People are often told in order to meet their weight loss goals they need to eat clean, work out consistently, and limit the number of calories in versus calories out. Unfortunately, despite working these modifications into their daily lives, they still find their weight loss goals unachieved. I’ve worked with numerous frustrated patients who work out strenuously 5 to 6 times per week, yet are not seeing the results they would like. The overlooked missing piece to weight loss is hormonal imbalances. These imbalances may be preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals.
The two hormones I will focus on for weight loss are cortisol and melatonin. Please note, hormones such as grehlin and leptin (hunger and satiety), testosterone and estrogen (male and female sex hormones), and insulin and glucagon (energy storage and utilization hormones), are all intimately involved in weight loss, but cortisol and melatonin are a simple and effective place to start.
Cortisol often gets a bad rep as our body’s ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is a primary hormone involved in the body’s stress response, however, cortisol is more appropriately defined as our ‘awake’ hormone. Cortisol is released in the morning and helps us get out of bed, use the bathroom, and provide us with the stimulation to start our day. In a normal functioning endocrine system, cortisol release is high in the morning and then tapers off in the afternoon to allow our sleep hormone, melatonin, the chance to take over.
Melatonin is our ‘sleep’ or ‘darkness’ hormone and it’s release is inhibited with exposure to light. Melatonin helps us wind down in the evening and prepare the mind and body for sleep. Melatonin and cortisol work in opposition to each other. Having one with high levels means the other is not fully expressed. With this in mind, if cortisol levels are abnormally elevated in the afternoon and evening, the normal release of melatonin around lunch time is inhibited, therefore impairing our ability to fall asleep. The entire system is regulated by our circadian rhythm which responds directly to light exposure on the eyeballs. Bright light in the morning stimulates cortisol release, the dimming of light in the evening stimulates melatonin release.
Cortisol becomes a stress hormone when levels remain elevated in the afternoon and early evening. When cortisol release is improperly timed and is still high in the afternoon, we feel anxious and crave sugary, fried, and fatty foods. If our ‘awake’ hormone is elevated in the evening when we are trying to prepare for sleep, we will feel uneasy and distressed. The combination of excess calories from sugary, fried, fatty foods and poor sleep due to excess cortisol and deficient melatonin is what leads to weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Even if you eat a clean diet excess cortisol in the evening will create a stress response causing systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation and insulin resistance each make weight loss more difficult to achieve and maintain.
The best way to normalize your cortisol/melatonin system is with direct sunlight exposure within 30 minutes of waking. Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist from Stanford, was recently interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast where he suggests everyone get 2-10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure on their eyes first thing in the morning. By stimulating photoreceptors in the eyes, cortisol release is amplified. Going outside for an additional 2-10 minutes in the evening, when the sun is at a low angle, will help to stimulate melatonin and prepare us for sleep. Start your weight loss journey by normalizing your circadian rhythm using direct sunlight exposure in the morning and again in the evening.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
The Importance of a Morning Routine
If I were to pick one lifestyle intervention for anyone looking to enhance their energy levels, increase productivity, and improve relationships with friends and family, a consistent morning routine would be my top choice. An effective morning routine will set you up for success throughout the rest of your day. If you start the day by completing small, productive tasks you will establish a feeling of accomplishment immediately after waking up. By finishing these tasks at the beginning of the day, other, more daunting projects related to your work or personal life will seem less intimidating. You will establish a task completion mindset first thing in the morning which will increase productivity throughout the day. Lastly, you will practice gratitude in your morning routine, which will help you appreciate your life and the people in it.
The five tasks you should complete every morning are:
- Make your bed
- Drink a glass of cold water
- Five minutes of light exercise
Next, let’s talk about the specifics of each task in your morning routine.
1. Make your bed
I recommend watching this link of a speech by US Navy Seal Admiral William McRaven titled, ‘If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed.’ McRaven stresses the importance of completing one small task (making your bed) in the morning, to set you up for success in completing other, more difficult tasks throughout your day. He also discusses how learning to do the small things in life correctly allows you to complete the big things in life correctly. Making your bed does not need to be a lengthy ordeal of tucking in 3 layers of sheets and organizing 12 throw pillows, but rather make your bed presentable enough to give you peace of mind that you completed your first task of the day successfully.
