I only need to look as far as the A-Team to know that we women tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to weight loss. Is it because of societal pressure for women to be thin versus men? Are women, especially women over 40, just more prone to weight gain?
If you’re like me, the more research you do, the more your head spins. The information highway can be overwhelming, confusing, way too complex, or conflicting. In 2011 when I began to have symptoms that made me feel like an elderly woman (more weight gain, hair loss, joint pain), my doctors just weren’t giving me answers beyond, “you’re at the age…” Or, “eat less, exercise more.” After insisting on a referral to an endocrinologist I did finally solve a big piece of the puzzle: I was diagnosed with the autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s. OK, great. Heading out the door with a prescription for Synthroid, I thought the weight would fly off my bones and I would be well on my way to looking younger than my years. Right? Not so much. While the joint pain subsided and the hair loss slowed, the weight continued to rise.
There are a lot of opinions about why women in particular are way more susceptible to thyroid disease and why currently the obesity numbers are higher for women. And it gets even worse for women of color.
So what’s a girl to do?
IT STARTS WITH FOOD
The biggest solution for me was surrendering to the fact that my brain and body just can’t handle sugar and flour. I’m not ultra susceptible, but it was enough of a panic in me to know that I had to do something radical to get on the road to healing my mind and body. A 100 pound weight gain had me desperate enough to become a radical. I think the number one reason why obesity is on the rise and more and more people are being diagnosed with issues related to inflammation or autoimmune disease is our food supply. Processed food in particular. The good news is you can simplify the overwhelm of what to eat and what not to eat by simply eliminating most processed foods, and buying as much organic or clean food as you can afford. Going Luminous was definitely a miracle for me. I needed simple, and compete elimination has been a game changer not only in how I look, but how I feel. I needed NOT to be thinking about a million choices. Simplifying and developing habits that stick are critical.
HORMONES & SUPPLEMENTS
Our bodies are a wondrous interconnected web of processes and systems. Hormones like insulin, all the estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, leptin and thyroid (TSH, T3, T4) affect weight and metabolism. To bring the body into balance, you have to look at everything. While thyroid hormone replacement helped, it wasn’t until very recently, that I came to understand how connected the other hormones are. Removing sugar absolutely helps in this equation because lowering insulin levels and keep them low is critical for any meaningful sustainable weight loss. Once you clear that deck, things really do come into better balance. For many, the change in diet may be enough to allow the body to heal, get to goal weight and STAY at goal.
SO…YOU’RE COMPLETELY OFF FLOUR AND SUGAR AND WEIGHT LOSS HAS STALLED. WHAT NOW??
Find an integrative MD or endocrinologist and have a full hormone panel done. You want an expert who isn’t going to just prescribe pills and send you on your way. You want someone who is going to look at the full spectrum, who understands that traditional medicine isn’t delivering all the answers. My first endocrinologist never mentioned anything about modifying my diet due to the autoimmune condition, which is CRAZY considering all we now know about the gut and autoimmune disorders. She simply said “go on a 1200 calorie/day diet.” In addition, most integrative docs will run additional blood work looking at how the body is processing nutrients. In my case, I was super low in D3 and B vitamins, even though I had been eating good real, whole food, and tons of fresh vegetables. Part of that is genetics, part just how my body functions. The down side of going to an integrative MD is many insurance plans don’t cover them. But things are changing, and the more the demand goes up, the more insurers will open up that option. It will ultimately come down to dollars. The obesity epidemic will cost insurers WAY more in the long run than the cost of covering integrative medicine. Don’t just settle for the status quo. You deserve to feel better.
WHAT ABOUT HORMONE REPLACEMENT?
With any thyroid condition, hormone replacement will most likely be necessary. But there are choices. Originally I was on Synthroid because of the autoimmune component. But my new doctor prescribes a gluten-free natural thyroid hormone. It’s compounded by a pharmacy, and it seems to be making a real difference. If you’re wondering whether other hormone replacement is necessary during or after menopause, the answer is, it all depends. I don’t think it’s one size fits all. Here again, working with an integrative meds doctor can give you more options. Bio-identicals offer many more safe options. It’s important to get the right types of estrogen or progesterone. Some women have a very difficult time with menopause. If you’re already getting your food right, integrative medicine may offer options that will help alleviate symptoms without all the nasty side effects of traditional hormone replacement. I believe the food supply has wreaked havoc on hormones in general, so getting back into balance may require supplementation.
WHAT ABOUT EXERCISE?
Weight loss absolutely happens in the kitchen versus the gym. There is no doubt about it. As women, we have lower muscle mass, so exercise is important for building up muscle and keeping bones healthy. But in the beginning, you need to focus on the food and bringing the hormonal system into balance. Exercise is great for maintaining your weight, but you don’t have to be a gym rat. My new doctor recommended light resistance training since I’ve lost so much weight and can now begin to build up muscle and help get me to goal. BUT, and this is a big BUT…first I had to get things in balance both on the food front and the hormone front. And, now that I have this way of eating down to pretty solid habits, adding exercise to my day doesn’t feel as overwhelming. I’m back to “wogging” and plan to begin working with light weights, especially for my “bat wing” arms.
DO YOU NEED TO GO VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN?
Here again, lots of opinions out there. Ultimately, it comes down to you and how you feel. Remember, we eat food for sustenance. Food should help us maintain a healthy well-being. I don’t think one size fits all. For roughly 80% of my meals, I go vegetarian. When I do have meat, I aim for farm-raised, organic, no additives. Same for dairy, which I limit to a little milk in coffee and an ounce of cheese on a salad. Our food supply is honestly pretty terrible. Mass produced meat and poultry have caused a lot of issues environmentally and in the human body. Even fish, farm raised or wild caught, may have toxins like antibiotics or metals, so for that reason, I do tend to stay with mostly plant-based. The cost of eating organic on the protein front is tough for many on a budget, but here again, the more we support local organic, the lower the cost will be in the long run. The less meat and poultry we consume, the better. And, the advantage of plant-based protein is also there on the calorie front. Legumes, quinoa, and other protein rich options (I steer clear of soy) are much lower in calories for each gram of protein.
YOU CAN MAKE SIGNIFICANT CHANGE WITHIN A MATTER OF DAYS
The good news in all of this is change is possible and getting a result in a relatively short amount of time is also POSSIBLE. It is not a woman’s destiny to struggle with her body. It is not your destiny walk around overweight and unhappy. The steps toward getting on that road are not as overwhelming as you may think, and absolutely worth the effort.