What Your Body Type Says About Your Hormones and What to Do About It
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
August 31, 2018
- The shape of your body gives clues to how well your hormones and body systems are working.
- Conventional weight-loss recommendations say to eat less and exercise more, but there may be more to it than that. If you have certain hormonal profiles, dieting and strenuous exercise could make you gain weight and make imbalances worse.
- Find out which body types indicate too much stress, too much alcohol or sugar, too much estrogen, or a lazy thyroid.
- Once you determine the reasons behind your body shape, find out what to do to level things out.
A lot of people want to lose a few pounds. Conventional recommendations say to eat less and exercise more, but is that the way to go? Depending on what’s going on inside your body, there may be more to it than that. Extreme dieting and strenuous exercise could make you gain weight and make imbalances worse.
Can you tell what your hormones are doing just by looking? Sometimes, yes, and an experienced professional with a trained eye is even better at making a guess before they even run any tests. Here are a few common body imbalances that lead to specific weight distribution patterns.
Chubby cheeks, belly and back fat – stress hormones
A round face and a tendency to carry weight around your middle indicates that you need to dial in your stress. Extra weight in the midsection points to fat around your organs, which has its own set of risks on top of the dangers that fat around the muscle has.
You can thank stress and cortisol, your main stress hormone, for the extra belly and back fat. You may or may not realize that you’re chronically stressed. You could be experiencing emotional stress that you’re well aware of, like an intense job or a toxic relationship.
Or, your body systems might be triggering the fight-or-flight response and you have no idea. Things like living in a moldy house, or eating foods with a high toxic burden trip your fight-or-flight response, whether you’re aware of it or not. Something’s causing you to release stress hormones several times throughout the day, and your stress hormones tell your body to hang onto fat.
What to do
Here are ways to keep your stress hormones in check:
- Start a meditation practice. If you’re a beginner, start by quieting your mind or listening to meditation music for just five minutes a day, then work your way up to 15 or 20 minutes as you find what feels good.
- Write down your gratitudes. Researchers found that gratitude rewires your brain.
- Remove toxins in your environment. Make an effort to reduce the toxic burden your body faces. A little at a time, eliminate foods that are highly inflammatory like grains, dairy, and sugar. If you have water damage in your home, have an expert come to assess and remediate mold. Swap out products that you use topically that have questionable ingredients. You don’t have to do it all overnight. Every little bit helps.
- Figure out what life stressors you can eliminate. Determine whether you can change the way you interact with the people in your life and work to keep stressful encounters to a minimum.
- Add magnesium. Most people are deficient, and magnesium is incredibly calming. Here’s the rundown on different forms and when to use them.
- Check your sleep. Most people could stand to go to bed a little earlier, and studies show that you eat more when you haven’t slept enough. Take steps to improve your sleep and see if your stress level (and urge to snack) improves.
What not to do
Conventional weight loss recommendations can backfire when your stress hormones are out of whack. Here’s what not to do:
- Avoid strenuous exercise. Exercising stresses the body in a good way. Too much exercise leads to too much stress hormone, which brings your fat metabolism to a screeching halt. To boost weight loss efforts, opt for brief, infrequent high-intensity interval training and daily gentle movement like yoga and hiking.
- Don’t restrict calories. Eating too little sends your body into a panic as well, whether you feel it or not. Choose satisfying, nourishing foods that keep your cells happy. Here’s what to eat.
How to lose weight
There’s a good bit of overlap between practices that support your adrenals and stress hormones, and habits that help you lose weight.
- Practice mindfulness. On top of stress-reducing benefits, mindfulness meditation can help prevent overeating.
- Sleep. Getting enough sleep reduces the burden on your adrenals and helps you snack less. If you don’t know where you stand, here are some sleep trackers and apps that clue you in on your sleep quality.
- Go low-carb. Researchers linked insulin resistance and cortisol, a stress hormone. Cutting back on carbs improves insulin resistance and as a result may reduce cortisol as a result. Less cortisol means better fat metabolism.
- Do the right kinds of exercise. Excessive exercise elevates stress hormones, which is fine, even beneficial, if it’s infrequent. Get out and play every day, and once a week, go hard.
Large all over, yo-yo weight – low thyroid hormones
Your thyroid hormones turn on your fat-burning engines. An overactive thyroid makes it hard to store fat, and an underactive thyroid makes it difficult to burn fat. If you’re at an ideal body weight, chances are, your thyroid works, or it doesn’t and you and your doctor has you on optimal levels of thyroid replacement hormones.
If you have thyroid problems, you might notice your weight has gradually increased over time. Or, you might have periods of weight gain and weight loss that you can’t trace back to diet and exercise. You crave carbs, because your body wants quick energy when your cells have trouble keeping up.
What to do
If you have characteristic hypothyroid issues like hair thinning, cold intolerance, dry skin, fluid retention, on top of excess body fat, thorough thyroid testing is in order. Keep in mind that not every doctor knows how to properly test your thyroid function. This article lists the tests to request, and Bulletproof Radio podcast guest Dr. Izabella Wentz, PharmD offers fantastic advice in this episode.
