Hormone Imbalance and Weight Gain: The Real Story
Unwanted weight gain is one of the main complaints of many of my female clients. This is not surprising given that about 95% of these women also have imbalanced hormones. One would think that dealing with weight issues should be straightforward – a calories in versus calories out sort of thing. However hormone imbalance and weight gain is much more complex than that.
Although I won’t get deep into the role of each of our hormones in this article (you can find that information in these articles: Those Amazing Female Hormones and HORMONES: We all have them), I want to point out that it’s not just reproductive hormone imbalances that are to blame for weight gain. In fact, weight issues seldom start there at all. Rather, hormonal weight gain usually begins with the adrenal glands.
Cutting to the chase: we can blame STRESS.
The adrenal glands produce your stress-handling hormones. Whenever you feel threatened your body does whatever it can to assure you’ll survive. Historically, running away from a threat was the typical response, so the body learned to help itself do just that by releasing hormones (chemical messengers that signal all parts of the body to do certain things at specific times) that signaled the systems of the body to send all energy to the extremities. To help with this, all functions unnecessary for survival were slowed or temporarily shut down until the threat passed; digestion, metabolism (the breakdown of nutrients from our food to make energy), detoxification, etc. This allowed us to get far away as fast as possible.
The adaptations the body learned to make way back when are still in effect today, even though our modern “threats” are quite a bit different. Today you probably won’t be chased by a wild animal, but you will likely experience stress like money troubles, relationship issues, traffic, juggling too many responsibilities, chronic illness or taking care of elderly parents. The thing is, these modern-day stresses cause the same adrenal response as being chased by a tiger.
Adrenal glands and weight gain
When our adrenal glands are constantly releasing stress hormones like cortisol, they begin to tire out and stop functioning as they should. These glands were meant to handle short-term stress followed by a time of recovery before handling the next threat. When that doesn’t happen, the adrenals ultimately fail to shut off, and the release of stress-handling hormones becomes inefficient and inconsistent, causing all sorts of problems and imbalances.
I mentioned earlier that part of the body’s stress response is to shut down or slow all bodily functions that are not necessary to get away from a threat. Since a healthy weight depends upon healthy digestion and efficient metabolism, can you imagine how a slowing down of those functions could play a role in causing weight gain?
Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates or for salty foods are common when the adrenal glands are struggling. It’s actually a known fact that carbohydrates help decrease the body’s response to stress – so it’s not your imagination that you feel really good when you eat sugary treats or so-called “comfort foods” during times of stress. Not only that but if you have tired adrenals you may crave salty foods even more than you crave carbs. That’s because the delicate balance between sodium and the other minerals depends on healthy adrenal function and vice versa.
The stress response also influences weight indirectly, as large amounts of nutrients are used up each time your body responds to stress. When these nutrients are used up and deficiencies occur, your body experiences additional stress and it won’t be able to manufacture more hormones. In fact, without the proper levels of vitamins and minerals, none of the systems of your body function efficiently. This, too, leads to weight gain.
All of your hormones are intricately related, meaning one affects the other that affects the other. If your body is too high in one hormone, to protect itself from the possible danger of that (we only need very tiny amounts of each hormone), certain mechanisms are triggered. I explain this in detail in an earlier article, A Balancing Act: The Body’s Hormone-Regulating Mechanisms . Once these protective mechanisms kick in, various hormones, not just the one hormone that was too high, could be blocked from entering the cells or the glands will simply stop producing them. This includes the reproductive hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and the blood sugar regulators insulin and glucagon. All of these hormones play a role in your tendency to gain, or lose, weight.
Detoxification and weight gain
As mentioned earlier, detoxification is another one of those bodily functions not necessary for survival when you’re being chased by a tiger. When you lose your ability to efficiently get rid of bad stuff for which your body has no use, that also can cause weight gain. I’ll explain: Normally, your liver does a great job of handling all that we throw at it in terms of toxins, chemicals, pollution and any other junk that the body can’t use. Through some pretty impressive mechanisms, all of this “bad stuff” goes through a few “filters” where it is can be chemically altered to be less dangerous to the body and more easily excreted out of the body. When the functioning of your liver is throttled down all of that “bad stuff” is held up in there and potentially forced to recirculate back into your bloodstream. And, if the nasty toxins and pollutants happen to be “fat-soluble” (meaning they are stored in fat), then your body actually protects itself by holding onto fat so that these toxins don’t cause harm by getting back into the bloodstream. Impaired detoxification makes it close to impossible to get rid of extra pounds of fat.
