measuring waist

Can Hormones Affect Your Weight Loss?

Category: Weight Loss

Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers and are made by the various glands (pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries or testicles and pancreas) in your body and direct how it functions.

Stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, speed up your heart rate, raise your blood pressure and mobilise stored energy to help you adapt to a stress. This hormone response enables you to run from an attacker or fight them off.

Sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone) stimulate egg growth, sperm growth and ovulation so that you can reproduce.

Energy usage hormones (insulin, glucagon and leptin) stimulate the release of stored energy, trigger the storage of excess energy and regulate hunger.

Thyroid hormones control your metabolic rate. The higher their level, the faster your metabolic rate. The lower their level, the slower your metabolic rate.

Now, while these 4 categories of hormones have their own distinct and unique functions, all of them can affect your weight.. They can raise it and they can also lower it. So, as with many systems within your body, the key is balance.

Major Hormones Involved in Weight Regulation

Insulin, the commander of fat making

This often troublesome hormone is produced by your pancreas and its job is to manage your blood sugar levels. It does this by escorting glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into your cells.

Once inside your cells, glucose is either used for energy or stored away for later. Sounds simple and straightforward doesn’t it? But here’s the twist…

If you eat too many carbs or eat carbs too often then it causes your pancreas to continually pump out insulin. As a result, your cells become overwhelmed by constant exposure to insulin and they start resisting its effects. This resistance is what we call insulin resistance and insulin goes from friend to foe.

Now, when your cells resist insulin, it shuts the cell door on glucose. So your body, clever as it is, thinks “I need to get rid of this sugar somehow”, so it starts storing glucose as fat.

Instead of burning sugar, you start storing it as fat, all thanks to high insulin levels!

And here’s another kicker. High insulin not only stimulates increased fat storage, but it also puts a padlock on fat burning. It’s a double-whammy.

You’re making fat, and you’re prevented from burning fat. Your cells are like “Nope, we’re in storage mode now, no burning allowed.”

So, when you have insulin resistance, even if you diet and exercise, it becomes super hard to burn fat to lose weight.fruits in a bowl

Leptin, the brain’s hunger switch

Leptin is your body’s personal weight management coach. When released it sends signals to your brain saying, “Hey, we’ve got enough energy stored, no need for more food here!”. When leptin levels are on point, it curbs your appetite, limits calorie intake, prevents overeating and promotes weight loss.

But if you become leptin resistant, as with insulin resistance, your brain misses the “stop eating” memo, driving you to eat more and making weight loss a frustratingly tough task.

Cortisol, your saviour and tormentor

The next hormone that impacts your weight and ability to lose weight in a big way is the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is your body’s built-in alarm system. It’s the alarm that sounds when you feel threatened, physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually and kicks off your fight-or-flight response.

Cortisol is the hormone that gives you the explosive energy to fight a lion or sprint like the wind from danger. It’s vital and crucial to survival.

But as with insulin, there’s a catch. In our modern world, lions are scarce but stress is everywhere such as mortgages, bills, relationships, family, work deadlines, traffic and so on. As important as cortisol is it flips from saviour to tormentor when stress is a constant feature in your life. Chronic stress keeps your cortisol levels high and this is bad news for your weight.

Why? Because cortisol is not just about stress, it’s intricately linked to blood sugar. If cortisol had a resume, the first line would say “I raise blood sugars”.

Cortisol makes you burn sugar rather than fat because burning sugar creates energy much faster than burning fat and fast energy is what you need when you’re trying to out run the proverbial lion.

And the problem with this is when you’re burning sugar you’re not burning fat.

But, if that’s not bad enough there’s another way cortisol affects fat burning and your weight. Chronic cortisol production triggers the famine response. During a famine, cortisol releases fat from your hips, butt and thighs for you to use to keep you alive. However, at the same time, cortisol suppresses your metabolic rate by lowering your thyroid hormone production so you don’t deplete your fat stores too quickly. This allows you to survive for the longest time possible.

These physiological adaptations were fantastic for famine survival, but these days we don’t experience famines, but we do experience chronic stress. However, your body doesn’t know the difference between famine and chronic stress, so it activates the same response and lowers your metabolic rate.

