My Top 10 Favorite Low Hormone Birth Control Options and Why – Keto for Women

My Top 10 Favorite Low Hormone Birth Control Options and Why – Keto for Women

One of the most important things for paleo women to consider is what we are going to do about birth control.

Should you take hormonal birth control? Is it really all that good? Bad? What happens to you when you’re on it? Of course, non-hormonal  would be ideal for any woman who prioritizes having a natural menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, natural options are really not as abundant as they should be. Check out my top picks for low dose birth control options.

 

Non-hormonal birth control options

1) condoms and other prophylactics

2) pulling out

3) fertility awareness

4) the copper IUD

This last one is pretty powerful–and popular–but it carries a modest risk of copper toxicity with it and may exacerbate bleeding and cramps during your cycle. The copper IUD also costs a pretty penny… somewhere in the neighborhood of $500-$1000.

So, hormonal alternatives seem like a reasonable choice to many women. And they are. Side effects are often minimal (but again, I caution you against them), and many women are completely happy on the birth control pill.

One way to give yourself the best chance of this happening is to go on a low dose birth control option.

There are more than 60 varieties of the birth control pill available today, and every one of them is different. The dosages for the least impactful birth control pills are classified as: “ultra-low dose” and “low dose.”

 

Different ways higher hormone birth control can affect you

“Ultra-low dose” birth control pills are those that contain 0.02 mg of estrogen

0.02mg of estrogen is just about the lowest you can go and still prevent pregnancy. The reason many people opt for higher doses is that the side effects of spotting and breakthrough bleeding are more common with ultra-low dose birth control pills versus low dose birth control pills.

There are two ultra-low dose varieties:

Alesse (Aviane, Lessina, Lutera, Sronyx)
Contains 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.1 mg levonorgestrel (a kind of progestin – read more about progestin types in my blog here and here)

Mircette 
Contains 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel (a kind of progestin)

Five low dose birth control pills:

Pills containing 0.02mg- 0.035mg.of estrogen fall into this category. They have a lower incidence of spotting and breakthrough bleeding.

LoOvral
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03 mg
norgestrel (progestin) : 0.3 mg

Nordette
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03 mg
levognorgestrel : 0.15 mg

Ortho-Cept (Reclipsen, Solia)
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03 mg
desogestrel : 0.15 mg

Desogen
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03 mg
desogestrel : 0.15 mg

Levlen 21
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03
levonorgestrel : 0.15 mg

Seasonale/Seasonique
ethinyl estradiol : 0.03mg
levonorgestrel : 0.15 mg

 

Triphasic Pills

Other favorites of women interested in natural health are low dose “triphasic” pills, which better approximate the hormonal fluctuations a woman normally experiences. They also tend to be a bit better than average for weight maintenance and even weight loss.

Cyclessa

  • Phase 1: ethinyl estradiol : 0.025 mg and desogestrel (a kind of progestin) : 0.1 mg
  • Phase 2: ethinyl estradiol : 0.025 mg and desogestrel : 0.125 mg
  • Phase 3: ethinyl estradiol : 0.025 mg and desogestrel : 0.15 mg

Ortho Tricyclen Lo 

  • Phase 1: 0.025 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.180 mg of norgestimate
  • Phase 2: 0.025 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.215 mg norgestimate
  • Phase 3: 0.025 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.250 mg of norgestimate

(Ortho Tricyclen and Ortho-Cyclen, each with 0.035 mg of ethinyl estradiol, contain slightly higher amounts of estrogen in each type of pill than Ortho Tricyclen Lo)

 

Finally, YASMIN and YAZ are two more low dose birth control pills containing 0.03 mg and 0.02 mg respectively of estrogen. What is unique about them is that they have a different type of progestin from the other pills called drospirenone (3.0 mg).

Drospirenone has the benefit of reducing acne and water retention in a lot of women. On the other hand, and this is a huge ON THE OTHER HAND, I have taken a similar substance and nearly died from a potassium overload, as well as developed a severe case of insomnia and anxiety that I am still dealing with two years later. If you take Yaz or Yasmin, please keep your potassium-containing foods to a minimum, drink plenty of fluids, and regularly check in with your doctor on your potassium levels. If you experience muscle weakness or heart palpitations, stop taking your pill immediately.

low dose birth control pills

So aside from the YAZ, those are my favorite low dose birth control pills. These are the ones I fear the least, as they are the lowest dose birth control pills I know of. If I were to use hormonal birth control (to be clear: I don’t, I use prophylactics) – these are the ones I would investigate using, or at least ask my doctor about trying.

If you happen to struggle with acne and be on a birth control pill or contemplating it, take a moment and think about it. Each type of birth control pill has a different relationship with your skin! I discuss the nuances of hormone balance and specifics kinds of pills as they relate to acne in my brand new, 50% off program on the topic, Clear Skin Unlocked: The Ultimate Guide to Acne Freedom and Flawless Skin

If you happen to struggle with PCOS, it is worth learning about the condition and how to overcome it naturally before going on the pill. I describe how  I did and how you can do it too in my manual on the topic, PCOS Unlocked: The Manual.

 

The Real Truth Behind Autophagy Inducing Fasts

The Real Truth Behind Autophagy Inducing Fasts

Fasting can have vast effects on women’s health. If you are unfamiliar with this effects and the stress it can put on your body, check out this post here to get you started.  It is clear that fasting is huge in the health and wellness industry right now. Fasting has been around for thousands of years, however, mainly known for its large role in religious ceremonies and journeys. People would swear of the powers that fasting could bring, from refined wordly clarity, visions, and even mystical powers to those brave enough to pursue it. But what really gives? Can fasting be beneficial in this day and age? And what the heck does this have to do with Autophagy, you ask?

Autophagy is basically a scientific process of recycling dead cells, or “self-cleaning” that occurs when the body is under stress, either from fasting, exercising, or ketosis.

Lets Debrief on Intermittent Fasting:

One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.

Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human. 

The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:

Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life.  Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practitioners of calorie-restriction often experience.

Intermittent fasting, proponents say, also may benefit the fight against cancer, diabetes, and autoimmunity. Here is an excellent, up-to-date review of the “benefits” of fasting. It is wholly understandable that fasting is all the rage these days.

Sort of.

Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.

In Comes Autophagy:

The word derives from the Greek auto (self) and phagein (to eat). (literally “self-eating”) 

It has been proven that the body runs its biological processes similar to a recycling plant. Old cells that are degraded or just no longer needed in the body can be “eaten” by the body to help streamline and allow our bodies to exist more efficiently. One of the ways the body can enter this self-cleaning mode is by fasting. Most of our cells are already pre-programmed to do this in a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis basically means cells are programmed to die after a certain amount of time to benefit the body.

Autophagy has been studied in relation to its effects at killing cancerous cells in the body. There is not a tremendous amount of data on how this process works and how we can harness it to our benefit. The studies are in effect, however.

