Losing weight is not just about healthy eating. It’s also about keeping your hormones in check. It’s not easy to lose weight. But did you know that shedding the stubborn fat can be even harder if your hormones are not in balance? Hormones control critical reactions and functions such as metabolism, inflammation, menopause, glucose uptake, etc. The triggers of a disrupted hormonal balance can be stress, age, genes, and poor lifestyle choices leading to a sluggish metabolism, indigestion, uncontrollable hunger—ultimately leading to weight gain. Though women are accustomed to hormones going berserk (read PMS), a chronic case of imbalanced hormones can make you prone to all obesity related diseases. So, let’s find out which hormones are responsible for your weight gain and what can you do about it. Let’s begin!
The thyroid gland, which is present at the base of your neck produces three hormones—T3, T4, and calcitonin. These hormones regulate metabolism, sleep, heart rate, growth, brain development, etc. Sometimes the thyroid gland under-produces the thyroid hormone leading to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is often associated with weight gain, depression, constipation, fatigue, high blood cholesterol, slow heart rate, etc due to slow or low metabolic rate (1). Hypothyroidism leads to water accumulation and not fat that makes you look plump. You will gain 5-10 pounds more if your weight gain is only due to thyroid imbalance (2).
How To Treat Thyroid Imbalance?
- Get Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) along with T3 and T4 tested. Get the report checked by a doctor.
- Avoid consuming cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, turnip in raw form as salad raw veggies. Eat well-cooked food.
- Consume iodized salt.
- Consume zinc sources such as oysters and pumpkin seeds.
- Consume fish oil and vitamin D supplements.
- Take thyroid medicines if your doctor prescribes it.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the beta cells of pancreas, which helps to carry the glucose into the cells to be used as energy or to store them as fat. This helps maintain the glucose levels in the blood. Over consuming processed foods, alcohol, artificially sweetened drinks, and snacking on unhealthy foods (or even consuming too many fruits) can lead to insulin resistance. In this case, the muscle cells are not able to recognize glucose-bound insulin, and therefore glucose remains in the bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar levels. This finally leads to weight gain and Type 2 diabetes (3).
How To Treat Insulin Resistance?
- Get your blood sugar level checked and consult your doctor.
- Start working out 4 hours a week.
- Avoid eating processed food, alcohol, late night snacks, aerated and artificially sweetened drinks, etc.
- Consume green leafy veggies, seasonal veggies (4-5 servings per day), and seasonal fruits (3 servings per day).
- Consume fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, flaxseeds, etc. to improve your omega-3-fatty acid levels.
- Consume food that is low in calorie (1800-2000 kcal, based on individual height, gender, and activity level) but high in nutrition.
- Drink 3-4 liters of water every day.
Under normal conditions, the hormone leptin signals that you are full and should stop eating. But due to overconsumption of foods that are high in sugar content such as candies, chocolates, fruits (that are modified to contain a lot more fructose), and processed foods, the oversupply of fructose is converted to fat that gets deposited in liver, belly and other regions of the body. Now, fat cells secrete leptin. As you keep consuming more fructose-containing foods, more fat gets accumulated, and more leptin is secreted. This, in turn, desensitizes the body to leptin and the brain stops receiving the signal to stop eating. This ultimately leads to weight gain (4).
How To Lower Leptin Levels?
- You should get proper rest. Research shows that sleep deprivation can cause the leptin levels to fall and therefore the brain misses the signal to stop consuming food. So, make sure you sleep at least 7-8 hours a day.
- Eat every 2 hours.
- Avoid sugary processed foods, consume no more than 3 servings of fruits per day, consume dark green leafy veggies, and snack healthy.
- Keep yourself hydrated as dehydration can also make you feel hungry.
