Do Hormones Affect Weight loss? This post is all about the seven hormones that could sabotage your weight loss success.
Picture this. You’ve started your new weight loss journey. You’ve changed your diet for the better, and you’re exercising.
By all accounts, you’re doing everything right, but you’re not losing any weight. What gives? Has this ever happened to you?
I know this can be extremely frustrating because I have been there. And at times you may feel like giving up, but don’t give up just yet! Hang in there.
Because the more you learn about weight loss and the many variables at play, the better equipped you will be to find effective solutions to overcome these obstacles. The truth is, weight loss is often more than simply calories in vs. calories out.
Now, this may have been the case in your twenties, but it often gets more challenging as we get older. And do you know why it gets more challenging? Well, one of the reasons is because of our hormones.
Hormones play a huge role in weight management and tend to play an even greater role as we age. But regardless of whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond, hormones play a role. So, if you’re not losing any weight, your hormones may be to blame.
This post not only answers the question, do hormones affect weight loss, but dives deep into the 7 hormones you need to know about if you are struggling to lose weight and what to do to remedy these hormonal imbalances.
Do Hormones Affect Weight loss?
What are hormones?
So, before diving into the 7 hormones that may negatively affect weight loss, let’s briefly define hormones. What are they exactly? Hormones are usually produced by glands that make up the endocrine system.
The endocrine system includes:
- The pituitary gland
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid gland
- Adrenal glands
But what do hormones do?
They aid in communication from one cell to another. Hormones are released in the bloodstream to assist in the communication between one part of the body and another.
Think of hormones like little messengers traveling through the bloodstream to your tissues and organs to carry important messages from one cell to another more distant cell. They are so important and are involved in every aspect of our health.
Some of these processes that hormones are involved in include:
- Growth and development
- Blood sugar control
- Sleep/wake cycle
- Sexual function
- Homeostasis (constant internal balance and regulation)
So, as you can see, our hormones are vital to the many things in our body working as they should.
But before we get into the 7 hormones, it’s also important to note that many hormones can affect weight loss. In this post, we highlight 7 of the most common ones.
Without further ado, let’s answer the question, do hormones affect weight loss in detail and highlight the hormones you need to be aware of if you are trying to lose weight.
The 7 hormones you need to know about for weight loss success
Cortisol is one of the main hormones that can make it difficult to lose weight. For many, this is where the hormonal imbalances start and often lead to other hormones going out of whack.
Often cortisol goes out of whack, and then other hormones follow. So, for this reason, cortisol is one of the first hormones to look at when it comes to trouble losing weight.
But what is cortisol?
Cortisol, commonly referred to as the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone that the adrenal gland makes. It regulates many processes, but its primary goal is to protect the body by responding to stressors.
When the body feels under attack, regardless of whether the danger is real or perceived, cortisol goes to work!
So how does cortisol affect weight loss?
When our body feels stressed, like, when we don’t get enough sleep, for example, the body feels under attack, so cortisol levels rise.
During these stressful situations, cortisol suppresses functions and processes that are not vital for survival at that moment because the body is in survival mode!
To preserve energy, it decreases its metabolic rate, which results in burning fewer calories.
But what functions and processes does cortisol suppress to decrease your metabolic rate?
One of the processes it suppresses is how it manages glucose.
Glucose is generally transported from the blood to the cells to provide the nutrients for energy and muscle growth.
But when the body is in survival mode, it only focuses on vital functions and processes that can aid immediate survival—the fight or flight response.
It keeps more glucose in the blood and thus prevents the usual process of transporting glucose to the muscles and cells.
Aside from the fact that our muscles and cells are not getting the nutrients they need, all excess glucose that remains in the blood is eventually stored as fat. So if your cortisol levels are high, weight loss may be difficult to achieve. But there’s more.
Losing weight in itself is stressful. Why? Because the body constantly fights to maintain balance, i.e., stay the same. But when trying to lose weight, we are trying to create change which causes stress.
Being in a calorie deficit increases cortisol levels, which can disrupt your other hormones. So with cortisol, it can feel like a lose-lose battle.
So, do hormones affect weight loss? Cortisol is the first example of how hormones can negatively affect weight loss.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I can’t lose weight because of my thyroid?” It’s one of the more well-known hormones when it comes to weight loss struggles. Thyroid disorders are pretty common and affect about 20 million people in the U.S, primarily women.
But what is it, and how does it affect weight loss?
The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped and is located in the front of your neck. It produces 2 hormones that control the speed of your metabolism; thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
When the production of these hormones gets disrupted, it can cause weight gain, which is problematic when trying to lose weight. But disruption can also cause weight loss.
