Alicia Stanton, MD Blog Posts
In my forthcoming book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hormone Weight Loss, I outline seven principles to losing weight by putting your hormones to work for you. Here is one of those principles, Enlist the Help of Others.
Having a partner to help with your diet and fitness goals keeps you on track and leads to successful, long-term weight loss. Studies have shown that people with emotional support during the time of weight loss and after are more likely to not only lose weight, but keep it off as well, and those who go it alone are twice as likely to fail in their efforts.
A Gallup Poll conducted for USA TODAY and Discovery Health of 769 Americans, ages 18 and older, who have tried to lose weight shows:
- 68% say their circle of friends and relatives has done more to help than hinder their efforts to slim down.
- 88% say they’ve been complimented on their successes when they’ve been able to drop pounds.
- 57% say it would be helpful to them to partner with a friend or relative when trying to lose weight
If you have tried and failed at losing weight, you are in good company. Up to 95 percent of dieters fail within a year and more than 70 percent of gym-goers quit in less than 90 days. Often, it seems easier to just give up or try the next fad diet again and again. This can lead to a sense of failure, increased stress levels and further hormone imbalance with weight gain. The truth is, having a partner will lead you to better weight loss success as well as improved health as compared to trying it on your own and running the risk of failing. Accountability is key to ensuring your weight loss efforts stay strong, sensible and successful. You are more likely to let yourself down than a partner, so losing weight really does take a village!
This week, the hormone weight loss principle I’d like to focus on is “Eliminate Toxins.” This one is important because I don’t think people realize all of the environmental toxins we come into contact with every day. In addition to contributing to weight gain, they are dangerous to our overall health.
Toxins destroy our hormone balance and often act as endocrine disruptors – substances that change the way our hormones usually work. Toxins can be found in many places in our homes and disrupt our hormones in many ways. They may increase, decrease or change the activity of a hormone by mimicking it, blocking it, changing the amount of hormone that is produced or changing the speed at which the hormone works. The hormones most often affected are estrogen, thyroid, testosterone, cortisol and insulin. But since hormones all work together, a problem with one has a domino effect on the others.
Here are a few toxins you should be aware of and how they can lead to weight gain:
- Phthalates – Included in the ingredients found in many scented air fresheners, candles, detergents and beauty products. These toxins are known to reduce testosterone and females can see reduction in muscle mass that contributes to weight gain.
- Bisphenol A, or BPA – Found mainly in the lining of canned goods and in plastic bottles, is known to increase estrogen as well as insulin levels. More insulin in the body leads to insulin resistance and that means your body won’t utilize your blood sugar properly.
- Pesticides – Sprayed on crops, pesticides end in our food and drinks and therefore our bodies. Many researchers believe that pesticides in food increase risk for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.
- Artificial sweeteners – These are worse than sugar because they are man-made chemicals and linked to many possible side effects including low thyroid (which can contribute to further weight gain).
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – Causes changes in the liver by increasing the amount of glucose or sugar it absorbs, making the liver hungry for more sugar. This process accelerates insulin resistance and obesity, and it leads to resistance of the hormone leptin, which helps control the appetite.
- Hydrogenated oils – Also called trans fats, may seem good for you since they come from soy, but aren’t! They are manufactured in laboratories into toxic foods that are not recognized by the body. They are dangerous to metabolism, increase cholesterol levels and increase risk of insulin resistance.
- Refined sugars and carbs – These foods are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing a rapid increase in blood sugar and high demand for insulin. During the refining process, grains lose their fiber, vitamins and minerals, so you’re left with a food with minimum nutritionals value.
Many people with high levels of toxins in their body are obese. This is because toxins are stored in the fat cells and as you accumulate more and more toxins in your body, more storage space is needed and your body holds on to the fat cells. Keep this in mind as you’re losing weight, because as you lose fat, you may release some of these toxins, so it’s important to drink plenty of water to flush your kidneys of these toxins and continue the weight loss.
Author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hormone Weight Loss, Alicia Stanton, MD, offers tips to reduce emotional eating
Enfield, Conn. (November 1, 2011) – The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, but for some it can be stressful. There’s so much to do and never enough time to do it, and money is tighter than ever for many people. It’s enough to stress out even the calmest personalities and trigger emotional eating. To avoid this annual trap, Alicia Stanton, MD, leading hormone health expert and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hormone Weight Loss, provides some tips to regain control of eating habits and manage stress during the holidays.
“Stress wreaks havoc on our cortisol and insulin levels, which is why during stressful times our bodies crave sweet and starchy foods,” said Stanton. “People who are normally restrained eaters are more likely than others to eat more during times of stress. Stress eating is a way to soothe or suppress negative emotions, but it can really derail weight loss efforts.”
Dr. Stanton offers these tips for combating stress eating:
- Tame your stress – if stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique like yoga, meditation, etc.
- Check to see whether you’re really hungry – Is your hunger physical or emotional? If you ate recently and your stomach is rumbling then you’re probably not really hungry. Give the craving a little time to pass.
- Keep a food diary – Writing down what you eat, when you eat, how much you eat and how you’re feeling when you eat, may show a pattern over time revealing your connection between mood and food.
