Hormonal weight gain is an often-overlooked cause of obesity or at least a stumbling block to shedding body fat.
Understanding how these chemicals affect your ability to lose weight can reduce the frustration associated with failed dieting attempts.
This information can also help you attack weight loss differently and have lasting success.
What causes hormonal weight gain?
Hormones are signaling chemicals found throughout the body. They regulate everything from primary sex characteristics to energy conservation, muscle development, and sleep patterns.
The primary ones that affect fat storage and muscle developments are thyroid and testosterone, but many others play a part in weight gain.
Your thyroid is vitally essential for energy, fat metabolism, and some aspects of appetite regulation.
Hypothyroidism is when your body doesn’t respond effectively to your thyroid hormones, or your body doesn’t produce enough.
Either way, a person with this condition will have extreme difficulty losing weight. They will also be cold, tired, depressed, and irritable.
Luckily, hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid medication, and though it is practical, once you start taking it, it’s often for life.
Regardless, it’s worth checking with your doctor to have your thyroid measured in a simple blood test to determine your thyroid’s functioning.
Testosterone and Estrogen
The primary sex hormones drive everything from muscle growth to sexual characteristics and weight gain/loss.
Too little testosterone can lead to underdeveloped muscle, which drops metabolism.
Similarly, too much estrogen – called “estrogen dominance” – increases fat storage and impairs your ability to lose weight.
Human growth hormone (HGH)
HGH is present in vast quantities in childhood and tapers off as we age, but certain things – like weight lifting and fasted/ketogenic states in the body – cause a release.
It works with testosterone to create and maintain muscle mass. When not present in sufficient amounts, you will have a more difficult time maintaining lean muscle, lowering your metabolism.
Weight lifting benefits everyone and can help you increase the amount of HGH in your body. There is some evidence that intermittent fasting can boost HGH as well.
Insulin is probably most known for its role in type 2 diabetes when the cells become resistant to it, and sugar accumulates in the blood.
Since insulin is a driver of energy, primarily glucose, when it’s present in the blood in higher amounts, weight loss shuts off. This is why obesity can lead to diabetes, leading to difficulty losing weight – too much insulin makes it impossible to shed fat.
You can combat insulin levels by cutting back on dietary carbohydrates, particularly sugar.
Scan labels for added sugars, avoid those foods and cook with whole foods as much as possible.
Exercise also helps restore some insulin sensitivity to your cells, reducing the amount of insulin needed to process the sugar in your diet.
Often called “the stress hormone,” cortisol helps your body heal and react to threats.
Despite often being demonized as a block to weight loss, it’s an essential hormone.
The problem is that our lives are more stressful than ever, and we rarely have an appropriate outlet for all that stress, leading to an accumulation of cortisol in the blood.
If you feel stressed, particularly about work or home life, or you’re anxious, you need to work on handling these stressors first.
Talk with a therapist, and find a way to reduce your burden at work or home.
Intentional exercise like yoga, Pilates, or weight lifting can lower cortisol levels, while long bouts of cardio increase it.
What happens if hormonal weight gain isn’t addressed?
Much of hormonal weight gain is caused by a feedback loop.
When you’re overweight, you tend to have more estrogen, insulin, and cortisol in your blood.
These hormones cause weight gain, and the cycle feeds itself.
If you don’t interrupt this cycle, it will only make it harder to lose weight. Additional concerns from hormonal weight gain are:
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
Lose hormonal weight gain
In addition to the specific methods to deal with the hormones we’ve listed above, there are some broad approaches to dealing with hormonal weight gain you can try.
The Standard American Diet/Standard Western Diet is loaded with processed seed oils and sugar for many people.
Both of these cause inflammation and send our hormones out of control.
Lowering your added sugar intake to less than 11 teaspoons a day or about 44g of sugar can help dramatically.
Additionally, avoid processed seed oils like vegetables, corn, or canola oil, as these cause inflammation due to the high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
Exercise is excellent for helping regulate insulin and cortisol and can help you build lean muscle, increasing your metabolism.
Aim for strength training or yoga over long periods of cardio.
Bioidentical hormone therapy (BHRT)
Using synthetic, biologically identical hormone replacements, you can trick your body into reacting beneficially.
For instance, if you have too much estrogen, BHRT therapy can help bring your hormone back into balance.
In this way, you can directly affect the underlying cause of your hormonal weight gain, which will make your other healthy lifestyle changes more effective.
Tackle hormonal weight gain
If you’ve been struggling with weight gain, your hormones might be to blame despite a decent diet and exercise.
It’s essential to have a complete blood screening done to understand how things are balanced.
Thyroid, insulin, and estrogen/testosterone are critically essential hormones for weight loss (and health in general).
Talk to your doctor to determine if you have a hormonal imbalance and how you can treat it.
Consider changing your diet, getting rid of as much processed food as possible, and increasing your sleep and exercise.
You can also talk to your doctor about BHRT treatments and how they benefit you.
Don’t be discouraged if you are gaining weight or struggling to lose it – it’s very likely the underlying cause is hormonal imbalance. It can be treated, but it has to be identified first.