Hormonal weight gain
William Read - Nutrition Consultant
William is from Canada, he is passionate nutrition & wellness writer. William understands that the topic of wellness is still not well understood, so his goal is to enlighten and teach people how to live healthier and happier in their bodies.
27.02.2024

Hormonal Weight Gain: What Happens When Your Hormones are All Over the Place

Body Female health

The vicious circle: you gain and lose the same number of pounds every year without any evident cause; your eating habits are the same; you haven’t changed your activity levels, and you haven’t been on a diet. Where do those pounds come from, and why do they go away one moment so quickly?

The answer is hormones. When some hormones in your body are offbeat, it can lead to complete chaos. Hormonal weight gain is a sign that something is out of whack and needs fixing; once you take care of the imbalance, the pounds will also shed. 

To make sure that you fix your hormonal imbalance for good, you must understand how different hormones work and cause you to put on weight. Insulin, progesterone, estradiol, testosterone – what are those, and how can they wreak havoc on your body? Let’s explore. 

Table Of Contents

What is Hormonal Weight Gain?

Hormones are the main chemical messengers in your body, controlling your mood, stress levels, hunger levels, reproduction, growth, sleep, and appetite. When your hormones are in harmony, your body functions like a clock, but you will notice the signs once even one hormone is slightly off. 

Hormones such as leptin, insulin, estrogen, cortisol, ghrelin, and thyroid regulate your weight, metabolism, hunger, and appetite. Their imbalance (too little or too much of them) can lead to rapid weight gain or weight loss. 

In most cases, the rule “move your body more and eat fewer calories” works and helps lose weight, but not when it comes to hormonal weight gain. When hormones are involved, you need a whole new approach. 

It’s time to see what hormones make you gain weight and why. 

hormonal weight gain

Does Insulin Make You Gain Weight?

The short answer is – yes! Insulin, produced by your pancreas, is the primary storage hormone in your body. It promotes glucose storage in your liver, muscles, and fat cells. The goal is to ensure you have enough energy to function throughout the day and maintain normal glucose levels.

What can go wrong, then? If your insulin levels are chronically high, it can lead to insulin resistance. In this case, cells become less responsive to insulin’s signals, and your body produces even more insulin – a vicious cycle of high insulin levels. 

The more insulin is produced, the more it gets stored as fat, impairing the body’s ability to use fat for energy. Even worse – elevated insulin levels cause cravings and over-the-roof appetite, making you eat more. 

Is it possible to prevent insulin resistance? Of course! You can break this vicious cycle and restore your healthy insulin levels by making a few simple tweaks to your life. 

Focus on eating a clean, nutrient-dense diet, avoiding snacks and saturated and trans fats. With enough protein and healthy fats in your diet, you won’t experience spikes in blood sugar levels. 

Move, move, move! Hitting the gym, working out on the mat at home, or even walking in the park after work – everything counts and matters. Find an activity you enjoy and turn it into a fun adventure, keeping your insulin levels in check. 

Also, read – How to Lose Weight Safely While Breastfeeding

Does Progesterone Cause Weight Gain?

Sex hormones are often blamed for weight gain, and progesterone is one of them. This hormone is needed for a healthy pregnancy since it protects your bones and brain while also influencing your metabolism, libido, and thyroid hormone levels.

On its own, progesterone will unlikely cause you to gain weight. In combination with estrogen (another sex hormone), however, there’s a higher chance of chaos, especially if the two aren’t in balance.  

When your progesterone levels are low, everything goes haywire, and you’re more likely to put on extra pounds. An imbalance between estrogen and progesterone is one of the leading causes of progesterone weight gain. 

Low progesterone levels can also mess up your insulin response, and it is also linked to PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). In the case of insulin resistance and PCOS, losing weight can be a real challenge; about 40 to 80% of women with PCOS are plump or obese. 

Does Estradiol Cause Weight Gain? 

Have you ever heard of estradiol? It can also lead to weight gain or difficulty shedding pounds. What is estradiol, and how does it work? 

Estradiol is a type of estrogen produced both by males and females. It is the most common type of estrogen in females during their reproductive years. In women, estradiol is crucial for reproductive function, but it also controls food intake and energy expenditure

If estradiol levels are too low, it can lead to weight gain, which is often the case during adolescence, perimenopause, and menopause. That is why some women may experience weight gain during these periods of life. 

Estradiol also helps regulate insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism; when this hormone’s levels are out of whack, it can also lead to weight gain. 

Does Testosterone Make You Gain Weight?

Both ovaries and testicles produce testosterone. Too much or too little of it can affect both your physical and mental health, including weight gain

Normal testosterone levels are responsible for muscle growth, deeper voice, facial and body hair growth in men, and bone density in both sexes. 

Low testosterone levels in men are linked to weight gain and reduced muscle mass; that’s the reason why men with low testosterone levels struggle to build muscle despite working out regularly. 

Moreover, obese men have 30% lower testosterone levels than those who are normal-weight, and a lot of obese men suffer from severe testosterone deficiency (hypogonadism). It is possible to reverse these levels back to normal with weight loss. 

