Are hormonal imbalances part of the reason you're overweight? That's the claim behind The Hormone Diet .
Written by naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, the book explains how fluctuations in certain hormone levels may contribute to stubborn belly fat, weight gain, sluggishness, stress, a lagging libido, sugar cravings, and health problems.
Her plan calls for lifestyle changes, doing a 2-week "detox," and adopting a Mediterranean-style diet that includes certain supplements. You can shed excess pounds while transforming your energy levels and health, Turner says.
What You Can Eat
Turner calls her food plan “Glyci-Med," since it's a mix of foods low on the glycemic index (or GI, meaning they raise blood sugar slowly) and a traditional Mediterranean diet.
Foods you can eat include lean protein (think chicken breasts, eggs, and wild-caught fish); vegetables and most fruit; chia seeds, flaxseeds, and most nuts; olive oil and some other unsaturated oils and fats, like canola oil; and whole grains like buckwheat, brown rice, and quinoa.
On this plan, you'll avoid or minimize caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, processed meat, peanuts, saturated fat, full-fat dairy, artificial sweeteners, and simple high-GI carbs like white bread.
You'll eat often -- every 3-4 hours -- making healthy food choices at least 80% of the time. But you do get one to two “cheat meals” a week.
Level of Effort: Medium to High
First, you'll quit caffeine, alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten, and most oils for 2 weeks.
Also, Turner recommends using pH strips and ketone strips to test your body’s pH balance; getting a series of blood, urine, or saliva tests to check hormone levels; and taking supplements including multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium-magnesium-vitamin D3.
Limitations: If you’re used to eating prepared meals and snacks, The Hormone Diet might be a big adjustment, since it focuses on whole foods that you cook yourself. If you love coffee or soda, you may find it hard to give up these beverages in favor of green tea and other drinks on Turner's list.
Cooking and shopping: The plan calls for eating organic foods as much as possible. The recipes and 1-week sample menu are fairly basic, so if you’re not comfortable cooking the foods in the diet plan, your options may be limited.
Packaged foods or meals: Not required, though Turner recommends certain brands of supplements.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Turner recommends getting roughly 30 minutes of exercise 6 days a week in a mix of strength training, cardio, interval training, and yoga.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: The diet includes protein sources that would work for you.
Gluten-free: You give up gluten for the first 2 weeks of this diet. After that, gluten isn't completely off-limits. Turner does advise readers to avoid some processed carbs, like white flour and white rice, and to steer clear of any foods that they felt they had a bad reaction to after the detox phase.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: Eating organic will probably add to your grocery bill. Beyond your food shopping and supplements, the hormone tests Turner recommends may not be covered by your insurance.
Support: None, though Turner runs a Toronto clinic that offers health assessments, nutrition and exercise coaching, and other health and wellness services.
What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
Research suggests that a Mediterranean diet, similar to Turner's, can aid weight loss. You will lose weight on the plan because it is low in calories.
But promising that it can "balance hormones," cure a whole host of problems and diseases, restore sleep, give you glowing skin and healthier hair, and more is not based on solid, scientific evidence.
Eating a clean, natural, preferably organic diet, free of preservatives and processed foods is ideal, but it's not practical or necessary for weight loss or good health. Nor are the tremendous amounts of supplements, including herbal and bowel cleansers.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Following a Mediterranean-style, low-glycemic diet is a sensible approach to healthy eating and weight loss that could benefit most people. Reaching a healthy weight can improve many conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
The Final Word
The cocktail of supplements and the hormone theories are unfounded and not recommended. Keep in mind that many things affect your hormone levels. It's not just about your food. To say that certain foods are "hormone hindering" is inaccurate and oversimplifies the role of nutrients in the body.
Phases two and three, or the “Glyci-Med" portion of the diet, are the most nutritionally balanced phases and the most likely to be sustainable. Anyone seeking a very green diet may want to use this plan as a template for a low-calorie diet, but be sure to add a daily multivitamin with minerals, and also make physical activity a habit.
If you think you have a hormonal imbalance or would like to follow this diet, consult your doctor.