- Get support – You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or join a support group.
- Remove temptation – Don’t keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they’re hard to resist. And if you are feeling stressed or sad, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’re sure that you have your emotions in check.
- Don’t deprive yourself – Let yourself enjoy an occasional, small treat to help curb cravings.
- Get enough sleep – If you’ve tried self-help options, but still can’t get control of emotional eating, consider therapy with a professional mental health provider.
We talk a lot about the best ways to maintain balanced hormones – eat appropriately, get enough sleep, exercise, eliminate toxins and reduce your stress levels – but what happens around age 40 when our hormones start to naturally decline?
In the years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, women start having hormone fluctuations starting with lower progesterone. Add in some stress and your progesterone lowers even more because your body will use it to help make more cortisol. Once menopause hits, your estrogen will begin to fall significantly, and you might notice an increase of fat around your belly. This happens because some of estrogen’s functions are to increase metabolism and insulin sensitivity. As perimenopause and menopause progress, symptoms might increase including hot flashes, weight gain, difficulty sleeping and a host of other problems. Some women can relieve these symptoms with lifestyle changes, supplements and herbs, while other women might choose to replace missing hormones with replacement therapy.
Men can’t escape weight gain due to hormone imbalances either. As men age, testosterone – a hormone with many functions to help maintain weight – starts to decline. And due to lifestyle habits, many men under the age of 40 have low testosterone levels for their age. Low testosterone leads to increase fat mass and weight gain, which then sets off a chain reaction that often leads to fatigue, depression, inflammation, and further weight gain.
We’ve talked a lot about how stress can lead to hormone imbalances and weight gain, but another side effect to stress concerns the thyroid. The thyroid is in charge of metabolism. If your cortisol is high due to stress it tells your body to conserve energy, therefore your thyroid secretes less active hormone and reduce your metabolism, leading to weight gain.
If you’re still having trouble overcoming symptoms of hormone imbalance even after making lifestyle changes, you may want to consider hormone replacement therapy. However, it’s very important to find a physician that specializes in hormone testing and is dedicated to treating the underlying cause of your symptoms and not just your symptoms. A physician who understands bioidentical hormones is also important because they have the correct shape to fit into all the receptors on the cells in your body.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month and with millions of Americans suffering from either an underactive or an overactive thyroid, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to discuss the foods you should incorporate into your diet to sustain a healthy thyroid.
But first, some background information on the thyroid. As one of the largest glands that produce hormones in the body, the thyroid is critical to your metabolism as well as regulating other functions in the body, including energy and heat production, tissue repair, regulating protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, and muscle and nerve action.
Your diet can create a sluggish thyroid that will lower your metabolism and cause weight gain. For example, low-fat diets cause high insulin and leptin levels. You can make a great impact on the function of your thyroid by focusing on toxin exposures, diet and stress levels, which would improve metabolism and allow for weight loss. A diet low in sugars and refined carbohydrates and high in vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats will give you the nutrients you need to support your thyroid.
There are some studies that show a connection between gluten sensitivity and thyroid antibody production. You don’t have to have Celiac Disease to have sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Many people are sensitive to gluten and may experience bloating, cramps, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, skin rashes when they eat foods containing wheat, rye or barley. Those with sensitivities may make antibodies that cross-react with the thyroid and reduce thyroid function. Consider a gluten-free diet for eight weeks and see if you feel a difference.
Tips for improving thyroid function through what you eat:
- Incorporate foods high in selenium such as seafood, shellfish, eggs, beef liver and beef kidneys. Sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, mushrooms, garlic and onions are other good sources.
- Zinc can improve thyroid function as well. This mineral is especially important for middle-aged to elderly people since thyroid concerns and zinc deficiencies become more frequent with age. Good food sources of zinc include beans, nuts, crab, lobster and whole grain.
- Thiamine is a mineral important to maintain optimum thyroid function. It is found in fortified cereals, milk, enriched whole grains and vegetables.
- Avoid eating cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in raw form as they can negatively impact an unhealthy thyroid. However, cooking these vegetables reduces the effects of the ingredients that harm the thyroid.
- If you’re taking thyroid medications avoid eating any dairy products, soy products, walnuts or high-fiber foods within four hours of taking the medication as they can interfere with the medicine absorption. Studies have shown that there is no difference in the effectiveness of thyroid medication if it is taken at night instead of in the morning. Taking thyroid medication two hours after eating at night might be easier than trying to wait an hour to eat breakfast if you’re taking it in the morning. Either way works – it just depends on what works best for you.
Practicing strength training as we age is important because it helps us maintain muscle mass. When we lose muscle mass, we lose strength, gain weight and become frail. The good news is that strength training can reverse these effects, and quite quickly.
At age 30, people who are physically inactive lose anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of their total muscle mass per decade. After the age of 50, the rate of loss doubles. This is the biggest reason why elderly people become frail, and, because muscle dictates metabolism, is the basic cause of weight gain.
