Do you ever feel like, no matter what you do to lose weight, you simply cannot drop the pounds or reach your goal? Well, that struggle to lose weight might not be due to your dietary habits or exercise regime, but your hormones.
Hormones have a significant influence on your metabolism. In fact, an imbalance of just one, or even a few, can alter your weight. Here are some of the most common hormones that could be affecting your weight goals.
6 Hormones That May Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals
Released by the fat cells, leptin is a hormone that helps to regulate energy use and food intake, letting the brain know when you are feeling full.
Unfortunately, as you lose weight, leptin levels in the body drop. This means that while you are eating enough, your body interprets the lack of leptin as a sign you’re starving, and so it will produce more ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) to try and encourage you to seek out more food.
Since you’re actually five minutes from a convenience store (or twenty feet from the pantry), not starving, and don’t need to start hunting for your next meal, you’ll usually struggle to resist the urge to satisfy your hunger.
This causes us to eat more than we need to, thus stalling our weight loss efforts or even causing us to regain the weight we lost.
GLP-1 is another hormone that signals the brain that we’re feeling full. GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) is an incretin hormone that’s produced in the lower GI tract.
Like leptin, as you lose weight, your production of GLP-1s is decreased, making you feel hungry for longer. This hormone is also instrumental in the regulation of insulin, which I will talk about below.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugars in carbohydrates for energy. Insulin is naturally produced by the pancreas after you eat. This hormone helps to make sure any glucose produced when you eat is used for energy and any excess is stored away.
If your blood sugar is constantly elevated, insulin will be frequently produced to try and combat this, creating the potential for your body to become resistant to insulin, which is where there are high levels of glucose in the blood at any time, rather than being used by the cells.
Once this happens, excess sugar will be stored in fat cells leading to significant weight gain. What makes this more complicated for people (as seen in the case of those with type 2 diabetes) is that insulin resistance can generally only be reversed by exercise and weight loss, which again often creates a vicious cycle.
Cortisol, produced in the adrenal glands, is also known as the stress hormone – as stress levels increase, so do your cortisol levels.
When we’re stressed for more than a few hours at a time, all that cortisol production keeps our blood glucose high in preparation for a stressful event, and so we’re more likely to put on weight.
Stress isn’t just unpleasant for our mental state, it often (if not always) affects our bodies too. If you’re looking to live a long, healthy life and reach your goal weight, work towards minimizing your stress.
The thyroid hormone also helps to regulate metabolism. This means that if your thyroid gland is either hyperactive or underactive, it can cause weight fluctuations.
If you find that you are gaining weight with no obvious explanation, it could mean that you have a condition known as hypothyroidism. This can be treated by taking synthetic hormones which will restore the optimum thyroid hormone levels. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can be fatigue, unexplained weight gain, a puffy face, and other symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite and often leads to unexplained weight loss, high anxiety, and a rapid heartbeat.
Testosterone, found in large quantities in the male body and small quantities in the female body, affects a variety of aspects of the human body, including sex drive, muscle and bone growth, and weight.
When testosterone hormone levels are either too high or too low, it can cause weight gain.
As mentioned, testosterone helps to build muscle in the body, which needs a lot of energy to be created. This high energy use, along with testosterone levels that are too high, can lead to an increased appetite and in turn, the possibility of unwanted weight gain. It can also lead to insulin resistance, which is a marker of a condition like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
If you’ve been struggling to lose weight and find this list a little overwhelming, don’t panic! A clean diet full of whole foods can go a long way to improving many imbalances. Your doctor can work with you to ensure your hormone levels are where they should be and give you medication and guidance to balance your hormones.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.