Hormones: How to Restore Balance in your Life

Hormones have profound effects on the body. They help regulate metabolism and appetite, steer our energy levels, make fertility possible, manage body temperature and control the body’s ability to lose weight or even gain muscle.

Effects of hormone imbalance on the body

When someone is experiencing hormonal imbalances, it can feel as if the world is crashing down on you. Many people go through unintentional weight gain despite following a healthy diet. Others feel sluggish all day and still have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. These symptoms, among many others, can wreak havoc on emotions and temperament. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices but can also occur naturally with age, including when women reach menopause.

As women age, production of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, declines. It may seem like you have absolutely no control over this, but there are ways to continue to keep these levels balanced, even though overall hormone production is lower.

Bring balance back to hormones through healthy eating 

Eating healthfully is important throughout a person’s life, and it’s no different for women going through menopause. Many women experience weight gain—especially around the belly—mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. They are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

You don’t have to be a slave to your changing hormones. Try to bring them back into balance with these dietary tweaks.

What to eat more of: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage (Try to have at least one serving of these hormone-balancing veggies every day.)
  • Dietary fiber: oats, berries, avocados, beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, pears, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, squash (Dietary fiber helps with liver clearance of estrogen.)
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs, all nuts and seeds including chia seeds and flaxseed, grass-fed beef, salmon, quinoa

Also increase sleep and exercise. Both help reduce stress. Weight training can also have further benefits on improving metabolism.

What to eat less of:

  • Processed foods: boxed meals, pre-packaged shelf-stable or frozen entrees, frozen pizza, premade breads and bread products, pre-packaged meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs, artificial sweeteners, fake cheese, excessive condiment use, Pop-Tarts®, snack mixes such as pretzels, crackers, chips
  • Added sugars: cereals, packaged sweets like Twinkies and Cinna-Buns, regular and some Greek yogurt varieties, sweetened milks, soda, juice, sweetened tea, granola bars
  • Drive-thru meals: Processed meats, refined grains and fried menu items can cause inflammation in the gut. They also are poor nutrient sources of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Alcohol: One alcoholic beverage is processed as 29 grams of sugar or one serving of M&Ms.
  • Caffeine: For some, caffeine can be a source of inflammation.
  • Foods associated with inflammation such as gluten and lactose. Foods made from or using ingredients with wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. Milk and ice cream are two high-lactose containing dairy products.

Remember, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet all at once. But by increasing the good and decreasing the bad, even slowly, you can bring balance to your hormones and improve your quality of life.

 

First Day of Spring brings…Spring Cleaning!

Is clutter in your space preventing you from living a healthy lifestyle? Believe it or not, disorganization can do more than just make it hard to find daily things. Spring cleaning can actually help you live more healthfully.

Set a goal to declutter

This spring, set a health goal for yourself to start decluttering little parts of your life one at a time. You can use my “non-resolution” method from previous posts if you don’t have a favorite goal-setting method.

Remember to be specific with your decluttering goal, just like any health goal you have set. Here are some examples:

1) Organize your container cabinet.
You want to set a goal to take your lunch to work twice a week (or once a week or every day—tailor your goal to your life) but your Tupperware® or plastic container cabinet is a mess. Decluttering this space will make it more feasible to pack and take a lunch to work. Once this cabinet is tidy, packing leftovers directly from the dinner table into containers in the fridge is easy. Lunch for the next day is ready to go!

2) Organize your pantry.
Do you ever find yourself overbuying food because you can’t remember what you have in stock? Pull everything out of your cabinets, wipe down the shelves and strategically organize your food. You may be surprised how much you have, and this may be a good time to take a box or can to your local food bank. Put items that are due to expire in the front and work them into your meal plans.

3) Organize your refrigerator.
Your refrigerator can get dirty very quickly, so it’s time to deep clean it. Go through everything: I bet half of those condiments are expired! Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

Declutter for better health

Add decluttering to the goals you already have to be healthy in order to make them easier to obtain and maintain. After you have met your goal for a significant amount of time, make sure you reward yourself (NOT with food!) to help you keep going. Happy First Day of Spring and spring cleaning!