Popularly known as the “hunger hormone”, ghrelin helps stimulate appetite and increases fat deposition. It is secreted by the stomach mainly in response to food. If your stomach is empty just before a meal, it secretes ghrelin and decreases its production shortly after your meal intake (5). A small amount of ghrelin is also secreted by the small intestine, brain, and pancreas. Higher levels of ghrelin in the bloodstream may lead to weight gain, and obese people are more sensitive to this hormone. In fact, Ghrelin levels are also high when people are on a strict diet or while fasting.
How To Lower Ghrelin Levels?
- Eat every 2-3 hours.
- Have 6 meals a day.
- Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, protein source, dietary fiber, and healthy fats.
- Drink 1 ½ cup water 20 minutes before a meal.
- Talk to your doctor if the problem persists.
- Keep yourself active.
Both high and low levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain. First, let me tell you how elevated levels of estrogen makes you gain weight. High estrogen levels in the body are either due to overproduction of this hormone by the ovarian cells or due to a diet rich in estrogen. These days animals are fed with steroids, hormones, and antibiotics that can behave like estrogen in your body. Now, when you are healthy and producing the desired amount of insulin, your blood sugar levels are in check. But when your body’s estrogen levels go up, the cells that produce insulin gets stressed. This, in turn, makes you insulin resistant and your blood glucose levels rise leading to weight gain. Secondly, premenopausal women have lower levels of estrogen, which puts an end to ovulation. This further lowers the estrogen levels, as the ovarian cells produce estrogen. Now, in order to get enough supply of estrogen, the body starts looking for other cells that produce estrogen. And one such source is fat cells. When the estrogen levels take a dive, the body starts converting all available sources of energy to fat to replenish the glucose levels. This, in turn, leads to weight gain, particularly in the lower body (6).
How To Maintain Estrogen Levels?
- Avoid eating processed meat. Buy meat from the local market.
- Avoid consuming alcohol.
- Workout regularly. Do yoga to remain stress-free if you are going through menopause.
- Consume whole grains, fresh veggies, and fruits.
- Keep your doctor informed about all the lifestyle changes that you are making to maintain your estrogen levels.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is mainly secreted when you are stressed, depressed, anxious, nervous, angry, physically injured, etc. The two primary functions of cortisol are energy regulation and energy mobilization. Let me explain. Cortisol regulates energy by deciding which type of energy (carb, protein, or fat) is required by the body to do a certain function. Cortisol helps to mobilize energy by transporting fats from fat reserves to the “hungry cells” or working muscles. Basically, cortisol is needed to handle short-term stress (mental, physical, real, or imagined) response. But due to poor lifestyle choices and bad eating habits, your body can be in a constant state of stress. This leads to an increased secretion of cortisol that makes the body hyperinsulinemic, increases visceral fat deposition, and stimulates the maturation of fat cells (7).
How To Reduce Cortisol Levels?
- Make a to-do list and tick the ones that you complete. This will not only be a reminder to complete those tasks but also make you feel good about yourself.
- The best way to reduce stress levels is to take out time for yourself. Take up a hobby that you always wanted to, learn new skills, read books, watch movies that interest you etc.
- Spend time with your family or close friends. Nothing like it if you have the right company to be with, especially people who don’t judge you and want the best for you.
- Take one or a few days off your routine and do something that you have never done before.
- Stop worrying about what people think of you.
- Dedicate one hour to practice deep breathing, yoga, and meditation to reduce stress.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
- Avoid alcohol, processed foods, and deep fried foods.
Women also create lower levels of testosterone (15 – 70 ng/dL). Testosterone helps to burn fat, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves libido. In women, testosterone is produced in the ovary. Age and stress can significantly reduce the testosterone levels in women (8). And a lower level of testosterone is associated with loss of bone density, loss of muscle mass, obesity, and cause depression.This can increase stress and inflammation leading to more fat accumulation.
How To Bring Testosterone Levels Up?
- Talk to your doctor to check your testosterone levels.
- Include fiber rich foods for weight loss in your diet such as flaxseeds, prunes, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, etc.
- Workout regularly to help improve testosterone levels and boost your metabolism.
- Take vitamin C, probiotics, and magnesium supplements to prevent constipation.
