Like many others, I have struggled to be lean most of my life. I feel fortunate that through circumstance—combined with luck and the application of my medical knowledge—my struggle with weight and food ended when I was in my 30s. It wasn’t easy, but the solution finally allowed me to shed the weight, feel trim and sexy in my own skin, and restore my hormones and health—all important aspects of whole-body health.
I first gained weight when I was about 10 years old; I craved sugar, especially my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie dough, and even though my grandmother told me that the dough contained raw eggs so I shouldn’t eat it, I didn’t listen. It’s my first memory of considering an adult’s opinion about nutrition and dismissing it in favor of the taste of food. Taste trumped wisdom. I wanted to stop eating but couldn’t. In that moment, I became a food addict.
When I was 15, I started restricting food and calories, longing to be thin and to look cute in my jeans. I’d starve myself all day, relying on willpower and diet soda (remember Tab?), but then I’d end up binging on freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or sugary pastries.
In my freshman year of college, I ballooned to 150 pounds (I’m 5 feet 5 inches tall). That summer I started running and drinking bee pollen smoothies, and lo and behold, I shrunk to 125 pounds by the start of sophomore year. But my weight continued to fluctuate: Every time I had a new boyfriend, I would eat like he did and gain weight; I would be fat and happy. Then our breakup would lead to a loss of appetite; I would become thin and sad.
My weight came into sharp focus when I got engaged. I had six months until my wedding day to get thin. The Atkins diet was popular at the time, so my fiancé and I started eating more eggs and bacon, and “Please hold the toast!” became a standard phrase when we went out to eat. He dropped 20 pounds; I dropped 2. I stared at my tight wedding dress in frustration. As a gynecologist, board certified in everything that goes wrong in the female body, I knew something was amiss. However, I filed my observations away and went on with my wedding preparations, forcing myself to lose weight with willpower, calorie restriction, and over-exercising, like a drill sergeant, determined to fit into my wedding dress. I became an uptight, slightly thinner bride. But I gained the weight back within a single week during our honeymoon in Hawaii.
Flash forward to my 30s: I spent way too much of my time and brain obsessing over food and how to restrict it. I was a working mom. I plugged away during the day as a busy doctor and came home for a second shift of childcare and to prepare a meal for my family. I felt a large void in my life, probably because I found the idea of “having it all” ridiculously impossible and exhausting, and I didn’t realize that I was trying to fill that void with refined carbohydrates and a couple glasses of wine. I was stressed, fat, toxic, unhappy, resentful, and inflamed—and nothing seemed to help. Even my blood sugar suffered: Tests showed levels consistent with early diabetes.
My defining moment came in an unlikely setting: a Madonna concert.
As she sang and danced for more than two hours, I was moved by her physical majesty, by the grace of how fully she embodied her feminine power. I had a flash of insight. Did I want to reach my highest potential? Or did I want to keep making excuses and stay on the downward spiral of getting fatter, more burned out, and further from my inner vision of greatness? It was one of those moments of deep clarity—some even call them surrender points—that addicts talk about, when the pain of staying the same comes into sharp relief.
I decided that it was time to take action and to apply my medical knowledge to help myself.
The next day, I joined a program for food addicts. I wasn’t an obese, binging type of addict. I was highly functional and looked relatively “normal” from the outside. Still, there was an obsessive quality to food and eating that kept me hooked, especially during high stress. I learned more about women, food, and the importance of a spiritual solution in that program than I had ever learned in medical school.
Within two months, I lost 25 pounds, reset my hormones and blood sugar, and healed my broken metabolism. I stayed in the program for two years—stable at the same weight, week after week—but eventually left for several reasons. The program didn’t seem to help my other hormone issues, such as with thyroid and estrogen. In fact, some of the food rules seemed old-school and failed to address important nutritional gaps. Ultimately, I was motivated to learn how to help myself and all women calibrate their hormones and, by extension, their metabolism, without having to surrender to the rigid structure of a program with regular meetings.
