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How do hormones influence weight management and metabolism?
Sexual function, growth, mood, appetite, and metabolism are all affected by hormones. Because of this, hormonal dysregulation can impact your health, including your weight.
Hormones control your appetite to maintain a healthy body. Certain hormones make you feel hungry, while others make you feel full. This means that if the level of hormones responsible for making you hungry becomes higher than normal, you can experience weight gain.
So now you may be wondering what are these hormones that dictate our appetite and regulate our metabolism. There exist two appetite hormones in particular. The first one is known as ghrelin and is associated with feelings of hunger. The second one is known as leptin and causes feelings of fullness.
However, hormones do not just influence your weight by controlling your appetite. Hormones can also influence weight by influencing fat storage and metabolizing fat.
What 3 hormones control female metabolism?
In females there exist three key hormones which manage metabolism. These are –
- Insulin: This is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps control sugar levels and stores fat, especially around the belly. Since it causes fat to be stored in the belly, insulin promotes hormonal belly fat. Foods like white flour and sugar can increase insulin production and thus contribute to hormonal weight gain.
- Glucagon: This is a hormone that opposes insulin. When one is high, the other is low. Glucagon helps burn fat and is released when we eat protein. Since protein supplies the body with this fat-burning hormone, consuming protein can promote hormonal weight loss.
- Cortisol: This is the hormone released when we’re stressed. Unfortunately, cortisol and insulin work together. If cortisol levels are high due to ongoing stress, insulin levels also rise. This can contribute to a stressed hormonal belly and weight gain.
How does insulin affect weight gain and insulin resistance?
As mentioned previously insulin is a hormone that helps control sugar levels. It does this by bringing glucose from the blood into your cells. By bringing glucose from the blood to your cells, it helps keep your blood glucose levels in check, especially after a meal when levels are likely to be high. Unfortunately, some people do not produce enough insulin. This makes the body less capable of lowering blood glucose levels which in turn causes diabetes.
Diabetes can also occur even if a person is making enough insulin. This is because, in some individuals, the body becomes insensitive to the effects of insulin. As their body does not respond well to insulin, they end up with heightened levels of blood sugar as well.
To counteract the effects of insulin resistance, your body tries to make more insulin. This can then contribute to weight gain because insulin promotes fat storage.
What is the impact of cortisol on metabolism and its connection to stress-related weight changes?
Cortisol just like insulin is also a hormone. However, unlike insulin, cortisol is released by the body when it is stressed. It can put you in fight-or-flight mode and slow down your metabolism. While it is important for survival, too much cortisol can be harmful.
This is because excess cortisol can cause weight gain by increasing your appetite and making you crave sugary energy-dense foods. In addition to this, elevated cortisol can also decrease muscle mass and slow down calorie burning.
Unfortunately, the weight gain that arises due to too much cortisol, tends to be around the abdomen. This leads to cortisol belly fat and a hormonal tummy.
What lifestyle modifications can mitigate cortisol-related weight challenges?
As cortisol contributes to hormonal weight (especially around the belly), you may be wondering if there are ways through which you can mitigate its effects. Read on to find out lifestyle changes you can make to lower your cortisol levels.
Giving priority to your sleep: This can prove to be an efficacious approach to diminishing cortisol levels. This is because persistent sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, have been linked to elevated cortisol levels.
If you are employed in a night shift or rotating shift capacity, you likely do not possess full autonomy over your sleep schedule. However, several measures can be taken to enhance the quality of your sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine: Doing the same activities before bed, like taking a shower and reading a book, can help your brain and body relax for sleep.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is one of the best ways to improve your sleep.
- Exercise earlier in the day: Regular exercise can help you sleep better, but make sure to finish your workout at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Limit caffeine intake- Try to avoid consuming foods and drinks with caffeine about 6 hours before you plan to go to bed.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol: Both nicotine and alcohol can affect the quality and duration of your sleep.
- Reduce exposure to bright light at night: About 45-60 minutes before bed, try to limit your exposure to bright or blue light. Instead of using your phone, consider reading a book or listening to a podcast.
- Create a quiet sleeping environment: Use white noise, wear earplugs, and silence your phone to minimize interruptions while you sleep.
- Take naps if needed: If you have a job with irregular hours, taking short naps can help reduce sleepiness and prevent a sleep deficit. However, napping may not be beneficial for those with regular sleep schedules.
- Regular Exercise: Regular exercise has been found to make people more resilient to sudden stress and can hence reduce the negative health impacts of stress, like high cortisol levels.