Two conditions affect your metabolism when it comes to thyroid function. First, we have hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone thyroxine, causing an overactive thyroid. An overactive thyroid can increase your metabolism, resulting in unexpected weight loss.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Anxiety and Irritability
- Excessive hunger
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Abnormal protrusion of eyes or puffy eyes
The second condition affecting your metabolism is hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid. With hypothyroidism, your thyroid glands don’t produce enough thyroid hormones causing your metabolism to perform slower than normal.
Your body is not getting enough hormones to meet its needs. This makes it harder to lose weight because your metabolism is not working at its optimal best.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Slowed heart rate
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Joint and muscle pain
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to cold
- Thinning hair
- Puffy face
- Decreased sweating
So if you are struggling to lose weight and have any of the above symptoms, you should consult your doctor.
3. Growth hormone
Another hormone that could affect weight loss is the growth hormone.
The growth hormone is a small protein hormone that the pituitary gland makes. It stimulates growth, cell production, and cell regeneration.
It is integral to human development, controlling the body’s growth and metabolism.
Growth hormones help your body burn fat and build and repair muscles. So a deficiency of this hormone can lead to you burning less fat, thus making weight loss more difficult.
Growth hormones are not released continuously but during spurts that usually occur every 3-5 hours. You can expect an increase in these hormones when you sleep, during exercise, and when your glucose levels drop.
So if you are not getting enough sleep, this can negatively affect your cortisol levels and how much growth hormone you produce.
Symptoms of growth hormones deficiency include:
- Difficulty losing weight
- Reduced sense of wellbeing
- Increased body fat, especially in the abdomen
- Decreased bone density
Insulin is a hormone that is made in the pancreas. It is responsible for how the body metabolizes glucose and thus controls glucose levels in the blood.
When your food gets digested, it is converted into glucose and released into your blood.
Insulin then moves glucose out of your blood and into your cells to provide energy.
So why is creating too much insulin problematic?
Insulin is also a storage hormone; it not only instructs your cells to take in the glucose to be used as nutrients to provide energy to the body. But it also instructs your cells to store what’s left over in your liver, muscle, or fat cell.
When there is remaining glucose in your bloodstream, more than your cells can take, it tells your cells to store the rest in your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.
The remaining glucose is stored as fat when there is no space to store glycogen. So, the more insulin you have in your blood, the less fat you burn.
So, what can cause your body to produce too much insulin? A condition called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is one of the main precursors for type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and obesity. It occurs when the cells in our muscles, fat, and liver stop responding to insulin.
Essentially, insulin can no longer do its job efficiently—move glucose from the blood and into the cells to provide nutrients for energy.
When this happens, more glucose is left in the blood causing high blood sugar levels.
The more glucose in the blood, the more insulin is released from the pancreas, resulting in more glucose stored as fat because your body is no longer responsive to insulin.
This can definitely cause problems for your health but also make it difficult to lose weight. So, do hormones affect weight loss? Insulin provides another example of how hormones can negatively affect weight loss.
Estrogen is a group of sex hormones that plays a vital role in women’s reproductive development and sexual health, but also our overall health.
Some of estrogen’s functions include:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Puberty and sexual development
- Bone health
- Heart health
Estrogen and weight gain
Like the other hormones discussed, maintaining the right amount of estrogen is crucial for your overall health and metabolism. When estrogen levels are out of balance, it can lead to lower muscle mass and increased fat stores.
Low and too-high estrogen levels can cause weight gain, especially around the belly, hips, and thighs, making it harder to lose weight.
Another hormone that can negatively affect weight loss is leptin. Leptin is a hormone released from the fat cells in our adipose tissue.
It plays a vital role in weight management and regulates our appetite. And it is often referred to as our satiety or starvation hormone because of how it affects appetite.
But how does leptin control appetite precisely?
Well, leptin sends signals to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus that you are full. The hypothalamus then suppresses your appetite and lets you know you can stop eating, which directly controls how much you eat.
But what does this have to do with weight loss?
Besides appetite regulation, which directly correlates to how much you eat, leptin is one of the key players in weight management and regulates your body weight.
The body’s fat cells secrete the leptin hormone, and its release amount directly correlates with a person’s body fat. The more body fat you have, the more leptin is released. The less body fat you have, the less leptin is released.
In addition to managing how much fat you store, leptin also plays a role in how many calories you eat and burn off. So, leptin controls how many calories you burn based on your fat stores.
But why does the amount of released leptin correlate with your body fat?
See, our bodies are built for survival. And back in the day, our ancestors had to hunt and gather to survive because food wasn’t as readily available as it is today in most western societies.
