If you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, realizing that you’ve put on a few pounds unexpectedly can be a bummer, but when exercise and healthy eating don’t seem to do the trick, you may begin to wonder if there are other factors at play. Many women don’t realize that hormones and weight gain go hand in hand and that if there’s an imbalance, you’ll need to treat it before the weight can come off. “Unfortunately, the most common imbalances cannot be solved by dieting alone,” says Natasha Turner, ND, author of The Hormone Diet. “In fact, they can prevent successful fat loss, even when great diet and exercise plans are in place.”
And it’s more than just about shedding a few pesky pounds—a hormonal imbalance can also be a sign of something bigger going on with your health. This is because your hormones control important reactions and functions in your body, including your metabolism, inflammation, menopause, and your glucose uptake, says Charushila Biswas, an ISSA certified specialist in fitness and nutrition. So take a few minutes to let us break down which hormone imbalances may be affecting you—plus, how to maintain the appropriate levels so you can get back into the normal swing of things.
We tend to talk about cortisol a lot because it’s the stress hormone produced by our adrenal glands (and well, we can get stressed a lot). When we have a sharp increase in cortisol, it can trigger our body to go into “inflammatory mode,” which can lead to things like cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune illnesses. Cortisol is effective in helping us treat short-term anxiety, but when our body is continuously in a state of stress, it can wreak havoc on us. When too much cortisol is released, it can lead to excessive amounts of insulin and trigger fat cells (and cause weight gain).
How to control it: Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, try yoga and meditation, avoid alcohol, and limit processed foods.
Chances are, you’ve heard that having a thyroid issue can lead to unexpected weight gain—but do you know why? Basically, our thyroid gland, located in our neck, produces hormones that manage our metabolism, sleep, heart rate, growth, and so forth. When the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of the hormone, hypothyroidism can occur. “There are many causes of hypothyroidism such as gluten intolerance, malnutrition, environmental toxins, etc.,” says Biswas. “In fact, hypothyroidism leads to water accumulation, and not fat, that makes you look plump.”
How to control it: Talk to your doctor about prescribed thyroid medication, avoid raw vegetables, and eat iodized salt.
Do you know that feeling you get while eating that tells you you’re full? Well, that’s because the hormone leptin signals to your body to stop. If you eat too many sugary foods or processed foods that have extra fructose, your body ends up releasing tons of leptin. “This, in turn, desensitizes the body to leptin and the brain stops receiving the signal to stop eating,” explains Biswas. “This ultimately leads to weight gain.”
How to control it: Eat something every two hours, avoid consuming too much fruit, and stay hydrated.
Even though some of us take melatonin supplements to aid sleep, our body also naturally makes the hormone. Melatonin comes from the pineal gland and is what helps us stay asleep and keep our sleep routine on track. Naturally, the amount of melatonin tends to get higher at night, which is why it’s easier for us to fall asleep then (by morning, the levels usually decrease). Since our bodies need sleep to repair themselves and decrease inflammation, a lack of melatonin can cause you to gain weight.
How to control it: Fall asleep in a dark room; avoid eating late at night; and eat more goji berries, almonds, cherries, sunflower seeds, and cardamom because they are sources of melatonin.
Estrogen is the major female sex hormone, and both men and women can have too much of it in their bodies. In case you didn’t know, you can actually receive extra estrogen from foods that have pesticides or growth hormones (your body can also just produce too much of it). When estrogen levels rise, you become resistant to insulin, which causes you to gain weight.
How to control it: Stop consuming alcohol, stick to whole grains, and exercise regularly.
Remember that once you discover which hormones are affecting your weight gain, it may take a little time to sort things out, and you may need to seek help from a medical professional.