Most of us know our hormones can make us gain weight, but we rarely give thought to the actual process behind how hormones affect your weight. Hormones are responsible for hundreds of chemical reactions inside your body that occur without you realizing it, or even knowing where these hormones are located. Sure, we know when we are stressed, or when our appetites are higher “that time of month,” but what we don’t know is just exactly how these things make us gain weight or why. When I discovered how my hormones were affecting my weight, I realized that they had everything to do with me being underweight and overweight at various points in my life. These 7 ways hormones affect your weight will show you just what is going on inside your body and things you can do the offset the damage.
1. Cortisol in Your Brain
The hormone cortisol is responsible for chronic stress, which is one of the most well-known ways hormones affect your weight. Everyone knows that stress can create weight gain, or weight loss if the person doesn’t actually eat because they are so stressed. The problem with cortisol is it confuses your body to think you’re in danger, even if you’re just really frazzled. The brain sends cortisol into your bloodstream, increasing your heart rate, and unleashes energy from your fat and glucose stores, which is fine if you’re running from a robber. Yet, if you’re just stressed and having a crappy day and your cortisol is high, you’re left depleted of fat and glucose (sugar), so guess what? You crave it like a mad woman! This is how we are led to gain weight when we are stressed. Our bodies get so used to cortisol intensity if we are chronically stressed, that we become accustomed to storing more body fat because our bodies are using all the foods we eat and storing them for cortisol fuel. To distress your life and lower your cortisol levels, exercising at least 5 days a week has been proven to dramatically lower cortisol. Next time you’re wigging out from a bad day at work, hit the gym and not your ice cream stash!
2. The Sleeping Hormone
Believe it or not, you actually have a hormone that tells your body you need and are ready for sleep. Melatonin is the hormone associated with sleep, produced in the brain. If your levels are off, you either can’t sleep or sleep too much. When sunset arrives, our brain’s pineal glands secretes melatonin into our bloodstream, so we sense sleep is nearing. Melatonin production is higher the darker the room, so it is advised to sleep in complete darkness. Melatonin can either help or hurt your weight loss goals because it counteracts stress and even acts as an antioxidant. This is why the term “beauty sleep” has so much truth behind it! Low melatonin levels have been linked to obesity, diabetes and cancer. If you can’t sleep, ask your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement to reset your levels. While I don’t think this is good long term, this did help for me during a time when I couldn’t sleep after a tragedy in my family. Be sure to banish all lighting in your room at least 30 minutes before you turn in and sleep in loose clothing, which will cool down your body, helping you fall asleep faster.
3. The Love Hormone
Oxytocin is the so-called love hormone your body releases whenever you touch someone (a lover, a friend), or even eat chocolate, which has been proven to release oxytocin in the brain. I suppose that’s why we associate chocolate with love so much and why we turn to it when we are down and out. High levels of oxytocin can be great for a few reasons. First, it halts your appetite, next it can bolster sex drive, heighten trust, beat back stress, and lower blood pressure. Estrogen greatly enhances oxytocin's effects, making women bond more intensely after sex, and making a normal touch a turn-on during ovulation. Have you ever noticed when you first fall in love, food is the last thing you think about? Oxytocin’s incredible power to heighten the sense of satiety proves that when women suffer a breakup or loneliness, they turn to food and are more stressed, leading to weight gain. To improve your levels of this without eating tons of chocolate, simply increase relationships in your life. Oxytocin is released anytime we hug or touch someone, not just a significant other. It can also increase the more we engage in social arrangements, and laugh with others around us. The happier you are and the more connected to others you feel, the more oxytocin you’re producing.
4. Thyroid Trouble
Everyone knows a poorly functioning thyroid can halt weight loss efforts, and the complexity behind this issue is pretty mind baffling if you ask me. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are the thyroid gland's hormones. They act as the body's internal thermostat, which can either raise or lower your metabolism, along with your energy levels. Unfortunately, factors such as chronic stress, nutritional deficiencies, and inflammation can throw these hormones out of whack, leaving you with too much or too little, and feeling fatigued, constipated, or constantly cold. They can make you gain weight if they are underactive, or lose weight if the hormones are overactive. To balance it out, eliminate environmental toxins as much as possible by avoiding bisphenol A (BPA), the nasty chemical in certain plastics, which can also disrupt thyroid function, and never heat your food in plastic containers. Other tips to try are to follow a thyroid-friendly diet, and avoid heavy metals like mercury, which is often found in big fish like tuna and swordfish, and has been linked to a thyroid imbalance.
