Hormonal Minefield

Trying to be healthy and not seeing results? Before you start pulling your hair out in frustration, here’s why hormones might just be the answer.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Trying to be healthy and not seeing results? Before you start pulling your hair out in frustration, here’s why hormones might just be the answer.
Corbis/Click Photos.
Corbis/Click Photos.

The rules seem obvious: to lose weight, you have to sweat it out. But despite slogging it out at the gym and eating healthy meals, the needle on the scales just won’t seem to budge. What if we told you creating your best ever body was as simple as making a few lifestyle changes to help your hormones out?

With the right knowledge and a few tactics to balance your hormone levels, you can get your leanest body ever.

The fat controller Insulin

What it does: Insulin manages blood sugars by converting food to energy.

Why it’s important: Eating too much sugar in one sitting causes your body to release extra insulin to cope.The result is an energy crash and you’re left craving even more sugar!

When it’s unbalanced: If you throw off your insulin levels too often, your cells begin to ignore it and you’re on your way to uncontrollable fat storage and, in the worst case, diabetes.

Keep it happy: Ditch sugars, reduce starches and stick to a moderate carbohydrate diet. Eat proteins and small portions of healthy fats regularly.

The stress head Cortisol

What it does: Cortisol is released when you’re stressed out. At first, it encourages your body to burn stored glucose, but constant cortisol release shuts down fat burning altogether.

Why it’s important: Cortisol has many functions, including glucose management and insulin maintenance. You need this guy on your side when you’re under pressure.

When it’s unbalanced: Too much cortisol can result in fat storage, disturbed sleep, exhaustion in the mornings and often a second wind in the evening.

Keep it happy: Kick coffee, or simply limit yourself to a pre-workout hit. Increasing your Omega-3 intake and establishing an evening wind-down ritual are also great ways to keep your cortisol in check.

The fat blasters Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Testosterone

What they do: These hormones build lean muscle and promote fat-burning,affecting everything from whether your butt looks good to boosting your mood, immunity and sex drive.

Why they’re important: HGH and testosterone encourages the body to use fat as fuel. Testosterone is a potent lean-muscle builder, as it increases metabolism and boosts your libido. It won’t have you looking like Arnie; it’ll just keep you lean and motivated.

When they’re unbalanced: When HGH is low, you’ll store fat easier and feel tired. If testosterone is low, you may struggle to focus and maintain muscle tone.

Keep ’em happy: HGH is created while you sleep, so make sure that you get your full eight hours. Weight training gives a boost to both these hormones and testosterone loves protein, so increase your intake to keep those arms feeling strong.

The appetite masters Leptin and Ghrelin

What it does: Leptin decreases hunger whereas ghrelin increases it and lets you know when you’re dehydrated.

Why they’re important: If leptin is out of whack, your brain won’t register when you’re full and that means constant cravings. Keeping a leptin-ghrelin balance is key.

When they’re unbalanced: Sudden weight gain, mood swings, a large appetite and low energy levels are signs that your appetite control hormones may be imbalanced.

Keep ’em happy: Eat within an hour of getting up and choose protein or good fats for your first meal of the day. Decrease sugars but never go carb-free, and eat small meals throughout the day.

The sugar hater Cholecystokinin (CCK)

What it does: CCK is a digestive hormone released when you consume proteins or fats. It sends a message to your brain to stop eating and your stomach to slow the rate of digestion.

Why it’s important: CCK fl ips your full switch to “on” but doesn’t register sugars and starches, which is why sometimes you can scoff a whole bag of lollies and not feel full.

When it’s unbalanced: If you constantly eat high-sugar or carb-loaded foods, CCK tends to lie dormant, impacting digestion and increasing cravings.

Keep it happy: Use CCK for good by including more protein and healthy fats in most of your meals.

The girly ones Estrogen and Progesterone

What they do: Both hormones control ovulation, sex drive, your mood, fluid retention and fat distribution.

Why they’re important: Making sure they’re in balance will keep your skin clear and emotions in check.

When they’re unbalanced: Mood swings and increased anxiety, excess fat and emotional upheaval are signs of imbalance.

Keep ’em happy: Avoid processed foods, alcohol (red wine is OK, phew!), and soy products. When exercising, try opting for resistance and interval training.

Cover All Bases

Feeling a little out of sorts but not sure which hungry hormone is the culprit? Make sure you’re doing the best thing for your body:

+Ditch cereal and chow down on protein and good fats in the morning.

+Don’t leave too much time between meals. A little hunger is beneficial but that starving feeling will upset your cravings for the rest of the day.

+Cut down on caffeine. If you can’t go without your daily grind completely, sip on a black coffee about 30-60 minutes before a workout.

+Moderate your carb intake but avoid a super-low carb diet.

+Never overeat or diet; it confuses your body. Regular, smaller portions work best.

+Get enough sleep. Without enough hours in the sack, you’ve got no chance of fighting the flab.

+Get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Spending just 20 minutes outdoors a day can make your body sing.