How to Lose Weight With Hormone Imbalance

Posted: January 13, 2023

Understanding how to lose weight with hormone imbalance can be difficult and confusing. This is because your weight is directly related to your hormones. And the older you get, the more obvious this becomes.

To lose weight and keep it off, you need to understand the roles that hormones play in your body. This includes your weight, energy, skin, gut health, etc.

When you understand the relationship between hormones and weight, you can take the necessary steps to balance your hormones. You can also start incorporating foods that help regulate your hormone health. This leads to weight loss in a sustainable, healthy way without dieting or restriction.

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What is hormone imbalance and how does it lead to fat storage

A hormonal imbalance occurs when there is an abnormal level of one or more hormones in the body. Hormones are your body's chemical messengers. This can occur when the body doesn't produce enough of a certain hormone, or when it produces too much. This can be that your estrogen levels are too high (estrogen dominance), or you have high cortisol levels, etc.

Hormone imbalances can disrupt the normal functioning of the body's systems, leading to a variety of symptoms.

Hormones play a key role in regulating metabolism, which is the process by which the body converts food into energy. When hormones are out of balance, it can affect how the body metabolizes food and stores fat.

For example, high levels of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, can lead to fat storage. Insulin promotes the storage of glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue. It also promotes the storage of fat in adipose tissue. When there is high level of insulin in the blood, it signals the body to store more fat. This can lead to weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area.

Another example is cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. High levels of cortisol promotes the storage of fat by increasing the production of glucose in the liver and by slowing down the breakdown of fat. This can lead to an increase in body fat which is associated with an increased risk of several health conditions.

Please remember that weight fluctuations can also be caused by factors like unhealthy diet, high calorie intake, and lack of physical activity. Hormonal imbalances should be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional.

What are the symptoms of hormone imbalance?

Symptoms of hormone imbalance can vary depending on the specific hormone that is affected.

Some common symptoms include: fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, and changes in skin, hair, and nails.

Other symptoms may include changes in menstrual cycle, decreased libido, and difficulty with memory or concentration.

What causes hormonal imbalance?

There are several potential causes of hormonal imbalances, including:

  • Age: Hormonal imbalances are more common as people age, particularly in women during menopause. For example, the main cause of low testosterone levels in women is aging. 
  • Genetics: Some hormonal imbalances may be caused by inherited genetic conditions.
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress can disrupt the normal functioning of the body's hormones, leading to imbalances.
  • Environmental toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, and plastic compounds can disrupt the endocrine system and lead to hormonal imbalances.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can lead to insulin resistance and other hormonal imbalances.
  • Poor diet: Consuming a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats can contribute to hormonal imbalances.
  • Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and other health problems that can contribute to hormonal imbalances.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and thyroid disorders, can lead to hormonal imbalances.

What are the side effects of hormonal imbalance

Some common side effects include:

  • Fatigue: Hormonal imbalances can disrupt the body's normal sleep-wake cycle and cause fatigue.
  • Mood changes: Hormonal imbalances can affect the brain and lead to mood swings, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
  • Weight gain or weight loss: Hormonal imbalances can affect the body's metabolism and lead to weight gain or weight loss.
  • Changes in skin, hair, and nails: Hormonal imbalances can affect the skin, hair, and nails, leading to changes in texture, growth, and appearance.
  • Changes in menstrual cycle: Hormonal imbalances can affect the menstrual cycle and lead to irregular periods, heavy bleeding, or missed periods.
  • Decreased libido: Hormonal imbalances can affect sexual function and lead to decreased libido.
  • Difficulty with memory or concentration: Hormonal imbalances can affect cognitive function and lead to difficulty with memory or concentration.
  • Other symptoms may include: hot flashes, night sweats, sleep apnea, headaches, joint pain, digestive issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases.

7 hormones in the body that affect weight

There are several hormones in the body that can affect weight, including:

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells. It plays a key role in regulating energy balance and hunger. Leptin signals to the brain when the body has enough energy stored and should stop feeling hungry.

