Raise your hand if you’ve been on a diet! Raise your hand if you’ve been on a diet, got frustrated, then went off your diet! Chances are, if you’re a woman over the age of 18, you raised your hand. We’re all familiar with this scenario. You hear about the latest fad diet and jump on the bandwagon. Or, you resort to the standard dietary advice of cutting way down on calories and incessantly increasing cardio exercise. Despite all your best efforts, the scale doesn’t budge! Or if you do experience any weight loss, it’s fleeting and you gain it all back the second you deviate from the strict dietary and fitness regimen. Why is this happening? Well, if you are like many women, your hormones could be out of whack!”
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, and they travel through the bloodstream, delivering important messages to tissues and organs throughout the body. While there are many contributing factors that cause hormonal imbalances, let’s examine why traditional diets, fad diets, or crash diets disrupt hormonal balance and sabotage weight loss.
The female physiology is exquisitely sensitive to stress, especially during menopause, and it registers the typical approach to dieting as stress, which leads to the production of cortisol (aka the “stress hormone). Cortisol can cause stubborn belly fat to accumulate on our midsection.
When cortisol is elevated, other hormones that control weight are also thrown “off key.” This can often have negative effect like increasing your body’s fat storage, stimulating your appetite, slowing down your metabolism, and decreasing muscle mass. Here’s how:
1) Elevated cortisol decreases the hormone levels in our brain that cause our thyroid hormone to be released (aptly named Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). This causes low thyroid (hypothyroid), which in turn causes our body to preferentially store the food we eat as fat — mostly in the belly and the area underneath your chin (the dreaded double chin).
2) Elevated cortisol causes a decrease in the conversion in your liver of T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form). Again, this causes hypothyroid symptoms including the accumulation of belly fat.
3) Elevated cortisol decreases the clearance of estrogen, which in turn decreases the thyroid hormone, causing weight gain, among other things.
4) Elevated cortisol increases blood sugar. This causes a release of the hormone insulin, which, if chronically elevated, can cause the cells to be resistant to insulin’s signals. Insulin is the “fat hormone.” If it’s too high for too long, you store food as fat.
5) Similarly, elevated insulin causes an elevation of a hormone called leptin. Leptin tells our brain that our stomach is full and to stop eating. However, if it is chronically elevated, then our cells begin to ignore its signal (leptin resistance) and we overeat.
6) Lastly, elevated cortisol decreases the release of the “feel good” chemical dopamine in our brain. Low dopamine can cause depression. Many studies have shown that people suffering from depression are more to suffer from obesity than those who aren’t.
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