If you have low testosterone levels, it is possible to bring them back to normal with testosterone replacement therapy (in case of hypogonadism) or naturally through exercise, a healthy lifestyle, eating a nutrient-based diet, and minimizing your cortisol levels. 

Can High FSH Levels Cause Weight Gain?

FHS (follicle-stimulating hormone) is often linked to weight gain in women, especially during menopause. High levels of this hormone are associated with abnormal fat metabolism and impairments in cognition. 

Elevated FHS levels can also be linked to PCOS, which often impacts hormonal imbalance and metabolism. Thus, FHS alone does not cause weight gain; the underlying conditions lead to that, some of which are natural, like menopause. 

Lifestyle changes, hormonal therapy, and medical management can help improve FHS levels and manage weight. 

Estrogen Dominance Weight Gain Causes 

Estrogen is also known as the “female” hormone, even though both sexes produce it. People assigned female at birth usually have higher estrogen levels, helping regulate the menstrual cycle and influencing the entire reproductive system

If your estrogen levels are too high in comparison with progesterone, it is called “estrogen dominance.” Elevated estrogen levels in females can lead to weight gain, headaches, fatigue, issues with menstrual periods, breast tenderness, and other symptoms. 

In most cases, high levels of estrogen are related to PCOS or premenopause or medications you’re taking, such as birth control pills. 

More variables that trigger raised estrogen levels include: 

Can High Parathyroid Hormone Cause Weight Gain? 

Your thyroid regulates your metabolism, so if you have too much or too little thyroid hormone, it can affect your weight. Too much thyroid hormone leads to weight loss; too little – to weight gain and fatigue. 

High levels of parathyroid hormone are also known as hyperparathyroidism. This condition can influence calcium regulation in the body and cause different health issues, but it’s not directly connected to weight gain. 

If your calcium levels are too high due to hyperparathyroidism, it can lead to osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, kidney stones, pancreatitis, insulin resistance, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. If you develop insulin resistance due to high parathyroid hormone, it can lead to weight gain, but the hormone does not directly affect weight. 

Hyperprolactinemia Weight Gain: How Does It Happen?

Hyperprolactinemia is when your body produces too much prolactin – a hormone responsible for mammary gland development, stimulating lactation, and regulating the menstrual cycle. 

Abnormally high prolactin levels are linked to:

  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility
  • Loss of libido
  • Hot flashes
  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain

Hyperprolactinemia is not directly linked to weight gain, but it can lead to it through interference with estrogen and testosterone. Changes in these hormones can affect appetite, energy use, fat storage, and metabolism, leading to weight changes. 

Also, read – Does Intermittent Fasting Affect Your Period?

Hormonal Weight Gain Symptoms

Fluctuating Mood Swings

Active mood swings can be an indication that you’re struggling with hormonal weight gain. While most people experience mood swings, these symptoms are distinct if they are more severe than usual.

Lack of Sufficient Rest (Sleep)

Lack of sleep is one of the most typical indicators that someone is undergoing a hormonal weight increase. Sleep deprivation has been shown to control hormone levels, particularly cortisol, leading to both psychological and physical consequences.

Unexpected Increase In Belly Fat

A rapid increase in belly fat is one of the most apparent signs of hormonal weight gain. Elevated cortisol levels, often triggered by stress or anxiety, can contribute to this phenomenon. Higher cortisol levels are associated with increased abdominal fat deposition.

Severe Craving for Sugary Foods

Another clue that you’re dealing with hormonal weight gain is having intense sweet cravings. This could be due to a lack of sugar or carbs in your meal plan list, but it could also be due to elevated cortisol levels, which promote appetite and desire for sugary foods.

Hormonal Imbalance Men and Women Differences 

The issue of hormonal imbalance can affect both men and women but in slightly different ways due to variations in hormone levels and how they function in both sexes. 

Men 

  • Testosterone dominance: Low testosterone and weight gain are closely connected; it can also lead to decreased libido, fatigue, erectile dysfunction, and loss of muscles. 
  • Estrogen balance: Imbalances in estrogen can lead to enlarged breast tissue, weight gain, and mood changes. 
  • Cortisol regulation: Weight gain in the abdominal region, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure are caused by high levels of cardiac hormones, primarily cortisol and insulin.

Women 

  • Estrogen imbalance: Irregular periods, mood swings, weight gain, reduced libido, and hot flashes. 
  • Thyroid issues: Thyroid conditions can affect metabolism, leading to weight gain, and influence menstrual periods. 
  • Progesterone imbalance: Estrogen dominance leads to breast tenderness, bloating, mood swings, and irregular periods. 
  • Insulin sensitivity: Insulin and weight gain are closely connected. Insulin resistance also leads to elevated blood sugar levels and increased hunger levels. 

Hormonal body type is a thing; imbalances in different hormones influence where the fat is stored, so you must find other ways to target these areas and sculpt a more resilient, stronger you. 

Estrogen Body Type

If you have an estrogen body type with more weight in your abdomen and hips, focus on exercises that boost your metabolism. These include motivating strength training routines and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which focus on various muscle regions and burn more calories. 

