When you hit a weight loss plateau, it can be very confusing. If you’re eating healthy and exercising, and nothing has changed in your lifestyle, why aren’t you losing weight anymore?
Weight loss plateaus can be very discouraging and make you feel like all your hard efforts are for nothing. You want to lose more weight, yet you feel like you hit a wall and nothing you do is making a difference.
If this is the case for you, there might be something internal going on. Hormones could be the culprit. Hormone imbalances are a major issue that can affect your weight more than you expect.
There are three major hormonal pathways that control weight, whether it be weight gain or weight loss, in the body.
These include cortisol, your sex hormones, and your thyroid. Continue reading to find out how each of these three categories of hormones could potentially be the culprit of your weight loss plateaus.
Cortisol And Weight Loss
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, also known as a steroid hormone. It is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands that are found at the top of each kidney.
Cortisol is normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and also stress. It plays many roles in the body.
Cortisol helps to maintain homeostasis, and it also plays a vital role in human nutrition. It regulates the body’s energy by selecting the right type and amount of carbs, fats, or protein that the body needs to meet the physiological demands that are placed on it at the time.
Small levels of cortisol are healthy and normal in the body. However, when chronically elevated, cortisol can have harmful effects on weight.
Cortisol and Weight Gain
Repeated circumstances where cortisol levels are elevated can lead to weight gain. One way is through the storage of visceral fat.
Visceral fat is also known as abdominal fat which is a type of body fat that surrounds the internal organs. Therefore, it’s much harder to get rid of.
Cortisol has the ability to mobilize triglycerides from storage and move them to visceral fat cells. Cortisol also helps the development of adipocytes into mature fat cells. Adipocytes are cells that are specifically specialized for fat storage.
That’s not all though. Cortisol can also affect weight gain through the blood. If you have high blood glucose levels with insulin suppression, your cells become starved of glucose.
Cortisol regulates this by sending hunger signals to the brain, which can lead to overeating. Any unused or excess glucose will be stored as body fat.
In general, the higher your cortisol levels, the higher your appetite is. This is bad because it causes your body to crave high-calorie foods, even if you don’t need them.
Most people end up giving in to these cravings and consuming more calories than their body needs, which leads to weight gain.
How to Lower Your Cortisol Levels
The best way to lower your cortisol levels, move past your plateau and avoid further weight gain, is to lower your stress levels.
If you can learn how to control your stress, it can help you on your weight loss journey. Here are some tips and suggestions of things you can do to stop stress:
- Practice taking deep breaths throughout the day
- Connecting and laughing with friends and family
- Spend time in nature
- Have a bath
- Take time to do the things you enjoy
- Spend time with animals/pets
Sex Hormones And Weight Loss
The two main sex hormones that we all have in our bodies are estrogen and testosterone. Here is a description of each along with what their roles in your body are:
- Estrogen – Women have higher estrogen levels than men do. It is a pro-growth hormone, therefore, the main function of estrogen in the body is growth and development. Estrogen stimulates fat cells to grow, and of course, it is a major component for reproduction. There are three different types of estrogen: estradiol, estrone, and estriol.
- Testosterone – Testosterone is the preliminary hormone in men. It aids in maintaining a healthy muscle mass, boosts stamina, and strength. Testosterone is also known to support a healthy libido, provide energy, and increase bone density and memory. Testosterone is also necessary for a proper hormone balance in women.
What Causes Sex Hormone Imbalances?
Proper hormone balance is essential in order to lose weight. Any hormone imbalances can impact your ability to lose and maintain your weight.
Common causes of these imbalances are lifestyle and diet. For example, whether you are a man or a woman, if you consume too much sugar or alcohol, that will spike your estrogen levels.
Taking too many antibiotics can also cause hormone imbalances. Environmental toxins can cause imbalances too, and so can a lack of exercise.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
How do you know if you have a hormone imbalance? Apart from struggling with weight loss, testosterone and estrogen imbalances can cause many other symptoms.
For example, if a woman has low levels of testosterone, she might have low energy, a decreased libido, and fatigue. Low testosterone levels in men can be more severe and can cause mood swings, irritability, low libido, and fatigue.
When testosterone is low, that automatically creates an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen in both men and women.
Some symptoms of estrogen deficiency, on the other hand, include decreased libido, fatigue, inflammation, mood swings, hair loss, wrinkles, weak bones, and dry skin.
Alternatively, hormone imbalances occur when one hormone is too high.
For example, too much testosterone in the body can cause aggression, depression, impotence, and excessive libido.
Too much estrogen in the body can cause bloating, gas, bleeding, mood swings, and breast tenderness.
How to Ensure Your Sex Hormones are in Balance
The best way to avoid weight gain from hormone imbalances is to ensure that you have a normal sex hormone balance.