When there is a high level of fat in the body, the fat cells produce more leptin. These high leptin levels send a signal to the brain to decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness. This helps to prevent weight gain.

When there is a low level of fat in the body, the fat cells produce less leptin. This sends a signal to the brain to increase hunger and decrease feelings of fullness. This can lead to weight gain as the person feels hungry and eats more.

Additionally, some people may have a resistance to leptin, meaning their brain doesn't respond to the hormone as it should. This is called leptin resistance. Leptin resistance occurs when the brain is constantly exposed to high levels of leptin. This can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin is a hunger hormone produced by the stomach that plays a role in regulating hunger and appetite. Levels increase when the stomach is empty and decrease after eating.

Ghrelin levels can be influenced by several factors, including diet and lifestyle. For example, consuming a diet high in processed foods and added sugars can increase ghrelin levels. This leads to increased hunger and weight gain. In contrast, consuming a diet high in protein and fiber can decrease ghrelin levels, leading to decreased hunger.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps to regulate blood sugar levels and control energy metabolism. This hormone plays a key role in the storage and use of energy. Insulin promotes the storage of glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue and promotes the storage of fat in adipose tissue.

When there is high level of insulin in the blood, it signals the body to store more fat. Overtime, this can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.

Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body's cells don't respond properly to insulin, can also affect weight. When the cells are resistant to insulin, the pancreas produces more insulin to try to overcome this resistance. Insulin resistance is a key feature of type 2 diabetes, and it is a common cause of obesity.

Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It plays a role in the body's "fight or flight" response and helps to regulate metabolism, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.

Chronic stress can increase cortisol levels and also can lead to weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area. High levels of cortisol can promote the storage of fat by increasing the production of glucose in the liver, and by slowing down the breakdown of fat. This can lead to an increase in body fat which is associated with an increased risk of several health conditions.

Cortisol also can affect appetite and can lead to overeating and weight gain. When cortisol levels are high, it may lead to increased appetite and cravings for highly processed foods. This is why you may find yourself wanting to eat comfort foods after a stressful day.

Estrogen

Estrogen, a hormone primarily produced by the ovaries in women, can affect weight in several ways.

One way is by regulating the body's energy balance. Estrogen plays a role in the regulation of the hormones that control hunger and fullness such as leptin. Low levels of estrogen can lead to decreased sensitivity to leptin, which can lead to increased hunger and weight gain.

Estrogen also plays a role in the body's metabolism, particularly in the storage and use of fat. Some studies suggest that low levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain by promoting the storage of fat.

Glucagon-like peptide-1

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced by the intestinal cells and plays a role in regulating appetite, insulin secretion, and glucose metabolism. GLP-1 is released into the bloodstream in response to food intake, particularly when carbohydrates and fats are consumed.

GLP-1 promotes feelings of fullness by slowing gastric emptying. This means that food stays in the stomach for longer and the person feels full for longer. It also increases insulin secretion, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels.

Peptide YY

Peptide YY (PYY) is a hormone produced by the gut in response to food intake. This hormone plays a role in regulating appetite and energy metabolism. PYY is released into the bloodstream after eating, particularly when consuming protein and fat. It promotes feelings of fullness by slowing gastric emptying and decreasing appetite.

PYY levels are positively correlated with body weight, meaning that higher levels of PYY are associated with lower body weight. People who are overweight or obese tend to have lower levels of PYY than those who are at a healthy weight.

How to lose weight with hormone imbalance?

how to lose weight with hormone imbalance Image of yoga mat, dumb bells, and water bottle

When you have hormonal imbalance, the old "calories in, calories out" does not work as well.

When your hormone levels are out of balance, one of your symptoms is weight gain or difficulty losing weight. This is because the root cause of the weight gain is hormonal imbalance.

To lose weight, you can not rely on counting calories, or macros or weighing your food. The best approach is making lifestyle changes that lead to long term health and hormonal balance.

This means learning how to balance blood sugar levels, improve insulin resistance, supporting the adrenals and thyroid, reducing inflammation, and balancing sex hormones. This results in feeling better and the weight comes off naturally, without “dieting.”