Ketosis and high intensity interval training can also engage autophagy in addition to fasting. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting while in ketosis, which is typically the main appeal of ketosis versus intermittent fasting.

Negative Side Effects:

  1. We just don’t know exactly what we are dealing with and how it will effect our biochemistry long term.
  2. Growth is occurring. By recycling, autophagy is also allowing new growth to occur in the body. This means bacterial cells or cells like Lyme can be produced or encouraged to grow. 
  3. This is the same to note when thinking about cancer cells. If not harnessed properly, the same growth could occur with cancer cells, instead of just death. This is why autophagy is looked at often as preventative tool, not a treatment.
  4. Every persons biological makeup has their own unique traits. Again – we do not have the information to make a quantitative and educated guess on whether this is successful and beneficial in the short and long term.
  5. Autophagy is a stress induced response, so in order to activate it you have to produce more stress in the body. This is a common parallel that we see with over-exercising especially with programs like CrossFit. People maintain success to a certain point on these programs but is the overall detrimental effects of putting our body through more stress worth the rewards? Does the stressed state of our body even let us benefit from these rewards or are the effects inhibited?
  6. a) Women in studies often do not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and
    b) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance. These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF, the primary and preferred catalyst for autophagy.

Positive Side Effects:

In some studies Autophagy has been shown to produce the following results:

  1. Reduced inflammation levels in the body
  2. Prevention or delay of neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinsons and Alzheimers)
  3. Increased life span

Verdict:

All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on. Its up to you to determine whether the benefits of autophagy are really worth the stress that can occur with fasting.

As for fasting, there are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.

There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.  

Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.

An important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.

The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.

Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success?  Perhaps.  Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight?   What if she is a light sleeper?  What if her periods begin to dysregulate?  Or stop?  What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether?  These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.

We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds.  All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.

intermittent fasting women

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IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature, here.

 

 

 

Hormonal Acne: New Science on How to Beat It – Keto for Women

Hormonal Acne: New Science on How to Beat It – Keto for Women

Even though many dermatologists would deny it, hormonal acne is a real and serious problem for women.

Gut health and inflammation are both major players in acne. (read more about causes of acne other than hormones in this post, or my brand new acne program, for 50% off this week!).

Yet hormones can be the biggest problem for women.

In today’s post I discuss all the variations of hormonal acne, where it comes from, and what to do about it.

Hormonal Acne: When and how it shows up

When: 

Hormonal acne for many women presents at certain times of the month. Popular times include 1) at ovulation, which occurs almost precisely smack in the middle of the cycle, two weeks after the first day of bleeding (read about how to pinpoint ovulation in this post), 2) the few days before a period, and 3) at the start of a woman’s period.

Hormonal acne can also be present all of the time. For women with hormonal problems such as PCOS (read here to start figuring out if you have PCOS) and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (read here to figure out if you have HA), this is unfortunately the case.

When I had both PCOS and HA at the same time, I had terrible acne every day for three years.

Appearance: 

Hormonal acne usually occurs in the form of cysts. Cysts are those lovely, pus-filled, painful and inflamed red bumps. They often culminate in a peak of white pus.

Hormonal acne also appears as more mild forms called comedones. These are those whitehead “bumps” that never break the surface.

Hormonal acne can even show up just as smaller lesions. These are not quite as angry and painful as full out cysts, and may appear more rash-like or just smaller than typical acne. Below is a photo of my own cysts (on a “good” day) back in 2011.

Stage 3 Hormonal Acne

These are cysts, classified as “stage 3” acne by dermatologists. There are 4 stages of cysts in hormonal acne

Location: 

Hormonal acne occurs first and foremost around the mouth. It shows up on the chin, below the nose, around the sides of the mouth, and sometimes up the jawline.

As hormonal acne worsens, however, it spreads to the cheeks and the forehead.

Other body parts can be affected, too. This usually includes the shoulders, back, and buttocks–where the body’s testosterone receptors are most prominent.

The physiological mechanism of hormonal acne

Hormonal acne is caused by increased oil production beneath the skin. Think of it like a river. Ordinarily there is a healthy flow of oil to the surface. This is important because it lubricates the skin.

But when there is too much oil – and when it combines with the normal skin cells and other debris on the surface of the skin – it can clog the pores.

When oil clogs pores, bacteria go on a feeding frenzy. This causes inflammation.

The worse inflammation is, the more irritated the oil gland can become, and thus the more red, and the more painful.

Yet it is important to remember that hormonal acne does not occur unless there is an oil problem.

This is the reason no amount of washing will ever completely eliminate hormonal acne. Admittedly, it can be helped by antioxidant cleansers, serums, or creams.

But it will never go away completely without curing the hormonal acne from underneath. The only way to fix it is from the inside out.

Hormonal Acne: Causes of increased oil secretion

The primary causes of oil secretion are male sex hormones, also called androgens. Testosterone is the primary culprit. Another androgen, called DHEA-S, is also very important. They both increase oil secretion.

This effect is worsened when female sex hormone levels – particularly of estrogen – fall. Estrogen balances male sex hormones in the skin. Without a healthy balance, problems occur.

1. The most prominent androgen is testosterone.

Testosterone causes oil production in the skin.

Why might you have high testosterone?

You might have it if you have PCOS.

(Acne is one of the clearest indicators of PCOS.)

You may also have high testosterone if you have diabetes or insulin resistance, because when the body produces insulin, the ovaries produce testosterone. It’s a very simple yet very damaging process.

When might you show hormonal acne from high testosterone?

If you still have a menstrual cycle, you may find that you break out around ovulation. This is the middle of your cycle. It is also when your testosterone levels are the highest.

But if you have a hormone condition like PCOS – you will probably have hormonal acne most of the time.

(If you struggle with PCOS or think that you may have it, you may want to check out my handy guide on overcoming PCOS.)

2. Another androgen, called DHEA-S, causes oil production as well.

Yet unlike testosterone, which is a sex hormone, DHEA-S is a stress hormone.

It is produced primarily in the adrenal (stress) glands. Whenever a woman is under any degree of stress, her body faces a choice: it has to decide if it wants to produce normal sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen, or if it wants to produce stress hormones like DHEA-S.

For this reason, Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis dysregulation is usually the first place to look to as the origin of DHEA-S problems. Women with a lot of stress – whether from emotions, poor sleep, or under-feeding – have higher levels of DHEA-S levels.

3. Estrogen fights acne.

Estrogen helps promote clear skin. It does this in a number of ways.

First, it has the power to off-set high testosterone levels in the blood. Estrogen increases levels of sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG), which in turn binds testosterone and makes it impotent.

Second, the skin has many estrogen receptors in it, so estrogen directly performs a balancing and soothing function at the site of acne.

For women with chronically low estrogen, hormonal acne is often a consistent problem. They have acne 100% of the time.

In women with relatively healthy hormone systems, low estrogen can still be a problem. This is because estrogen levels fall at the end of each menstrual cycle, and are low at the beginning. Having such low estrogen levels during this time can lead to monthly breakouts.

