Stress totally messes with our hormones, can have a serious impact on our health and to top it all off is a major contributor to us getting fat.
So not cool.
And I’m not talking about the ‘I don’t know what outfit to wear’ kinda stress.
That deep seeded worry we have often about our futures, finances, health, relationships and family members. And more recently our reputations, our businesses and being successful (the rise of success flu AKA burnout).
Plus our primal mechanisms that trigger our fight or flight and set off our adrenals. Often triggered by the honking horn of a car rather than stampeding rhinos but our body doesn’t make the distinction and is flooded with adrenalin that is never properly utilized and leads to adrenal fatigue. More on this later.
It really has a lot to answer for in our bodies in relation to our health but it also is one of the main contributors to stubborn fat in those areas we struggle with the most: belly, hips and thighs.
Why Stress Imbalances Hormones
If there’s one lifestyle factor that can ruffle up your hormones, it’s stress.
And as you well know, today’s hectic lifestyle forces us to be exposed to stress on a regular basis.
It’s true that your body is equipped to handle moderate amounts of stress, thanks to the primary stress regulating hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
But when the level of a couple hormones is continually high, an imbalance between the rest of your hormones can result. That’s why when cortisol is constantly being released into your bloodstream as a response to stress, it can upset the balance between the rest of your hormones.
Having high levels of cortisol is never a good thing. Not only does it suggest your adrenal glands are being exhausted (they produce stress hormones), but it continually sends signals to your body that you’re in danger.
Long-term, this can create a cascade of undesirable hormonal symptoms. If you’ve ever heard the saying “stress makes you fat,” it’s because of the repeated release of cortisol.
That’s because cortisol doesn’t know the difference between what kind of stress you’re under – whether it’s the constant pinging of cellphone notifications when you’re on deadline or if you’re about to be chowed down by a tiger.
Either way, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode to help you deal with the stress, thanks to the release of cortisol.
What happens when cortisol is released? First, cortisol tells your body to stop burning fat and to begin storing it for the future, in case the stress means you’re about to starve.
Meanwhile, cortisol also sends signals to increase your appetite, which prompt you to eat more food for quick energy (hello, sugar cravings!)
The problem with this is that our main sources of stress have evolved over the years. We’re no longer worried about being chased by beasts, but we are worried about facing an overloaded inbox, angry bosses, or getting stuck in traffic.
To our bodies, though, it’s all the same: stress.
Not only does cortisol contribute to belly fat and sugar cravings, it can disrupt the function of your gastrointestinal hormones. They are told to stop digesting food so your energy stores are reserved, in case you need to run from that tiger.
Plus, when cortisol is constantly being released by the adrenal glands, your adrenals can get worn out, which causes your entire body to feel fatigued.
As you can see, stress creates a complex ripple effect on your hormones
What Causes Low Thyroid Function?
If you’re having a tough time losing weight, I would strongly suggest having your thyroid checked out. Your thyroid test results will give you crucial insight into the relationship between your thyroid and weight gain.
To help you with this, I have a really cool free thyroid blood test handbook. This will help you make sense of your thyroid test results so you can take appropriate action if needed.
With that said, you’re probably wondering how you get low thyroid in the first place.
The fact of the matter is that 90 percent of low thyroid is autoimmune; it’s something called Hashimoto’s disease, and it can be caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid.
Why does that happen?
Well, there are a lot of different reasons, from environmental toxins to the foods that we eat. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury have also been linked to low thyroid function, as has gluten.
In fact, gluten is a really big one. That’s because its protein structure closely resembles the thyroid tissue’s protein structure.
With repeated exposure, your immune system can confuse the two and, over time, start attacking your thyroid. Look for gluten substitutes wherever possible. You really don’t need it. I have a ton of great recipes on the site which will help you do away with it in your diet for good.
Does it also affect my Metabolism?
Now in my previous post on the worst exercise to do for over 35 women (which if you haven’t read you need to) I started to explain to you the role of your metabolism in your ability to burn fat and get lean.
Our internal thermostat (our thyroid) is like the furnace in burning of calories and keeping our bodies warm and moving. And a good and functioning thyroid determines are base metabolic state.
Basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body requires every single day to survive, even if you were just to lie on the couch and do nothing; that’s what we’re talking about here.
However, many things can mess with our thyroid, stress it out and when it is not functioning optimally, this can mean we put on and retain this stubborn fat.
So let’s look at what happens when it is LOW?
What Does Low Thyroid Mean?
In case you’re not aware, your thyroid is one of your body’s main control centers—it’s essentially air-traffic control for your metabolism.
It produces T4 and T3, which are the main thyroid hormones, and T3 is the active form. It’s particularly important because it’s constantly in communication with your cells, regulating growth and cellular repair.
If you don’t have enough T3 getting inside your cells, then your body’s not getting crucial messages it needs to function correctly.
That’s bad… very bad.
Some people choose to supplement with thyroid hormone to boost their levels, but it’s not as simple as that. The conversion from T4 to T3 is something that happens in your liver and in your gut. That’s part of the process you need to mend if you’re suffering from low thyroid. Then there’s also whether or not T3 is getting inside your cells, if your brain is sending the right signals to your thyroid, and more!
That’s why simply taking more thyroid hormone (often just T4) is not going to help in many cases.
How to Lose Weight with Low Thyroid
To tackle low thyroid, you should also consider supplementation with two important minerals: iodine and selenium.
In the past it was said that we need to get a lot more iodine in our body, but the problem is that if we get a lot of iodine without the appropriate amount of selenium, that can actually increase the problem within the thyroid.
If you’re getting iodine from your diet, awesome.
If you’re supplementing with it, make sure that it’s balanced with the appropriate amount of selenium.