Cortisol Body Type

A cortisol, or adrenal, body type is characterized by healthy-looking arms and legs but a saggy lower belly, where the majority of fat is stored. To prevent your cortisol levels from spiking, focus on serenity as you flow through yoga asanas. Include moderate-intensity cardio like cycling, walking, and swimming, and focus on resistance training with lighter weights.

Hormonal Back Fat

To get rid of hormonal back fat, focus on movements that strengthen your back muscles – pull-ups, rows, and lat pulldowns. You can also do reverse flyers and shoulder presses to burn back and arm fat. 

Upper Arms Fat

Fat upper arm hormones include estrogen, cortisol, insulin, and thyroid. Arm exercises you can perform to get rid of upper arm fat include bicep curls, overhead presses, and tricep curls. Push-ups and dips are also welcomed as they engage multiple muscle groups. 

Hormonal Imbalance Face Swelling

Practice face exercises like jawline clenches, cheek lifts, and neck stretches. You can also integrate gua sha into your routine to help with swelling and lymphatic drainage. Whenever you have free time, perform jumping jacks or jog around to increase blood flow. Remember to stay hydrated and limit salt consumption

What Foods Cause Hormonal Imbalance? Pantry Breakdown

Your life is packed with stuff that influences your hormones: environmental changes, lifestyle choices, genetics, age, levels of physical activity, and even the food you eat. While your favorite snacks and meals don’t directly cause hormonal imbalances, they can contribute to or worsen them if your hormones are already out of whack.

Here are the foods to be aware of hormone body type distractions:

Processed Foods

Processed foods such as fast food, packaged meals, and refined carbs can contain chemicals like synthetic hormones, flavor enhancers, heavy metals, and artificial sweeteners, all of which are linked to changes in hormone levels. 

Sugary Foods and Drinks

Excessive consumption of sugary foods and beverages like candies, cookies, pastries, and sodas leads to spikes in blood sugar levels and, in time, to insulin resistance. It leads to weight gain and changes in your hormones. 

Trans Fats

Fried and processed foods are packed with trans fats. French fries, cookies, onion rings, potato chips, frozen pizzas – all of these foods can disrupt your hormone levels and insulin resistance.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

An occasional drink or two won’t harm your hormones, but excessive alcohol consumption can be detrimental. Alcohol affects the function of cortisol, reproductive hormones, and insulin, leading to imbalances. 

Soy Products

Soy contains phytoestrogens – a component that mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. If you consume soy products in moderation, it may have great health benefits. However, when consumed excessively, it may influence your hormonal levels. 

Hormonal Fat Areas 

Some hormones that cause weight gain can influence where fat is stored in your body. It’s not a rule but a pattern; fat storage areas still vary based on genetics and lifestyle factors, but hormones play a role here. 

Abdominal Fat 

Cortisol, insulin, and estrogen imbalances can make you gain weight in your lower belly area. If you’ve noticed that you’ve recently put on excess weight in your abdomen, check your hormone levels.

Hip and Thigh Fat 

Estrogen is one of the key players in women’s fat distribution, especially around the hips and thighs. Hormonal fluctuations can lead to a “pear-shaped” body type, mainly during pregnancy and menopause when hormones are all over the place. 

Upper Arm Fat 

Elevated cortisol levels or insulin resistance can also make you accumulate fat in your upper arms, leaving you with flabby arms. Fortunately, there are multiple exercises you can do to prevent this from happening.  

Back Fat 

If you have insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction, it might contribute to the accumulation of fat in the upper and lower back regions. 

Facial Fat 

During periods of hormonal imbalances, like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, people tend to notice that their faces become rounder. That’s because estrogen and testosterone levels influence fat distribution in the face and can make your cheeks puffier. 

How to Lose Hormonal Weight Gain

Losing hormonal weight should start from within: from fixing your metabolic hormones. Once you find the cause of weight gain and start bringing balance to your hormones, you can start incorporating other lifestyle changes to make this process faster.

Here’s what you can do to shed hormonal pounds:

  • Work out regularly (low to moderate-intensity workouts, walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, pilates)
  • Avoid stress
  • Start meditating
  • Say no to processed foods and sugar 
  • Eat a more nutritious diet (including veggies, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates) 
  • Hydrate (consume at least 2 liters of water daily)
  • Prioritize sleep (aim for 7-9 hours of good, deep sleep every night) 
  • Optimize gut health (consume probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut)

Wrapping Up

Does it seem like your hormones have gained control over your life, and you’re not in charge anymore? Good news: you are! It’s possible to take care of your hormonal imbalances with the right approach and help; all you need to do is take the first step toward regaining control. 

Don’t lose hope or feel overwhelmed by the challenges: you will lose weight, and you will find balance in every aspect of your life, including your hormones. You’re not alone in this journey; reach out to healthcare professionals, wellness coaches, and nutrition experts who will guide you. 

It won’t be easy and smooth, and you may face challenges along the way, but with enough patience, commitment, and willpower, hormonal weight gain will become an unpleasant memory left in the past. Your future will be filled with the wellness and health you deserve. 

William is from Canada, he is passionate nutrition & wellness writer. William understands that the topic of wellness is still not well understood, so his goal is to enlighten and teach people how to live healthier and happier in their bodies.