5. Estrogen Essentials
Estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones produced by your ovaries, and these two hormones can either make you lose weight or make you gain weight, which is why menopause and puberty are so often associated with weight gain and body changes. As your ovaries produce more of one of these female sex hormones, they simultaneously slow down production of the other. Sound confusing? Wait, it gets better! This process is actually a crucial seesaw reaction that keeps your reproductive system running, and unfortunately, it results in PMS. This partnership can be compromised by weight gain, chronic stress, and exposure to toxic chemicals like BPA. Unchecked estrogen levels can ruin your libido and lead to irritability, migraines, depression, extreme PMS, and a host of reproductive disorders. Eating too little can also signal a loss of estrogen in the body, resulting in early menopause. Your best defense against an imbalance is eating an organic, whole-foods diet and keeping your weight at a healthy level. Excess body fat secretes more estrogen, leading to an imbalance. Nosh on more cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and cook with more kale and cabbage. Citrus fruits are also wonderful for releasing excess estrogen out of the body. It Is also a must to cut out processed junk and eat whole grains like brown rice, which combat PMS and aid in estrogen production.
6. Testosterone Troubles
Your man isn’t the only one with testosterone; you have it too, girls! Testosterone is a major player in our weight, whether we realize we even have the hormone or not. While your ovaries and adrenal glands churn out a measly 10 percent of the testosterone that guys have, the male sex hormone plays the same role in any body as it does in men. Testosterone pumps up sexual desire, muscle strength, bone density, and best of all, it enhances your metabolism. Low testosterone levels can leave you sluggish, depressed, and give you a low libido, but too much can lead to acne and facial hair, among other unsightly woes, which are common symptoms of PCOS, a hormonal disorder in obese women. The link between this hormone and weight is so crucial many women are now taking testosterone shots to balance out their levels, or eating a diet that helps increase levels. If you think you have symptoms of low testosterone, visit your ob-gyn, who can give you help. If you think you may have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), get professional advice on how to treat it, and eat for it.
7. Appetite Answers
It is no secret our stomachs are largely what we blame for the extra calories we feel we need each day. Ever say to yourself, “But I’m so hungry all the time”? It isn’t your fault and your hormones may be responsible. We have two key hormones in our stomachs that tell us we are either hungry or full. Leptin and ghrelin are your hunger hormones and these guys are always in what you would call a tug-of-war. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and in the pancreas. It alerts your brain when your belly is empty, signaling you that you need to eat. Leptin, which is secreted by fat cells, triggers appetite-suppressing hormones when you've eaten enough so you can put down your fork when you’ve had enough. This beautiful harmony is easily knocked off course by eating too much sugar, which impedes leptin production, leaving ghrelin to send out unwarranted hunger signals. Too little sleep can also interfere with leptin production, so you never feel full, no matter how much you eat. This is the reason 7-8 hours sleep is such a major deal in losing weight. To balance out your levels, slash all sources of refined or added sugar in your diet. You should be getting sugar from foods like fruits and veggies and plain dairy products. Turn in so you get at least 7 hours of sleep and your leptin and ghrelin hormones should sort themselves out just fine and dandy!
8. Hormone Happiness
Lastly, one very important hormone produced in your stomach is responsible for your weight in a major way because it directly affects from your happiness, and is in turn responsible for your happiness. Serotonin is partly responsible for mood and memory, and is often called the feel-good hormone or neurotransmitter. Serotonin also helps control the ability to multitask. If your levels are out of whack, you could suffer obsessive behavior, like being stuck on one idea, worry, or fixation all day, or you could suffer depression. These can signal a low appetite, while too much of an increase in serotonin can lead to weight gain, which is possibly why so many antidepressants can cause weight gain, depending on the person. To balance your body’s serotonin levels outs, be sure you don’t cut too many carbs out of your diet. Going extremely low-carb can result in depression. Eat more of the amino acid tryptophan, which you need for hormone production to make serotonin by eating foods like yogurt, sweet potatoes, turkey and bananas.
We can all have different hormonal reactions in our body, but we still all have the same hormones. Get in check with yours and see how they might be affecting your weight. Have your hormones ever given you weight troubles?