And because of this, starvation was a real threat. So the body adapted. It became good at preserving energy, i.e., storing fat as a survival mechanism.
One example of this is how the body reacts to stressors. In times of stress and fear of starvation is a stressor; it would conserve energy.
And it would store the excess food it didn’t immediately need as fat for later use when food wasn’t available.
So leptin controls how many calories you burn based on your fat stores. This is why sometimes the more weight you lose, i.e., the closer you get to your goal weight, the harder it is to lose more weight.
Because as you lose weight and have fewer fat stores, less leptin hormone will be released, making you feel more hungry and less likely to feel satisfied when you eat. This may cause you to eat more than your body needs for energy.
But times have changed.
Today we live in a completely different environment, and most of us no longer have to hunt and gather. Food is no longer as scarce as it once was for many living in western societies.
But unfortunately, our body doesn’t seem to get this and continues to hold onto fat as a survival mechanism.
Our bodies are naturally trying to maintain balance and keep everything as is, including our weight which can make it hard to lose weight.
Leptin is not designed to help you lose weight. It is designed to help you maintain your current weight. This can make weight loss difficult as the body tries to resist the changes you are trying to implement.
But what happens when the hormone supposed to help you feel full stops working altogether, and you never feel satisfied?
Well, you may have developed a condition called leptin resistance which can make the weight loss process even harder. But what is leptin resistance?
Leptin resistance occurs when the part of the brain that controls hunger, the hypothalamus, no longer recognizes leptin’s signals.
When your leptin hormone is impaired, the signal that you are full does not get sent to the brain. You keep eating to feel satiated as your hunger is not being satisfied.
You, in turn, eat more than you should, and your metabolic rate decreases.
The above happens because your body thinks it’s starving and thus tries to conserve energy by decreasing your metabolic rate—the number of calories burned at rest.
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is produced and released primarily by the stomach.
When your stomach is empty, it produces more ghrelin to alert your brain that you are hungry and decreases when you are full.
The more ghrelin is released into your system, the hungrier you get, and vice versa.
So why does ghrelin appear to be sabotaging your weight loss results?
Well, it all goes back to survival. The body is trying to survive and will do everything and anything to keep us alive and, in this case, keep us from starving.
So if you are trying to lose weight and you have too much ghrelin, you will have a hard time achieving your goals as you will be very hungry which may make it challenging to stick to your plan.
Your body resists when you go on a diet to try and lose weight. Again, it is trying to maintain balance by keeping your weight as it is, so it will work with leptin to regulate appetite and keep you where you are.
So you experience more hunger and have to eat more to feel satisfied. Both will work together to keep you from losing weight so you can stay where the body is comfortable, at your current weight.
The body sees weight loss as a problem and a sign that there isn’t enough food and your survival is threatened.
What does hormonal weight gain look like?
So before we get into what you need to do to balance your hormones, let’s briefly discuss what hormonal weight gain looks like.
Understanding what hormonal weight gain looks like can provide another way to determine if your hormones are the reason you are struggling to lose weight.
Specific body parts hormonal weight gain tends to show up:
- Lower body
It’s important to note you could still be experiencing hormonal weight gain if you have gained weight all over your body. Still, it does tend to show up as fat accumulation in specific areas.
How do you reset your hormones to resolve these hormonal imbalances?
So, how do I balance my hormones for weight loss? Well, there are several things you can do to help get your hormones in check so you can lose weight.
I know what you’re probably thinking, but I have already changed my diet, and I’m still not losing weight.
Well, food quality and food quantity are both essential when it comes to hormones and weight loss.
What you eat and how much you eat are important. When we embark on our weight loss journey, we often focus on the calorie in vs. the calorie out weight loss model.
And while calories matter, you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. But cutting your calories too drastically at once can adversely affect your hormones, specifically your cortisol levels.
Tip 1: Be gentle with your calorie deficit.
The goal is to reduce calories by as little as possible to create a deficit. Reduce calories slowly.
But won’t I lose more weight if I cut more calories?
Again, being in a calorie deficit increases cortisol levels which can disrupt all other hormones because dieting/calorie restrictions stress the body. And when this happens, cortisol levels rise, and the body prioritizes survival over other bodily functions.
So, be gentle with your calorie deficit to minimize disruptions to your cortisol levels. Reduce calories a little or moderately at first. Never make drastic calorie changes, and avoid extreme dieting!
But what foods should you include and exclude to help balance your hormones?
Regarding diet, you should focus on eating whole foods with just one ingredient. Focus on nutritionally dense foods and aim for organic produce when you can.
