Can hormonal imbalance cause weight gain? If so, what can I do to stop it?
Weight gain is something that generally has a bad rap. We’ve been taught to fear it, hate it, and reject ourselves when it ‘happens’ to us. While weight gain isn’t always a bad thing, it certainly can cause feelings of distress- anxiety, stress, anger, frustration, sadness. It can, however, also be a sign that something isn’t right with the internal balance of our bodies.
Allow me to explain…
Recap of hormonal imbalance
When our hormones are higher or lower than is necessary for the smooth function of our bodies, we can experience several unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. These are sometimes hard to spot, with many women being misdiagnosed with ‘too much stress’, or even depression. Some of these symptoms can include
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Headaches and migraines
- Tearfulness or irritability
- Depression or low mood
- Brain fog and forgetfulness
- And you guessed it — weight gain.
The weight gain may have happened steadily and slowly, and maybe it was even something intentional. But a hormonal imbalance can also influence the difficulty in losing weight. Conditions like PCOS among others, can make it seemingly impossible to lose weight – you’ve tried spinning classes, HIIT classes in the park, jogging, pilates, the list goes on… If you’re anything like me, you may have thrown in the towel and just given up all together. I’m here to tell you to pick that towel back up because you are one of many, many women who may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance. And there are solutions to your problems.
When our thyroid, oestrogen, progesterone, cortisol or any other combination of hormones we have circulating through us is triggered too much or too little, our bodies go haywire and the system gets confused. So the right signals that need to be sent, don’t.
The trouble is, that hormonal imbalances can sometimes occur from external factors; medication, increased and prolonged job or personal stress, a pituitary tumour, a recent traumatic or shocking event, and more.
Tips to deal with hormone related weight gain
Make a doctor’s appointment
First things first, try and find an endocrinologist (a doctor that specialises in hormones, among other things). Ask for blood tests that will cover your thyroid, cortisol, and any other hormone your doctor finds appropriate.
Diet and exercise
You don’t have to ‘work harder’ or ‘push yourself’ more than your limits. Making small changes in your diet and exercise routines can actually leave you feeling more satiated and energised. In my case, I made the simple switch of low intensity exercise instead of high intensity workouts. I felt less pressure to keep up, felt healthier and stronger, and didn’t feel ready to collapse after 10 minutes. When we release certain hormones and endorphins during our workouts (cortisol being one of them), it can sometimes take a while for that hormone to ‘fall back’ to its normal level.
Eating vitamin rich foods and less processed and refined sugars can help the glycogen to rise and fall smoothly, leading to less crashes of energy and brain fog.
Sleep & Weight gain
Sleep is most definitely not for the weak. It is crucial to healthy functioning of our bodies and that also includes our hormones! While we sleep, everything from our skin to our hormones regenerate, and help our bodies grow and repair. Some hormones that get released during sleep cycles are
- melatonin (regulates sleep cycle)
- growth hormone
- cortisol (responsible for stress responses)
- ghrelin and leptin (responsible for appetite and satiety)
Here is an interesting study conducted by Leproult and Van Cauter, on the role of sleep in hormonal release and metabolism. They suggest that better sleeping patterns (more hours of sleep, better quality of sleep), can serve as prevention for other diseases and weight gain.
Self-care and social support
Self-care can be beneficial in every and all aspects of our lives. This process of identifying and healing a hormonal imbalance can be long and arduous. While you shouldn’t give up hope, make sure you’re caring for yourself. Do things that bring you joy, that help you relax. Try and shift your focus from your weight, and throw that scale away. It never helped anyone. Reach out to friends and family that can help support you during your journey and always remember to be kind to yourself.
A few last words from me to you
My personal experience with hormonal related weight gain was scary at first, but, had I known what I know now, I could have treated it sooner and saved myself the self trash talk. I was experiencing very high levels of anxiety, and put on a combination of medications that had a risk of a hormonal imbalance. I ignored it. My periods stopped, I had headaches all the time, was always hungry, and exhausted. The weight piled on and I stopped sleeping well. I was killing myself in the gym and restricting my diet to a miserably small amount of calories per day.
I went to doctor after doctor, all with different specialisations until I decided to see an endocrinologist. We ran some blood tests and sure enough, it was a hormonal imbalance. As soon as I cut out unnecessary stressors from my life and changed medications, all the extra weight I had gained seemed to slip off me. I have continued sleeping well, drinking water and eating a balanced (not restricted!) diet, and focus on moving my body. My hormones are balanced, and overall I’m a lot happier and healthier.
Remember that you are not alone, and that the amount of hormonal imbalances that go unnoticed are more than we’d like. Cut out all the noise and focus on what you have to do to be happy and healthy.