I took my deep knowledge of the female body and studied the latest advances in our understanding of food addiction; this piece is often missing from popular diets and disproportionately affects women.
I combined the best practices from my experience in the food addiction program and removed the parts that didn’t seem necessary to my recovery. I learned why women eat for a state change—also known as emotional eating—and developed effective alternatives. I explored extensive and current research about hormone imbalances, resets, and detoxification; I interviewed world experts on hormones, introduced novel information about gender differences in fatness and how women can turn vulnerabilities into advantages in the battle of the bulge; and finally, I turned it all into my own personal plan, culled from my knowledge based on 20 years of medical practice, which has worked for me and now works for thousands of other women.
I taught the Hormone Reset program for the first time in 2008 to a group of women in my integrative and functional medicine practice in Oakland, California. The process and synthesis showed me the key steps that women need to take to break the shackles of food addiction, heal emotionally, form new habits of eating the best types and quantities of nourishing food, and recalibrate to eating for the right reasons. The results were transformative: The women felt at home in their bodies again and were excited to repeat the program with me every three to six months. They described many of the feelings that I experienced myself. Consistently, they lost weight—about 10 to 50 pounds—and they told me they felt younger than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
Resetting your hormones is about so much more than weight loss; it’s about mastery over your life. When you feel energetic, strong, and in touch with your body, wonderful things can happen! When you are no longer bloated and cranky, obsessed and neurotic, or guilty and self-loathing about your body, you can finally focus on your deepest hopes and dreams, your purpose in life, your voice, and your place in the world. You can discover what makes you feel most alive and awake. It’s huge.
Here are 10 tips to help reset your hormones:
- Eat Protein
The consumption of protein stimulates the fat burning process and keeps you full, so you should increase the intake of protein-rich foods, such as beans, lentils, and legumes.
- Practice HIIT
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps you burn body fat. This workout includes exercising at a high intensity for 30-75 seconds, with a 2-3 minute break in between, consisted of exercising at a lower intensity.
- Avoid Gluten and Dairy
Gluten and dairy are the most common food intolerances, and their avoidance will help you lose weight, and treat inflammation, and insulin resistance.
- Eat Purslane
Purslane is the richest source of omega-3s, which reverse the harmful effects of fructose, and is also high in other beneficial nutrients, so it helps you lose weight, and improve your memory and learning skills.
- A Mini Fast
Intermittent fasting will help you reduce reducing visceral fat, and Gottfried suggests an 18-hour window for women and a 16-hour window for men.
- Limit Fructose
Fructose is the most metabolically dangerous sugar, as it does not signal the brain that you are full. It goes directly to the liver where it gets stored as fat and stimulates insulin and leptin resistance. This, in turn, causes inflammation, a stressed liver, and belly fat.
- Avoid Alcohol
You need to avoid sugary juices, sodas, and alcohol if you intend to lose weight.
- Get Enough Sleep
You need to sleep 7-8 hours every night in order to burn belly fat, as sleep controls cortisol and insulin levels in the body.
- Increase Adiponectin levels
Adiponectin works between fat cells and the brain, so its low levels stimulate storage of fat in the body, and vice versa. If you raise its levels, your body will burn fat. Therefore, consume more pistachios and pumpkin seeds, and get at least 35 grams of fiber daily, to optimize its levels.
- Manage Stress
Chronic stress boosts cortisol levels in the body, causing weight gain, storage of fat, and the breakdown of muscles. It is a must to find an activity that relaxes you, such as meditation, exercise, walking, yoga, essential oil baths, reading, etc.
Each of us has, within us, the power to break the addictive cycle of eating the wrong foods, stressing, and feeling fat once and for all. With it, you can restore your broken, overstressed body and find the grace and magnificence promised to you by the wonders of your own unique biology.
By Sara Gottfried, MD