Foods to include to help balance hormones:
- Healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, salmon, sardines, chia seeds, and flax seed
- Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, and broccoli sprout
- Green tea
- Nutritionally dense foods
- Organic produce
Good diets to follow that include these foods are the Mediterranean and the dash diet. Also, while carbs aren’t bad and are an essential macronutrient, consider sticking to a lower to moderate-carb diet high in protein.
Foods to avoid to help balance hormones:
- Processed foods
- Refined carbs
- Diets high in sugar as high sugar diets can increase hunger hormones leading to overeating as well as insulin resistance
Exercise is vital for our overall health and can be especially important when trying to lose weight. But when it comes to balancing your hormones, the type of exercise you do matters.
Tip 2: Avoid chronic cardio
Going overboard with cardio is not the way to go because exercising this way can adversely affect your hormones which may sabotage your weight loss results.
Why is this?
Excessive cardio causes extra stress on your body, causing your cortisol levels and other hormones to increase.
So what types of exercises should you do? Focus on activities you enjoy, but below are some of the best exercises to incorporate to balance your hormones.
Best exercises to incorporate to keep your hormones in check:
- Burst training / High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Strength training / Body weight exercises
- Any exercise that you enjoy
But how often should I exercise, and how much is too much?
Well, when it comes to walking, going on daily walks is an excellent option because walking is known to help reduce overall stress levels. Aim for about 30 minutes of walking per day. But if you can’t walk daily, aim for 4 to 5 times per week.
With HIIT and strength training, aim for 2-3 times per week, nothing more. So for higher intensity exercises, less is more, no more than 3 times per week.
For less intense exercises like yoga and Pilates, aim for 4-5 times per week, except for walking, which can be done daily.
Tip: 3 Increase your overall daily movement
When trying to lose weight, you must improve your NEAT. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
It represents all the movements you do outside of your workout routines, like going up and down the stairs, walking to your car, sweeping your floor, cleaning your car, etc.
Increasing your total overall movement and being more active throughout the day can help you better reach your weight loss goals.
If you are trying to increase your total movement, consider counting your steps and aim for about 10,000 steps per day.
3. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial not only for your overall health but also when you are trying to lose weight. When we don’t get enough sleep, it stresses our bodies, and our cortisol levels increase. Not getting enough sleep is also linked to insulin resistance and can seriously sabotage your weight loss results. So aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
4. Manage your stress levels
Hopefully, you can now see stress’s adverse effects on your body and weight. So finding ways to consistently manage your stress levels is critical, especially when it comes to our cortisol levels.
Ways to improve stress levels
- Daily walking
- Practicing deep breathing
- Talk therapy –find a professional therapist to talk to or a trusted friend
5. Give supplements a try
So, what are the best vitamins to take for hormonal imbalance?
Supplements such as vitamins and herbs may be helpful when trying to balance hormones. Just make sure you consult with your physician before trying any supplements.
Supplements that help balance your hormones:
- Ashwagandha helps with thyroid and cortisol levels
- Holy Basil helps with thyroid and cortisol levels
- Rhodiola helps with cortisol
- DIM (Di -Indole Methane) helps with estrogen levels
- Fennel helps with estrogen levels
- Thyme helps balance estrogen levels
- Omega-3s help with thyroid, estrogen, and insulin
- Probiotic and prebiotics helps improve gut health
- Cortisol manager helps manage cortisol levels
6. Talk to your doctor
If you cannot balance your hormones with diet, exercise, and supplements, it might be time to talk to your doctor and check your hormones. Remember to also consult with your doctor before trying supplements.
How long does it take to balance hormones?
When it comes to the time frame, it depends! I know this is not what you want to hear, but everyone is different.
But, according to Dr. Beth Westie, it can typically take 3 months. She is the author of The Female Fat Solution: Achieving lasting weight loss by getting your hormones to work for you.
But try not to worry so much about the time frame. Just focus on taking action and implementing some of the tips suggested to help regulate your hormones.
Final Thoughts On Hormones And Weight Loss
This post was all about answering the question, do hormones affect weight loss? Hopefully, you can now see that hormones play a vital role in weight management. Weight loss is not just about calories in vs. calories out.
Yes, focusing on calories alone can sometimes work, especially at a younger age. But, as we get older, hormones play a more significant role.
So, if you are experiencing hormonal imbalances, don’t give up, as there are many things you can do to get your hormones in check.
Getting on the proper diet and exercise program and adding the right supplements can help balance out your hormones. So give the above tips a try to learn how to reset female hormones for weight loss.
If you liked this article, I would love it if you could share it with a friend. And if you are trying to lose weight, what are some of your other weight loss challenges?
What do you struggle with the most? And what have you tried so far, if any, to help balance out your hormones? Let me know down below in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.
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