Hormones are chemical messengers that communicate between your brain and body. They regulate everything from how you feel to what you eat, sleep, and even how much energy you have throughout the day. They also influence whether you gain or lose weight. Understanding how they work is crucial for weight management. In this article, you will learn about 9 hormones and weight gain and how to balance them.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your blood. When you eat carbohydrates, they are converted into glucose which then enters the bloodstream. Insulin helps this sugar enter your cells to be used as energy or stored for later energy needs.
There is such a strong relationship between insulin and weight gain because when you eat more carbs than your body needs for an immediate source of energy (such as during physical activity), those carbs will be turned into fat for storage, which leads to weight gain (2). This is why people with elevated insulin levels tend to pack on pounds around their waist more easily than those with healthier insulin levels.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, causing your body to produce even more insulin. Eventually this can lead to type II diabetes as cells become so resistant that they no longer respond to the effects of insulin at all (2).
If you have high insulin levels and are eating a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugars, you have a higher chance of gaining weight in your midsection because those carbs will be stored as fat rather than used for energy. High-sugar foods tend to cause us to pack on the pounds more easily than other types of food (even though they don’t make us feel full).
Those with elevated insulin also tend to store fat around the waist, which is bad for health because excess fat around the stomach has been linked not only to metabolic syndrome but also cardiovascular disease (1).
Obesity is also an issue, as overweight individuals are more likely to have high insulin levels, possibly as a result of insulin resistance.
How To Balance Insulin
The best way to balance your insulin levels and lose weight is to limit the amount of refined carbs you eat throughout the day. Do this by eating low-glycemic index foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, whole grains, and lean protein sources. You can also consider supplementing with chromium, which research has shown may help increase insulin sensitivity – but talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.
The key is to work on limiting refined carbohydrates and added sugars rather than eliminating them entirely from your diet. Your body still needs carbohydrates for energy! If you’re insulin resistant or have type II diabetes, it may be best for you to avoid all refined carbs instead of simply limiting them, but you can still have the low glycemic carbs mentioned above.
Read More: Does Insulin Make You Gain Weight? The Link Between Insulin And Weight Gain
This has been called the “stress hormone” because it is secreted in higher levels when we are under stress, but cortisol isn’t all bad. In fact, cortisol does a lot of great things for us in moderation: it helps us handle physical and emotional stress, increases blood sugar levels to boost our energy when we need it, and fights inflammation that can cause pain or illness. However, too much chronic cortisol is harmful to your body over time, leading to weight gain (6).
Although cortisol has an important role in maintaining healthy body weight, too much cortisol will result in extra calories being stored as fat instead of using them for energy. Additionally, increased cortisol leads to increased hunger cravings (6).
When cortisol levels are off-balance, you’ll notice yourself craving junk foods like ice cream, chips, and other fatty snacks. This is because high cortisol forces the body into survival mode, which aims to protect us against stressors in our environment.
Unfortunately, stressors today aren’t usually life-threatening events like being chased by a lion. The majority of these stressors are emotional or psychological: deadlines at work, relationship problems, family issues, etc. Our bodies can’t distinguish between imagined threats (for example worrying about not having enough money) and real ones (like getting attacked). When our mind tells our body that we are stressed, cortisol is released into the bloodstream.
Cortisol causes weight gain in several other ways (6):
- Cortisol blocks insulin receptors in fat cells, which makes it harder for them to absorb glucose (blood sugar). When blood sugar isn’t absorbed by fat cells, you get hungry because your brain thinks there’s not enough energy around. This leads to more cravings and mindless eating like grazing throughout the day.
- It increases insulin secretion while simultaneously increasing blood sugar levels, which sets up a vicious cycle of high blood sugar leading to insulin resistance and even higher blood sugar levels.
- Cortisol also redistributes body fat from other areas to the abdominal area where it accumulates around vital organs interfering with their function. For example, weight gain around the stomach can put pressure on the liver increasing blood sugar levels and causing insulin resistance.
How To Balance Cortisol
If you’ve been a victim of cortisol’s stress-induced weight gain, there is hope! The first step to take is reducing your stress as much as possible by learning about stress management techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, etc. Then eat a nutrient-dense diet consisting of lean proteins like white meats and beans as well as healthy carbs from fruits and vegetables. Limit vegetable oils that are highly processed or refined to prevent further inflammation in your body that will cause more weight gain over time.
The hormone ghrelin plays an important role when it comes to weight gain. Ghrelin is known as “the hunger hormone” because its release increases when you haven’t eaten in some time (such as during periods of starvation). It also causes the stomach muscles to contract so your gut alerts your brain that you are hungry (5).
Ghrelin levels rise right before meals, which signals your brain to get ready for its next meal. Ghrelin is at its lowest level between meal times, but that’s not the only time it impacts weight gain. It also tells your body when it has had enough food and leaves you feeling full after a meal so you should stop eating (5).
