Our hormones are extremely powerful regulators of body size, weight, and strength. They even effect our energy, mood, motivation, and confidence. Though we can find ourselves blaming them for the way we eat, did you know that the way we eat actually effects our hormones?
Men could use more testosterone, the primary male hormone, to look and feel the way they desire. You would think women could use more estrogen, the primary female hormone, to do the same. However, it’s often the lesser-known progesterone that is in short supply. Stress is often a big culprit in these deficiencies for both sexes, but our diets are a major contributor to the hormonal imbalance.
Here’s some of the common ways we make an ideal body weight more difficult by sabotaging our hormones with harmful food choices.
1.) Too much sugar. As we continue to consume sugary drinks, snacks, and desserts, insulin is released from the pancreas to accomplish the task of rounding up our elevated blood glucose and carrying it off to storage. Interestingly, prolonged and repeated high insulin levels have been correlated with low testosterone levels, which will cause reduced metabolic rates in both men and women.
2.) Too little calories. Protocols like the HCG diet and other starvation routines damage hormonal balance severely, resulting in a sluggish metabolism. Though weight loss can be seen, it is never healthy and never permanent. Deficiencies can develop that can cause diseases even more serious than obesity. Recovering from these harmful fad diets can be a long and difficult road, as the body now fights to hang on to extra energy stores should something that crazy ever happen again.
3.) Too much caffeine/stimulants. A little bit of coffee or tea isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can have some health benefits. The danger, however, is that stimulants are extremely addictive, and reaching for an energy crutch can put you on a slippery slope to heavy consumption. Our adrenaline is supposed to be there for emergencies and moments that we need instant energy or power. Believing that we need it to sit at desks or behind computers is a harmful myth. When we artificially stimulate the release of adrenaline all day, every day, we elevate cortisol levels. This stress hormone interferes with proper testosterone production in men, and blocks progesterone production in women.
4.) Too little fat. This may sound surprising, but a diet too low in fat can actually cause you to gain body fat by decreasing your levels of valuable hormones. One study of a group of men, for example, showed a 12% reduction in testosterone after just 2 months of a very low-fat diet. Our sex hormones, which play a vital role in our body composition, are made from cholesterol produced in response to the fat in our diets. Again, testosterone is very important to women as well, even though the absolute amounts are smaller. Be sure to keep good fats like avocados, fish, flax, almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts in your diet.
5.) Too much alcohol. Alcohol accelerates the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Obviously, this is bad for men, but it’s terrible for women too, many of whom are already facing estrogen-dominance and would appreciate the fat-burning, muscle-shaping effects of testosterone. Alcohol also damages the liver, which plays a vital role in releasing hormones that maintain stable blood sugar levels. In this way, excess alcohol can put you on the path to constant sugar cravings and insulin resistance, which results in accumulation of body fat.
6.) Too little vitamin D. Our overreaction to the possibility of a cancer-producing sunburn has driven us indoors, and straight into Vitamin D deficiency. That’s unfortunate considering the research on the benefits of vitamin D is staggering. This vitamin is actually a precursor to a vital hormone involved in multiple cellular processes. Vitamin D has been shown to do everything from building strong bones to staving off depression. We now know that it’s involved in the regulation over 200 different genes. Furthermore, it promotes normal cell proliferation and helps inhibits the growth of cancer. Regarding our body composition, a vitamin D deficiency will disrupt testosterone and estrogen balance. At the same time, too little Vitamin D makes our insulin less effective, pushing the pancreas to produce even more in an attempt to reduce blood sugar by driving it into storage. Bottom line: get more Vitamin D through foods like low fat dairy, eggs (with the yolk), tuna, and beans. The easiest source, however, is still sunlight exposure.
7.) Too little zinc. This important mineral naturally increases testosterone in men, and is necessary to produce both estrogen and progesterone in women. Zinc also boosts the immune system, keeping every other function of your body running at full strength. Additionally, it aids the absorption of nutrients, supports the health of your liver, and helps your muscles make repairs. These 3 benefits combine to control the balance of your metabolic hormones (insulin and glucagon) as well. You can get more zinc by eating cabbage, peas, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and squash seeds.
8.) Too much binging. Continually eating large amounts of food at once dulls our brain’s ability to receive the “I’m satisfied” signal from the hormone leptin – typically responsible for the feeling of food contentment. This condition is created in much the same way that too much sugar produces insulin resistance. In fact, it is now labeled leptin resistance to reflect the similar pathway. Simply put, we have repeatedly stuffed ourselves so much that we can no longer understand when we are full. We literally become deaf to leptin’s message. The result? The only hormone we can hear is leptin’s antagonist – ghrelin – the hormone that drives appetite. So we keep overeating, again and again, making it worse and worse. It’s a tough cycle to break, but incorporating the habit-recreation tricks we’ve learned, combined with tight accountability to change, will allow you to regain healthy leptin sensitivity.