“Few things on earth are as misunderstood as women, food, and hormones,” writes Sara Gottfried, MD, the director of precision medicine at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health and the clinical assistant professor of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Gottfried is also the author of Women, Food, and Hormones: A Four-Week Plan to Achieve Hormonal Balance, Lose Weight, and Feel Like Yourself Again.
She has a deeply personal interest in her subject: “I come to this topic as a doctor and scientist, but also as a case study . . . I wrestled with my weight because my levels of testosterone, growth hormone, estrogen, and progesterone were too low, and my insulin and cortisol were too high.”
So how do we know if our hormones are out of whack? Fortunately, Dr. Gottfried has a Metabolic Hormone Questionnaire along with a Testosterone Questionnaire and a Growth Hormone Questionnaire we can take to clue us in on what might be wrong.
And even more fortunately, our hormonal imbalances can mostly be fixed with food. She tells us, “We now know what works to resolve hormone imbalances, especially in women over the age of thirty-five. The key is to begin with food, because what you eat is the backbone of every hormone you make.”
To that end, she designed the Gottfried Protocol, a modified ketogenic diet paired with detoxification and intermittent fasting. Her Protocol isn’t easy—it requires constant measuring and testing—but it is all-natural.
The ketogenic diet reduces sugar and carbohydrates in your diet and replaces them with fat. When your body runs out of sugar to burn for energy, it begins to burn fat instead. It does this by triggering the liver to release ketones. “Getting your body to flip the switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat offers fascinating health benefits: mental focus, better memory and attention, less inflammation, and . . . weight loss,” writes Dr. Gottfried.
But even though the classic ketogenic diet works well for men, women tend not to do so well on it. The Gottfried Protocol is designed specifically for women.
To follow the Protocol:
1. Begin with a detoxification process.
2. Restrict carbs the most at the beginning of the diet to signal your body that it’s time to burn fat.
3. Follow a modified ketogenic diet for four weeks while testing the ketone levels in your blood, weighing your food, weighing yourself, and measuring your waistline daily.
4. Increase slow-burning carbs slightly and stay on a modified Mediterranean diet thereafter.
5. Return to the Gottfried Protocol every year or every 6 months depending on how often you need it.
Tips for following the Protocol:
1. Beware of habits and memories around food that might make it hard for you to change your diet.
2. Make lunch the main meal of the day.
3. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime and don’t eat for 13-16 hours after that.
4. Aim for 5-10% carbs, 20% protein (from nuts, free-range poultry and eggs, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish), and 70% healthy fats (mostly plant-based from nuts, avocados, olive oil, seeds, coconut oil, and MCT oil).
5. Be careful with portion sizes and don’t eat too much protein.
6. Avoid alcohol—it will block fat burning.
7. Go big on veggies (especially leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, garlic, zucchini); small on fruit.
8. Use dairy with care: stick to butter and hard cheeses.