Gas it Up: Give your body the energy it wants

Let’s talk about how the body gets energy. “Glucose” is a fancy word for sugar, and it’s best known as a fuel for our body. All food is broken down into our bodies for fuel, but glucose is the body’s main energy source. Just like we need to put gas in our cars to go, we need to put gas in our bodies too. And just like we have different octanes of fuel for our cars, we have different octanes of fuel for our bodies.

Beneficial glucose

The best source of glucose is found in a macronutrient known as “carbohydrate.” And when you think of carbohydrate, you’re probably thinking about bread, rice or pasta. But in addition to these foods, fruits and a few vegetables are also carbohydrate sources.

These fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and lean proteins, are the best fuel to nourish our bodies instead of depleting our energy levels. These foods are permissible AND beneficial.

Less beneficial glucose

Processed foods, such as cake, doughnuts, cookies, sugary liquids and some white foods are among the types of foods that may be permissible but are not always beneficial. These carbohydrate sources are most often found in the center aisles of the grocery store. Let’s break down two of these foods/ingredients.

Enriched white flour

You see the word “enriched,” and you’d think this would be better for you. Bogus! Enriching means stripping the grain, removing most of its natural nutrients, then replacing some of those nutrients during processing.

When enriched foods came to the market, there were good motives. This food processing technique came about to better preserve foods for longer periods in order to prevent food famines. But now, when you see “enriched” on a food label, know that this will give you some quick energy, but your gas tank will quickly be on empty.

White sugar

Yummy in my tummy!—is what I always think when I think about foods made from white sugar or sucrose. Sucrose provides an immediate blood sugar surge. Your metabolic system lights up, and the body produces insulin and raises your serotonin levels (happy hormones).

Raised insulin levels can cause you to overeat while also causing you to be as hungry as you were before you started eating. In addition, your body will become more resistant to the sugar, causing you to feel the need for MORE sugar and unnecessary calories to elevate your mood while emptying your gas tank and causing you to crash just as quickly. What a vicious cycle.

How can we get more “good” fuel?

Focus on retraining your taste buds. Yes, you can retrain your taste buds! Try to remove or at least limit these permissible but not beneficial foods and then replace them with foods that will provide you with more clarity and energy, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Your body will thank you!

Don’t Stress about PCOS: 5 Habits for Better Weight Management

Baseball, food and dancing are three of my favorite things. On a typical fall Monday night, you will find me cooking dinner while flipping back and forth between the Cubs game and Dancing with the Stars. Recently, one of the new celebrity dancers spoke out regarding her struggles with weight gain from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

For those that are unfamiliar with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it is more common than you might think. PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Women with PCOS experience irregularities in hormone levels and insulin resistance, struggle with fertility and commonly have great difficulties losing weight. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

1. Practice good meal pattern habits.

It is incredibly important to control metabolic hormones through proper eating habits. Skipping meals can cause wide fluctuations in insulin levels, which can make weight loss near impossible. Eating a meal or snack at least every 4 hours has shown to control insulin levels and help women avoid blood sugar crashes. If you are not a snacker, consider eating five to six small meals spaced evenly throughout the day.

2. Choose high-protein foods.

Protein naturally lowers insulin and blood sugar levels. That is why this is the most important food group for women with PCOS. Remember to start each day with a high-protein breakfast, whether it’s from eggs, lean meats or a power-packed protein shake.

3.Be consistent.

One of the most important things to help with hormone control is to establish a routine for your body. The lifestyle factors that can influence hormone levels include how often you eat, what you eat and when you exercise. It is important to eat frequently and not skip meals. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should be balanced and not high in carbs and sugar. If you work out, try to exercise at the same time each day. The more your body follows the same daily routine, the easier it is to control metabolic and sex hormone levels.

4. Limit carbs & sugar.

Since carbohydrate-rich foods and those with added sugars raise blood sugar and insulin levels, it is good practice to cut down on these menu items. You don’t have to cut out bread, pasta and potatoes all together, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure these are the smallest portions of food on your plate. Load up on lean proteins and veggies to create satisfying and balanced meals.

5. Do regular strength training.

Every form of exercise has its benefits, but strength and interval training cause greater metabolic improvements.  Strength training can help both retain and build lean muscle tissue while simultaneously burning fat. Reducing body fat is one of the best ways to speed up metabolism and control hormone levels.

