Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. Generally, the more overweight you are, the higher your risk for serious health problems like heart disease and diabetes. However, some people find it difficult to maintain a healthy weight because their hormones are imbalanced. Hormonal weight gain is typically a treatable condition that can be caused by any number of factors including stress, lack of sleep, medications, and many more. There are also certain hormonal imbalances that make it hard to lose weight simply because they affect metabolism and appetite. In this article, we will discuss several ways you can lose stubborn fat based on different kinds of hormonal weight gain, ranging from thyroid problems to PCOS.
What Are The Causes Of Hormonal Weight Gain?
Hormonal weight gain can be caused by a variety of factors and conditions, including:
Thyroid Hormone Deficiency
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones required for maintaining normal metabolic functions in the body, including proper digestion and energy burning. When the thyroid gland becomes underactive, a condition known as hypothyroidism, the metabolism begins to slow down and weight gain becomes inevitable (11).
Estrogens are female sex hormones that are produced in the ovaries. If out of balance with other hormones, estrogens may cause weight gain by decreasing resting energy expenditure, increasing food intake, and promoting fat deposition on body parts where women typically store fat (hips and thighs) (22).
Androgen Imbalance/Testosterone Deficiency
Testosterone is a male sex hormone that is produced in the testes. Proper testosterone levels can promote energy expenditure and promote healthy body composition (less fat and more muscle). Low testosterone levels are associated with increased adiposity in men (15). Studies have shown a strong correlation between low testosterone levels and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome over time (21).
Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells become resistant to insulin’s effects at their receptor sites. It is a major cause of type II diabetes and is associated with obesity and other metabolic disturbances. Insulin resistance typically goes hand-in-hand with excess weight gain, especially fat or belly fat that accumulates around the organs in the abdominal cavity (25).
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders that include insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure, and lipid abnormalities (23). The name comes from the fact that people with this condition have a much higher risk of heart disease and type II diabetes than those without it.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder in women characterized by elevated androgen levels, ovulatory dysfunction leading to irregular or absent periods, increased hair growth on the face and/or body, acne, obesity, and insulin resistance. PCOS is a major cause of infertility, and it is estimated that up to 40-80% of women with PCOS are overweight. Some studies have shown that obese individuals with PCOS tend to accumulate fat in their midsection more so than those without the disorder (17).
Growth Hormone Deficiency
GH deficiency is typically caused by a tumor on or near the pituitary gland or its treatment and can lead to obesity due to decreased energy expenditure, muscle loss and increased insulin resistance (9). GH also plays a role in the breakdown of fats for energy as well as increasing lipolysis (fat burning). It has been shown that low levels of GH are correlated with visceral adiposity (belly fat), hypertension and atherosclerosis (5). Some research has even suggested that many “appetite hormones” such as ghrelin may play a role in the link between GH deficiency and obesity (7).
Cortisol is the main stress hormone that is produced by the adrenal gland and is secreted into the bloodstream when we are under mental or physical stress. It causes weight gain over time if chronically elevated by increasing blood sugar, triglyceride levels, and abdominal fat deposits (4). Elevated cortisol levels can also lower sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which increases free estradiol (estrogen) and testosterone (21).
Leptin is a hormone that plays an important role in regulating appetite and metabolism. Leptin resistance occurs when the cells become non-responsive or “blind” to leptin’s signals, which can increase appetite, leading to weight gain. Studies show that leptin resistance is commonly associated with metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities (increased LDL cholesterol levels), cardiovascular disease risk factors (fibrosis), and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (13).
Prolactin is a peptide hormone secreted by the pituitary gland which controls lactation in women after giving birth as well as sexual gratification. Although prolactin is known primarily for its function in breastfeeding and reproduction, it also plays a role in fat loss. Prolactin increases lipolysis (fat burning) and resting energy expenditure (the amount of calories you burn at rest). High levels of prolactin can be associated with weight gain, especially in women who have already gone through menopause (16).
The pituitary gland controls several other endocrine glands by secreting hormones that stimulate or inhibit their function. An overactive pituitary gland may lead to hyperprolactinemia which can cause infertility, menstrual irregularities, excess hair growth, acne, and increased body mass index (10). A deficiency of the pituitary hormone known as GH-RH causes GH deficiency which is linked to obesity.
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What Are The Signs Of Hormonal Weight Gain?
Sudden Increase In Belly Fat
One of the clearest indicators that you may be suffering from hormonal weight gain is a sudden increase in belly fat. This typically occurs when your cortisol levels are high because of stress or anxiety. The higher your cortisol levels, the more likely it is for you to store body fat on your stomach instead of burning it as energy or using it as fuel throughout the day (18)
Intense Sugar Cravings
Having intense sugar cravings is another sign you’re dealing with hormonal weight gain. This could be because you are not getting enough sugar or carbohydrates in your diet, but it can also occur when cortisol levels are high, which stimulates appetite and cravings (2).
Intense Mood Swings
Having intense mood swings that come out of nowhere is another sign that you’re dealing with hormonal weight gain. While having mood swings isn’t exactly abnormal for most people, these symptoms are different if they are more intense than normal. Usually, this occurs when insulin levels are imbalanced and blood sugar levels are unstable throughout the day. When you have low blood sugar levels, it’s common for your mood to swing between hyperactivity and depression because you may not have stable energy levels to function well.
When you’re dealing with hormonal weight gain, it’s common for you to feel fatigued throughout the day at random times. This typically causes a lack of energy because hormone fluctuations can cause fatigue.
