Health 

Balancing Hormones for Weight Loss: The Top Six to Know

March 26, 2021 5 min read

Woman doing yoga to balance hormones for weight loss

Have you ever wondered how some people seem to diet throughout their lives while others keep a healthy weight without trying? Although they may have similar eating habits, their bodies could differ in metabolism, lifestyle, and possibly hormones. 

Every person has their own personalized biochemistry. From genetic traits to distinct physiologies, we all have different makeups that make us unique. 

While lifestyle choices make a major impact on health and weight, so do hormones. This article will provide an overview of the primary hormones involved in weight fluctuations and teach you how to balance them naturally.

Hormones and your weight

Hormones are chemical molecules that act as messengers, responsible for communicating between the different systems of the body. They are secreted into the bloodstream and transported towards the areas of the body where they perform their work.

Among the many functions of hormones are regulating physiological activities like digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sleep, stress, development, and reproduction. Hormones also impact your body weight and fat distribution. 

A study published in the Journal of Women's Health explains that women have a higher risk of obesity than men due to hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives. This hormone-weight link also affects men to a lesser degree. Fortunately, both women and men can minimize this risk with proper prevention and early intervention. 

Many complain that when they lose weight, they tend to gain it all back (and then some) quickly. Others observe that their weight creeps up as they age. Finally, some follow a perfect diet with a consistent exercise routine, but nothing seems to work. 

These situations may be the direct result of hormonal imbalances. With age, both men and women undergo changes in their hormone levels. As long as they remain off-balance, weight loss may seem impossible. While women largely deal with progesterone and estrogen imbalances, men have testosterone to blame. 

Balancing hormones for weight loss

Insulin, leptin, cortisol, and insulin are all hormones involved in metabolic rates and appetite control. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, your lifestyle choices, including your food habits, exercise routines, sleep patterns, and stress levels, can heavily influence these hormones. 

Here are the top hormones that affect your weight loss journey and the different ways to balance each one.

Insulin

Produced by your pancreas, insulin is a hormone secreted in small amounts throughout the day. It helps your cells use blood sugar, converting it into energy or storing it for later use. 

This small hormone also plays a role in fat storage. It directs fat to be stored or broken down in the body. When you have too much insulin, or it's improperly regulated, obesity is often the result.

How to manage insulin levels

There are many ways to normalize your insulin levels, but taking a close look at your diet should be the first step. Avoiding and minimizing refined sugars (like those found in soda) and refined carbohydrates (like those found in white bread) from your diet can help lower insulin levels.

Other tips for managing insulin include increasing your protein intake, adding healthy sources of fat like omega-3s, and exercising regularly. Some studies elaborate on how magnesium supplements can improve the way your body utilizes insulin.

Woman eating healthy bowl of greens for insulin hormonal balance

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells. It's the substance in your body that signals to your brain when you're full or hungry. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, those who are overweight and obese have 4x higher leptin levels in their blood. 

This is called leptin resistance, where the leptin and your brain are no longer communicating appropriately. When the system becomes imbalanced, you'll end up eating without knowing when to stop. 

Your brain may also always think you're starving, pushing you to eat more and more. What's worse, leptin resistance is linked to high insulin levels and hypothalamic inflammation, among other consequences.

How to manage leptin levels

There are several ways to manage abnormal leptin levels. You can start by avoiding foods that trigger inflammation, such as foods high in trans fats and sugary drinks like sodas. You may also want to increase your intake of omega-3s via fatty fish or algal oil supplements.

Finally, improving your sleep schedule can hugely impact your body's regulation of leptin. When you're low on sleep, leptin levels are quickly dysregulated, affecting your hunger throughout the day. 

Ghrelin

Ghrelin, also known as the "hunger hormone," is released when your stomach is empty and needs food. The hormone then travels to the hypothalamus and signals to your brain that you need to eat. 

Ghrelin levels peak before you eat until about one hour after you finish your meal. In those who are overweight or obese, ghrelin levels do not decrease significantly after a meal, pushing them to keep on eating.

How to manage ghrelin levels

There are a few ways to regulate your ghrelin levels. These include avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and all sweetened beverages. Eating meals high in protein, especially at breakfast, can also sustain ghrelin levels throughout the day and help to promote feelings of fullness.

Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It's also referred to as the "stress hormone." According to a study at UCSF, elevated cortisol levels can lead to overeating and weight gain. 

A separate study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine revealed that dieting contributes to elevated cortisol levels, particularly among those following low-calorie diets. This link also led to an increase in perceived stress levels measured among participants. 

Woman stretching to reduce cortisol levels and balance hormones

How to manage cortisol levels

There are quite a few ways to reduce your cortisol levels naturally. As with other hormonal balancing measures, eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods is an excellent place to start. 

Meditating and listening to soothing music can also help regulate cortisol in the body. And much like with your hunger hormones, establishing healthy sleeping patterns can help keep cortisol in check.  

Estrogen

Produced by the ovaries and instrumental to the female reproductive system, estrogen is a female sex hormone that can lead to weight gain when its levels are too high or too low. 

According to a study published in the journal PloS One, researchers have discovered a link between overweight or obese women and higher estrogen levels. 

When estrogen levels drop during menopause, fat storage shifts from the thighs to the abdominal area. This fat-storage pattern contributes to insulin resistance, which we discussed above as an essential hormone for blood sugar regulation. 

How to manage estrogen levels?

You can maintain your estrogen levels through proper nutrition and active lifestyle shifts. For most, it's essential to eat a high-fiber diet rich in fresh vegetables and whole grains. 

Exercise is also an effective way to normalize your estrogen levels both before and after menopause. By incorporating more produce and more activity into your daily habits, you'll not only shed some pounds, but you'll also help balance your estrogen levels in the process. 

Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1)

GLP-1 is a hormone the gut produces when nutrients arrive in the intestines. It plays a significant role in regulating your blood glucose levels, helping you feel full after eating. 

How to manage glucagon levels

To boost your GLP-1 levels, again, we start with diet. For example, eating high-protein foods like fish, whey or pea proteins, and yogurt can boost your GLP-1 and improve insulin sensitivity. 

You can also boost levels of this hormone when you incorporate anti-inflammatory foods and leafy greens into your diet. Finally, probiotic supplements can help increase the levels of GLP-1 by helping you eat less than you normally might.

In summary

Many hormones in the body can affect your weight, such as insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and estrogen. These work in harmony to decrease your appetite and fat storage. 

When one or more hormones become imbalanced, you might notice weight problems. Fortunately, healthy lifestyle habits like exercise, balanced sleep, and a nutritious diet can help regulate your hormones and weight.