As muscle mass declines, due to inactivity, the body needs less fuel from food. Therefore, even if you don’t eat more, as you lose muscle, more and more of your calories will be stored as fat. On top of that, with age, your body becomes less efficient at converting the protein you eat into muscle tissue, which worsens the muscle-wasting process.
Loss of age-related muscle mass and strength is known as sarcopenia, and becomes a huge problem for elderly people who become frail to the point that they cannot get out of a chair or walk across a room without assistance. This also increases the risk of for falls and broken bones as a result of those falls. Getting in the habit of practicing strength training in your 20s or 30s is good, but no worries if your pass that mark. As I mentioned before, you can quickly reverse the effects of muscle loss with strength training. Studies of nursing home residents found that as little as two weeks of strength-building exercises, with weights or other resistance, can produce dramatic changes in their ability to function. Imagine what it can do for you!
February is National Heart Month. With more than 2 million Americans suffering heart attacks and strokes each year heart health is of vital importance. As a country, our poor eating habits are taking a huge toll on our heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, not one state in the U.S. had an obesity rate under 20 percent in 2010. Thirty-six states had populations with obesity rates of 25 percent or higher. Approximately one-third of U.S. adults (33.8 percent) are obese, and about 17 percent of kids aged 2-19 years are as well. In the last 30 years childhood obesity has tripled, setting children up for future health problems that can dramatically shorten their lives: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and certain types of cancer.
Embracing a heart-healthy diet can and should be a family affair. Focusing on eating whole, fresh foods instead of processed ones can help your family beat the battle of the bulge without feeling deprived.
Here is a list of top foods to incorporate into your diet to keep your heart healthy and to prevent a heart attack:
- Fruits and Vegetables – the high fiber content in fruits and vegetables decreases the buildup of plaque in the arteries and less plaque means decreased blockages to the heart.
- Nuts – Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans and pistachio nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that can reduce blood cholesterol. All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do.
- Oats – eaten daily, oats can clean arteries better than some medications.
- Salmon and Flaxseed – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon and flaxseed lower triglycerides.
- Garlic – numerous studies have shown benefits of regular garlic consumption on blood pressure, platelet aggregation, triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels.
- Berries and cherries – these fruits are high in polyphenols, which prevent cell damage that creates unhealthy blood vessels and heart.
- Quinoa – this tiny seed is an excellent source of magnesium, the mineral that relaxes blood vessels. Low levels of magnesium lead to hypertension, heart disease and arrhythmias.
In keeping with Heart Health Month, I’d like to discuss the role CoQ10 plays in maintaining heart health. CoQ10 is found in every cell and is essential for the production of energy that keeps people alive. Levels of CoQ10 start to decline around age 35, contributing to the development of heart disease and other debilitating conditions. At a minimum, low CoQ10 levels make it difficult for the body to produce enough energy for the heart, other organs, and muscles to function well.
Supplements are the practical way to replenish levels of this nutrient, because organ meats are the only significant food source, but very few people eat organ meats. Numerous studies have found that CoQ10 significantly improves the health of people suffering from heart disease and aids in recovery from a heart attack. Other research has shown that CoQ10 can help reduce blood pressure, improve blood sugar control among diabetes, aid in breast cancer treatment, help to heal gum disease and improve capacity to exercise.
So how much should you take? After age 35, I recommend taking 50 milligrams, however, if you’re overweight or have high blood pressure, fatigue, diabetes, or any form of heart disease or other illness, take 100 to 200 milligrams.
Sunday kicks off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the behavior of using food as a drug, which can lead to food addiction, a type of eating disorder.
Many people use food as a drug to feel better, but eating and drinking excessively for pleasure can lead to food addiction, a serious problem and form of self-sabotage. Additionally, the interval voices that chide you as you have another plate of pasta or another glass of wine adds to your stress level, which of course, increases your cortisol demand and contributes to hormone imbalance.
Food addiction is a vicious cycle. For example, if you eat a sugary or starchy breakfast, you might crash mid morning leading you to reach for caffeine or sweets to jack up your sugar levels again. Then the cycle repeats itself in the afternoon. The carb overload creates imbalances with insulin and cortisol, as well as depletes the natural chemicals that allow for communication between the cells in your brain that help you feel good. The feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are especially susceptible to sugar spikes, and when your diet is poor, they won’t function well. When these brain messengers are affected, you’re vulnerable to depression and more sugar cravings. If you can’t handle the low between your fixes, you have a food addiction.
In her book, The Truth About Beauty, Kat James discusses signs that can help you determine whether you’re addicted to food:
- You need a sugar or caffeine fix to get you from lunch to dinner.
- You think about food a lot when you’re not eating.
- You reward yourself with large amounts of food and then feel guilt or shame.
- You feel the urge to binge when you are upset.
- You skip meals on purpose and then gorge in one sitting.
- You get a buzz from food.
- You salivate over food advertisements.
- You prefer to eat alone, so you can eat all you want in peace.
- You obsess about your next meal even you are full from the previous one.
- You deal with your out-of-control appetite by having nonfat frozen yogurt, large plates of vegetables, or fat-free chips.
- You worry about getting enough food when you have to share.
- You keep eating even after you experience physical discomfort from an overly full stomach.