How to Read the FDA’s New Food Label

If you are a label reader, you may have noticed some changes to food labels recently. In 2016, the FDA announced the food label would get a makeover­­—with the hopes that this new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices. The current nutrition label is more than 20 years old. The changes that will be made, according to the FDA, are based on updated scientific information, new nutrition and public health research, more recent dietary recommendations from expert groups and input from the public.

The current nutrition label is more than 20 years old—but its makeover will help consumers make better-informed food choices.

The changes you will see include:

  • increase in type size for “Calories,” “servings per container” and “serving size”
  • bolding the number of calories and serving size
  • including “added sugars” in grams and as percent Daily Value
  • updating the list of nutrients permitted or required


US Food and Drug Administration

What do these changes mean?

Let’s take a closer look at why these changes are happening and how they will affect the way we read food labels.

Serving Size

Serving sizes are based on amounts of foods and beverages people are eating, not what they should be eating. The previous serving size requirements were published in 1993, and how much we eat and drink now has changed. For example, the reference amount used for a serving of ice cream was previously 1/2 cup but is changing to 2/3 cup because that’s more likely the amount someone will eat at one time.

Packaging Size

Package size also affects what people eat. So for packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20-ounce soda or a 15-ounce can of soup, the FDA now requires that calories and other nutrients be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

For certain products that are larger than a single serving but that could be consumed either in one sitting or over time, manufacturers will have to provide “dual-column labels” to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients both per serving and per package. Examples would be a 24-ounce bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream. The hope is with dual-column labels available, people will be able to more easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package at one time.

US Food and Drug Administration

Added Sugars

You will also see “Added sugars” in grams and as percent Daily Value. Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar. The FDA will continue to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat” on the label but will remove “Calories from Fat” because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.

Nutrients

The FDA is updating the list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared. Vitamin D and potassium will be required on the label. Calcium and iron will continue to be required. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required but can be included on a voluntary basis. Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are required to be shown in actual amount and percent Daily Value. Other vitamins and minerals can be shown as well in gram amount. The footnote is also changed to better explain what percent Daily Value means. It will read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

US Food and Drug Administration

Questions?

When will you see all packages with this new food label? The FDA set a compliance date for July 2018 with an additional year to comply for smaller manufacturers. So be on the lookout.

For more information you can go to the FDA’s website.

 

Practicing Environmental Control: Work & Home

You must have healthy foods available in order to eat them. Bringing foods into your environment that have the lowest calorie “price tags” is a great starting point. By doing this, you are essentially making healthier food choices earlier than you might normally because you are being proactive in your environment instead of reactive.

So let’s begin this environmental control for your home and work by asking yourself…

  • Do you have foods/snacks that don’t provide a lot of food for the calories?
  • What is something you ate at home or work that gave you a lot of food for the calories?
  • Identify a specific time(s) of day or situation when you more likely to eat higher calorie foods.

Learning to anticipate your challenges and then reducing your caloric intake by the choices you make can help to reduce your calories for the whole day. Without structure, there’s’ almost no ceiling as to how high the calories can go.

Try bringing these healthier foods into your home and work environment…

  • Place a bowl of mixed fruit on the counter, on your desk or eye level in your fridge
  • Buy several bags of frozen fruit to mix into different foods
  • Stock your car and desk drawer with ‘hand fruit’ – apples, bananas, plums, grapes, etc.
  • Prepare a large bowl of cut up fresh, frozen or canned fruit salad
  • Purchase several bags of frozen vegetables
  • Purchase ‘pop top’ canned fruit
  • Peal and cup up fruit and put in ready to go containers.
  • At work, bring the fruit and vegetables with you daily. I encourage you to strive to bring a minimum of 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables to work daily.

The more supportive foods you have on the counter at home, in the fridge, on your desk at work, in your car…essentially, anywhere you are, the more likely you’ll be able to prevent the higher calorie/higher fat foods from sneaking in your diet. Removing temptation/triggering foods and replacing them with some suggestions above, will have you feeling more in control of your environment and diet.