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If you've been working on healthier habits and weight loss, boosting your metabolism and optimizing your body's fat-burning hormones, you're doing great. If you're not seeing the results you want, though, you should know that you're only fighting half the battle. Your fat-burning hormones are always fighting against three hormones that create fat and slow your progress. Cortisol, insulin, and estrogen are powerful inhibitors to fat burning, and can all cancel out your hard work if you don't control them.
The Three Fat-Synthesizing / Dominating Hormones
The Culprit: CORTISOL
Cortisol is the big one. Released by the adrenal glands, cortisol production is triggered by any kind of stress, be it mental or physical. Cortisol is especially problematic when you're trying to lose belly fat. Over time, chronic stress (and chronically excessive cortisol) can interrupt your sleep, age you faster, and even cause your muscle tissues to be cannibalized and turned into sugar by your own body.
How to control it:
â–º Manage stress: Of course! Take a look at the people in your life. Are there a lot of toxic personalities? People who leave you feeling miserable? If so, eliminate them if at all possible. This can be difficult when the toxic personalities are your co-workers, your boss, or your difficult relative. If you can't avoid or eliminate these people, pay attention to how they make you feel and at least be aware of their effect on you. In my experience, toxic people are the single biggest source of stress in most peoples' lives. And they're making you fat, to boot. Once you're aware of where the stress in your life is coming from, you can be more diligent about managing it.
â–º Sleep tight: When you don't get enough rest, stress builds up in your body, and starts a snowball effect of cortisol production, poor sleep, and more stress. You may stand to gain a lot just by sleeping better. Acupressure at bedtime or a dose of Adrenal Formula at night can help break the cycle of poor sleep and chronic stress. I've written before about using my massage tool to do acupressure on yourself and help you wind down and activate your body's relaxation response. At home, acupressure is as simple as it gets in terms of what you're getting in return! Better sleep is the best way to start recovering from chronic stress.
You can also help yourself to sleep by consuming B vitamin complex in the form of nutritional yeast. Potassium, calcium lactate, and calcium citrate can also support better sleep.
â–º Work it out: Exercise can be a useful tool in combating stress and cortisol, but you have to exercise at the level most appropriate for your body. A good rule of thumb is to base the intensity of your exercise on the quality of your sleep. If you don't sleep well and don't wake up feeling rested, start small with walking, stretching, and light yoga. Don't start your triathlon training until you're sleeping soundly and restfully every night and waking up feeling great!
â–º Treat yourself: Yes, really- you have my permission, my recommendation! Make sure you have sources of pleasure in your life to balance out the sources of stress. If you're a bit of a foodie, steer yourself toward foods that aren't sugary. Fatty foods are okay to enjoy in moderation, especially if you're eating plenty of green vegetables to support your gallbladder health at the same time. If the choice is between sugary and fatty, fatty foods will do less damage to your weight loss and fat-burning goals. Of course, pleasure doesn't just mean food. Pleasure also means carving out time for yourself, for anything you enjoy doing, just for the sake of doing it.
The Culprit: INSULIN
Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating the sugar in your blood. If your insulin levels are off, your blood sugar will spike; you can even become diabetic. The intake of sugar is what triggers insulin production. Insulin will stop your body from burning fat, and it can do so for up to 72 hours after you consume sugar. It takes very little sugar- the amount in half a glass of wine or fruit juice, or a single cookie- to do this. The cumulative effect of even occasional sugar consumption can be massive. Sugar in all of its forms, as well as MSG and modified food starch will all block your body's fat-burning hormones.
How to control it:
â–º Cut your sugar!: This one is deceptively simple. In practice, it’s more difficult than you might expect. Sugar is added to so many packaged foods in unexpected ways, and simple carbohydrates like white bread, white flour, and pasta are equally common and equally bad for your insulin levels. Read the labels on your packaged foods, and pay attention to the grams of sugar per serving. Nut butters, whole grain cereal , and protein bars often contain far more added sugar than you would expect to find in such "healthy" options. Become more aware of the sugar in your food, and seek out ways to avoid it.
The Culprit: ESTROGEN
Estrogen has a lesser impact than insulin or cortisol, but contributes to your body holding fat on the hips, lower belly, and buttocks. Menstrual dysfunction (long, heavy, or painful periods) and pregnancy will both cause an increase in estrogen production. Excessive estrogen can also cause a uterine fibroid, which in turn causes even more estrogen production. Other sources of estrogen include birth control pills and medications, and estrogen in meat, dairy, and soy.
How to control it:
â–º Avoid Estrogen in Foods: If you have fertile ovaries, your hands are a bit tied. Your body is going to produce estrogen no matter what. You can, however, avoid eating hormone-laden commercial chicken, and soy products (soy milk, tofu, soy protein isolate). Soy is another ubiquitous, cheap food additive that sneaks into many common products, especially "diet" products and meat substitutes, and which in large quantities can trigger estrogen production in both men and women.