And because you aren’t in a famine, the stored body fat cortisol liberates ends up around your belly and organs, the worst places to store it.

If that isn’t bad enough, cortisol has a tricky relationship with your appetite. It messes with the signals for hunger and satiety such as leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin, making you think you need to eat more — often leading you to reach for sugary, fatty foods because your body is looking for quick energy to sustain its heightened state of alert.

And to top it off, high cortisol levels also mess with insulin sensitivity and can cause insulin resistance, which as mentioned earlier, kills fat burning and locks your cells in a state of fat storing.

Thyroid hormone, the metabolism CEO

Let’s talk about the next hormone heavyweight in the world of weight management – the thyroid hormones. You can think of your thyroid gland as the CEO of your metabolism. It pumps out hormones that directly affect how fast every cell in your body works. The more thyroid hormone there is, the faster cells work, the less thyroid hormone there is, the slower cells work.

And so, when it comes to getting into a calorie deficit to burn body fat and lose weight, your thyroid gland can be your best friend or your biggest stumbling block.

Now, the thyroid produces primarily two hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones work like the accelerator in your car. The harder it’s pressed the faster the car goes (the faster your metabolic rate) and the more fuel (body fat) it uses.

If your thyroid pumps out just the right amount of hormones, your metabolism runs like a well-tuned car and you burn calories at a good clip, your energy levels are up, and maintaining or losing weight feels easy.

But on the flipside, if your thyroid becomes sluggish, the engine stalls. This is what’s called hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism hits the brakes on your metabolic rate. Fat burning slows down like a car running out of gas. Everything goes slower: calorie burning, digestion speed, heart rate, and you guessed it, weight loss. People with hypothyroidism often feel like they’re running uphill with weights on; no matter how good their food choices, how hard they diet or exercise, the scale just doesn’t budge.

doctor checking thr

Oestrogen, the Goldilocks hormone

A hormone you might never have thought to affect your weight loss efforts is oestrogen. It’s a female sex hormone that is crucial for the development of female characteristics (breasts, ovaries, uterus, hips and thighs) and reproductive capacity.

But oestrogen isn’t just about reproductive health, it’s a key player in the processes of metabolism and fat storage. Let’s break it down, so you can understand and take advantage of and avoid the pitfalls of this hormone.

Oestrogen, subtly shapes your body’s narrative. It’s involved in regulating metabolism, appetite, and body fat distribution. But here’s the tricky part: it’s not just about the amount of oestrogen; it’s about the balance. if hormone levels are too high or too low it can throw your whole system off, and throw you into a vicious cycle of hormone driven fat production and storage.

When oestrogen levels are balanced your metabolism works efficiently, burning calories and fat like a hot knife through butter. Many women remember this time well. It was when they could eat whatever they wanted to, do a little bit of exercise and their figure remained svelte.

Oestrogen helps regulate your body weight by influencing both appetite and energy expenditure and keeps everything running smoothly.

But, when oestrogen levels drop, as happens during menopause, the story changes. This drop slows down your metabolism, making it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Suddenly, your old diet and lifestyle routine stops working. And it seems as if no matter how little you eat or what exercises you do, the weight keeps piling on.

And here’s another twist: when oestrogen levels are too high, which can happen due to various factors including lifestyle, environmental toxins and certain health conditions, it messes with your body’s ability to use carbs, increasing fat storage and making weight loss near impossible.

How A Hormonal Imbalance Can Affect Weight

As we’ve just seen when it comes to hormones and their effect on fat loss and fat storage it’s a Goldilocks type situation. You need optimal hormonal health, which is the optimal amount of each hormone to keep your metabolism humming along so you can lose weight or maintain your weight effortlessly. However, if there are too much of some or too little of others then metabolic rate crashes and you become a prisoner to the fat making and fat storing cycle.

