If you have tried many fad diets or worked out extra hard at the gym only to notice no visible results. It may be time to check your body’s internal mechanisms to look for clues. Hormones and weight gain are very closely connected and a slight imbalance can result in putting on additional pounds.
Knowing how to keep your body at optimal weight starts with understanding your hormones, how they influence certain body functions, and what you can do to make them work for you.
What are hormones?
The endocrine system is a system of glands that produce chemical messengers, also known as hormones, to send messages throughout the entire body. They directly help regulate bodily processes, like blood pressure, hunger, the need to excrete, and sexual desire.
There is a common misconception that hormones are primarily essential for reproduction, but they are actually fundamental to every body system.
What causes hormone imbalances?
Hormonal imbalance can be caused by multiple factors, like puberty, consuming certain medication, pregnancy, age, and much more.
Most people experience natural hormonal fluctuations or imbalance at certain points in their life. Here are some causes of hormone imbalance:
- Extreme or chronic stress
- Under or overactive thyroid
- Being overweight
- Poor nutrition and diet
- Birth control medication
- Pituitary tumors
- Endocrine gland injury
- Radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Iodine deficiency
- Exposure to pollutants, toxins, any chemicals that disturb normal endocrine functions.
Which hormones cause weight gain in women?
Insulin hormones and weight gain are connected by the level of sugar in your blood. This hormone regulates the levels of glucose in the blood, and it works by enabling the body’s cells to absorb glucose.
Excess insulin, or insulin resistance, is a condition where the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy.
When this happens, the body compensates by having the pancreas make more insulin. Over time, this results in your blood sugar levels increasing.
Insulin resistance causes weight gain firstly because it causes increased hunger. Secondly, your body converts excess blood sugar into fat for storage.
Insulin takes your unfavorable lifestyle and turns that into obesity (source).
Leptin is produced by your body’s fat cells. Its main job is to regulate how many calories you burn and regulate fat storage.
As fat cells create leptin equal to their size, obese individuals have higher levels of leptin.
When the body’s leptin signaling mechanism doesn’t work, your body is tricked into thinking you are hungry when it already has enough energy stored.
This condition is known as leptin resistance and is considered to be one of the prime biological contributors to obesity (source).
Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the gut and alternatively known as the hunger hormone.
It travels through the bloodstream into the brain where it tells the brain that you are hungry and need food.
The main function of ghrelin is to increase appetite. It influences you to eat more, get more calories, and preserve fat.
The higher the ghrelin level you have, the hungrier you get (source).
Estrogen is one of two primary female sex hormones (the other one is progesterone). It’s produced mainly by your ovaries.
High as well as low levels of estrogen can cause an increase in weight.
Eating too much estrogen-rich food or overproduction of this hormone will result in an influx, causing stress to the cells producing insulin.
Ultimately, this makes the body resistant to insulin and causes higher glucose levels, which in turn causes weight gain.
Thyroid hormones are produced from endocrine glands of the same name. They produce T3, T4, and calcitonin to maintain metabolism.
Studies show an interesting link between the body’s thyroid hormones and weight gain (source).
The underproduction of thyroid glands leads to hypothyroidism, a condition associated with weight gain.
How to reset your hormones
1. Manage stress
Stress is the most common cause of hormonal imbalances. When our body is under stress, it produces cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”.
Cortisol has many functions in the body, from stimulating fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, to stimulating insulin release and maintaining blood sugar levels. This ultimately leads to an increase in appetite and weight gain when stress is not managed.
Furthermore, cortisol not only increases weight gain but also where the extra fat is stored. Researchers have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause more belly fat (source).
Try to spare at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to perform stress-reducing activities.
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2. Get quality sleep
A super nutritious diet or hardcore exercise won’t do you much unless you get adequate restorative sleep. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to several hormonal imbalances, such as insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and much more.
In one study it was found that men who could only get five hours of sleep a night for a week reported a decrease in insulin sensitivity by 20% (source).
Another study found a decline in leptin by 18% when the sleep of healthy, young men was restricted for two days. In addition, they craved calorie-enriched food (source).
It’s not only the quantity, but the quality of sleep also matters. Try to get a minimum of seven hours of beauty sleep per night to maintain optimal hormonal levels.
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3. Avoid processed sugar
Processed sugar and refined carbohydrates are connected to a number of health conditions. Research has concluded that fructose can cause a spike in insulin levels and actively make the body insulin resistant, causing obesity (source).
Additionally, diets containing large helpings of refined carbs like pasta or white bread also promote insulin resistance.
On the other hand, adopting a low- or average-carb diet might reduce insulin levels in obese people.
While going low-carb is a popular diet approach to tackle this issue of insulin resistance, it’s not a sustainable long-term solution due to the side effects of “low-carb flu”. This is especially true for mothers of young children that need all the energy they can gather to care for their little ones.
Eating clean and reducing your intake of added sugars, and incorporating spices such as turmeric and ginger that increase insulin sensitivity (source, source) can do wonders to restore your hormonal balance and prevent hormonal weight gain.
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