Weight gain is often portrayed as a simple math equation. Calories in minus calories out equals your caloric surplus (or deficit). In general, this seems to hold true; however, the biological mechanisms behind this are quite complicated. Ultimately, it ends up not being so simple.
In this article, you’re going to learn about the role that hormones play in weight gain and how you can stop hormonal weight gain and help get your hormones closer to a normal baseline.
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How Are Hormones and Weight Gain Related?
In order to understand how hormones relate to weight gain, you must first understand what a hormone is. A hormone is a broad term referring to a molecule that moves throughout the body and helps regulate body physiology. They bind to receptor proteins in the cells in order to change how that cell works. They can impact behavior, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. Most importantly, though, hormones are responsible for the most basic of bodily functions like digestion, respiration, sleep, growth, and much more. In short, hormones keep us alive.
Researchers have found that many hormones have multiple functions and that not all of these functions are well understood. However, there are a few hormones that are clearly tied to weight gain (particularly fat gain). They are:
Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is the primary anabolic hormone of the body. Its main function is to help the body’s cells absorb glucose, which comes from the food we eat. Simple and complex carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and this glucose is absorbed into the cells with the help of insulin.
You may be familiar with the idea of insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to insulin and glucose isn’t as well absorbed into the cells, leading glucose to stay in the bloodstream and in turn leading to high blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance is related to obesity due to the excess of fatty tissue and higher food consumption, and it is one of the primary causes of type 2 diabetes.
Ghrelin and Leptin
Ghrelin and leptin are two different types of hormones that both impact how full or hungry you feel. Ghrelin is used to tell the brain that you’re hungry, and leptin is used to tell the brain when to stop eating. Leptin levels that are either too high or too low can cause problems with hunger and satiation, preventing you from knowing when you’ve had enough to eat.
Cortisol is also called the stress hormone as it is released during a period of high stress, but it has a wide variety of functions in the body. It relates to weight gain because it stimulates the creation of glucose in the liver (which does not require excess carbohydrates). This causes an increase in blood glucose levels and a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
Many people have abnormally high levels of stress in their lives, leading to cortisol levels remaining elevated and increasing the risk of insulin resistance.
How Do You Stop Weight Gain Due to Hormones?
Improve your sleep.
Hormonal imbalances are often related to lack of sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene is a good first step to getting a good night’s sleep. Schedule at least 7 hours for sleeping. Aim for the same bedtime and wake time every day. Eliminate screen time at least an hour before bed. If necessary, you may want to request medication to help you sleep.
Make healthier food choices.
Most doctors recommend eating a diet made up of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and lean meats and fish. This stands in stark contrast to the typical Western diet, which contains large amounts of simple sugars, animal fats, and foods fried in oil.
Hormonal imbalances may be linked to vitamin deficiencies, as well, so get some bloodwork done to see if you have any deficiencies. Common vitamin deficiencies are vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, and iron.
Remember: you aren’t eating to lose weight, you are eating for the purpose of eating healthy.
Oftentimes, hormonal weight gain is linked to medication. Hydrocortisone, for example, is essentially a steroid medication made of cortisol and is notable for causing rapid weight gain in a short period of time.
For those who are taking a weight-gain-causing medication temporarily, weight gain may not be such a big deal as it will usually reverse itself once you’re off the medicine.
Since obesity comes with a whole host of health problems, your doctor may decide to switch your medication (particularly if you request to do so). A doctor may also suggest medication such as metformin to help correct any insulin resistance caused by your medication.