As a nutrition expert, I’m excited to share with you some insights into the link between hormonal imbalance and weight gain. Can hormonal imbalance cause weight gain? – Absolutely! If you’re in your late 40s or older, you may have noticed that it’s more difficult to lose weight by eating less and exercising more than it used to be. Don’t worry, it’s not just you! Hormones play a significant role in weight loss, and changes in hormone levels, as we age, can make it harder to shed those extra pounds.
Let me share Rachel’s story. She wanted to lose 20 pounds. So she decided to up her exercise routine and cut on calories as this was a trusted strategy that worked for her in the past. She was disciplined and diligent for three months straight. Unfortunately, the weight just wouldn’t budge. She would lose a pound or two, and gain it back the minute she ate an extra 100 calories. She felt frustrated and discouraged, stopped trying, and gained even more weight.
When she came to see me, she had very little confidence that she could ever succeed. I suggested a different approach that focused on her hormones. To her surprise, she lost 5 pounds in one week. She continued with the plan for the next 2.5 months and lost 20 pounds. I’ll tell you how she did it later in the article.
The hormonal environment in our bodies is complex and affects everything from our appetite to our metabolism. Understanding how hormonal imbalance causes weight gain is essential to achieving your weight loss goals. In this article, we’ll explore:
- Hormones that play a role in weight management
- Factors that affect hormonal imbalance and weight gain
- Strategies to reduce hormonal imbalance that causes weight gain
Understanding Hormones and Weight Loss
To understand how hormones impact weight loss, we first need to know a little bit about the hormones involved. Many hormones play a role in weight loss but we’ll focus on the key ones, specifically: insulin, cortisol, and leptin.
When it comes to our metabolism and weight, insulin is the king. Insulin is a “storage” hormone and it regulates our blood sugar levels.
You might already know that insulin helps move glucose from our bloodstream into our cells after each meal. And if we eat too many carbohydrates or too often, our bodies can become insulin resistant, leading to high blood sugar levels, inflammation, weight gain, and, if not addressed, diabetes.
But did you know that insulin works like a switch alternating our metabolism between storing fat and burning fat? Each time we eat, insulin levels go up and it’s an order for all cells, especially your fat cells, to turn glucose into fat and store it for later use. Then, 2-3 hours after a meal insulin levels go down giving permission to your fat cells to start breaking fat down and using it for energy production.
So if your insulin levels are a little too high for a little too long, you are gaining weight. And if you eat in a way that requires low levels of insulin, you’ll be losing weight.
Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. When you are chronically stressed, cortisol causes you to gain weight in the abdominal region (the gut), and lose muscle, and, in addition, it increases your appetite with a preference for high-energy foods, aka “comfort foods.” – a perfect storm.
People vary in their sensitivity to cortisol levels, some are more susceptible than others due to their genetic markup. About half of the obese population has chronically elevated cortisol levels.
Leptin is a hormone that regulates our appetite and weight. The fat cells produce most of your body’s leptin. The bigger your fat stores and the more you eat, the more leptin you make. Insulin is the main regulator of leptin production, and long-term elevated insulin levels increase leptin. In normal-weight people, leptin reduces food intake and body mass, but in obese people, it doesn’t work. How is it possible? Over time, with too much leptin the body becomes resistant to its effect, and it no longer suppresses the appetite, leading to more overeating and weight gain.
There are also ghrelin, glucagon, thyroid hormone, estrogen, testosterone, and a whole range of others that participate in weight loss or weight maintenance. All of these hormones interact with each other in intricate ways, and imbalances in any one of them can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
So, what can you do to promote hormonal balance and weight loss?
Factors that affect hormonal imbalance and weight gain
Now that we understand the hormones involved in weight management, let’s talk about the factors that can affect hormonal imbalance and weight gain.
One of the most significant factors is your lifestyle. The foods you eat, the amount of exercise you get, how you manage stress, and whether or not you get enough sleep, can all impact your hormone levels. In the rest of the article, I’ll be focusing on insulin and cortisol, as they are directly affected by your lifestyle choices.
Typical Western Diet
Current food quality and quantity drive hormonal imbalance and promote weight gain. Our modern diet is hyper-palatable, Uber-convenient, low-fat, and exceptionally high in glycemic load of processed carbs. It’s important to emphasize the sources of calories vs. just the number of calories we eat. It produces a hormonal response, specifically spiking insulin levels, and consequent weight gain. Because food is always available, we tend to snack or graze. That habit prolongs exposure to insulin, leading to insulin resistance.