Do reproductive hormones play any role in weight gain?
Yes. Your body treats certain chemicals (called xenoestrogens: think plastics) the same way it treats the hormone estrogen because of the similar molecular structure. Estrogen is fat-soluble, so when your body has too much, it is stored in fat cells (see paragraph above). In addition, too much estrogen coming in from the outside will cause those protective mechanisms discussed above to engage, which throws ALL of the hormones into an imbalance. That includes the thyroid hormones, which are integral in the regulation of metabolism.
Even in cases when you don’t have a lot of synthetic estrogen coming in from the outside (rare!), once you combine the stress of everyday life with the physical stress resulting from the natural ups and downs of hormones during puberty, perimenopause and menopause, the protective mechanisms are likely to be triggered, disrupting hormone balance and, once again causing concerns with weight gain.
What YOU can do to stop hormone imbalance and weight gain.
After reading this, hopefully you can see just how complex the relationship is between hormone imbalance and weight gain. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I believe getting to the root of a health symptom is the best way to correct it over the long term. Hormone imbalance and weight gain are just that: symptoms of something deeper. So let’s look at some things you can do that will help you balance your hormones and lose that stubborn weight.
Relieve your stress.
Some warning signs that the weight gain you’re experiencing has something to do with stress are:
- Mid- to late-afternoon fatigue
- A light-headed feeling when standing up after sitting
- Reliance on caffeine to keep you going in the morning or late afternoon
- Feeling unrested after a full night sleep
- Weakness, shakiness when you miss a meal or in between meals
What can you do? Practice deep-breathing, meditation, yoga and avoid overscheduling. Learn to say no! In addition, soaking in a warm bath of Epsom salts and several drops of lavender essential oil prior to bedtime will allow the body to settle down and shut off the stress response while helping to detoxify.
We women tend to fight weight gain with an effort to burn more calories . . . intensely. In theory, this is the way it should work, but we now know that when you already have imbalanced hormones and overworked adrenal glands, intense exercise is considered by your body to be more negative stress. When that happens – you guessed it – the intense exercise will backfire and lead to more weight gain! You can help your body right itself through daily gentle exercise like walking, or yoga and stretching. The key is to burn calories without sending your body into fight-or-flight mode.
Find out what nutrients your body is missing.
Some of you may have read about Hair Tissue Mineral Testing in my earlier articles but have yet to try it. If your hormones are out of balance and you want to lose weight I urge you to consider it now. This simple, non-invasive test will clue you in to everything I talked about in this article, at the cell level, simply by determining what minerals are present in a small sample of your hair. It’s a great starting point for any hormone-balancing or weight loss program.
We women tend to be perfectionist caregivers and multi-taskers, so stress typically plays into our symptoms, especially when it comes to hormone imbalance and weight gain. Admittedly, it often takes concrete data to convince us that our stress is actually detrimental to our health. Without this individualized information, the ramifications of our stress can be easy to deny and, at best, difficult to understand. First our mood goes down hill. Then energy becomes non-existent. Finally, weight goes way up. The Hair Tissue Mineral test provides concrete answers specific to YOU. You can get more info on the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis here, including a sample report (definitely make sure you check that out.) We’ll find out what YOUR body is missing and put that back.
Don’t forget the basics.
Finally, avoid sugar and processed food, drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, and try to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
Want to chat with Sue about how she can help you? Apply for a free 15-minute phone session!Apply now!
Latest posts by Susan Hughes (see all)
- Our positive stories support healing. - August 24, 2017
- The sunshine vitamin: the many functions of Vitamin D - August 22, 2017
- Perfectionism: A roadblock to weight loss, hormone balance, and healing. - July 20, 2017