If you have been gaining weight, or unable to shed the pounds as easy as you used to – despite your efforts to eat right, exercise, and take your vitamins every morning – you may have a hormone imbalance which has you hardwired to put on pounds.

Even when we think we are being healthy, hormonal triggers to unwanted weight gain are too often neglected or overlooked. Testing can help you find the answer. In the meantime, let us review the collective wisdom on eight big culprits behind unwanted weight gain.

  1. You have an estrogen to progesterone imbalance.

Many women – especially those of childbearing age – have an estrogen dominance problem. If you exercise strenuously, you could be making less progesterone and estrogen is dominating, leading to weight gain in the hips, thighs and bottom. Other causes of estrogen dominance include disrupted ovulation (meaning no progesterone is produced), and supplementing with estrogen alone, in the absence of its balancing partner, progesterone. Or environmental factors such as pesticides, plastics, industrial waste products, car exhaust, meat, soaps, and chemicals in furniture and carpets could be part of the problem.

Dietary choices, most importantly making sure you eat “hormone-free” (the label should clearly read “these animals were raised without hormones or antibiotics), and environmental avoidance of xenoestrogens will aid in decreasing estrogen dominance. Check out the Environmental Working Group to educate yourself on smart food options! Also, consider scheduling a hormone consult at OBI to be evaluated for estrogen dominance.

  1. You’re not getting enough vitamin D.

Possibly due to our awareness of skin cancer and the use of sunscreen, our levels of vitamin D are lower than they were decades ago. Not to mention that we are spending more time working indoors in front of computers or exercising inside versus in the great outdoors. Vitamin D, synthesized by the action of sunlight upon the skin, is converted to a vital hormone in our bodies, and deficiency has been linked to allergies including food allergies, asthma, weight gain, fatigue, diabetes, and even cancer. Vitamin D levels can be tested by a medical provider, and if testing uncovers a deficiency, supplemental vitamin D is available and an affordable option. At OBI we offer Xymogen medical-grade supplements.

  1. You have high cortisol levels.

High levels of cortisol (our ‘stress hormone’) are another big reason we tend to store fat and keep weight on, particularly in the abdominal area until the stressor is minimized or resolved. For instance, if you wake up very early to do a spin class or intense run, then race home to get ready for work, deal with young children, and then after work tackle dinner and endless chores your body may perceive these as stressors.  As a result, cortisol levels will increase and work against the goal of having a lean body.

If you can relate, and feel like you need to be on a caffeine drip at all times, it means you are having too many highs and lows with cortisol as a big culprit. High cortisol is associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar, and weight gain (weight gain in the belly area in particular).  It is imperative to unwind daily with whatever it is (deep breathing, meditation, yoga, walking), that shuts off your hyper-vigilence – even if it is for only 10 minutes per day.

  1. You are eating processed “healthy.”

Excess salt and sugar are often hidden ingredients that are both inflammatory and causes of excess weight gain. Just because it is at a health food store and it is “gluten free” or “low fat” or “natural,” DOES NOT mean it is good for you. The packaging with the words “natural” and “healthy” can be very persuasive – and misleading.

  1. You are eating too much fat.

Paleo and other higher-fat diets work for some people, but keep in mind that it is easy to get too many calories with foods that are high in fat. Fat is a nutrient, and our bodies need some essential fatty acids – especially the “good fats” found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil to name a few. Be careful not to go overboard if you want to lose weight.

  1. You are skimping on quality sleep.

This still remains tried and true – your hormones need sleep. Your brain needs it, your muscles, bones and every cell in your body needs it for repair and restoration. The two hormones that are key in the relationship between sleep and weight loss are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the so-called ‘hunger hormone’ that tells you when to eat, and leptin its counterpart, the ‘satiety hormone’ tells you when to stop. But when you’re sleep-deprived (defined 7 hours or less a night), you have more ghrelin and thus more appetite.

At the same time you have less leptin, so you never get the signal that you are full, and continue to feel hungry all the time. These key appetite hormones operate on the sleep-wake cycle, so anything that disrupts that cycle, such as a high night cortisol (the stress hormone) level can upset the balance leading to overeating and cravings. Testing your melatonin (the sleep hormone) in concert with cortisol stress hormones can reveal an imbalance that can ultimately impact weight.

People having sleep disturbances or jet lag often use melatonin and magnesium (an all too common mineral deficiency associated with sleep disturbances AND chocolate cravings) as supplements to get back on the right track. However, dealing with the stress that is disrupting your sleep and eliminating sources of light in your bedroom that can interfere with natural melatonin secretion are better places to start.

  1. You’re not eating your cruciferous vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables are in the Brassica vegetable family and include brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, and other similar green vegetables. Not only are they good for you because of the feeling of fullness you get from the fiber, but they are also good for estrogen metabolism through a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). It is a natural source of DIM (3,3-Diindolylmethane) that helps promote estrogen balance and helps clear the body of the toxic xenoestrogens we pick up from the environment. This is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to get your hormones and your weight in balance.

  1. You are not strength training or getting enough exercise.

Moderate exercise lowers stress hormones, which in turn reduces the body’s tendency to store fat, and increases calorie burning. Stretching exercises like yoga and Pilates also help to release tension in the body. Additional strength training or weight bearing exercise (e.g., 2-3 workouts a week) builds muscle, increasing anabolic hormones like testosterone and DHEA that rev metabolism.

In a nutshell, eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep are essentials that help keep hormones in balance, weight under control, and belly fat at bay.

At OBI BioAesthetic Institute your wellness, from the inside – out, is our focus. We customize treatment plans based on the patient’s symptoms, imbalance and preferences. Since our mission is to advocate our patients’ wellness, we will partner with our patients, implementing Integrative Medicine options personalized to their needs and empower our patients to be ambassadors of their health through daily habits that facilitate wellness.

The team at OBI BioAesthetic Institute invites you bridge the best you, from the inside – out. Call today (904) 273-5454 to schedule your personalized Integrative Medicine consultation with Gerrie M. Obi, MSN, APRN, AGPCNP-BC, CPSN and Jenifer Scott George, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, ABAAHP.