Lack of exercise
A sedentary lifestyle negatively affects ALL aspects of our health. When it comes to hormonal imbalance, lack of exercise increases insulin resistance and cortisol levels. Adding any movement is beneficial for us. But there are specific ways that you can use physical activity to help with weight. Building or keeping your muscle mass will keep you more metabolically active and healthy.
Stress management is also essential for promoting hormonal balance. Chronic stress can cause consistently elevated cortisol levels, leading to weight gain. I recommend managing stressors and adjusting your environment as a first step. Followed by practices that help you cope with it, such as meditation, physical activity, spending time in nature, connecting with your favorite people, or simply taking time for yourself.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation negatively affects our physiology and hormonal balance, as well as our mental emotional state and our choices. You know perfectly well how you feel when you are tired. Lack of energy to exercise and poor food choices are much more likely after a poor night’s sleep. From the hormonal standpoint, lack of sleep leads to a worsening of insulin resistance, an increase in cortisol, low leptin, and high ghrelin, which results in more hunger and an appetite for snacking.
Strategies to restore hormonal balance and weight loss
Now that we understand the factors that contribute to hormonal imbalance, let’s talk about specific strategies for promoting hormonal balance and weight loss.
Let’s come back to Rachel. As I told you, she was already exercising a lot. Actually, one of the reasons she wanted to lose weight was so she could be better at her favorite sport. Luckily, Rachel didn’t have any problem with her sleep or stress. So we focused on her diet. She ate three meals a day, dramatically reduced her carbohydrate intake, ate more fat, and kept her protein more or less the same. Her caloric intake went up compared to the last time she tried to lose weight, she wasn’t hungry, had the energy to work out, and lost a lot of weight. The diet allowed her insulin levels to go down and her fat cells to release and burn fat.
Food choices for hormonal balance and weight loss
- Reduce simple carbohydrates like baked goods, foods with added sugar, and simple starches like rice, potatoes, etc.
- Avoid snacking
- Eat 2-3 times a day
- Have a sufficient or prolonged overnight fast
- Avoid liquid calories
- Avoid processed foods
Increasing Physical Activity
I encourage you to find any type of physical activity you enjoy. Walking might not be effective from the weight loss standpoint, but it’s definitely better than sitting. And if you do your walks after meals it will help reduce insulin resistance. All you need is a 10-20 minute walk, especially if you ate a carby meal.
Ideally, you incorporate strength training into your exercise routine. Strength training can help to build muscle and boost metabolism, leading to more significant weight loss results. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an excellent way to go because it burns 19 times more calories, makes our muscles more efficient at burning fat, and takes very little time out of your busy day. All you need is 10-15 minutes and you are done!
Strategies for Stress Reduction
Overall stress reduction is also essential for promoting hormonal balance and weight loss. Life stress is a really big topic that is outside of the scope of this article. Instead, I’d like to focus on the stress and anxiety that you might experience due to body image issues or lack of confidence in achieving your weight loss goals.
One way to think about it is in terms of what’s inside and what’s outside of your control. For example, you don’t have control over how fast and in which areas of the body you’ll release fat first. Your body is going to decide that for you no matter how upset you might be. All you can do about it is work on adjusting your expectations, reframing unhelpful beliefs, and practicing being kind and patient with yourself.
Another area you can put some energy into is building emotional resilience. Taking time each day to meditate, journal, or do things that bring you joy will help you feel more relaxed and less stressed.
Improving Sleep Quality and Duration
Sleep is another crucial factor in promoting hormonal balance and weight loss. Make sure to prioritize sleep over Netflix or Instagram and create a bedtime routine that promotes restful sleep. Things to consider:
- Lower room temperature to 65F
- Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime
- Avoid watching TV or using the phone in bed
- Take a warm bath with Epsom salt or oral magnesium, if you feel physical tension
In Summary: Can hormonal imbalance cause weight gain? – Yes
Achieving hormonal balance is essential for promoting weight loss and overall health. By understanding the hormones involved in weight loss, as well as the factors that affect hormonal balance, you can make informed decisions about your diet, exercise, and lifestyle to support weight loss efforts.
Focusing on a whole, nutrient-dense, low-carb diet, incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, reducing stress, prioritizing sleep, and being patient with yourself are all strategies for promoting hormonal balance and weight loss. It’s important to remember that progress is not always linear, and it’s essential to listen to your body and find what works best for you.
As a nutrition expert, I’ve seen firsthand the power of promoting hormonal balance for weight loss and overall health. By making small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can achieve your weight loss goals and feel your best.
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