While ghrelin gives us the signal to eat, it also helps curb our desire to continue eating once we have eaten enough. If this hormone is off-balance due to long periods of skipping meals or under-eating though, weight gain can result because you are constantly being signaled to eat more than necessary and never given the signal that you’ve reached your full potential.
How To Balance Ghrelin
To balance ghrelin, it’s important to eat three healthy meals a day. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, a snack mid-morning, and lunch around noon. Allow yourself time to fully digest your food before eating anything else so that your body can rest just as it would during sleep.
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Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and fat storage. In other words, it helps you know when to stop feeling hungry and when to start storing fat (3).
In a perfect world, balanced leptin levels would tell you how much food to eat and help keep your body fit by controlling your metabolism. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle sabotages this delicate balance with stress, poor diet choices, lack of sleep, infections (such as Lyme disease), illness or injury can all cause leptin resistance which leads to weight gain (3).
Weight gain often occurs in the mid-section (the belly). The fat stored on your midsection is more problematic than other types of fat because it accumulates around your vital organs, which can lead to further health issues (1).
How To Balance Leptin
Leptin resistance is often more of a problem with weight gain. That’s because fat cells are constantly trying to make leptin for us. This means more of the hormone is floating around our bodies, which leads us to become less sensitive to its effects, sometimes causing us to feel hungry even though we don’t need food.
Our sensitivity to leptin also declines as we get older, further exacerbating this problem. So why does it matter how sensitive you are to your own hormones? Research has found that people who cannot perceive their own hunger or fullness signals are more likely to be obese (3).
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to increase your sensitivity to leptin (3). An anti-inflammatory diet may help. Protein is an essential part of this diet, as are healthy fats like Omega 3s, found in fatty fish or flaxseed oil. Limit the more pro-inflammatory omega 6 oils found in processed foods and certain refined oils.
Low blood sugar issues often go hand in hand with leptin resistance, so it’s important to eat small meals throughout the day that include protein and complex carbs from vegetables or fruit along with healthy fats from nuts or avocados.
Another major contributor to leptin resistance may be chronic stress (3). Learning effective self-management and de-stressing techniques like meditation and yoga will help you to reduce the impact of stress on your body and keep your hormones in balance, which can help with weight loss.
Doing things that naturally boost hormone levels is another good place to start. Exercise increases growth hormone, so be sure to work it into your daily routine as much as possible (3). This will not only rev up your metabolism but also give you more energy for exercise.
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Estrogen is a steroid hormone that’s produced by the ovaries and placenta. It’s primarily associated with puberty, female reproduction, and regulation of body temperature in females. Estrogen can play an important role in weight gain, though it isn’t always classified as a “weight-bearing” hormone. This is because estrogen has been shown to increase appetite and fat storage when levels are too high. In perimenopause or at certain points of the menstrual cycle, this may cause women to crave high carbohydrate foods which end up being stored as fat instead of burned off for energy or fuel purposes (8).
How To Balance Estrogen
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for balancing all of the reproductive hormones. Estrogen can be balanced out by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly. Lifting weights three times a week may also help relieve symptoms of perimenopause where estrogen levels fluctuate.
Progesterone is one of the hormones that can impact weight through its interaction with estrogen. If the two hormones aren’t in balance, it can become difficult to lose weight (4).
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help support healthy progesterone levels.
How To Balance Progesterone
Once again, maintaining a healthy weight can help balance your reproductive hormones. If you’re not losing weight, boost your progesterone levels naturally by exercising regularly and getting sound sleep to balance hormone production. Exercise has been shown to help increase lean muscle mass which can actually help fight excess weight gain.
Read More: Does Progesterone Make You Hungry? How To Deal With Hormonal Cravings
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, but women also produce it in their ovaries and fat cells. It’s produced by both men and women during puberty, but production declines as we age. Although testosterone helps to build muscle mass, maintain energy levels, and enhance cognitive function, it can also pose a problem if it becomes out of balance (7).
How To Balance Testosterone
To lose testosterone-related weight, you need to focus on stress reduction through exercise, meditation, or aromatherapy. Men should also consider maintaining a healthy diet full of whole grains and lean proteins. Incorporating both cardio and strength training into your workout will help boost metabolism, which helps you maintain a healthy weight, which helps balance testosterone.
The Bottom Line
We all have hormones that affect our weight. We can control these levels by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep. Balancing the different hormones in your body will help you lose weight more effectively than any fad diet or magic pill available on the market today.
Remember that a proper diet is not everything you need.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Abdominal fat and what to do about it (2019, harvard.edu)
- Insulin-associated weight gain in diabetes – causes, effects and coping strategies (2006, wiley.com)
- Leptin and Obesity: Role and Clinical Implications (2021, frontiersin.org)
- Ovarian hormones and obesity (2017, oup.com)
- Roles for Ghrelin in the Regulation of Appetite and Body Weight (2003, jamanetwork.com)
- Stress, cortisol and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity (2016, nih.gov)
- Testosterone and obesity (2015, nih.gov)
- The Estrogen Hypothesis of Obesity (2013, plos.org)