Last updated on October 29th, 2018
Hormonal imbalances could be making you fat.
It could be the reason why you can not seem to ever successfully diet.
People gain weight when they regularly consume more calories than their body requires.
That’s pretty simple. In many cases, obesity is the result of bad lifestyle choices such as overeating, eating unhealthy food, drinking too much alcohol, and failing to get enough exercise.
However, the reasons behind overeating can be very complex.
There are a number of possible culprits and, if you find you are constantly battling hunger and cravings for high-calorie food, have suddenly started to gain weight, or find losing weight is harder than you think it should be, your hormones might be to blame.
Fortunately, there are ways to address hormonal imbalances and start making your hormones work with you rather than against you.
Hunger Hormones (Ghrelin and Leptin)
Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite. It’s primarily released in the stomach and is responsible for relaying hunger signals to the brain.
When the stomach is empty, ghrelin levels increase, causing a desire to eat.
Shortly after eating, ghrelin levels drop and remain at a lower level for around three hours.
Leptin is a hormone manufactured in the fat cells and it’s the total opposite to ghrelin because it’s the hormone responsible for suppressing feelings of hunger.
Thin people carry less body fat around with them, so they have lower leptin levels.
Not surprisingly, people who are overweight or obese have much higher leptin levels.
In theory, elevated leptin levels should suppress hunger and help reduce eating.
The problem is, many obese people build up a resistance to leptin that prevents it from doing its job.
Fortunately, there are ways you can influence your hunger hormones for the better.
One way is to eat less fatty food. Research shows food that is high in fiber, protein, or good carbohydrate brings ghrelin levels down more quickly than food that is high in fat.
Avoiding late nights and getting more sleep is also a good way to control hunger because research suggests lack of sleep may increase ghrelin and reduce leptin, leading to weight gain.
Peptide Hormones (Insulin)
Insulin is a hormone excreted by the pancreas gland. It allows your body to utilize glucose for energy and to store excess glucose for later use.
Although your body needs glucose for energy, glucose cannot enter the cells without the help of insulin, which binds with it and, acting like a key, opens up the cells, allowing glucose to go inside.
When the body has more glucose than it needs, insulin stores it in the liver and then triggers its release when blood glucose levels fall.
Eating too much processed or sugary food can cause the body to become insulin resistant, as can the consumption of too much alcohol or too many artificially sweetened drinks.
If you become insulin resistant, insulin becomes less efficient at opening up the cells and levels of circulating glucose increase.
If the situation continues for too long it can cause weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. It also increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
However, people who respond to insulin in a normal way may find high insulin levels trigger cravings for carbs and sugary food. After a meal, blood glucose levels can rise rapidly (spike).
This causes the pancreas to release extra insulin, which binds with the glucose and transports it to the cells or stores it in the liver.
This can lead to a sudden drop (crash) in blood glucose levels that can cause carb cravings or desires for sugary drinks and food.
The best way to avoid sugar spikes and crashes is to eat smaller portions at meal times and choose food options that are low in sugar and fat.
Avoiding sweetened drinks and alcohol can be advantageous as well.
Making healthy food choices can also be a good way to reduce your chances of becoming insulin resistant.
As can getting more exercise and stopping smoking.
There’s also a wealth of evidence to suggest lack of sleep causes insulin resistance.
Although it was conducted on dogs, one study is particularly interesting because the results suggest one night of insufficient sleep may be as damaging to insulin sensitivity as six months of eating high-fat food.
Stress Hormones (Cortisol)
Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. It’s produced by the adrenal gland during times of stress, anger, and physical injury.
It works on the areas of the brain that influence your mood and levels of motivation and fear.
Cortisol is an integral part of the fight or flight instinct, but it’s also involved in many other biological processes and, although it’s a hormone that can work for you, it can also present problems.
Modern-day living can be very hectic and, for many people, high levels of stress have become a part of their everyday lives.
Supermarket queues, traffic jams, late buses and trains, the pressure of work or study, the list goes on.
All of these things can send your cortisol levels through the roof, totally derailing many of your body’s important functions.
Elevated cortisol levels can also cause or aggravate a number of health conditions including, digestive problems, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Research conducted on obese women proves there is a link between stress-induced cortisol secretion and weight gain. This is not an isolated study either.
The results of numerous other clinical trials show the same thing and the data obtained by researchers at the University of California suggests people who are already overweight may produce more cortisol (in response to stress) than leaner individuals do.
The best way to help prevent elevated cortisol levels is to always get an adequate amount of sleep—waking up tired and grouchy can put a major dent in your day.
If possible, stressful situations and relationships are best avoided.
Taking up yoga or practicing meditation are also good ways to reduce stress and people who get plenty of exercise and stick to healthy food options are likely to find the resulting improvements to their overall well-being will allow them to feel more positive and be less prone to stress.
Thyroid Hormones (T3 + T4)
The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck. It produces a number of important hormones but the ones most likely to influence your body weight are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
These two hormones are often collectively referred to as “T-Hormones” and they are responsible for maintaining your body’s metabolism.