Because hypothalamic amenorrhea is characterized by low hormone, and particularly low estrogen levels, boosting estrogen is one of the main and most helpful ways women with hypothalamic amenorrhea cure their acne.

Because menopause significantly decreases estrogen levels–almost to zero–this is also the primary reason women in menopause can see a re-emergence of hormonal acne after decades of clear skin.

4. Finally, progesterone can also play a role in acne. Progesterone, in high doses, acts as an inflammatory agent, and can cause acne to flare up. Progesterone levels are highest during the days leading up to menstruation, which explains why many women experience outbreaks at this time.

Synthetic progesterone, such as that found in birth control pills, can also cause acne.

Whether a certain variety of the pill causes acne for you or not, however, is entirely dependent upon your own body chemistry and how your body reacts to external hormones. Know only that if you noticed a change in your skin while experimenting with birth control methods, this is most likely why. You may want to consider a birth control method that has a different kind of progesterone in it, or one that has a different progesterone-estrogen balance, to see if it helps relieve your acne.

(I discuss hormonal causes of acne with more complexity and depth in the program I just published, Clear Skin Unlocked: The Ultimate Guide to Acne Freedom and Flawless Skin.)

Aggravators of hormonal acne

There are many factors other than hormones that can worsen hormonal acne. Here is a list of the most common:

Stress: Stress plays an important role. It acts as an inflammatory agent, especially if cortisol levels remain high for a long time. Stress also  decreases production of healthy, skin-supporting hormones like estrogen, and increases production of acne-causing stress hormones like DHEA-S. Stress is not necessarily the cause of hormonal acne, but does exacerbate it, and prevent proper healing.

Heat.  Heat is inflammatory, and also causes sweat, which can clog pores.

UV Rays. The sun’s rays are some of the most potent acne inflamers out there. Protect the skin on your face with at least an SPF of 20, or consider wearing a hat in the summer months.

Inflammatory foods: grains, dairy, nuts, and omega 6 vegetable oils can all contribute to poor gut health and inflammation.

Dairy: While already mentioned for being inflammatory, dairy deserves special mention because it is a highly hormonal food.  Pregnant cows produce several hormones designed for growth. Growth hormones can both cause androgen levels to rise as well as promote production activities that lead to acne.

I have seen enormous success with women with hormonal acne eliminating dairy for their skin.  Many people at least anecdotally least respond to dairy with acne more strongly than any other food.

Phytoestrogens: soy and flax are the primary phytoestrogens to be concerned about, with legumes and nuts coming in a distant second place. Phytoestrogens (“phyto estrogen” is greek for “plant estrogen”) have the power to act as estrogens in the body. This may sound like a good thing for acne, but this role is ambivalent and should be treated with caution, especially with the skin. Different estrogen receptors read different kinds of phytoestrogens differently, such that phytoestrogens usually perform estrogen-lowering effects in skin tissue despite what they do in other locations.

Low carbohydrate diets: Having sufficient glucose stores is important for skin healing, and can speed the recovery of acne lesions. Glucose is also helpful for preventing hypothyroidism. Find out 8 of the most important signs you need to eat more carbohydrate here.

Poor sleep: Sleep both enables healing and promotes healthy hormonal production.

Hypothyroidism:  Without sufficient levels of T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, in the blood, a woman’s skin cells lack the ability to heal properly.  Many women who suffer hypothyroidism suffer chronic acne.

Dealing with hormonal acne

The best thing you can do for hormonal acne is get blood work done and figure out precisely what your underlying problem is. That way you can target the problem and treat it effectively.

Unfortunately not all of us can afford this, so it’s okay to guess. Nevertheless, the better an idea you have of what is going on in your body, the more specific you can be about what to do to fix it.

In general, hormone dysregulation that leads to acne can be broken down into a few broad categories:

1) high testosterone from PCOS (specifically the overweight and insulin resistant type of PCOS),

2) low estrogen from low body fat levels, chronic restriction, or living in an energy deficit,

3) low estrogen from menopause,

4) high progesterone from general hormone imbalance, possibly related to PMS,

5) any of these conditions worsened by stress or hypothyroidism, and

6) any combination therein.

The ultimate hormonal acne solution

The solution to all of these problems is to correct the hormone imbalance.  I have discussed methods of doing so above and elsewhere.

So to get rid of hormonal acne for good, check out my manual that has now helped several thousand women overcome their PCOS, or some of my work on hypothalamic amenorrhea.

For women with menopause, it may just “take time” or perhaps medical interventions are appropriate, depending on the severity of the problem.

Medication for hormonal acne?

There are drugs designed to help with hormonal acne.  Spironolactone and flutamide are the two primary ones that come to mind (though I don’t recommend taking either of them), as well as birth control.

The reason birth control pills are helpful for acne is because they enforce hormone regularity on a woman’s system.  The precise pill that is helpful for each woman varies by her particular condition– but in general, BCPs are comprised of estrogen and of progesterone. BCPs can for that reason 1) raise estrogen levels–which either corrects an estrogen deficiency or helps balance the activity of runaway testosterone–and they can also 2) restore proper balance between estrogen and progesterone, which is important for keeping progesterone levels within their proper parameters.

Some BCPs also contain anti-androgenic substances, such as drospirenone, which is an added benefit for women who are living with androgen excess (but poses some health risks).  In all cases, I do not generally recommend that women get on BCP, as it can cause worse hormonal dysregulation in the long run (sort of like handicapping a delicate hormonal system), and does not solve the underlying problem.

Flutamide acts in a similar way to spironolactone, but less effectively, and with more side effects.  So spironolactone is typically the drug of choice.

Spiro has been hailed by many acne sufferers as God’s gift to womankind: it decreases testosterone activity. For many women this begets truly miraculous effects. Yet one should step cautiously with spironolactone. If a woman’s primary problem is not testosterone excess, spironolactone will very likely do more harm for her skin than good.  (Check out the panicked discussion forums at acne.org to see what I’m talking about.)  Moreover, even for those who have testosterone excess as their primary problem, spironolactone merits caution for a variety of reasons.  First, spiro usually induces an infamous “initial breakout” which can last anywhere from weeks to months.  This isn’t always the case– sometimes women improve immediately. Sometimes they never really do (I never did: in fact, my acne got worse on spiro.) But the typical case is for women to see an initial worsening of their acne, followed by relief in the upcoming months, especially if they increase their dosages.

Secondly, spiro cannot be taken by pregnant women because it induces birth defects, so women cannot stay on spironolactone indefinitely. This is problematic because spironolactone acts as a band-aid on the hormone problem, and does nothing to fix it whatsoever. What spiro does simply is block testosterone receptors.  In most cases, if the underlying problem is not addressed while a woman is taking spironolactone, her acne will return once she comes off of the drug.  This is why I recommend that women only consider taking spironolactone if they want a “quick fix” while they work on their diet and exercise in order to improve their PCOS.