What not to do
As with the stressed body type, extreme dieting and intense exercise will do more harm than good.
How to lose weight
If your doctor identifies a thyroid problem, there’s a good chance you’ll lose weight by simply starting the right thyroid medication. Of course, eat clean, and get out and move every day.
Swollen belly – struggling liver
Apart from your belly, the rest of your body may or may not be obese. But your belly resembles that of someone entering the later stages of pregnancy, whether you’re a man or a woman. When you pinch, your belly fat might not feel like belly fat at all — it feels more like a balloon with a thin layer of fat at the surface.
That’s because fat isn’t the enemy here. When your liver is overloaded, it secretes a fluid that accumulates in the peritoneal cavity — the area between your abdominal wall and your organs. The swelling is called ascites (pronounced uh-SIGH-dees) and is completely separate from fat.
Older men tend to show this body type more than women do. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll notice a lot of middle-aged men who look like they’re at a healthy weight with the exception of a seemingly out-of-place potbelly.
They call it “beer belly” for a reason. A protruding abdomen indicates that your liver is working overtime to break down excess alcohol, sugar and carbs, or foods that contain a lot of chemicals and preservatives.
What to do
- Bring up your concern with your doctor. Poor liver function, kidney problems, certain cancers, and heart disease can cause buildup of fluid around your middle. It’s best to rule those out.
- Cut back on alcohol. Cut it completely out of your life if you have to. If you think you might be an alcoholic, you can start here. Some people will see reduced bloat within a few days, while fluid retention may be more stubborn for others. If you have excessive scar tissue on your liver, you might need a doctor’s help to flush it away.
- Experiment with diuretic and liver support herbs. If you want to reduce your bloat for an upcoming wedding or event, see if herbs like dandelion, stinging nettles, and burdock help get the fluid moving.
What not to do
- Ignore it. An overburdened liver can lead to all kinds of inflammation and disease. Wanting to look better is one thing, but wanting your body to work well is top priority.
How to lose weight
- Exercise. As long as the fluid doesn’t compress your lungs, gentle exercise like hiking and yoga can help things along.
- Go low-carb. Carbs, especially sugar, are hard on the liver if you overdo it. Your liver breaks down carbs that you don’t immediately use, and packages it for fat storage. Lowering your sugar and carb intake will give your liver a rest.
- Eliminate processed foods. You don’t need them, and after a short time, you’ll realize you don’t want them. Plus, excess sodium in packaged foods will make matters worse.
Pear shape – too much estrogen
Extra weight in the hips and thighs indicates you have too much estrogen. You can have an excess of estrogen for a lot of reasons — estrogen-mimicking chemicals in your environment, perimenopause, post-baby hormone fluctuations, long-term birth control use, low progesterone production, sluggish liver, slow digestion…the list goes on.
If you have other symptoms of excess estrogen like acne, PMS, breast tenderness, mood problems, or in men, gynecomastia, emotional outbursts, acne, or a pear shape, here’s where to go from here.
What do do
- Get off of hormonal birth control. Here are non-hormonal birth control methods to consider. It might be a while before your body finds its natural rhythm again, so it’s best to work with a functional medicine doctor to help you detox from fake hormones quickly.
- Detox. Look into a regular sauna, massage, or cryotherapy routine to help your body get the extra hormone out of your system. Supplements like glutathione and calcium d-glucarate can support your natural detox systems, too.
- Work with a functional medicine doctor to balance your hormones. Conventional doctors tend to treat symptoms. Functional and integrative medicine doctors generally look for the root cause, even if it means peeling back several layers of issues before getting to the true origin of the problem. Since there are so many possible reasons your hormones are wonky, a functional medicine doctor can offer targeted testing and pinpoint what’s actually going on. You’ll get faster results than you would by shooting in the dark.
What not to do
- Start hormonal birth control. Conventional doctors reach for the pill and other hormonal birth control or hormone replacements to “balance” your hormones, when in reality you’re stacking estrogen upon estrogen. Even when it seems to work, the long-term effects will come back to bite you.
How to lose weight
- Eat extra vegetables with every meal. Bonus points for cruciferous vegetables. Extra fiber from vegetables helps keep your digestion moving and keeps you eliminating at a good pace. You get rid of extra estrogen that way. Be sure to incorporate healthy fats like avocado or MCTs.
- Add resistance training. You’ll lose weight when your hormones level out, but it takes time. Resistance training can get you initial results while you wait for your endocrine system to even out. Weight bearing exercises, even bodyweight workouts, build muscle and improve the way your body uses insulin, which can help you burn fat.
There’s no ideal body shape. The key is to be comfortable in your own skin, and pay attention when your body gives you tangible clues about what’s going on with your health. When something’s off, your body has ways of letting you know. Tune in to your body’s rhythms and make changes when it makes sense.