Hormonal Weight Gain [Causes & Treatments]
Fact: hormonal weight gain may be to blame for those stubborn 10 to 20 pounds you keep losing and gaining back every couple of months.
When your hormones fluctuate, so does your weight. In some cases, a chronic hormonal imbalance can even result in perpetual weight gain that refuses to budge.
Does this mean you’re doomed to live with that lower belly pooch forever? Not at all!
This article looks at the symptoms of hormonal weight gain, and shows several steps you can take to keep your hormones happy & shed that extra poundage once and for all.
What Is Hormonal Weight Gain?
Hormonal weight gain occurs when the body packs on extra weight because of an underlying imbalance in your hormone production.
This imbalance could affect hormones like estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and more.
But why is hormonal weight gain so prevalent?
Losing and gaining a few pounds is a fairly normal part of going through daily life and can sometimes be inevitable as you age, experience an injury that may stop you from working out consistently, or hit the holiday season.
However, a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with other lifestyle factors like poor sleep, chronic stress, and a diet of processed foods can deeply affect your natural hormonal balance.
When these hormones fall out of balance, you may experience hormonal weight gain, which is an entirely different issue than gaining a few pounds.
See, there is a connection between hormones and adipose tissue (also known as “fat” tissue) that leads to unwanted, and even harmful, weight gain.
There are three types of fat cells or adipose tissue:
- White fat — These fat cells store energy. They secrete hormones and signal molecules that regulate the insulin response to food intake. Hormones related to white fat include leptin and asprosin. The former is the chemical messenger that tells your brain that you have enough fat for energy or that you need more through eating. The latter tells the liver to release glucose, needed for energy metabolism, into the bloodstream. White fat cells also secrete estrogens, which play a role in reproduction, bone density, the menstrual cycle, and more.
- Brown fat — The “healthiest” type of fat cells, brown fat is a type of thermogenic (or heat-producing) fat. The energy it releases helps your body’s temperature remain steady, instead of slipping into hypothermia.
- Beige fat — Beige fat cells are found between the white and brown ones. They come from white fat cells but, like brown fat, release energy to keep the body warm. Both brown and beige fat help to reduce metabolic diseases, including obesity, and promote lean muscle in the body.
Image by Jonathan R Brestoff
Now, there’s a clear hierarchy between the three types of adipose tissue. You definitely want brown and beige fat, but too much white fat is not a good thing.
When people face issues such as hormonal weight gain, they’ll see stubborn fat deposits around the belly, thighs, buttocks, waist, and shoulders. This is usually due to excessive white adipose fat. White fat takes up far more space and is not as efficient as brown or beige fat.
Additionally, the more white fat cells you have, the greater the amount of hormones these types of tissue will secrete.
For example, high levels of estrogen secreted by white fat cells can lead to other issues like PCOS, thyroid dysfunction, low libido, brain fog, ovarian cysts, and more.
Another example is high levels of hormones like leptin, also produced by white fat cells. Leptin connects to ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone that tells your body you’re hungry. More fat cells equals more leptin production and rising leptin levels increase ghrelin.
In other words, you keep eating more than you need, and your body continually stores most of it as white fat tissue deposits, resulting in a rather vicious cycle of hormonal weight gain.
7 Symptoms of Hormonal Weight Gain
Hormonal weight gain is easy enough to spot, but a little trickier to address.
We’ll get to all the natural remedies you can use to reverse the weight gain later in this article. First, let’s take a look at what you’ll likely experience, beyond the additional weight.
Fatigue is one of the most common hormonal weight gain symptoms. That’s because hormonal weight gain relates to cortisol dysfunction.
High levels of cortisol deplete your brain of serotonin, rob you of a restful sleep, and make your body store fat.
#2. Muscle Weakness
On the other hand, low levels of cortisol can lead to muscle weakness. Too much estrogen in the body does the same.
#3. Central Obesity
Central obesity is what happens when there’s an increase in abdominal and visceral fat. This is fat that sits directly under the skin. It’s what we call “flab,” and it’s the abdominal fat that also gives the appearance of a bloated or hormonal belly.
If your weight gain comes with a marked increase in adult acne, chances are that your hormones are at play.
Hormone fluctuations can trigger issues like skin inflammation, oil production in the pores, clogged skin cells in hair follicles, and the production of acne-causing bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes.
#5. Moon Facies
Wondering what hormonal weight gain looks like? Developing a moon face is one of the symptoms.
Known medically as “moon facies,” this condition occurs when there’s an excessive release and build-up of cortisol in the body. Your face gradually swells into a rounded, puffy shape and you may lose definition in the jawline.
#6. Purple Stretch Marks
If you see stretch marks around the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs, it’s a common side-effect of sudden and excessive weight gain.
#7. Excessive Hair Growth in Women (Hirsutism)
Excessive and coarse hair growth is a hormonal issue faced specifically by women. It occurs when there are high levels of androgens in the body. Even though women naturally produce androgens, as men do estrogen, the amounts are much lower.
PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal imbalance condition that causes women’s bodies to produce far too many androgens. Fluctuating hormones during menopause can also trigger hirsutism and hormonal weight gain.
5+ Hormones Responsible for Weight Gain
The calorie-in-calorie-out theory of weight loss and gain is simply not enough. What researchers have discovered is that, if you’re having trouble losing weight, the issue is “99 percent... hormonal.”
The key, then, to reversing that weight gain comes down to five hormones:
- Insulin — Insulin’s main job is to send glucose into cells for a reliable form of energy. However, when insulin levels are too high, it causes your blood sugar levels to spike. Since your cells can’t absorb the extra blood glucose levels, your liver converts the excess glucose into fat. However, this creates excess white fat deposits, weight gain, and sugar cravings.
