs, but the most common issue is referred to as hypothyroidism. This is when the thyroid is underproducing thyroid-related hormones.
Some causes for an underactive thyroid can include chronic dieting, eating low-carb long-term, certain nutrient deficiencies (iodine, selenium, vitamin A, zinc, iron) high stress levels, over-exercising, inflammation, hidden infection, high toxic accumulation, and autoimmune thyroid (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis).
If the problem is not hypothyroidism, another common (probably even more common) issue is something called cellular hypothyroidism. This is when the thyroid itself is producing the proper amount of hormones but the cells in the body are not taking in the active thyroid hormone in the first place.
Getting to the root cause or stressor is the only way to stop this. Therefore, working closely with a functional medicine practitioner is going to be ideal (or a medical doctor with in-depth knowledge about thyroid health). He or she can help with nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle factors in-depth and, ideally, help your body send out T3 like it’s supposed to.
I only covered three major hormones related to weight regulation and weight loss, but there are even more to consider like leptin, estrogen, progesterone, and glucagon.
Again, the world of hormones can be really overwhelming, so my best advice is simply to investigate! Monitor your symptoms, gather information, and do your research. I also highly recommend working with a qualified healthcare professional who can help you figure out hormone imbalances related to your weight loss as well. Coming from experience, not only does this save you time and major headaches, but it also makes the journey a lot smoother along the way.
If you’re ready for expert help related to your hormones, our team can help! Check out our VIP 1:1 coaching services here.
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