Which takes me into the Mediterranean diet.

The Best Hormone Diet: The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that is based on the traditional dietary patterns of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. It is characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, and a moderate intake of fish and seafood. It is relatively low in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the use of fresh, whole foods, and it places a strong emphasis on the use of herbs and spices to flavor foods rather than salt. It also includes moderate amounts of red wine, which is believed to have health benefits when consumed in moderation.

The Mediterranean diet is generally considered to be a healthy and balanced way of eating, and it is rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. It is also relatively low in saturated fats, which can help to support heart health.

It's important to note that the Mediterranean diet is not a strict set of rules, but rather a general guide to eating that can be adapted to suit individual preferences and dietary needs. 

The Mediterranean Diet and Hormonal Balance

how to lose weight with hormone imbalance image of: mediterranean salad in bowl and olive oil

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best diets for balancing hormones because it emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive oil, and it is relatively low in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats.

One of the key benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that it is high in fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and insulin response, which can help balance hormones such as insulin. It also is rich in healthy fats, which can help to balance levels of hormones such as estrogen.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants, which can help to reduce inflammation in the body, which can be a contributing factor in the development of hormonal imbalances.

Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet is that it includes a moderate intake of fish and seafood. These foods are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and can help to balance hormones.

Balance your plate so that ½ your plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ your plate is protein, and the remaining ¼ should be used for carbs (whole grains like brown rice and quinoa or starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, and beets).

Overall, the Mediterranean diet is well-balanced, nutritious and healthy, and it can help to support overall health, including hormone balance.

Exercise

dumbbells and resistance band

Treating hormonal imbalance naturally requires regular exercise.

Exercise helps reduce insulin resistance by making the body’s cells more sensitive to insulin. Even a simple 20-minute walk after a meal can really help in balancing blood sugar levels which in turn help reduce the spikes in insulin. Lifting weights and increasing muscle mass is also a great way to improve insulin sensitivity.

Supporting your endocrine system

The endocrine system is a collection of glands and organs that produce and release hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones then travel throughout the body, communicating with cells and organs to regulate various bodily functions such as growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive processes.

The main glands that make up the endocrine system include the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands, the pancreas, the ovaries (in women) and the testes (in men). Each of these glands produces specific hormones that play a key role in regulating various bodily functions.

The pituitary gland, for example, produces hormones that regulate growth and development, as well as hormones that control the function of other endocrine glands. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism, while the adrenal glands produce hormones that help the body respond to stress. The pancreas produces insulin and glucagon, hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. The ovaries and testes produce hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone that are involved in sexual development and reproduction.

How to support the endocrine system when trying to balance hormones naturally 

image of: smoothie, blender, and bananas

There are several ways to support the endocrine system and balance hormones naturally:

  • Eat a healthy diet: Consuming a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats can help to support the endocrine system and balance hormones. Avoiding processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats can also help to balance hormones. Here are 10 foods that help regulate hormones.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin response, which can help to balance hormones such as insulin. Exercise can also help to reduce stress and improve overall health.
  • Stress management: Chronic high stress can disrupt the normal functioning of the body's hormones, so it's important to find ways to manage stress. This can include activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or other stress-management techniques.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep plays an important role in regulating hormones, so it's important to get enough sleep each night. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Take nutritional supplements: Taking certain nutritional supplements can help to support the endocrine system, such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin D. It's important to consult with healthcare professional before taking any supplement.
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on the endocrine system and can lead to hormonal imbalances.
  • Reduce inflammation: Chronic inflammation is common in women with hormonal imbalance. You can reduce inflammation by reducing inflammatory foods (such as sugar and processed foods) and incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods, such as foods high in Omega-3s (salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds), and eating 8-10 servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bottom line

Lasting weight loss with hormone imbalance comes down to following a holistic approach which includes living a healthy lifestyle, reducing stress levels, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and being very patient. 

Even though this may feel confusing and overwhelming, start small. Start with your diet and work yourself up.

If you are having a hard time losing weight, make sure to reach out to a Registered Dietitian for a personalized approach. 

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