If the thyroid becomes sluggish it causes a medical condition called hypothyroidism.
When this occurs, T-Hormone production rates can fall off dramatically, causing the metabolism to slow down.
With the metabolism retarded in this way, your body begins to burn calories at a slower rate, making you more prone to weight gain than weight loss.
You may also experience a noticeable downturn in your energy levels. Women are more prone to hypothyroidism than men and the risk of condition developing increases after the age of 60.
However, hypothyroidism is a health problem that can present itself to anyone, at any time in their life, and can be brought on by a lack of iodine in the diet.
The thyroid cannot make T-hormones without iodine and your body is unable to manufacture it, so it has to obtain it from food or iodine-providing supplements.
Apart from slowing down your metabolism, a lack of iodine can also cause the thyroid gland to swell (goiter) and may make your body more prone to water retention.
A doctor will always be the best person to advise you, but if you’ve suddenly started to gain weight, feel more tired than usual, and/or have started to notice swelling around the ankles your diet may not be providing enough iodine.
A lack of dietary iodine can be addressed by eating more iodine-rich food such as seaweed, cod, shrimp, tuna, eggs, lima beans, and prunes.
Sex Hormones (Testosterone + Estrogen + Progesterone)
Although testosterone is the male sex hormone, women produce it as well, albeit in a lesser quantity.
Its presence in the body serves a variety of functions.
Testosterone helps the body burn fat more efficiently, strengthens the bones, and encourages a healthy libido.
It is also a natural anabolic steroid and, for that reason, bodybuilders often try to elevate their testosterone levels in an effort to attain increased muscle mass and better strength gains.
It is also responsible for providing men with male characteristics such a deep voice and body hair.
Women are not affected by the male hormone in this way because their bodies do not produce enough of it to cause male characteristics to become manifest.
Testosterone levels drop as the body ages, causing both sexes to become more prone to weight gain.
Both sexes will also find it more difficult to maintain a lean and muscular physique should they wish to do so and women can be particularly vulnerable to loss of bone density.
Adding extra protein to the diet is one way to boost testosterone naturally.
Exercise is another. For the purposes of one study, the researchers compared data obtained from elderly males who lead sedentary lives with that obtained from long-term physically trained men of a similar age.
The results showed the active males had higher testosterone levels.
Other hormone levels, including human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor, were also higher.
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone and levels can fluctuate due to ovulation, menopause, and a number of other reasons.
When estrogen levels become too high (estrogen dominance) it can place a strain on the pancreas.
This may lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.
To make matters worse, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also cause estrogen dominance.
Low estrogen levels may cause weight gain too because when the body perceives a lack of estrogen it begins looking for other sources.
Fat cells can produce estrogen, so the body often starts converting more energy to fat as a way to increase estrogen production rates.
Progesterone is an endogenous steroid and progestogen sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Levels of this hormone often decrease during the menopause and although a lack of progesterone will not cause fat cell formation, it can encourage estrogen dominance and may further contribute to weight gain by causing water retention and bloating.
Exercising regularly can help promote healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone.
However, anyone experiencing symptoms of major hormonal imbalances should always seek the advice of a medical professional and see if treatments are available.
Other Hormones That May Influence Body Weight
Melatonin is the hormone that helps you go to sleep. It’s produced by the pineal gland.
However, although lack of sleep can cause weight gain, if you have difficulty sleeping it’s unlikely to be due to a lack of melatonin because, the chances are, your body is already producing enough.
Some people take melatonin supplements to help them to sleep, and this course of action can work, but such supplements are not suitable for long-term use.
So, if you are having difficulty sleeping it would be better to try and find the real root cause of the problem.
Possible causes may include stress, depression, an overexcited mind, or consuming caffeine-rich drinks, such as coffee or red bull, within a few hours of trying to go to sleep.
Serotonin is often called the “happiness hormone” and has even been referred to as nature’s own appetite suppressant.
If you find you have become victim to feelings of sadness or depression and have a tendency to comfort eat, it’s possible that you may be serotonin deficient, but the only way to find out for sure will be to visit your doctor and ask for an expert evaluation of your condition.
A lack of serotonin can be brought about in many ways including extended periods of stress, poor diet, insufficient exposure to sunlight (Winter depression) digestive issues, and hormonal imbalances within the body.
People who suffer from winter depression can often increase serotonin levels by regular use of a special “sad lamp” that mimics the effect of sunlight.
Improving the diet and getting more exercise can also be good ways to boost serotonin levels. As can yoga and meditation.
Hormonal imbalances can be a contributing factor in weight gain, but many problems with hormones can be lessened or alleviated by making dietary changes and increasing levels of physical activity.
No matter how you look at it, if you want to have a healthy mind and body, it often boils down to making the right lifestyle choices.
There are supplements and prescription medications that may provide additional help, but these options are best used to “supplement” existing actions and should not be seen as a way to replace them.