Finally, spironolactone has a couple of other health concerns.  First, it lowers blood pressure, since spiro is actually a blood pressure lowering drug proscribed “off label” for acne.  Secondly, it acts as a diuretic, so women on it need to drink water constantly, may not be able to consume alcohol anymore, may have dysregulated salt cravings, and may never actually be properly hydrated.  And finally, spiro acts as a potassium-sparing diuretic, such that women cannot eat potassium rich foods, lest they risk the chance of becoming hyperkalemic, which can lead to sudden death.  It hospitalized me. An imbalance of electrolytes in the blood is no laughing matter, so women on spiro should limit their potassium rich foods as well as get their potassium levels checked periodically.  Potassium rich foods include melons, bananas, potatoes, avocadoes, tomatoes, and leafy greens, among others.

For these reasons, spiro can help, but it cannot be relied on long term.  It does not get at the root of the issue–drugs rarely do–and the true path to hormonal help is diet and lifestyle modifcation.

As a final note, bio-identical hormone supplementation can be helpful for women going through menopause.  Estrogen patches can release small amounts of hormone into the bloodstream, and can lessen acne considerably. I do not think this is necessarily detrimental to a woman’s health, if it is in fact the case that her estrogen levels have simply dropped off during menopause.  However, it does, in my opinion, make it difficult for estrogen levels to rise and hormone balance to re-establish itself on its own. This is a decision best left to the individual and to her doctor.

In conclusion

Hormonal acne is terrible, and for many women can seem incessant, and never ending.  Girls are assured growing up that they will eventually out-grow their acne, yet many women see it persist throughout their twenties and thirties, and some actually do not even see the acne manifest until their twenties and thirties.  Some women do not even see acne appear until after the birth of their first children, as their progesterone and estrogen levels are flying all over the map.

There are downsides to medication, and large ones. Medication is only ever a band-aid, and it can be a band-aid that in the long run leads to more harm than good.  

Playing with hormones is like playing with fire.  Sometimes things can go horribly wrong. For this reason, meds may be best left alone, depending on the circumstance and the level of risk a woman is willing to bear.

—–

It is entirely possible as well as supremely healthy to cure acne from the inside out with good diet and lifestyle practices alone.

To do so with an experienced scientist (me!) walking you step-by-step through the process, check out my new program: Clear Skin Unlocked: The Ultimate Guide to Acne Freedom and Flawless Skin.

Clear Skin Unlocked was written specifically for women like you in mind. It’s for when you’re frustrated, looking for answers, and tired of falling through the cracks. In Clear Skin Unlocked I discuss everything I did in this blogpost here at much greater depth, as well as provide a Four  Week Jumpstart to Acne Freedom to get you on your way to robustly healthy and radiant skin, for good.

You may also wish to check out my guide on weight loss, or my guide to overcoming PCOS. It may take experimentation and patience, but don’t all good things, in the end?

For some of my favorite topical solutions to acne, check out the antioxidant cleansers, serumscreams and topical probiotics I use.

6 Key Ways to Support Thyroid Health

6 Key Ways to Support Thyroid Health

Todays wellness industry is a million dollar market. People get rich off offering solutions to heal autoimmune conditions, support weight loss, and general well-being. This makes it very difficult to understand what can actually help or harm us in the journey towards overall health. It takes a lot of effort to research the science and “Why” behind what works for us and our bio-individuality. In particular, there is a lot of noise about what can help support thyroid help. I have had a lot of women ask me lately about the best ways to support overall thyroid health. There are several things we can do to support our thyroid – I rally up all the goodness below.

1) Reducing Inflammation

We talk about this quite often here on PfW. But it is a key element in maintaining overall health and well-being. You have to reduce inflammation levels in your body to allow your body to heal and function as it needs to. No matter how hard you try to support your thyroid, you might not be able to if you suffer from an underlying health condition.

Figure out your underlying issues by taking stock of your body. What symptoms do you experience? When? For how long?  How long have you had them? Take your answers to google and to the doctor. Get some tests done. Paleo is fantastic for healing, but a more targeted approach can help heal you all the faster.

When you heal your underlying problems, you are naturally supporting thyroid health. 

Reducing inflammation may be easier said than done. Nevertheless some of the things you can do are:

  • Avoid potentially inflammatory foods including ALL processed foods, omega 6 seed oils (Vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and the like), and perhaps grains and dairy,
  • Consume a nutrient-rich diet full of varied, organic vegetables and fruits,
  • Include organ meats once or twice a month (here’s a supplement in case you do not like to eat liver)
  • Eat more eggs
  • Eat fermented foods daily (here are my favorites)
  • Get some sunlight everyday on your skin without SPF or consider taking a vitamin D supplement
  • Eat wild-caught, fatty fish like salmon or sardines once a week and
  • Consider taking the rockstar superfood cod liver oil which is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D as well as the crucial anti-inflammatory molecules EPA and DHA.

2) Limit Using Products That Mess with our Endocrine Receptors

Unfortunately a lot of the topical products we use contain chemicals that can severely mess with our endocrine system. We think a lot about what we digest internally, but not what we are putting on our skin. This is a huge mistake and something I absolutely recommend to take into account when supporting thyroid health as these chemicals can disrupte our endocrine system and in turn our thyroid health. Avoid anything that states it has a “fragrance” in it. This can be overwhelming because so many unexpected things contain fragrances including makeup, dryer sheets, cleaning products and more.

Dr. Isabelle Wentz advises avoiding the following chemicals when it comes to your skincare regime.

  1.    Parabens
  2.    Fragrance
  3.    Oxybenzone
  4.    Triclosan
  5.    Heavy metals

Read her full article on these chemicals, here. 

3) Sleep!

In 1960, a survey of over 1 million people found a modal sleep duration of 8-9 hours. In 2002, polls conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicated that the average duration of sleep for Americans had fallen to 6.9-7 hours.  Recent data indicate that a higher percentage of adult Americans report sleeping 6 hours or less. In 2005, in the US, more than 30% of adult men and women between the ages of 30 and 64 years reported sleeping on average less than 6 hours each night. This decrease in sleep duration has occurred over the same time as the increase in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other inflammatory based illnesses.

Putting away electronic devices or wearing blue blocking glasses before bed can help melatonin production which will help you fall asleep easier as well.

I recommend eliminating any nightcaps that you may be consuming before bed. Sometimes I will eat a little fat in the form of peanut butter and jelly (no, this isn’t technically paleo but it works for me) because it helps me maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

Exercising throughout the day can improve sleep quality as well.

To start from the source, take a couple smart moves to improve your bedroom environment

  • Use white or brown noise
  • Make sure your space is as dark as possible, use blackout curtains like these ones, or a sleeping mask
  • Keep your bedroom cool
  • Put those devices away! Seriously! They have an impact on our sleep quality

I have a pretty extensive blog post on other things you can do to destress and sleep like a pro, here.

