We’re often led to believe that losing weight is solely about calories in versus calories out. That doesn’t always tell the full story, especially if your hormones aren’t balanced.
Your hormones can play a huge role in helping or hindering your weight loss efforts. They can affect everything from your appetite to where you’re most likely to store fat. If certain hormones are out of whack, it can make it super hard to lose weight.
But here’s the good news: it’s easier than you might think to control these hormones and keep your weight in check.
Here are some super important hormones that can affect your weight.
Being super stressed and busy can mean that stress hormones such as cortisol are constantly being released. High cortisol levels are linked to overeating and weight gain, especially around the belly. Often, you’ll be craving high carb and sugar-rich foods, especially if other hormones are also out of whack.
Managing stress, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern can help avoid super high cortisol levels.
Estrogen and Progesterone
Estrogen levels can be affected by factors such as body fat, intense exercise, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). If your estrogen levels are too high, it can make it a whole heap harder to lose weight. It can sometimes be a factor in insulin resistance too. Low levels of estrogen can also affect weight, especially around the menopause.
Progesterone is another sex hormone that has an impact on weight. It can be easily depleted by factors such as stress, birth control pills, and during the menopause.
Ideally, you want to have a healthy ratio of estrogen and progesterone — if one is higher or lower than it should be, it can quickly affect the other. Estrogen dominance and low progesterone can have similar symptoms and it’s super common for them to go hand-in-hand.
If your sex hormones are out of whack, you’ll probably also notice a ton of other unpleasant and debilitating health problems, including headaches, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and menstrual problems like PMS or PMDD.
Every time you eat or drink something that’s sugary or rich in refined carbs, your blood sugar spikes. This triggers insulin production, which pushes sugar into the cells. But if there is too much sugar, the cells reject the sugar and keep it in the bloodstream, sparking more insulin production. Eventually, the body starts to store it as fat. Eating too many refined carbs such as white pasta and white bread, along with sugary sweets leads to insulin resistance (cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin). Insulin promotes fat storage, so being insulin resistant means you store fat more easily.
Swapping out refined carbs for whole grains slows down the absorption into the bloodstream so your blood sugar is a ton more likely to stay stable for longer, along with your body’s insulin response. And as an added bonus, the extra fiber from non-refined carbs will keep you feeling fuller, and snacking is less of a problem.
The end result? It’s easier to keep weight in check when your blood sugar and insulin levels aren’t erratic.
Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin and ghrelin are two more hormones that are heavily linked to appetite. When your leptin levels are balanced, you feel full after meals. If you’re still feeling super hungry even after eating a big meal, leptin may be at least partly to blame. Leptin levels can be balanced out through diet and exercise.
Eating more nutrient dense foods with healthy fats, proteins and whole grains can help you feel more satiated and provide the nutrients needed for cells to run. Often we eat nutrient lacking foods – which leaves your body asking for more.
If you’ve been eating a ton of unhealthy foods for years, you may experience leptin resistance. Additionally, according to studies, leptin resistance is more likely to occur if you’re overweight. It’s thought this might be due to the inflammatory chemicals pumped out by fat cells, which impede the effects of leptin and encourage you to keep seeking out high-calorie foods.
Ghrelin is also a super important hormone for keeping appetite in check. Ghrelin stimulates appetite and is released by the stomach when it’s empty or mostly empty. Ghrelin levels are typically highest right before mealtimes. Under normal circumstances, ghrelin levels fall after eating and rise again when you’re hungry. Restrictive diets, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and Celiac disease may elevate ghrelin levels. Eating a lot of refined foods, in the absence of sufficient protein and fiber, can trigger increased ghrelin levels as well.
Adiponectin, a hormone found in fat tissue can support weight loss. It’s super helpful for boosting metabolism, and is associated with more calorie burning, increased insulin sensitivity, and curbing the appetite. And guess what? Healthy eating habits raise adiponectin levels! So again, protein, fiber, healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, and limited refined carbs and sugar.
Your thyroid can play a key role in your metabolism. If you have a sluggish thyroid, it can be the culprit for weight gain and fluid retention. It can also contribute to lots of other issues, including tiredness, dry skin, sensitivity to the cold, and depression. Blood tests can flag up thyroid imbalances so it’s super important to get this ruled out if you’re struggling to lose weight despite a healthy lifestyle.
So you see – weight loss is more than calories in/out. Restricting your intake or not eating enough can also be detrimental to losing the weight. Eating enough and chosing from nutrient dense foods is key. Your body will then start to reset and find its balance.