I know this isn’t a huge shock, but when you reach a certain point in life (let’s just say above 40), your hormones start to change and that can cause shifts in your weight and energy levels. And while stress is a part of every stage of life, this is a time in life when the stress can pile up! Managing a successful career, dealing with family, and coping with everyday demands can feel overwhelming, and stress can cause a spike in hormone levels that, if left unchecked, can also lead to weight gain and other health concerns. Here are six ways to create a more balanced hormone situation so you can enjoy better energy levels and prevent weight gain.
1. Eat balanced meals.A balanced meal includes a generous portion of veggies along with protein, healthy, plant-based fats, and a right-size portion of whole grains or starchy veggies. If this balance is off—say, too many starchy carbs or too few healthy fats—it can set up a hormone situation that can make you hungrier and more prone to store fat. One theoryaround this has to do with the hormone, insulin; when this hormone spikes, it causes inflammation that can make it harder to lose weight. Balancing your meals with the right foods can help regulate this hormone so you feel better.
2. Focus on plant foods. I just mentioned that a generous helping of veggies is a big part of creating a balanced meal, but veggies, along with other plant foods (like beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) supply the vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds we need to offset the inflammatory process, which can impact hormone levels. Plus, micronutrients (the umbrella term for vitamins and minerals) can help get energy to your cells, and some of these nutrients are even involved in stress and sleep patterns.
One important mineral involved in these processes is magnesium, and studies find that up to 80 percent of Americans fall short on this key nutrient. You can find out more about magnesium and its role in stress, sleep, and regulating insulin levels here.
3. Cut way back on refined grains and sugary goodies. These types of foods can cause you to overproduce insulin, which in turn, causes a hormonal and metabolic situation that can prompt you to gain weight in your midsection. When you overproduce insulin, it can also trigger a metabolic condition defined by high triglycerides, low HDL levels, and high blood pressure. This is a very unhealthy combination that can lead to serious problems.
Insulin resistance can also contribute to excessive hunger and fatigue. You can begin to address this cascade of problems by cutting way back on refined grains and sugary foods, eating balanced meals, as well as getting some activity most days.
4. Prize your sleep. Hot flashes and other symptoms of hormone imbalances can interfere with sleep, so do your best to create a good sleep set-up. Sleep is intricately related to many hormones, including appetite-regulating hormones and insulin, so it’s an important part of your overall wellbeing, and it’s an important piece of the hormonal weight gain situation. If you want some tips to help enable better and more refreshing sleep, I’ve got eight natural ideas in this blog post.
5. Try to step up your activity levels. It’s hard to make time for activity when you’re dealing with a career and home life, but this might motivate you to squeeze it in. In a 4-month study on the impact of exercise on hot flashes, researchers found that training helped women regulate their body temperature better, which can help relieve this annoying symptom.
Though the study involved stepping up activity levels to 45 minutes most days of the week, I think it’s important to remember that some is better than none. Sciencebacks me up! A very recent study that tracked about 17,000 older women who wore a step-counter for seven days per week over a 4-year period found that it doesn’t take much! Just 4,400 steps per day was associated with a lower risk of death during the follow-up period. You get increasing benefits from doing a bit more, up to 7,500 per day, but after that, the extra steps didn’t matter much. And here’s the best part: There was no relationship to intensity; these walkers were mostly strolling—not power walking! I’m not discouraging more vigorous walks, but I’m saying don’t let time and intenseness be a barrier for you! Start with 10 or 15 minutes, which can improve your insulin response and help you cope with stress, even if you don’t break a sweat! You and your hormones will still be happier and healthier!
6. Learn healthy ways to deal with stress. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress, but when your to-do list grows a mile long, this might be the first thing to go. It’s also common to let your healthy eating habits slip because, let’s face it, enjoying a pizza or a sleeve of cookies feels pretty darn good in the moment! When your stress hormones soar and you turn to food to distract you, it makes weight gain practically inevitable. Of course, in the long run, stress eating can leave you frustrated with your weight, low on energy, and possibly even feeling guilt and shame. (Side note: I want you to drop the guilt! We’re all humans, and I promise you have way better things to do with your precious time and energy and head space than feel guilty over what you ate.)
I’m a huge fan of meditation or simple breathing exercises to help manage stress better. One study on stressed out med studentsfound that a short mindfulness practice—just four days!—reduced stress hormone levels. It’s also an effective way to reduce binge eating and emotional eating, because it helps reduce impulses. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help improve sleepand reduce insomnia, which in turn, creates a healthier hormone situation.
Meditation is free, and you can do it for any amount of time, anywhere you are. If you’re a newbie, I recommend just one to five minutes to start out with. Just pick one thing to focus on—usually your breath—and allow yourself to inhale and exhale calmly. Sometimes it helps to just repeat in your head “in” as you’re breathing in and “out” as you’re exhaling. If your mind wanders, don’t get upset. This is normal, but with practice, it’ll happen less often.
No matter where you are in your life stage, this is practical advice. But as you enter your 40s (or beyond), these tips will help offset weight gain, keep your hormones in a healthy range, manage stress in the healthiest way, and energize you for life’s adventures at home, work, and play.
If you want help figuring how to feel good while traveling and eating out, and how to prepare healthy, easy meals at home, get in touch for 1:1 counseling. I can help you learn how to eat better without dieting and deprivation!