4) Eat More Carbohydrate

I know – everyone wants to stay away from carbohydrates. I urge you to reconsider.

Carbohydrates + glucose production. Glucose is necessary for the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver. Without adequate glucose, the liver struggles to make enough T3, which is the form of thyroid hormone critical for healthy thyroid function.

(Now, low carb dieters might be quick to point out that the liver can manufacture its own glucose. Certainly, the liver is capable of producing its own glucose with gluconeogenesis, but that process can become taxed over time, particularly if the liver is already taxed from poor eating habits in the past, mineral deficiencies, stress, or calorie restriction.)

Without sufficient T3, hypothyroidism results. Hypothyroidism is implicated in mood disorders, reproductive irregularities such as PCOS and amenorrhea, in skin conditions, and in weight gain, among other things.  (For more on how to figure out your particular type of PCOS and how hypothyroidism may be at play, see my program PCOS Unlocked or read my post on the causes of PCOS)

Many women, contrary to popular paleo belief, in fact lose weight once they add carbohydrates back into their diets. This is because the carbs help the body produce more T3.

Perhaps the most common and most harmful damage a low carbohydrate diet can cause for women is hypothyroidism.The body needs glucose (carbohydrate) in the blood in order to create T3, the active form of thyroid hormone. Without T3, you cannot burn fat mass, skin quality suffers, and hormone production slows down, resulting in infertility and low libido, among other things.

How many carbs you should consume may seem complicated. It varies from person to person.

Pregnant women should definitely err on the side of eating more. So should athletes.

For that reason, I recommend starting with 100 grams of dense carbs (so starches and fruits) every day.  if that seems like too much for you, especially if you are coming from a very low carbohydrate diet, then simply add them slowly. Once you get started it is very easy to find your own person range or sweet spot.

The main part of the reason carbohydrates have such a bad name is that a lot of carbohydrates are genuinely bad for you: breads, cereals, pastas, pastries, and other processed foods can all cause weight gain and be pretty harmful. The most important part of being healthy and losing weight is the quality of the food you eat, however. So simply don’t eat the bad carbs, and focus on the good ones.

Good carbs are:

  • Starchy tubers such as sweet potatoes, batata, jerusalem artichoke, cassava, tarot, and bamboo. Regular potatoes are fine, too, but they contain fewer vitamins than their sweet counterparts.  Of the sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes are the most delicious, in my opinion, followed by white sweet potatoes and then yams and regular orange sweet potatoes.These starches are composed primarily of glucose.
  • Fruits. All fruits! Berries and cherries tend to have more glucose than fructose, other fruits tend to have more fructose than glucose. This is not a huge point of difference but I have noticed that some women tend to do better on glucose-heavy or fructose-heavy carbs. I personally have an easier time with weight maintenance with fruits than with starches. I talk about this idea more in depth in that Weight Loss program for women I use with my clients.
  • Rice Both white and brown rice are fine, but are fairly nutrient-poor.
    Brown rice contains anti-nutrients in it’s shell, so white rice is more innocuous in terms of nutrient absorption.  Wild rice is another option that I like.  Pink rice is something that my friend Noelle from Coconuts and Kettlebells really loves and is a unique way to incorporate rice into the diet! (By the way, if you haven’t listened to The Well-Fed Women Podcast featuring myself and Noelle, you need to!  We are the BEST and we will explain to you ALL THE THINGS.  Find us here!)
  • Vegetables of course are great, but they do not count for carbohydrate consumption.  I know that most of the carbs in vegetables are glucose, but much of it them are also tied up in fiber, which is broken down and turned into short-chain fatty acids by gut bacteria. For this reason, vegetables alone cannot make up a woman’s carbohydrate consumption.  Instead, starchy tubers and fruits work the best.

Moderate carbohydrate intake is associated with better mood, stress-reduction, and sleep quality.

I see this in my work and in anecdotes, as well as in many controlled studies. Carbohydrate intake boosts tryptophan levels in the brain, and tryptophan is the protein precursor to serotonin. Getting at least some carbohydrate in the diet helps with the vast array of issues associated with serotonin deficiency which include moodiness, stress, and insomnia. People have been shown to sleep better if their dinner includes carbohydrates in it. Kill two birds with one stone by eating more carbohydrates. 

This is especially true for women.

For a look at the details and complexities of the issue, see Emily Deans writing  here and here. The primary takeaway of this point being that while the exact mechanism of carbohydrates boosting mood and sleep quality is unknown, carbohydrates still appear to be a healthy, and in many cases necessary, macronutrient.

5) Focus on Quality not Quantity:

Now, this is the exact opposite of advice I normally give people when they are trying to be healthy. One of my favorite things to say is that people need to focus on the quality of their food, and care less about the quantity.

In general, this is great advice. High quality food is super important for being healthy in the long run. So, yes, if you decide to eat all 2500 calories a day in the form of vegetables and fruits and other paleo delights, you are more than welcome to.

But if you focus on being nourishing and then add in some hyper-caloric foods on top of that – like paleo desserts, or simply regular dessertsgo right ahead.

Instead of setting little strict boxes around various macronutrients quantities, paleo emphasizes overall food quality without restriction (at least these days it does. At one time, paleo was very restrictive but the community has grown to eliminate this dogmatic approach). Because you are able to experiment with higher carb, lower fat, or high fat and lower carb while using high quality foods you are able to understand which foods really work best for you without judgement. If you want to eat starchy carbs in the morning and higher fat at night, you CAN. And because paleo gently forces you to be in tune with your biochemistry it becomes a bit easier to understand which foods may not work for you.

For instance, I went a long time eating higher carbohydrate in the morning because it was what I had been taught on the standard american diet protocol. I also coincidentally struggled with extremely low energy levels in the morning for many years of my life. After understanding how my body processes carbohydrates in the morning, I was able to switch my macronutrient levels and discover I maintain much higher energy levels with a lower carbohydrate diet.

Instead of restricting your intake to just high fat and low carbohydrate, you are given the freedom with paleo to experiment with what actually works with your physiological needs.

6) Exercise:

When you exercise you are activating your thyroid hormones which in turn supports overall function.

Running, cycling, using the elliptical, and other cardio exercises are not the panacea most people make them out to be. They do not burn as many calories as the people who sell them would like us to believe. Nor do they build muscle all that well. They also elevate stress hormone levels if done on a regular basis.

All three of these factors make them inferior for weight loss. Instead of doing cardio, I like to recommend doing a mix of three things: weight lifting, short, intense sprint work-outs, and slow, “happy” movement.

For me, this looks like lifting weights once or twice a week, doing a couple sprint workouts a week, and going dancing at night.

The basic ideas are this:

1) muscles require more energy to maintain. If you build muscle, your body will burn more calories over the course of any given day, regardless of whether you work out.

