Hormonal health and weight loss

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

Author: Canadian Living


Hormonal health and weight loss

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

It seems that lately, everywhere you turn you see the latest diet "shtick" guaranteeing quick and easy weight loss. From counting points to restricting calories to eating grapefruit and dropping bread, there is no shortage of books, tapes and programs to help guide you on this journey. Curiously, even with a multitude of weight loss approaches to choose from, over 60 per cent of the North American public continues to be overweight or obese. This begs the question -- is the weight loss industry a billion-dollar industry because it's working, or because it's not?

In order for permanent and successful weight loss to occur, the key messengers in the body -- hormones -- must first be addressed.

If hormones such as insulin, glucagon and cortisol are out of whack due to faulty food choices and stress, achieving a healthy body weight, high energy and normal blood sugar levels is very difficult, if not impossible.

Hormones and food
Carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes break down into glucose (aka sugar) and are the body's number one choice for fuel. However, pick the wrong type of carbohydrate repetitively, and you will begin to throw the hormone insulin out of control.

By consuming too many high glycemic index carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, white potatoes, white sugar and white rice, blood sugar (glucose) levels spike, causing oversecretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted from the pancreas to lower blood sugar levels by opening up gates on cells, allowing the sugar to enter the cells.

When eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugary products (high glycemic index "carbs"), blood sugar levels spike, sending a signal to the pancreas to oversecrete insulin. In a nutshell, excess insulin secretion facilitates the excess storage of fat.

(Click here for healthy low-glycemic recipes)

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Protein is a vital component of the daily diet. Protein helps build and restore muscle, contributes to enzyme formation and helps to maintain proper acid-alkali balance in the body. From a hormonal perspective, protein is critical to maintaining a healthy body weight as it triggers the release of the hormone glucagon.

Glucagon is in direct opposition to insulin and breaks down fat. Although going high protein may sound like the perfect option to lose weight, it is not. A certain amount of protein is needed at each and every meal or snack (approximately 30 per cent of the total calories of each meal should be derived from protein, or 4 to 6 ounces per meal for women and 5 to 7 ounces per meal for men), it should not be eaten in excess. The body does not want to use protein as its main source of fuel: it prefers carbohydrates. A lean protein/low glycemic index carbohydrate balance is the key for hormonal balance, long-term weight loss and high energy. (Try our fast and easy lean protein/low glycemic Popeye Frittata)

Take home points
For hormonal health and long-term weight loss, remember to keep the following in mind when eating your next meal.

• Eat low to medium glycemic index carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables (aside from white potatoes), whole grains and legumes.

• Consume lean proteins such as low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken, turkey, soy, egg whites and occasional lean beef at each and every meal or snack. For "eye-balling" purposes, a deck of cards is equivalent to three ounces of protein. Women need about a deck and a half of cards per meal; men need approximately two decks of cards per meal.

• Choose your fats wisely. Avoid partially hydrogenated fats (trans fatty acids). Opt for heart-healthy monounsaturated fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and omega-3 essential fats found in almonds, walnuts, salmon, tuna, fish oils, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, sesame seeds and fortified eggs, yogurt and milk. (Learn how to make healthy fat choices.)

In addition to making more sensible food choices, it is important to make active changes to reduce stress. When in a chronic state of stress, the adrenal glands will secrete the hormone cortisol. An oversecretion of cortisol triggers excess storage of fat around the abdominal area. In addition to being a cardiac risk factor, abdominal fat is also often the most difficult to lose. Work out, write in your journal, talk to friends, take time for yourself and laugh a little more to reduce stress and weigh in thin!

Dr. Joey Shulman is author of national bestseller The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2006). For more information visit

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Hormonal health and weight loss