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Are Hormones Behind Your Weight Gain?

Are you eating right and exercising but still finding yourself adding on the extra pounds? Your hormones could potentially be the problem.


Several hormone-related conditions and general hormone imbalances can all lead to abdominal weight gain. In this blog, we'll unpack 5 common signs that your hormones are making you gain weight and how to get rid of it.

weight gain, hormones, obesity, fat, thyroid, ghrelin

1. You find yourself craving sugar:


Sugar cravings could be a sign you're suffering from insulin resistance. When your body becomes insulin resistant, your blood cells are prevented from properly absorbing sugar. This causes your cells to become deficient in carbohydrates.


Insulin resistance can also have an effect on leptin output, causing the body to secrete more leptin than is actually needed. Consistently high levels of leptin, like high insulin levels, will cause your cells to become resistant to the hormone’s effects. A decreased sensitivity to leptin and insulin will prevent your body from recognizing when it’s time to stop eating. Insulin resistance will also cause sugar cravings from the imbalance in insulin and leptin, this will only add to the hormonal belly fat.


To solve a leptin insensitivity and help you feel fuller faster, try incorporating some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your exercise routine. HIIT workouts increase the number of leptin receptors on your fat cells, which increases overall sensitivity to leptin. Making sure your leptin sensitivity is balanced will ensure your body will recognize when leptin is secreted and leave you feeling fuller, faster.


2. You are frequently stressed or anxious:


When you’re stressed, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands to help your body respond appropriately. This triggers the body’s fight or flight mode and is helpful if in a real-life situation where adrenaline is needed. But if you’re under stress frequently, your adrenal glands can begin to release much more cortisol than is needed. Unsurprisingly, this is not a healthy state for the body to be in. After a period of high cortisol, the heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar can all increase. High levels of cortisol are highly correlated with increased abdominal fat. To read more about the effects of cortisol and weight gain, click here.


Luckily, there are natural and relatively easy ways to decrease your cortisol levels. If you think you may be experiencing high cortisol levels, one of the best things you can do is eat a whole-food, plant-based diet (like the Mediterranean diet). A diet high in added sugars or processed foods will not only increase your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, but will also raise your cortisol level. A diet high in fiber, which supports gut health, is also key in regulating hormone levels throughout the body. Research has demonstrated that several other foods can benefit cortisol levels: dark chocolate, many fruits, black and green tea, probiotics and prebiotics, and water.


Other methods to decrease cortisol levels include:

  • Get enough sleep

  • Practice deep breathing

  • Limit caffeine consumption

  • Exercise

  • Take a walk

3. You feel less satisfied after eating:


If you’re having trouble feeling full after eating a large meal, it could be a sign that your main metabolism-regulating hormones are being indirectly impacted by your sex hormones.

  • Estrogen: Lower levels of estrogen could be one potential cause of less satiaty after eating. This is because estrogen impacts leptin, a hormone that controls your satiety. Leptin is released by fat tissue circulating in the blood and signals to your brain that you have eaten enough. The more leptin in your blood, the more satisfied you’ll feel. Too little estrogen can lead to too little leptin.

  • Testosterone: Unlike estrogen, testosterone has also been shown to have an inverse effect on the amount of leptin in the blood. As testosterone increases, leptin decreases. Too much testosterone and too little leptin can cause you to feel less satisfied after a meal.

To normalize your levels of testosterone and estrogen and help decrease your hormonal belly, try eating foods that include lignans, a group of chemical compounds that act as phytoestrogens. Lignans are in foods including:

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Collards

  • Kale

  • Cabbage

  • Flax seeds

  • Fermented foods

  • Broccoli

Cruciferous vegetables like collards and kale also contain Di-Indolyl Methane, a compound that also helps the body process estrogen. These foods also all have a positive effect on lowering levels of testosterone as well. With normalized levels of estrogen and testosterone, leptin levels will increase and decrease your appetite.