- Leptin — By nature, leptin suppresses hunger. When you’re full, leptin tells your brain to stop eating. However, weight gain means more white fat cells, which produce an excess of leptin. Eventually, your brain becomes bombarded with an abundance of leptin signals and it shuts down the response because of receptor overload. Meanwhile, leptin levels keep rising but your brain doesn’t signal your body that it’s full. Instead, you eat with increasing frequency, creating a rather addictive pattern.
- Estrogen — Too much estrogen in the body triggers weight gain in very specific ways. One of them is through central obesity, one of the symptoms of hormonal weight gain. However, estrogen plays a key role in other hormonal imbalances too. If estrogen levels are off, it could affect your ovaries and trigger PCOS, which then leads to insulin resistance. It also has an indirect effect on the thyroid gland, ensuring that it functions optimally.
- Thyroid — Thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) play an important role in regulating every cell and all organs in the body. For example, when it comes to weight maintenance, you need the right amount of thyroid hormones to regulate the rate at which your body burns calories. Thyroid hormones also control the way that your muscles contract and how effectively your body raises and lowers your temperature as well as your heartbeat. Finally, it controls the rate at which food moves through your digestive tract.
- Cortisol — Stress makes everything worse, especially when it comes to hormonal balance and weight loss. High levels of cortisol are associated with weight gain, food addiction, and cravings for salty or sugary snacks. The worst part is that high cortisol levels cause you to feel wired and jittery but not energized. Instead, you feel tired and lack the motivation to work out and burn that excess energy with something that would help address weight gain.
3+ Ways to Lose Hormonal Weight Gain
The best way to lose hormonal weight gain is to balance your hormones naturally. There are several natural remedies for hormonal weight gain, so let’s take a look at three methods you can start using right away.
1) Start Taking Hormonal Balance Supplements
Hormone balance pills and supplements are two of the most effective hormonal imbalance treatments you can opt for.
Since you already know which hormones are at play in hormone-related weight gain, the supplements you choose should aim to alleviate their effects.
Here are few you can choose from:
- Ashwagandha — Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps your body relax, de-stress, and feel balanced again - all thanks to lowered cortisol levels.
- Go With the Flow — This formula of herbs is designed to naturally balance a woman’s hormones, as they tend to fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and throughout menopause. Those who take this supplement report fewer PMS symptoms, as well as reduced acne, bloating, and tenderness.
- Positively Pregnant - Dad edition — Positively Pregnant Dad Edition focuses on boosting male fertility, but its collection of potent herbs improve more than just libido. This natural remedy can help with weight loss by addressing testosterone levels since low testosterone increases weight and belly fat in men.
Pro-tip: If you’re a woman dealing with weight gain because of hormones, you might consider trying hormone balance teas. These herbs, taken separately or combined, can help alleviate some of the symptoms of estrogen-related hormonal issues.
2) Use the Best Exercises for Hormonal Weight Gain
The best exercises for hormonal weight gain should help you do two things: First, they should get your heart rate and metabolism going. Boosting metabolic function means that your food intake is processed much more efficiently.
Secondly, the exercises you choose as part of your hormonal imbalance treatment regime should help eliminate the excess build-up of these hormones through the liver and the brain.
As hormones return to balance, the right ones will start firing — for example, exercise stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. But this also reduces your body’s stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
So, what should you do? Here’s our list of exercises for hormonal weight management:
- HIIT — Rather than running for cardio, try HIIT. Also known as high-intensity interval training, this set of exercises focus on full-body, dynamic movements in a series of circuits. There’s minimal rest time between exercises and between circuits because the key is to keep your heart rate up. Over time, your body adapts its strength, speed, and endurance, which allows you to scale up the time. This is a sign that your metabolism is working more efficiently -- and you’ll feel the burn all day long.
- Strength Training — If you’re doing HIIT twice a week, alternate with strength training exercises. These are weighted exercises that help you create a mind-body connection and improve lean muscle mass and bone strength. Focus on fewer repetitions but maximize your weights as much as you can without risking an injury. Weight training is one of the best ways to burn white fat tissue and produce brown fat instead.
- Yoga — Our final recommendation is to commit to yoga practice at least once a week. This completes a five-day exercise routine, but you only need to commit to 15-20 minutes in the beginning. Yoga can help you relax and destress, lengthen the body, and elongate the muscles. The breathwork will help you with your stamina and endurance in HIIT, and the focus on specific muscles will connect nicely to your strength training efforts. Best of all, yoga is proven to reduce cortisol in the body.
3) Improve Your Diet
Without addressing your diet, supplementation and exercise will only take you so far. A diet designed to offset hormonal weight gain includes foods that have a therapeutic and naturally balancing effect on the body.
So, for example, wild-caught salmon is a hormone balance diet staple. The omega-3s fatty acids in wild-caught salmon can do everything from boosting our mood to reducing the risk of breast cancer. They’re also a source of healthy fats, which contribute to brown and beige fat.
Other foods to incorporate as staples to reduce hormonal weight gain include:
- Bell peppers
- Carbs like millet, quinoa, and brown rice
- Brazil nuts
- Organic tempeh
Despite these common weight gain signs, hormonal imbalances may not always be apparent to you. You might think that genetics or aging are responsible for weight gain on the belly and hips.
That may or may not be true — but the best place to start is with hormonal testing. You may be surprised to learn which hormones are in excess, which are not enough, and which are being blocked altogether.
Once you learn which hormones are imbalanced, and potentially triggering your weight gain, you can use the strategies above to shed those extra pounds without going on crazy yo-yo diets or opting for harmful supplements. The fact is that hormonal weight gain is entirely reversible — all you need is a plan and some patience.