- Avoid consuming alcohol as it can potentially damage the liver and kidney.
- Take zinc and protein supplements to improve testosterone levels.
The hormones progesterone and estrogen should be in the balance to help the body function properly. The progesterone level can drop due to menopause, stress, use of contraceptive pills or due to consumption of foods containing antibiotics and hormones that get converted into estrogen in the body. This can eventually result in weight gain and depression.
How To Bring Progesterone Levels Up?
- Talk to your gynecologist to get an expert opinion on which birth control will be the best option for you.
- Avoid consuming processed meat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Avoid stress.
Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland that helps maintain the circadian rhythm, i.e sleeping and rising time. The melatonin levels tend to rise from evening till late at night and ebbs in the early morning. So, as you sleep in a dark room, melatonin levels will rise and your body temperature will drop. As that happens, growth hormone is released, which helps the body to heal, improves body composition, helps build lean muscle, and increases bone density. But due to disrupted circadian rhythm, many of you do not get adequate sleep or the required darkness to help your body heal. This increases stress, which ultimately leads to inflammation-induced weight gain.
How To Increase The Melatonin Level?
- Sleep in a dark room.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Do not eat late at night.
- Turn off all your gadgets before going to bed.
- Protein foods like milk and milk products help to stimulate melatonin as they contain tryptophan.
- Banana also contains the amino acid tryptophan that boosts the production of melatonin.
Inflammation is an initial step of the healing process. However, chronic inflammation can lead to undesirable outcomes. And weight gain is one of them. Glucocorticoids help reduce inflammation. Now, glucocorticoids also regulate the use of sugar, fats, and proteins in the body. And it has been found that glucocorticoids enhance fat breakdown and protein breakdown but reduces glucose or sugar utilization as an energy source. Thus, the sugar levels in the blood rise leading to insulin resistance in the body. Insulin resistance, in turn, leads to obesity and even diabetes if left untreated (9).
How To Reduce Glucocorticoid Level?
- Reduce physical and mental stress in order to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Eat fresh, leafy veggies, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish oil, etc. to reduce inflammation.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Drink 3-4 liters of water every day.
- Workout regularly to keep yourself fit, mentally and physically.
- Take long walks to sort your thoughts.
- Spend time with your loved ones and also get some “me time”.
- Talk to a professional if you are suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD etc.
- Do not follow crash diets as they tend to increase inflammation in the body.
Weight gain due to hormones can be really tricky, and you should be very careful while dealing with hormonal imbalances. Here’s a list of things you should keep in mind.
- Do not start self-medication as weight gain is a multifaceted problem and you should target the root cause to lose weight without harming your health.
- Talk to your doctor and get the necessary tests done to find out if your weight gain is hormonal.
- If yes, whether one hormone is causing the weight gain or there are other abetting hormones as well.
These were the 10 hormones that may be responsible for your weight gain. Though it sounds complicated, you will be relieved to finally figure out the real reason for your weight loss resistance. And nothing can be liberating than that. Follow the tips mentioned in this article, and for sure you will be able to lose weight sooner than you know. Good luck!
- Thyroid and Weight: The Science, British Thyroid Foundation.
- Thyroid and Weight, American Thyroid Association.
- Insulin and Insulin Resistance, The Clinical Biochemist Review, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Revisiting leptin’s role in obesity and weight loss, The Journal of Clinical Investigation, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- A preprandial rise in plasma ghrelin levels suggests a role in meal initiation in humans. Diabetes, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Obesity and Breast Cancer: The Estrogen Connection, Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine, National institutes of Health.
- Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight, The University of New Mexico.
- Testosterone and Visceral Fat in Midlife Women: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Fat Patterning Study. Obesity, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Mechanisms of Glucocorticoid-Induced Insulin Resistance, Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics North America, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- 3 Major Causes Of Weight Gain Before And After Periods
- 10 Reasons Why Women Gain Weight After 40
- 5 Main Reasons For Weight Gain After Surgery
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