The worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled since the 1980s, and it's expected to impact one in five women and one in seven men by 2030. Diet and exercise aren't the only factors that influence your body weight. Hormonal imbalances can significantly influence your body's ability to lose weight. Understanding your hormones can give you an edge in the weight loss battle.

The key hormones affecting weight

When certain key hormones are out of balance, it can be difficult to lose weight. The following hormones contribute to hunger, metabolism, and blood sugar levels:

  • Insulin: Insulin allows your body to process glucose properly. However, if you consume excess calories, your body absorbs the sugar from them and turns it into fat. Insulin also signals the body to store fat rather than burn it.
  • Cortisol: Cortisol is a stress hormone that boosts energy and metabolism by initiating the fight or flight response. It also causes cravings for fatty, salty, and sweet foods, making you more likely to overindulge.
  • Leptin: Leptin helps you maintain a healthy weight by regulating hunger. When you lose weight, your body also loses leptin, which can leave you feeling excessively hungry and cause you to overeat.
  • Ghrelin: Known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin stimulates the appetite. Ghrelin levels can spike when you're losing weight, which gives you a ravenous appetite and makes it hard to keep the pounds off.
  • Thyroid hormone: If your body doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, your metabolism slows, which can lead to weight gain.

Symptoms of hormone imbalance

Hormones carry messages throughout the body, signaling your organs, muscles, tissues, and brain to act. If you have too much or too little of one of the above hormones, your body might show noticeable signs of a hormonal imbalance, such as:

  • Unexplained weight gain.
  • Persistent cravings.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mood swings.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • High cholesterol levels.

How hormonal imbalances affect the body

Hormonal imbalances have distinct physiological effects on the body. They can manifest in the disruption of several key processes that impact your body weight and overall ability to lose weight.


Your metabolism is the way your body burns calories. When your hormones are out of balance, your body may burn calories more slowly. It may also shift from burning fat to burning sugar or vice versa. Estrogen and testosterone play a key role in how your metabolism functions, and an imbalance of these hormones can cause you to store more fat than you should.

Appetite regulation

Hunger may feel physical, but it's often mental. Certain hormones communicate with the brain, affecting your urge to eat. When hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are high, your brain tells you that you're starving and must eat to survive, even though this may be far from the truth.

Fat storage

Androgens and estrogens are key hormones that tell your body how and where to store fat. Fat stored around the abdomen puts you at a higher risk for developing diseases such as arthritis and heart disease than fat stored elsewhere. Excessive fat storage causes stress reactions within the fat cells, leading to inflammation.

How stress contributes to hormonal imbalances

Early in our evolution, stress was an important indicator that the body needed to respond to outside dangers, often through the fight or flight response. Used properly, the stress response triggers high cortisol levels that provide a temporary  boost of energy, strength, and alertness. However, chronic stress can lead to major hormonal imbalances. If one hormone is elevated for an extended period, other hormones will likely become unbalanced as well. High cortisol is often associated with low estrogen levels, in particular.

When hormones stay out of balance for a prolonged period, you may experience problems such as extreme weight gain, poor digestion, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, headaches, and heart disease.

How to manage hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can seem overwhelming, but implementing some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way toward addressing the problem.

Dietary adjustments

Protein intake directly impacts the hormones that control your appetite. Getting enough protein helps decrease ghrelin and stimulates the peptides that help you feel full. Try to get at least 15 to 30 grams of protein in every meal to increase feelings of fullness and stop the temptation to snack. Opt for lean, healthy proteins, such as white poultry meat, tofu, egg whites, low-fat fish, legumes, and nonfat Greek yogurt.

Reduce your sugar intake as much as possible. High sugar intake is linked with insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances. You can drastically reduce the sugar in your diet simply by eliminating all beverages except water. Everything from soda to fruit juice contains sugar, and beverages such as coffee and tea are often consumed with added sweeteners.

Stress-reduction techniques

Stress activates cortisol production and increases insulin resistance, so stress-reduction techniques can help to balance your stress hormone levels naturally. Yoga, meditation, journaling, and soothing music can all help you cope better with stress. Experiment to find the approach that best meets your needs. If possible, devote at least five minutes to regular stress-reduction practices every day.

Regular exercise

Physical activity increases the sensitivity of your hormone receptors. Exercise also lowers your insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity, enabling your body to use this hormone more effectively. The best way to boost your hormone levels is with cardio and strength training. If possible, do high-intensity interval training two or three times a week and strength training three times a week. Stretch for at least five minutes before every workout. Add a morning or afternoon walk to your routine at least four days a week for optimal results.

Understand your hormones

Understanding your hormones can dramatically change the way you approach weight loss. If you suspect your hormones are out of balance, contact our team at the biostation for in-depth diagnostic blood testing. We'll help diagnose and resolve any issues hindering your weight loss journey.