Most people ask me what foods they need to eat (or not eat) to lose weight. Anyone can lose a few pounds on a diet, only to put it back on as soon as the diet’s over (and more usually!).
The key to lasting weight loss, especially for women over 40 is hormone balance. If your hormones are out of whack, you will find it almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off. Nourish and look after your hormones and they will repay you with a body that will look and feel great.
What have hormones got to do with weight?
Hormones are not just about puberty, pregnancy, PMS and menopause. They actually regulate so much of how we look, feel, think and perform every day.
These are the main ones that can cause problems, especially as we get older – I call them the ‘Feisty 4'!
- Cortisol – our main stress hormone is cortisol. When we have too much stress in our lives – not just ‘busyness’, but other stresses like illness, relationships, food sensitivities, chemicals, poor sleep, etc – our cortisol can be out of balance. Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands to help us deal with stress or ‘perceived danger’ and is an essential survival mechanism. Its job is to pump sugar into our blood and muscles for extra energy to ‘fight or flight’. But modern life is so full of stressors that our cortisol can be too high for too long and we don’t give ourselves a chance to rest. And all that extra sugar in our blood gets stored as fat, especially around our middle. And the resulting blood sugar dips make us crave more sugar and carbs – a vicious cycle indeed.
- Thyroid – as we get older (especially us girls), our thyroid gland can suffer. Thyroid hormones are needed in every cell of our bodies to produce energy and help them do their job. So when we don’t have enough, our whole system can slow down and make us feel tired, lethargic, foggy, depressed and of course make it very hard for us to burn fat. And too much stress also suppresses our thyroid!
- Insulin – insulin is the hormone that regulates our blood sugar. It’s also our fat storing hormone, so whenever we eat sugar or carbs that we are not burning off, the extra glucose gets stored as FAT. Too much insulin not only increases our risk of obesity, but also diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone – these are our sex hormones that determine our femininity and reproduction, but also help keep our bones, heart and brain healthy. As we get towards our peri-menopausal years and beyond, they can fluctuate and decline, causing all kinds of symptoms, including carb cravings and stubborn weight gain.
My top 5 favourite hormone balancing foods
I’ve got a whole array of foods I love to include in a hormone balancing diet, but these are my favorites;
- Protein shakes – your hormones are produced, stored, transported and metabolized by a variety of proteins in your body. Getting enough good quality dietary protein every day can be hard. Having a protein shake in the morning not only gives you a good dose of complete protein, but also fills you up and balances your blood sugar (keeping that insulin in check), reduces your cravings and keeps your energy levels up till lunchtime. Just make sure you are using a good quality un-denatured organic whey protein, not the over-processed mass market ones. Or if you are dairy-free, a good quality plant based protein powder.
- Cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, watercress, kale, rocket, bok Choy, Brussell sprouts) – this group of vegetables are super hormone balancing foods. They contain something called Indole-3-Carbinol which metabolises into DIM – this helps to detoxify excess oestrogen, keeping your levels in check and is also protective against some oestrogen driven cancers. Make sure your veg is organic though – pesticides can wipe out any of these benefits. Check out this amazing list of recipes for cruciferous veg.
- Avocados – my favourite healthy fat, avocados are low carb and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including Vitamin K, C, E, A, B vitamins, potassium, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. In fact they contain more potassium than bananas, and more fibre than many other fruits. They also make you feel full for longer, reducing cravings and keeping your energy stable.
- Coconut oil – coconut oil contains saturated fats called Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) which don’t need to be digested in the gut, instead go straight to the liver to be quickly converted into energy, giving your metabolism a nice boost (helping your thyroid and increasing fat burning!).
- Flaxseeds – seeds are a really easy (and tasty) way to get healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals into your diet. Flaxseeds (or linseeds) are particularly helpful for your hormones as they contain lignans that help to detoxify excess oestrogen. Rich in fibre too which helps you feel full and helps with keeping you moving, both excellent ways to help with weight loss!
And do you know the easiest way to make sure you’re getting them in daily? Make a green protein smoothie for breakfast every day. Whizz up all these ingredients in a blender, add some coconut water or almond milk – and you’re done!
Add in some lifestyle tweaks to reduce stress levels, increase your sleep, move more and reduce your chemical exposure, and your hormones will reward you with a faster metabolism, a leaner belly, balanced moods and super charged energy levels!
Click here for your FREE Hormone Balancing Guide.
Dallman MF, Pecorarao N, Akana SF, et al. Chronic stress and obesity: a new view of “comfort food.” PNAS 2003; 100(20): 11696-11701.
Frestedt JL1 et al (2008) A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008 Mar 27;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-8.
Assunção ML1, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF, Cabral CR Jr, Florêncio TM. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
Dalessandri KM et al (2004) Pilot study: effect of 3,3′-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(2):161-7.