If you’ve been eating a healthy diet and have been working out consistently but just aren’t shedding those pounds, strongly consider that low thyroid is probably at play.
The good news, however, is that you can reverse low thyroid.
There are a couple steps involved—you have to look at cleaning up the liver, improving the health of your gut, removing a lot toxins and gluten, and move towards a whole-foods diet—but it’s very do-able; Just ask my clients.
Three steps on the path:
Focus on fit fats, smart protein and follow a carb cyclical based eating pattern of clean, wholefoods based on plants.
Your liver and gut health are involved in all of this as well and that is why we encourage a one day liver detox on our 28 Day Warrior Goddess Body Programme in addition to gut health boosting foods and drinks.
Did you know that your thyroid produces two very important hormones: T4 and T3? T4 is, for the most part, inactive; it has to be converted to T3, which is the active hormone in your body. A large percentage of that conversion takes place in your liver and your gut.
If your liver is toxic or your gut is unhealthy, you’re not going to be converting T4 and T3 properly. At this point, T3 stops vital communication with your cells which essentially tells them to turn up your metabolism and produce more energy. With that, your metabolism—and your weight loss—is going to grind to a halt.
That’s not all; for as many terrible things you’ve heard about gluten in recent years, you might not know that it has very similar protein structures as your thyroid tissue.
Eat a lot of it, and over time your body can misidentify your thyroid tissue as gluten and can start to attack it. As we’ve seen already, once those dominos start falling, a slugging metabolism and weight loss struggles aren’t far behind.
For so many people, the idea of being on a diet seems to imply boring meals of lettuce, celery and other negative calorie foods—and little else. This is rubbish. If you’re a rabbit, fantastic, but if you’re not, these foods aren’t going to help you burn more calories.
Mind you, I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat these foods. They’re absolutely wonderful, but they’re not going to help you lose weight.
One of the most essential metabolism facts you need to know is this: if you want to eat foods that help your metabolism, think about protein.
Protein has a fantastic effect on your metabolism, as it has a high thermic effect in the body. That essentially means that in order for it to be digested, it has to raise your core temperature and metabolism—a very good thing.
These fantastic effects are why so many diets focus on protein. It’s not that protein is in and of itself the answer to miraculous weight loss, but because it actually increases your basal metabolic rate, it will help you burn more calories throughout the day.
That’s why it’s important to have protein with most of your meals. Ideally, you want to aim for about 25-30 grams at each of your meals and this is even better from plant based sources.
Beware of Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens
Some substances – called xenohormones – in our environment and food supply can mimic estrogen in the body. And as you now know, elevated estrogen levels throw off the delicate ratio between the rest of the sex hormones.
Phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens are two xenohormones considered to be endocrine disruptors.
Xenoestrogens are found in plastic containers, water bottles, cosmetics, body care products, and aluminum cans. Phytoestrogens occur naturally in foods like soy products, beans, and legumes.
Factory-farmed (meaning non-organic) animal products like chicken, beef, dairy, farmed fish, and eggs have become another major source of phytoestrogens because they’re injected with growth hormones to grow faster and bigger – and we ingest these hormones when we eat them.
The best way to avoid xenoestrogens is to switch from plastic to glass containers for food storage, and to use chemical-free body care products wherever possible.
In fact, many chemical-laden body care products can be replaced with ingredients from your kitchen. For example, plain coconut oil makes a great chemical-free makeup remover, moisturizer, and natural sunscreen.
Meanwhile, you can avoid phytoestrogens by replacing soy and dairy products with non-dairy milk alternatives, like almond milk or cashew milk.
Avoid long cardio exercise and follow fully body metabolic workouts that build lean muscle
Wouldn’t it make sense to improve your basal metabolic rate?
That’s really the most impactful thing you can do to lose weight and keep it off. The reason most diets don’t work is because they only focus on food and ignore the very thing that gives you long-lasting results: muscle.
Let’s take an example of someone who’s 200 pounds at ten percent body fat versus someone clocking in at 200 pounds with 20 percent body fat. Based on what I just told you, who’s going to have the higher basal metabolic rate?
If you said the person who has the ten percent body fat, you would be correct.
What that essentially means is that they have more muscle mass. The person who has 20 percent—or 40 pounds—of body fat has significantly less muscle on their body, thus, a lower basal metabolic rate and a much harder time losing weight.
If you want to lose weight, you simply have to develop lean muscle mass. Especially for women. It’s not about getting bulky, but engineering toned muscles that work all day long to keep you trim, even if you aren’t working out.
You can do this with one kettlebell at your own home.
And watch how your body changes in as little as 28 days.
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Avoid burnout and schedule regular self care and quality rest
You’ve got to start thinking about reducing cortisol levels and reducing your body’s stress responses.
And Avoiding Caffeine
Caffeine can cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar, and also can trigger the release of cortisol in people already under significant stress.
That’s why I recommend replacing caffeine with decaf herbal teas.
If energy is the main reason you include caffeine in your diet, you may be surprised by how fueled with energy you will feel by replacing your morning coffee with a green smoothie that incorporates hormone-balancing nutrients like spirulina and healthy fats from avocado.
And consider adding in regular Yoga & Meditation, a long walk in nature, a good bedtime routine or a relaxing bath.
This time is important time for you. It is not selfish or a cop out. It is part of your healthy lifestyle and needs to be implemented as seriously as healthy eating or exercise.
Your hormone type has a tremendous influence on your overall metabolic balance. These hormones, in turn, impact your metabolism. However, you can influence them based on how you eat, exercise, manage stress, and move. This turns what is normally seen as a fat-burning disadvantage for women into a kind of female “superpower”. But to take advantage of it, you need to know a little bit more about your specific hormone type.