Are your hormones making you fat?

Siski Green / 19 February 2016

If your diet and exercise regime isn’t working it could be your hormones that are at fault. Find out what you can do about it.



When your usual diet tricks and techniques aren’t working, and exercising more doesn’t seem to shift the bulge, it could be your hormones that are at fault.

Your hormones can get disrupted in more ways than simply menopause or ageing - inflammation, insulin levels, and even depression can also affect your hormone levels making you more prone to weight gain.

Here we’ll look at some of the more common hormone imbalances that might be the cause of your inability to lose weight. 

Insulin

This hormone is one of the most important in relation to your weight – it’s the one that helps your body use up glucose from carbohydrates, giving you energy or storing it.

If your insulin levels are too low or your body isn’t responding to insulin properly, your blood sugar levels rise and you’ll lose weight.

If you get diagnosed with low insulin levels, your medication to raise levels again may well trigger weight gain. But don’t stop taking your medication! Instead, see your GP to talk about dietary changes you can make that will help you maintain a healthy weight while keeping insulin levels normal. 

Related: Diet tricks worth trying

Leptin

This is often called the hunger-suppression hormone because it helps signal to the body that it’s full.

That’s great for people whose leptin is working as it should be, but certain illnesses linked to chronic inflammation such as asthma and arthritis, for example, might find that their leptin levels are disrupted as a result.

That’s because chronic inflammation can make the brain unable to receive leptin’s message of ‘now you’re full.’ Without that message your brain may signal you to keep eating, making you overweight. 

Related: Learn more about how inflammation affects your health

Cortisol

You don’t need to be in a high-power job to feel the type of stress that releases cortisol into your bloodstream, triggering a series of events that also leads to weight gain.

For some people, a terse exchange with at a supermarket check-out with another customer can be enough of a trigger to release cortisol. For others, driving in rush-hour traffic can send cortisol soaring.

What’s more, coffee can increase your cortisol levels too. That cortisol increases your appetite and also causes fat to accumulate around your belly, exactly where you’re probably trying to lose it. 

Related: What’s making you angry?

Testosterone

For men, low testosterone can mean that despite dieting and exercising, the excess fat just won’t come off.

While testosterone levels decline naturally with age, low levels can also occur as a result of diet (foods containing oestrogen-like compounds such as soya, or in farming chemicals, for example). 

Related: Do you have low testosterone levels?

Oestrogen

Oestrogen is processed via your digestive process and if you don’t eat enough fibre (and don’t ‘go’ regularly), it can lead to a build-up and then to problems losing weight.

Meat that has been produced using steroids or other chemicals may also disrupt your oestrogen levels, as well as substances used to spray crops, as well as chemicals in creams and shampoos.

While these disruptions may be minor when looked at in isolation, if you’re exposed to many of these factors, it could affect your oestrogen levels to the point where you have an imbalance. 

Related: Is it time to give up eating meat?

Serotonin

Low serotonin levels is thought to be one of the main causes of depression, but even lower-than-normal levels can make you feel joyless, overwhelmed or lacking in self-esteem.

Those feelings alone can make you reach for sweet treats, but evidence also shows that low serotonin levels affects our appetite, making us crave food even when we’re already full. That leads to excess calorie intake and in turn weight gain. 

Related: Feeling low? Watch out for weight gain

Think you’ve got a hormonal imbalance? The only way to know for sure is to get tested. If you show other symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, see your GP and ask to have a blood test. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.