- Learn how to identify stressful thoughts: Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a technique that involves being aware of stress-causing thoughts, accepting them without judgment, and processing them. You can train yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension. This helps you recognize stress when it starts. By being aware of your mental and physical state, you can observe your stressful thoughts objectively instead of being controlled by them.
- Deep breathing: This is a straightforward stress reduction technique that can be employed in any setting. Comparable to mindfulness-based practices, controlled breathing serves to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, commonly referred to as the “rest and digest” system, thereby facilitating a decrease in cortisol levels.
Incorporating the above changes can prevent you from cortisol-associated weight gain. Now you may wonder if there are other ways to stop hormonal weight gain. Cortisol is not the only hormone you can target when it comes to putting a stop to hormonal weight gain. You can also try to keep your insulin levels in check given that excess insulin is associated with weight gain.
The following describes ways through which you can lower insulin in your body –
- Have fewer carbs: Adopting a dietary regimen that is lower in carbohydrates is recommended, given that of the three macronutrients, namely carbohydrates, protein, and fat, carbohydrates have the greatest impact on raising blood sugar and insulin levels. While carbohydrates are a crucial component of a well-rounded and nourishing diet, reducing carbohydrate intake can prove to be highly efficacious in achieving weight loss goals.
- Start consuming apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can stop insulin and blood sugar levels from rising too much after eating, especially when taken with foods that have a lot of carbohydrates.
- Keep an eye on portion sizes: Having too much quantity of foods especially those with a high glycemic index can cause the pancreas to release too much insulin. Hence take charge of your portions.
- Exercise regularly: Doing exercise regularly can help lower insulin levels. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful for people with obesity or type 2 diabetes because it can make them more sensitive to insulin.
From the above, it becomes clear that eating healthy, exercising regularly, and maintaining a proper sleep cycle appears critical in combating hormonal weight gain. These changes are not very hard to incorporate especially if you start slow.
How do you know if your belly fat is hormonal?
Look out for the following signs:
- Feeling hungry despite eating a full meal: If you used to feel full after a meal but now you still feel hungry, it could mean that your sex hormones are indirectly affecting your main metabolism-regulating hormones. The two main hormones involved are estrogen and testosterone.
- If you have lower levels of estrogen in your body, you may not feel as satisfied after eating. This is because estrogen affects a hormone called leptin, which tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. When you have more leptin in your system, you feel more satisfied and are less likely to eat more.
- A study found that higher levels of estrogen are associated with increased leptin concentration and decreased appetite. This is why postmenopausal women, who have lower estrogen levels, tend to gain fat and lose muscle mass.
- Testosterone, the main sex hormone in men, also has an opposite effect on leptin concentration. As testosterone levels increase, leptin levels decrease. If testosterone levels are elevated due to missed periods, PCOS, or chronic stress, it can lead to increased hunger and weight gain.
- Your weight gain is only in your abdomen: If you gain weight mostly around your abdomen, that might be because of hormones like insulin and cortisol. However, in addition to these, it could also be because of low estrogen levels. When levels of estrogen in the body decrease such as during menopause this can alter the fat distribution in the body. In particular, it can cause fat to accumulate in your abdomen as opposed to your thighs and hips. Hence take note of where fat is mostly accumulating in your body to identify hormone-based weight fluctuations.
- You’re craving sugar: If you find yourself constantly wanting sugar, this might be a sign that your body is struggling with insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, your cells are not able to take in glucose from the blood. This leaves your cells starved for carbs making you want more sugar. In addition to making you crave sugar, insulin resistance can elevate leptin levels which over time can make you insensitive to the effects of the same. This means you will no longer be able to recognize the ‘I am full’ sign making you eat more and gain weight.
- You’re losing your hair: If you’re losing hair and gaining weight around your belly simultaneously, it could be because of your hormones. Your thyroid hormones control your weight and hair growth, so if your thyroid isn’t working properly, it could be causing both problems at the same time.
Conclusively, it becomes clear that your hormones are incredibly important in controlling your body shape and appetite. Having an imbalance of the same could sometimes be the ultimate culprit behind those pounds that never seem to go away. Recognizing hormonal weight gain and incorporating changes to combat the same hence appear critical in helping you lose weight and achieve your health goals!
Hormone University was created as an educational platform with the mission to improve hormone health through accessible knowledge and to advocate for social impact in our communities.
You’re not alone.
80% of the adult female population has experienced hormonal imbalance at one point in their life that affected not only their physical health but also their mental health. Coping with pain, infertility, anxiety, depression, body image issues, and, on top of this, judgment is the heavy load most of these women have to bear each day and an important problem we need to tackle as a society.