4. You’re often hungry:


Ghrelin is also known as the “hunger hormone”, it signals your body when it’s time to eat. After a big meal, your body will recognize that you’re full and decrease the ghrelin secretion. Unfortunately, weight gain can cause dysregulation of ghrelin secretion. Obese individuals tend to have decreased circulating levels of ghrelin and increased levels of leptin. Unexpectedly, consistently high levels of leptin can lead to dysfunction of the receptors in the brain. This will cause your brain to never receive the message that you’re full.


To help solve a ghrelin imbalance, sleep is one of the best solutions. Too little sleep can increase ghrelin and cause you to feel hungry even if you’ve just eaten a meal. The recommended 7 to 9 hours per night of quality sleep is an effective way to reduce your caloric intake and carb cravings.

Our top recommendations for your best night of sleep include:

  • Increase bright light during the day- Bright light in the daytime will bolster your body’s circadian rhythm. One study found that for people with insomnia, bright light in the day reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83%.

  • Reduce blue light in the evenings- Too much light in the evenings can trick your circadian rhythm into thinking it’s still daytime. Blue light especially has a reputation for disrupting sleep patterns.

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon- When you drink caffeine, you stimulate your nervous system. This can stop your body from entering relaxation mode at night. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bed significantly negatively impacted sleep quality.

  • Avoid alcohol at night- Alcohol can cause or increase symptoms of snoring, disrupted sleep, and sleep apnea. Alcohol also alters your circadian rhythm by disrupting melatonin production. One study found that nighttime alcohol consumption decreases natural elevations in human growth hormone, which impacts your circadian rhythm and helps to build muscle, burn fat, and build healthy tissues.

  • Keep your bedroom cool- A high bedroom temperature has been found to disrupt sleep more than external noises. Studies have found that when you and your bedroom are hot, sleep quality will decrease and wakefulness will increase.

  • Keep your exercise during the day- Studies have found that exercise can enhance all sleep aspects and reduce symptoms of insomnia. For those with severe insomnia, exercise works better than most sleeping aids. One study demonstrated that daytime exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, anxiety by 15%, and total sleep time by 18%.

5. You’re also losing your hair:


If you’ve found yourself both gaining abdominal weight and losing your hair, your thyroid hormones might be the culprit behind both. Thyroid hormones help to regulate both body weight and hair growth. The exact relationship between thyroid hormones and weight management is complex and not completely understood. The most simple explanation is that when your thyroid levels are low, your metabolic rate also slows down, reducing your daily calories burned. This will, unsurprisingly, lead to weight gain.


Hair loss is also a common symptom of thyroid disease. A German study found that thyroid hormones offer protection from harmful reactive oxygen species and help regulate our body’s natural anti-oxidants. Oxidative stress has been found to lead to poor overall scalp health and hair loss. Proper thyroid levels will alleviate this stress and result in healthy hair.


Luckily, solving your thyroid imbalances could lead to weight loss and hair regrowth. Balancing thyroid is often a complex matter, so working with a medical practitioner who is trained in diagnosing and solving thyroid issues is the best route. At the Johnson Center for Health, we are trained to pinpoint your thyroid issues and work with you to find the best solution.


There are also some foods you can incorporate into your diet that will improve thyroid function. Such foods include:

  • Roasted seaweed: Kelp, nori, wakame, and other types of seaweed are rich in iodine. Normal thyroid function has been found to rely on proper iodine intake.

  • Salted nuts: Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts are all great sources of selenium. This nutrient has been found to support healthy thyroid function.

  • Diary: Milk, yogurt, and ice cream all also contain iodine. As referenced above, iodine is an essential component of proper thyroid function. Iodine helps to prevent the enlargement of the thyroid glands.

  • Baked fish: Fish is rich in selenium and Omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these nutrients help to decrease inflammation and promote thyroid balance.

  • Fresh, organic eggs: Both selenium and iodine are present in fresh eggs. Specifically, most of the nutrients are found in the yolk of the egg.


Weight gain can often leave you feeling hopeless, especially if this influx of extra pounds is caused by hormonal imbalances.


If you think hormonal imbalances could be behind your weight gain, click here to contact us or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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