Poor sleep is perhaps one of the most common signs that someone is suffering from hormonal weight gain. Sleep deprivation can affect your hormone levels, especially cortisol. The effects caused by poor sleep aren’t just physical either; they can affect your mental state as well.
The last sign that you might be suffering from hormonal weight gain is a poor libido. This typically occurs due to low levels of estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men) (14).
How To Fix Hormonal Imbalance And Lose Weight
Here are the ways you can fix hormonal imbalance to lose weight.
Reduce Your Calorie Intake
This is one of the most commonly told pieces of advice in regards to weight loss. A big part of why many people don’t lose their excess weight is because they are eating more calories than they need. For some, this might mean reducing your current calorie intake by 100-200 calories and for others, it may be 300-500 depending on your current diet and how active you are.
Strength Train With Heavy Weights
Many people think cardio is the only way you can really lose weight, but it’s not true at all because strength training is actually a lot more important for hormonal weight loss. Strength training results in increase in lean body mass, which increases your metabolic rate (12).
Don’t Let Stress Get To You
It is a known fact that stress can lead to weight gain in many different ways. For example, when you are stressed out your body pumps out cortisol which is known for increasing belly fat. Also, if your eating habits are not healthy when you are stressed out, there’s a big chance you’ll put on weight since unhealthy eating is one of the biggest symptoms of stress. So do yourself a favor and learn how to manage your stress so that it doesn’t have any negative effects on your weight.
Tap Into The Power Of Meditation
Meditation has many scientifically proven benefits, but one of the lesser-known ones is that it can help with weight loss. One study done by Harvard found that meditation increased gray matter in the areas of the brain involved in sensory awareness and cognition (6). It also reduces cortisol levels which prevents stress-eating. So it’s highly recommended that you make meditation a part of your daily routine if you don’t already.
Avoid These Foods
Some foods are worse for us than others when it comes to hormonal weight gain, so it’s best to stay away from them as much as possible or stop eating them altogether if possible. For example, added sugar is often said to have a negative effect on testosterone levels, so it would be best to limit them. Also, some people have reported that when they cut out dairy products their acne clears up instantly. So if you are struggling with hormonal weight gain, try limiting these foods or completely cutting them out of your diet.
Drink Green Tea
Green tea has many health benefits which is why it’s often recommended to drink it when trying to lose weight. One major benefit is that green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is a known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound(8). Plus, according to one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects who consumed more than 3 cups of green tea daily had lower BMIs, waist circumferences and body fat percentages.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber is great for hormonal weight loss because it prevents diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer by binding to toxins in the digestive tract which allows them to be eliminated from your system. Also, fiber slows down digestion which helps you feel fuller for longer so you’re less likely to snack throughout the day. According to various studies, subjects who increased their daily intake of fiber were able to lose more weight than those subjects who didn’t increase their daily fiber intake (3). So make sure you eat plenty of high-fiber foods each day if you want to reach your goals fast.
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Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Zinc
Zinc is another one of the top nutrients for fighting acne which happens to be one of the main symptoms of hormonal imbalances such as excess estrogen. Zinc supplementation may have a positive effect on women with PCOS and those who suffer from dysmenorrhea (24).
Improve Your Sleeping Patterns
Getting high-quality sleep will play a big role in helping you lose weight since hormones are often out of whack when you don’t get enough sleep. One study found that people who habitually slept less than 7 per night were more likely to have a higher average BMI compared to those sleeping more (19). Also, one animal study found that mice who were deprived of sleep for 4-5 days showed signs of impaired glucose metabolism which can lead to weight gain. So make sure you get plenty of high-quality sleep every night to help with weight loss.
Drink More Water
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is one of the best ways to keep your overall health in shape. This is because when you drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily not only do you prevent sickness but also help increase your overall metabolic rate. For some, it might mean they need to drink about 20 cups of water per day while others may only need to drink about 10 or so.
The Bottom Line
Keeping your hormones in check is one of the best ways to prevent weight gain or help you lose excess fat. This means eating a healthy balanced diet, making sure you get plenty of sleep daily and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Also, make sure you are exercising regularly while getting plenty of sunshine during the day to boost your mood which will also help with weight loss.
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 (2019, health.harvard.edu)
- Cravings (n.d., hsph.harvard.edu)
- Dietary Fiber and Weight Regulation (2001, academic.oup.com)
- Effects of Chronic Social Stress on Obesity (2012, link.springer.com)
- Effects of Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone on Visceral Fat, Metabolic and Cardiovascular Indices in Human Studies (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Eight weeks to a better brain (2011, news.harvard.edu)
- Ghrelin, a gastrointestinal hormone, regulates energy balance and lipid metabolism (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Green Tea Catechins and Sport Performance (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Growth Hormone Deficiency in Adulthood and the Effects of Growth Hormone Replacement: A Review (1998, academic.oup.com)
- Hyperprolactinemia (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Hypothyroidism (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Leptin resistance: underlying mechanisms and diagnosis (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Loss of libido (reduced sex drive) (2020, nhs.uk)
- Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Metabolic functions of prolactin: Physiological and pathological aspects (2020, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiology, Cortisol (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review (2018, bmjopensem.bmj.com)
- Testosterone, SHBG and cardiovascular health in postmenopausal women (2010, nature.com)
- Testosterone and the metabolic syndrome (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Estrogen Hypothesis of Obesity (2014, journals.plos.org)
- The metabolic syndrome – What is it and how should it be managed? (2019, journals.sagepub.com)
- The Role of Zinc in Selected Female Reproductive System Disorders (2020, mdpi.com)
- What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity? (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)