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Common mistakes when balancing hormones, according to a nutritionist

Hormone imbalances can affect our everyday lives and overall health. (Getty Images)
Hormone imbalances can affect our everyday lives and overall health. (Getty Images)

Our hormones change as we age, signalling different stages of our lives. These chemical messengers within our bodies herald the start of puberty, the onset of adulthood, and, in women, the end of our fertility when the time comes.

Hormones are also responsible for regulating a number of processes within the body, such as metabolism, sleep cycles, reproductive cycles, body temperature, and mood.

The ebb and flow of hormones is different for everyone, but on average, follow a distinct pattern. However, they can be thrown out of balance, whether it’s due to internal or external circumstances, and lead to health issues.

According to women’s health and menopause clinic Hormone Health, hormonal imbalances can sometimes result in symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, itchy skin, low moods, and others.

It occurs when “there is too much or too little of a hormone”, which can happen during reproductive cycles like menstruation, pregnancy and menopause in women. They can also be affected by lifestyle factors and some medical conditions.

The symptoms of hormone imbalance can affect your wellbeing and everyday life, which drives people to look for ways to alleviate it or bring their hormones back into balance.

Close-up photo. Worried senior woman mother sitting on sofa at home and holding phone. Worries about children, writes and sends messages, calls, searches, waits at home.
Many people are turning to social media to search for ways to balance their hormones. (Getty Images)

Last year, there was a significant spike in interest in the search term "hormone balance for women" in the UK, according to Google Trends. Meanwhile, the hashtags #hormonebalance and #hormonebalancing garnered more than 306 million views on TikTok.

But how do you balance your hormones, and why is it important? BANT registered nutritionist and hormone specialist Hannah Alderson lays out the common mistakes people tend to make while trying to find the right way to balance their hormones.

Diet

Many people might think that dieting is the key to happy hormones, but Alderson says this is not the case.

According to her, the human body’s determination to survive means that starvation is its "greatest threat". She adds: "This is why dieting doesn’t work in the long run."

"Your body will eventually outsmart restriction in order to make sure it doesn't starve," Alderson explains.

Watch: The Best Foods for Hormone Health, According to a Dietitian

“In studies, it's been concluded that during periods of underfeeding, compensatory metabolic and behavioural responses occur that attenuate the prescribed energy deficit... which means your metabolism adapts by reducing the deficit to increase your chances of survival.

“In fact, it can leave your body desperately trying to pick up the pieces of restriction & low nutrient "diet" ultra-processed foods, and stress-inducing eating and exercising patterns.”

Exercise

Recent fitness trends have highlighted workouts like High Intensity Interval Training that involve very intense bursts of activity carried out between short rest periods. However, Alderson warns that an aggressive approach to exercise can be bad for hormone health.

“Trying to be perfect is another mistake— there is no such thing as a perfect diet, as it’s what you do for the majority of the time that counts,” she says.

“The research now tells us the harder, faster, stronger approach to exercise for women can drive hormone dysfunction and put pressure on your stress response via the HPA axis.”

The HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis refers to the central nervous system and the endocrine system’s relationship in adjusting the balance of hormones in response to stress.

Stress results in these systems to release cortisol, which regulates blood sugar levels, metabolism and blood pressure. But, excessive levels of cortisol can affect the production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and changes in menstrual flow.

Healthy African woman meditating in yoga class with friends in background
Exercise can help with hormone health, but some exercises are more stressful than others, which can cause imbalances. (Getty Images)

Social media

As evidenced by the popularity of the hashtags #hormonebalance and #hormonebalancing on TikTok, more and more people are heading to social media to find solutions to their problems.

But Alderson warns that there is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and it is now reaching young girls and women “on a gargantuan scale”.

“This is worrying, as people are potentially being led down the wrong path— I see it daily in my private clinic,” she says.

“Ultimately when anyone embarks on a social media trend or embraces misinformation, it’s not coming from a bad place as they may feel it is the only option they have left.

“Perhaps they have been let down by the system or brushed off by their doctors - something I sadly hear in my clinic all the time.”

She emphasised the importance of healthcare professionals “cutting through the noise” to reduce misinformation online.

Fear

Learning how to make your hormones work for you, instead of working against them, is the key to balancing your hormones. (Getty Images)
Learning how to make your hormones work for you, instead of working against them, is the key to balancing your hormones. (Getty Images)

Instead of being afraid of how your hormones affect you, Alderson urges people to learn “how to work with them, not against them”.

“Learning how to create an environment for your hormones to thrive and you can open up a world of positivity for your energy, waistline, sleep, mood & happiness,” she says.

“Research tells us that hormone imbalance arises from genetic and environmental factors including diet-induced inflammation, elevated cortisol, an unstable circadian rhythm and exposure to endocrine disruptors (e.g. plastics and products).

“There may be factors that fall outside of your control when it comes to your hormones, but many are directly impacted by the decisions you make.”

A positive approach to hormones

To start embracing a positive approach to balancing your hormones, Alderson suggests what she calls The Positive Method:

  • Balancing your blood sugar

  • Eating colourful whole food & reduce toxin exposure

  • Improving sleep & your circadian rhythm

  • Movement: Focus on strength training and building skeletal muscle mass

  • Living positive: Sparking joy, creativity and self-love

  • Having no shame: Let go of self-judgement and perfectionism

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