So one of the secrets to escaping this nightmare is to know if a hormone imbalance is behind your struggles. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances –

Insulin and Leptin Resistance

  • Weight gain
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Fatigue
  • Skin tags and dark patches on the skin
  • Increased hunger


  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety & overwhelm


  • Weight gain & difficulty losing weight
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility problems
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss

Oestrogen Excess

  • Fat accumulation (hips, butt, arms, thighs)
  • Breasts have gotten bigger & Man-boobs
  • Fluid retention
  • Heavy periods
  • PMS, period pain
  • Fibroids
  • Peri-menopausal flooding
  • Breast, ovarian, endometrial & prostate cancer
  • Thyroid dysfunction

Oestrogen Deficiency

  • Weight gain
  • Osteopeania & osteoporosis
  • Hot flushes & night sweats
  • Anxiety & irritability
  • Loss of muscle mass

Strategies to Manage Weight Through Hormonal Balance

When your hormones are out of balanced and it feels like nothing you do works. But the good news is if you take a holistic approach, get your nutrition optimised and make some simple lifestyle changes you can get your hormones balanced and magic can happen.

By switching to a diet lower in carbs, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars, and increasing your fibre, healthy fats, and protein intake, you can restore your insulin sensitivity again. When you have less insulin floating around in your body it flips the switch from fat storage to fat burning.

And you can enhance this even further by exercising in a very specific way, zone 2 exercise. Zone 2 exercise is the exercise equivalent of Metformin, and actually works better than Metformin. Here’s a video of how to do zone 2 exercise:

When it comes to cortisol there are some very simple things you can do to manage it, reduce it, and channel it. Meditation, exercise, hobbies, and simply setting better boundaries in your life, lower your cortisol levels. These turn down the volume of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions and help keep everything else running smoothly.

Then, focus on sleep. Good, quality sleep lowers cortisol naturally. It gives your body and mind the chance to run its nightly maintenance checks and software updates without interruption.

Lastly, eating a low GI-diet with plenty of whole foods can stabilize your blood sugar and keep your cortisol levels in check.

For your thyroid, here are 7 fantastic foods to eat to optimise its function –

  • Sea vegetables like kelp (seaweed) because they contain iodine
  • Brazil nuts because they are rich in selenium
  • Sesame seeds because they contain copper and zinc which are both essential for optimal thyroid function
  • Pumpkin seeds because they are an excellent source of zinc which helps your cells activate your thyroid hormones
  • Spinach because it is rich in minerals like magnesium, copper, iron and zinc which are all essential for optimal thyroid hormone production
  • Prawns and scallops because they have omega 3 oils and vitamin B12 but mostly they are a rich source of iodine if you don’t like the taste of seaweed.
  • Cashews because they are loaded with copper, magnesium and zinc. Important minerals if you want to boost a sluggish thyroid

And to get your oestrogen into its sweet spot here are 5 tips –

  • Give your body the nutrients it needs to detoxify and eliminate excess oestrogen (iodine, zinc, Vitamins B6 & B12, folate)
  • Optimise liver function. Your liver is the organ that breaks down oestrogen
  • Support gut health. If your bowels are sluggish you may reabsorb oestrogen. If you have the wrong balance of gut microbes they can cause you to reabsorb oestrogen
  • Balance your cortisol levels because cortisol suppresses oestrogen production
  • Enhance oestrogen production with herbs like wild yam, black cohosh and shatavari

weight loss with naturopath

Take the Next Step in Your Weightloss Journey

In the world of weight loss too much emphasis is placed on eat less and move more because it offers a simple weight loss equation. However, in the real world many people, especially perimenopausal and menopausal women discover that weight loss is not as simple as this.  As just outlined in this article hormones play an equal, if not more important, role than diets and exercise. The mechanisms by which insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormones and estrogen affect your metabolic rate in a number of ways and play unseen roles in regulating your food intake and your activity levels that you cannot ignore if you want to be able to lose weight.

When designing weight loss treatment plans for our patients we look beyond how much time they spend in the gym, what they do in a workout and how many calories they eat per meal. We want to know – are their hormones balanced!

Test don’t guess is our motto because this way we can treat everyone as individuals. What worked for someone else might not work for you. You are unique with unique dietary needs, unique exercise needs and unique supplement needs.

So if  you’ve been struggling with losing weight then let’s get your hormones tested and your hormones balanced naturally so that you can reap the benefits of a faster metabolism. To get our help is easy, just contact us to book an initial naturopathic consultation by calling +61 2 9524 2471 or clicking here to book online.

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