2) strength training helps improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health

3) high intensity sprint workouts (like pedaling as fast as you can for 6 periods of 45 seconds) improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health

4) strength and sprint workouts promote something called “metabolic flexibility” which helps you burn both carbohydrates and fat efficiently

5) exercising too much, like many cardio exercisers do, is stressful to the body. With short weight lifting and sprint workouts you minimize the amount of stress hormone in your bloodstream.

So exercise smart. Lift heavy weights twice a week. Do two sprint workouts a week. Walk or do yoga and dance or any other fun activity as often as possible.

(I talk a lot more about the specifics of fitness in my hardcover book [which you can get here on Amazon], and also in my weight loss program here.)

 

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Not Taking These Vitamins? Here’s Why You Should

Not Taking These Vitamins? Here’s Why You Should

Where to Begin With Supplements

Taking supplements can be an overwhelming task to initiate. There are so many different varieties of vitamins & minerals, brands names of vitamins & minerals, and a lot of variation on mixed feelings about the successfulness of absorption rates. When I first decided to look more into proper supplementation, I must say I was slightly overwhelmed with the synergistic properties.

The fact that some supplements need to be paired with others in order to be fully absorbed was a concept that seemed beyond me, I wasn’t even sure which supplements to take that would work on their own. But! Alas, my wariness did not heed my eagerness to learn more, so I put my nose to the books and have come up with the ultimate basic list of supplements and what they can be used for. As always, I recommend getting your vitamins and minerals from the food you digest but I also understand that sometimes that is not possible in today’s crazy world. Enter the supplement. 

A Note: 

Some of the supplement information I have provided below does not elaborate on the synergistic qualities of supplements. For instance, Vitamin D is excellent for the immune system but also can provide relief from anxiety and depression. If you are browsing through and are not seeing a supplement that you had expected under a particular category, try reading through the other recommendations to see if there are alternative vitamins and minerals that can work for multiple symptoms. 

Negative Interactions: 

Calcium and Vitamin K2: If you are deficient in calcium and supplementing instead you may want to think twice, or do some research on your vitamin K levels. Vitamin K actually helps carry the Calcium into your bones, meaning if you are deficient in Vitamin K2 and supplementing with Calcium then you may not really be doing any good.  

Take this if Your Immune System Needs Help or If You Are Feeling Fatigued 

 

Vitamin D

 

Taking D3 keeps me cold-free all year long (literally, I got terrible colds until I started taking it), and keeps me from being depressed and anxious in winter months. If you don’t take cod liver oil, and even if you do but need more D, this is the supplement to take. Vitamin D is associated with overall improved health, and can help with diseases as advanced as cancer.

Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, and one we are most likely to be deficient in as Americans.  Some estimates say anywhere from 80-90% of the population may have sub optimal levels of Vitamin D in the blood.

This is worrying because Vitamin D plays such an important role in health.  From reducing autoimmune issues and inflammation, to preventing disease, Vitamin D is a nutrient we shouldn’t neglect. Vitamin D has a protective effect on the immune system, helping T-cells and B-cells to to fight immune threats while also preventing autoimmune issues. 

Several autoimmune diseases (including Lupus and MS) have a high range of deficiency and supplementation with Vitamin D has been shown to improve health in these individuals.

Having sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to reduce upper respiratory infections in both summer and winter.  Those with deficiencies of Vitamin D are found to suffer from upper respiratory infections much more often, even accounting for the seasons.  

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is primarily processed through the skin rather than through food.  During the summer, we wear less and tend to spend more time outdoors, and this increases the amount we produce.  In turn, we get sick less often and feel altogether happier.  Vitamin D deficiencies are also associated with lower mood and decreased cognitive function.

However, Vitamin D needs range depending on specific conditions.  Recommendations for average adults age 19-50 are about 600 i/u a day to prevent deficiency.  This can come from sunlight, diet, or supplements, but it may take up to 1500 or 2000 i/u a day, depending on the individual, to keep blood levels about the recommended 30 ng/ml.

Vitamin D foods: Salmon, Mushrooms (cooked), egg yolk, canned tuna, sardines and cod liver oil. 

 

 

Vitamin C

This vitamin is crucial for immune system health, for the manufacture of neurotransmitters, and for adrenal (stress system) health. 

Foods that contain Vitamin C: Leafy greens, other vegetables, and all fruits (yes, citrus, but others too!) all have high quantities of vitamin C. If you are a paleo dieter but don’t go heavy on the veggies you may want to consider upping your dose.

Vitamin C Supplement

Take this for Mood & Sleep Improvement

 

Magnesium

 

70% of Americans do not get the recommended daily dose of magnesium. And magnesium is crucial for more than 300 essential chemical reactions in the body. Without magnesium, these vital reactions simply don’t take place.

Without magnesium, systems malfunction all over the map, from bone growth to adrenal health to the ability to fall asleep at night. Magnesium is also, and perhaps most importantly, one of the primary nutrients involved in the regulation of cellular stress and activity. And when I say stress here, I do mean stress. Any sort of cellular activity is a stress of sorts, because it upregulates activity and requires energy and resources.

Magnesium’s role is simple: it opens channels on cell membranes. When a muscle fiber, for example, needs to tense up and become active, magnesium will open the membrane and help usher in calcium, which helps make it tense. Then, when the period of stress is over and the muscle can relax, magnesium opens up the cell membrane to usher the calcium out of the cell again. The problem for most people is that they have enough magnesium to usher calcium into the cell, but not enough to usher the calcium out.

This leaves them in a chronically up-regulated state, leaving muscles tense, nerves firing, and neurons on high alert. This is why magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle tension, with headaches, with poor adrenal health, and with anxiety.

Without magnesium, the body simply cannot calm down.

Magnesium is very hard to get in a paleo diet (really only in grains) and is CRUCIAL for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. You need it to prevent headaches, relax your muscles, calm anxiety, prevent depression, and fall asleep at night, among so many other things. At one point it nearly saved my life.This is the form of magnesium that is easiest on the gut. Other forms in high doses can cause intestinal motility to speed up enough to cause diarrhea. This one is the best for avoiding that if you have a sensitive stomach.

High quality magnesium citrate supplement

Magnesium Foods

As important as magnesium is, it unfortunately is no longer abundant in the human diet. Research estimates that at least 48% of Americans do not get nearly enough magnesium in their diets. This is in part because magnesium has been depleted from American soils.

Unfortunately for paleo dieters, the majority of foods high in magnesium are not on the typical paleo menu. High magnesium foods include mostly legumes, nuts and seeds: soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, black beans, cashews, navy beans, sunflower seeds, almonds. Grains are also reasonably high in magnesium.

Fortunately for paleo dieters, kale, swiss chard, and beet greens are all great sources. Nevertheless, magnesium is probably one of the greatest “risk” minerals for paleo dieters, which is why I typically recommend supplementing.

