For those who often find themselves eating too much of the wrong food -- out of control hormones could be to blame for the cravings.
Research shows that hormones affect behavior, including eating habits. And balancing hormones is a way to not only lose weight, but also improve overall health.
Too Busy to be Healthy?
As a high-powered executive in New York, Doug Monaco never paid attention to his diet until he realized he'd put on 40 pounds.
"I had a moment where it came to me," he recalled. "When I looked at some pictures of me on a trip to Miami and I said, 'Oh, that's me?'"
His story is typical, especially among people with busy lives.
In big cities like New York, it's common for people to grab unhealthy food on the run -- a recipe for weight gain, often followed by health problems.
In Monaco's case, he learned his dangerous cholesterol levels were putting him at risk for a heart attack.
Manhattan internist Dr. Michael Aziz checked Monaco's hormone levels and found they were unbalanced -- a trend the doctor also observed with other overweight patients.
"We are a nation in hormonal chaos," he said. "The wrong type of food -- sugar, trans fats, lifestyle, smoking, stress -- they all can cause hormonal chaos and they can cause us not only to gain weight, but they can also cause disease."
Aziz put Monaco on a hormone-balancing diet, eventually leading to a lower cholesterol and a 40 pound weight loss.
"I've been getting compliments left and right and I have a better confidence about myself," Monaco said.
Other patients also went on the diet and lost weight, prompting Aziz to publish the regimen in a book called into a book called The Perfect 10 Diet.
"I talk about several hormones on the 'Perfect 10 Diet,'" he explained. "Such as insulin, which controls fat storage, also thyroid hormone, which controls our hair, our skin, our complexion. [Also there are] sex hormones -- estrogen, progesterone, testosterone -- which keep us young and active. They are the anti-aging hormones."
"Many of the hormones I talk about on the "Perfect 10 Diet" are not routinely checked by doctors because it's brand new information," Aziz added.
Get Rid of the Sweets
Balancing hormones starts with eliminating sugars, both natural and artificial. Artificial sweeteners can cause exaggerated insulin secretion, which leads to an increased desire for more sugar, weight gain, diabetes and other health problems.
Sugars are sometimes hidden in foods that don't seem like sweets, such as bread and pasta sauce. It's important to read food labels for ingredients like glactose, glucose, maltose, honey, malt, molasses and types of syrup. No-calorie sweeteners also disrupt hormones.
"Artificial sweeteners in fact, are really worse than pure sugar," Aziz explained. "They are completely foreign to our body and they are unrecognizable. And research shows that for example, animals who are given artificial sweeteners can gain more weight. And diet soda can lead to diabetes and metabolic syndrome."
"I tell my patients it's better to eat small amounts of sugar than to eat artificial sweeteners," he continued.
Bad Carbs vs. Good Carbs
Managing hormones not only involves the elimination of sugars from the diet, but also refined carbohydrates because they cause insulin levels to spike.
White pasta, white rice, and white flour all have the same effect on the body as sugars. These refined carbohydrates have been stripped of everything but starch.
Eating whole grain versions of the same foods keeps insulin levels steady.
"One easy adjustment I made was switching to whole wheat pasta. Now I thought this would be a difficult transition being Italian, and growing up on pasta almost," Monaco said. "But I switched to whole wheat pasta and there was basically no difficulty making the switch."
"Now, I enjoy whole wheat pasta better than regular pasta and I feel better about myself," he added. "I know I'm putting something beneficial into my body."
No Trans Fats
In addition to avoiding sugars and refined carbs, regulating hormones also involves eliminating trans fats from the diet. These are oils that have been chemically engineered by food manufacturers to prolong a product's shelf life.
"Trans fats are really like plastic, and when we eat them they incorporate in our cells and the cells cannot communicate or talk to one another," Aziz said. "In turn, hormones are disturbed [and] weight gain follows. But more troubling -- the risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke [and] infertility goes up."
Trans fats are in many processed foods and can be identified by the word "hydrogenated" in the list of ingredients.
Margarine and shortening are trans fats. On the other hand, natural fats like those found in olive oil, nuts, avocados, and even saturated fats like butter and eggs are better.
"Saturated fats have been blamed for heart disease because they've been falsely grouped with trans fats. So the studies are flawed," Aziz claimed. "Saturated fats do not cause heart disease. In fact, saturated fats help us stay young, because not only do they help us lose weight, but they can also help us balance our sex hormones."
"I realized whole milk was good. Eggs, milk [and] butter would actually help raise my HDL levels. And I was thrilled to hear the news," Monaco said.
Not Too Salty
The Perfect 10 Diet also advocates limiting salt intake to no more than a teaspoon a day. Too much can lead to an underactive thyroid and create a craving for more salt.
The diet also involves eating organic food.
"When we eat pesticides and herbicides that are present in non-organic sources they act as hormone impersonators," Dr. Aziz explained.
"They're called gender-benders," he added. "They're causing testosterone in men to decline [and] they're causing in women what I call estrogen dominance. Estrogen goes up, weight gain follows... [and] they can increase cancer risk."
Eating organic also helps avoid monosodium glutamate, or MSG -- a flavor enhancer common in processed foods also known as hydrolyzed protein or yeast extract, which causes hormone disturbances.
Get Some Rest
Balancing hormones is about more than just eating right. Sleeping at least seven hours a night and exercising boosts growth hormone production, which burns fat.
Reducing stress is also critical to balancing hormones, because anxiety elevates cortizol, which leads to dangerous belly fat and cripples the immune system.
Although regulating the body's many hormones can be a bit complicated, like a symphony when everything is working in harmony, the result is beautiful.
*Original broadcast July 24, 2010.