2. Drink a glass of cold water
You are dehydrated when you wake up and your body is thirsty. Do not drink coffee right away as coffee is a diuretic and will cause you to expel out more fluids than you are taking in. Instead of coffee, start your day with 16-24 ounces of cold water immediately after waking up. By giving your body the hydration it needs first thing in the morning you will notice more stable and consistent energy levels throughout the day.
3. Perform 5 minutes of light exercise
To assist in waking your body up, perform 5 minutes of light exercise first thing in the morning. Your movement flow may include stretching, body weight strength exercises, breathing, or yoga. This is not meant to exhaust you, but rather to stimulate your body’s awake hormone, cortisol. Cortisol gets a bad rap as the body’s stress hormone, but this is not entirely true. Cortisol is normally elevated in the morning and helps to wake up the body and mind for the day ahead. Cortisol becomes problematic when it remains high into the afternoon and evening due to chronic stress, poor nutrition, and excessive exposure to blue light emitting screens. Two of the strongest stimulants for proper cortisol release in the morning are direct sunlight exposure and exercise. By performing light exercise in the morning, you are ensuring an adequate cortisol release in the morning. My 5 minutes of light exercise includes 3 sets each of push-ups and bodyweight squats. In the past I’ve incorporated other movements such as planks, wall-sits, hip stretching, and kettlebell deadlifts. I find that these movements are enough to get my blood and heart pumping without tiring myself out for workouts I have planned later in the day.
Perhaps the most important yet difficult task in a successful morning routine is meditation. Meditation is a mindfulness technique that teaches the individual how to be present in the current moment. Headspace defines meditation as the “intention to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgement, with a soft and open mind.” Guided meditations on apps such as Headspace or Calm use a form of meditation called ‘Vipassana’ which aims to help the individual gain self awareness of body and mind.
Guided meditations often start with deep breathing exercises utilizing slow, controlled, nasal breaths. Next, the guided meditation will ask you to mentally scan different parts of your body, noticing areas that are relaxed as well as areas that are tense. Finally, the guided meditation may ask you to count your breaths, with the ultimate goal of focusing on nothing besides the breath. Guided meditations typically end by completely letting go of your focus, allowing your mind to run wild, before bringing your intention back to the breath for a final 2-3 focused breaths. Many people notice an immediate change in their day to day lives when starting a daily meditation practice. People who meditate are more calm throughout the day, their interpersonal communication is improved, their breathing patterns are better, and they are less agitated by the stress of daily life. Taking just 5-10 minutes to perform a guided meditation first thing in the morning may be the best way to set yourself up for success throughout the rest of the day.
Another beneficial task to complete every morning is a short journal entry. You can get creative with this one, but there are two key pieces that are essential. First, use your journaling as a way to reconnect with your ‘why’. If you read my last blog post Effective Goal Setting 2020, you know the first step towards creating your goals is to establish your why. Your why is your purpose, cause or belief – it is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. Reconnecting with your why using journaling may include writing a quote everyday that reminds you of your passion in life, physically writing out your most important goal, or listing out positive qualities about yourself and the person you want to become. Second, develop a practice of gratitude in your morning journaling. For me, I list three things I’m grateful for every morning. Some days it reads ‘a loving and supportive family,’ or ‘a career that challenges me mentally and physically,’ and some days it’s as simple as ‘a healthy breakfast to fuel my body and mind throughout the day.’ Writing out what you are grateful for first thing in the morning will remind you how good your life truly is and place you in a positive, optimistic mindset.
The goal is to complete all five of these tasks every morning. You will be busy some mornings and may only have time to complete two or three of these tasks. For me, I notice that the quality of my day directly correlates to how many of the morning tasks I complete. The more I successfully complete, the better my day tends to be. When you establish a consistent morning routine you will notice improvements in your energy levels, productivity, interactions with other people, sleep quality, and overall happiness with your life. Attached is the template for the morning routine I use every day. Enjoy!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.