Take this if You’re Breaking Out

 

Zinc 

 

Zinc is an essential mineral that is not only found in several enzymes–which makes it crucial to lots of bodily functions–but it also, notably, is critical for immune system function. It also plays a key role in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, and promotes plasticity (flexibility) in the brain. It is important for immune health, hormone health, insulin modulation, and brain health. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties that resist and combat bacteria, making it wonderful for helping acne relief. 

Zinc foods:

The best sources of zinc are oysters (by almost a factor of ten), followed by liver, beef, and lamb. Turkey and shrimp also have good amounts of zinc. From plants, zinc can be obtained from lentils, quinoa, chick peas, and many kinds of seeds including pumpkin and sesame seeds.

High quality Zinc supplement

Take this if You’re Trying to Heal Your Gut 

 

Vitamin A

 

This vitamin is rare because even though you think you might be getting it every time you eat a carrot (the packaging always says “good source of vitamin A!”), you are unfortunately being misled. Carrots do not have vitamin A in them. Neither do any other plant foods. What these foods have in them instead is beta carotene.

Beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A in your intestines by gut flora (here’s a great probiotic and great probiotic foods that can help with that). If you do not have the right gut flora it just won’t happen. Unfortunately that’s the case for a lot of people today. Gut flora just aren’t as robust as they could be.

So many people are deficient in vitamin A. The only robust source of true vitamin A in the diet is organ meat, particularly liver. Most people cringe at the idea of eating liver. Yet ancestral human cultures prized the liver above almost all other parts of the animal. Presumably this is because they figured out how important it is for health. If you cannot stomach the idea of eating liver a couple of times a month (but you should because it’s delicious), you can try a desiccated liver supplement like this one, which is my favorite.

You can also obtain vitamin A from cod liver oil, which is actually a better supplement for absorbing vitamin A specifically because oil is the right form for a fat soluble vitamin. (Desiccated liver is the best for a lot of other nutrients, though, including the rare and important choline). Most people do well with 10-15,000 IU’s per day. 

This is the healthiest, most nourishing cod liver oil supplement on the market today.

Take This if You Are Combating Brain Fog

 

Vitamin K

 

Vitamin K is rare in the diet today for a few reasons. One is that people do not eat organ meats anymore, and organ meats are one of the only good sources of vitamin K2.

Another reason is that most animals today are raised on grain products and other random bits of food instead of grass. Yet grass is the natural diet for cows, bison, and other ruminants. The highest quality beef comes from cows that eat grass specifically because it enables them to make the right nutrients that they need.

Vitamin K2 can be found in grass-fed butter, but it cannot be found in grain-fed butter. So you can boost your vitamin K (K2, specifically) intake by getting some grass-fed butter in your diet. If you cannot do that, then you may definitely want to consider that cod liver oil supplement I mentioned earlier. Because not only does it have cod liver oil and vitamins A and D in it, but it also has high quality butter oil added, which is rich in vitamin K.

This is how fermented cod liver oil kills three birds with one stone. Most people will do well with 100 mcg/d. 

 

Vitamin B2

 

Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is necessary for energy production and normal cell function and growth.

Riboflavin deficiency is common in women of child-bearing age and of a low socioeconomic level. Using hormonal birth control exacerbates that problem. Studies have shown that vitamin supplements remediate riboflavin issues in women taking the pill.

Altogether, these findings suggest that vitamin B2 supplementation in women taking OCs may be important where vitamin nutrition is poor.

B2 foods

Greens, eggs, turkey, other sources of animal protein, and plant protein sources such as beans and legumes tend to be good sources of vitamin B2. With a diet rich in animal products, vegetables, and fruits, B2 should probably not be a problem to obtain enough of. Not many sources of B2 are excellent sources, but there is a wide variety of foods which contain a decent amount of it.

High quality B complex supplement

 

If Your Liver is Needing Assistance Detoxing 

 

Vitamin B12

 

Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) is an essential nutrient for many things, but perhaps most of all liver support and detox.

B12 foods

Vitamin B12 is fortunately very rich in pretty much all animal protein sources, especially liver. But beef, lamb, poultry, seafood, and eggs all have fairly abundant B12. Dairy also has a reasonable amount of B12 in it. If you are a vegetarian, and especially if you are a vegan, you will need to supplement with B12.

If you struggle already with a slugglish liver or have a condition like estrogen dominance or PCOS, the following supplements help support the liver through Phase I and Phase II detoxification and can be really helpful:

  • Methylated forms of B12 (find it here), B6 (find it here), and Folic Acid (find it here): important for the passing of methyl groups which helps with the excretion of hormones like estrogen and is sometimes difficult in women with PCOS.
  • DIM (I like this one): contains the strongest components of cruciferous vegetables known to help break down excess hormones.
  • Calcium D Glucarate (I like this brand) supports the glucuronidation of  the liver and prevents excess estrogen from being re-absorbed in the bowels.
  • Glutathione (find it here): important for the detoxification of alcohol. Smoking, chronic stress, and infections or inflammatory disorders also deplete this important nutrient
  •  

So there you have it! Where will you be starting on your supplementing journey? Maybe you are sticking to food instead? Leave me a comment and let me know! 

7 Tips For the Most Sustainable Weight Loss Plan Ever

7 Tips For the Most Sustainable Weight Loss Plan Ever

Now that is mid January, the New Years Resolution hype is starting to lose momentum. If you took some of my advice to heart, then maybe you scooted through Resolution season without seeing anyone’s posts about succumbing to the pressure to lose weight or keep meaningless resolutions. If that is the case, I congratulate you! 

But, if you are sticking to resolutions with a healthy mindset, I also congratulate you. It can be healthy to have a resolution to lose weight if your mindset is in the correct space and you are looking to lose weight for the right reasons. And, if that is the case, then I want to share my insight on what I consider the most sustainable weight loss plan ever.

You can read every one of my weight loss accelerating tips in the program I finally packaged together for you, Weight Loss Unlocked, here. In the meantime, here are the basics to get you started, and what I think the most sustainable paleo weight loss plan is.

So what do you need to know to lose weight, and keep the weight off long term?

1) Listen to Hunger Cues: 

Overeating is a problem that can prevent weight loss. You don’t want to snack too much, to eat beyond fullness, or to exceed your daily energy requirements on a regular basis. (I know that that’s easier than done for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. For more on the psychology of how to do this, my best resources are this post and this program.)

Most people don’t know this, but under eating can be just as much as, if not more of, a problem.

Why?

Because even while under eating reduces calorie intake and therefore cause weight loss in the short-term, it causes health and hormone problems in the long-term.This is especially important for women. The female body has many mechanisms specifically designed to store body fat if it thinks it is being starved: this protects a woman (and her baby) from dying if she is pregnant.

If you under eat on a regular basis, your body may think that it is being starved, and it will slow down thyroid function, and therefore fat burning.

In order to experience optimal weight loss in the long run, you absolutely must prevent this kind of damage from happening.

The key to doing so is just being sure to eat when you feel hungry. Don’t starve yourself. And don’t make yourself wait on purpose. Don’t give yourself a set number (say, 1500) of calories to eat in a day. And don’t even give yourself a set amount of food. Energy needs vary day by day. If you feel like you need to eat more, do it.

Once people begin ignoring their leptin signals, they get easier and easier to ignore.   This is because constantly elevated leptin levels cause leptin receptors to become insensitive to the leptin floating around in the bloodstream.  As the body realizes that it’s normal leptin signaling isn’t getting the job done, it incites more eating, more weight gain, and higher leptin levels in hopes that an increased leptin signal will get through. For this reason, obesity is correlated with high leptin levels, even though many obese people complain of constant hunger.

Leptin resistance is a problem for everybody.  Both men and women.  Without fixing leptin sensitivity problems, it’s very difficult to lose weight. It’s even more difficult to enact any kind of dietary restriction. But women, who have higher levels of leptin than men (having higher body fat percentages) and who have HPA axes more attuned to energy conservation, are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in leptin levels.

AKA pay attention to your hunger signs! If you are feeling hungry, eat, and if you’re not feeling hungry then do not eat. This is the best way to keep your leptin signals regular.

2) Incorporate Low Impact Movement :

Our bodies like to move. Low impact movement has been shown to improve mood, health, and sleep quality – to name a few. Typically, low impact exercise is my favorite type of exercise because it includes one type I really really enjoy, walking outside. So when people say “low impact” I don’t immediately cringe like I do when people say “cardio”. Low impact can be walking around your neighborhood or going for a gentle bike ride. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout, it is mainly the things we do that perpetuate movement on our day to day. As long as we keep low impact in our schedules our body will respond appropriately.

The key to weight loss is not to exercise harder, but to exercise smarter. 

Running, cycling, using the elliptical, and other cardio exercises are not the panacea most people make them out to be. They do not burn as many calories as the people who sell them would like us to believe. Nor do they build muscle all that well. They also elevate stress hormone levels if done on a regular basis.

All three of these factors make them inferior for weight loss.

Instead of doing cardio, I like to recommend doing a mix of three things: weight lifting, short, intense sprint work-outs, and slow, “happy” movement.

For me, this looks like lifting weights once or twice a week, doing a couple sprint workouts a week, and going dancing at night.

The basic ideas are this:

  • Muscles require more energy to maintain, so if you build muscle, your body will burn more calories over the course of any given day, regardless of whether you work out.
  • Strength training helps improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health
  • High intensity sprint workouts (like pedaling as fast as you can for 6 periods of 45 seconds) improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health
  • Strength and sprint workouts promote something called “metabolic flexibility” which helps you burn both carbohydrates and fat efficiently
  • Exercising too much, like many cardio exercisers do, is stressful to the body. With short weight lifting and sprint workouts you minimize the amount of stress hormone in your bloodstream.

So exercise smart. Lift heavy weights twice a week, do two sprint workouts a week, and walk or do yoga and dance or any other fun activity as often as possible.

(I talk a lot more about the specifics of fitness in my hardcover book [which you can get here on Amazon], and also in my weight loss program here.)

3) Consistency is Key :

I know how challenging it can be to remain consistent. Sometimes a buddy can help you stay accountable. I’m a big fan of noting my progress in writing, usually by making charts or calendars, so I can visually see the fruits of my labor. This can be great if I am being too hard on myself or if it feels like I’m not working as much as I should be; it’s a great reminder of the effort I’m putting in.

4) Do Exercise You Enjoy :

You know how they say if you love your job you won’t work a day in your life? Well the same goes for exercise. If you find a type of movement you enjoy doing regularly, you will stick to it. For me this is biking, kayaking, dancing, climbing and group sports. These don’t feel like exercises or workouts to me, it’s a socialization opportunity and I typically get to see more of my environment when I do these. 

Outdoor sports are one of my favorite easy ways to get in exercise because I also love being in nature so incredibly much. Are there any particular hobbies that you enjoy that you could wrap into an exercise? For instance, if you love flora and fauna, maybe a walk through some botanical gardens could be enjoyable. Or, maybe you feel like you don’t get to see and spend time with your family very often. A good way to squeeze in time together could be an after dinner bike ride.

It is okay to feel like you don’t like any types of exercise. I stand firm in my belief that there is an activity out there waiting for you that you will truly enjoy, you just need to find it.

5) You Must Reduce Inflammation 

No matter how hard you try to lose weight, you might not be able to if you suffer from an underlying health condition.

Thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are super common problems for people trying to lose weight, especially women.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut are all gut health problems. They might not seem like they are important for weight loss, but they are some of the most important. Without a healthy gut, you cannot absorb nutrients well, or have a healthy hormonal response to food.

Autoimmune diseases are also very important to tackle. The best guide for overcoming them, in my opinion, is Sarah Ballantyne’s, here on Amazon.

Figure out your underlying issues by taking stock of your body. What symptoms do you experience? When? For how long?  How long have you had them? Take your answers to google and to the doctor. Get some tests done. Paleo is fantastic for healing, but a more targeted approach can help heal you all the faster.

Then, the faster you heal your underlying problems, the faster you can lose weight.

6) Making the Focus Not Entirely About Losing Weight

An important idea to consider but may go without saying:

The more that you think about who you are as a person, as opposed to the way that you look, the more in control you will be of the whole process.

When you are secure in your values, in your personality, in your relationships and your career and your life, then you are more satisfied with everything. You don’t need to lose weight as badly as you might if you didn’t love yourself, if you thought the way that you looked meant everything. All you really need is yourself.

Weight loss is very, very hard when you want it so bad. This is true for a lot of important things in life, like romance, for example. In both of these cases, the harder you run for it, and the more crucial it seems for your happiness, the more and more it slips out of your fingers.

The alternative is to stop chasing weight loss. Stop obsessing over it. Stop letting it rule you. Instead, if you can increase your comfort with yourself – with who you are – you can make weight loss a side project. It will be an addendum to who you are, but not the whole thing.

Then you can do so light-heartedly, and more easily, without risk of stress or nervous breakdowns or obsessive sabotaging behaviors.

7) Weight Loss Unlocked

Ready for more than just blog posts? After decades of yo-yo dieting, I finally freed myself from being a slave to my weight loss battle.

So, I developed my own personal program for maintaining a healthy weight without fretting at all. I am happy, free, in a fit, healthy body, and eat the foods I want to eat.

I do this using a combination of unique paleo diet insights, scientific studies on female metabolism, and self-loving strategies. Learn all about how I and the thousands of women who have taken my advice do it in the program, here.

In Sum

The key to lifelong weight loss is learning how to heed your internal cues.  Learning your body, understanding its needs, and feeding it nutrient dense food.  There doesn’t need to be a special superfood protocol.  There just needs to be balance.  

Remembering these insights along with all of the 7 steps combined is the best way to maintain sustainable weight loss. It can seem overwhelming at first but after lacing each step together it will start to feel more natural, and I promise your body will follow suit.

Best of luck on your weight loss journey!