You can do this yourself by changing your lifestyle and diet to create one that is natural and healthy for your hormones.
Here are some things you can do to promote an environment inside your body where your sex hormones are in order.
- Consume more fiber – Food has such a large role on sex hormones. If you eat processed food that is void of fiber, that can have a negative effect on your hormones. It’s recommended to limit your intake of meat and dairy, since it contains no fiber whatsoever. The best thing to do is consume more fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are the best sources of fiber. For example, you can start your day with a homemade green smoothie, or eat a bowl of oatmeal topped with fruits and nuts for breakfast.
- Cut back on alcohol – If you regularly consume alcohol, that can have a very negative effect on your sex hormones. When you consume alcohol, including wine, that increases the levels of estrogen in the body. Excessive alcohol consumption can also affect the liver. The liver detoxifies the body, so when the liver can’t do its job properly, hormonal balances occur.
- Eat Healthy Fats – Instead of consuming fried food void of nutrients and fiber, consume healthy fats. Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut meat, and coconut oil are all good sources. If you are struggling with low testosterone levels, consuming healthy fats can naturally raise them. For example, try adding flax or chia seeds to your smoothies, or eat a salad with avocado at night.
- Work on your digestion – A healthy digestive system is so important for having a healthy hormone balance. If you struggle with constipation, that can cause hormone imbalances. One way to fix this is to consume high fiber foods since they act as an intestinal broom and can help with blockage. Celery and apples are especially great. Probiotic rich foods such as kimchi and kombucha can also promote a healthy digestive system.
- Exercise – Exercise is a great way to promote healthy hormone balances. When you exercise, it naturally reduces estrogen and increases testosterone. This is especially great for men (and even women) who are looking to lose fat and build muscle instead. Whether you want to go to the gym and lift weights, or go for a run around your neighborhood, find an exercise you like and stick to it.
The Thyroid And Weight Loss
The thyroid plays a very important role in our body, and it can have a profound effect on weight loss, or weight gain.
The thyroid is located in our neck, and thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating the metabolic rate of every single cell in our body.
Therefore, when the thyroid system isn’t working properly, it can have devastating effects on our body. There are two main types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism.
- Hypothyroidism – This occurs when the thyroid levels are too low. It causes lowered body temperature, weight gain, higher levels of cholesterol, increased rates of atherosclerosis, and even heart failure. Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. It can also cause irregular menstrual cycles, making the flow heavier and more painful. Hypothyroidism can also cause fertility issues. Since the thyroid hormones are low when you have hypothyroidism, this makes losing weight extremely difficult to do.
- Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism. People who have this condition have an overactive thyroid. Therefore, the thyroid gland produces too many hormones. This can lead to an increased metabolism, irregular or loss of periods, rapid and irregular heartbeats, heart palpitations, sweating, nervousness, and irritability.
What Causes Thyroid Imbalances?
There are a number of things that cause both hypo and hyperthyroidism. Everyone’s case is different, but some factors that can contribute to thyroid hormone imbalances are:
- Unhealthy diet
- High sodium consumption
- Calorie restriction
- Eating disorders
- High levels of stress
- Environmental toxins
- High consumption of pesticides
- Alcohol consumption
- Nutrient deficiencies
How To Know If Your Thyroid is Healthy
If you are concerned that you might have issues with your thyroid, the best thing to do is to consult your doctor.
Your doctor can do a range of different tests to find out if there are any problems. The best things to check are your thyroid stimulating hormones (tsh, free T3, and T4).
Knowing the levels of these hormones will help your doctor determine a proper diagnosis. Some doctors might also want to do an ultrasound on your thyroid.
Once your doctor determines if there is an issue or not, they will prevent solutions and options for recovery and treatment.
Keeping Your Thyroid Healthy
The best way to avoid developing either hyper or hypothyroidism is to keep your thyroid healthy. Here are some things you can do to promote a healthy thyroid.
- Eat whole foods – If you limit your processed food intake and focus on fresh, whole foods, you will be ingesting many more nutrients. Since nutrient deficiencies can cause thyroid disorders, this is a great way to ensure that you are consuming healthy vitamins and minerals. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, along with whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Cut out dairy – Dairy can have a negative effect on the thyroid. Dairy contains many active hormones in it, which can interfere with the thyroid hormones.
- Look out for goitrogens – Goitrogens are thyroid-blocking compounds. If you have low thyroid hormones, this can make your levels even lower. Limit your intake of soybeans, raw kale, and other raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. On the other hand, if you have an overactive thyroid, you should be consuming more of these goitrogens. They will naturally help lower the excess of thyroid hormones that your body is producing.
- Eat organic – Since pesticides can negatively affect thyroid hormones, one way to prevent this from happening is to eat organic food. Organic food doesn’t contain any harmful pesticides or chemicals. Try making it a routine to shop at the farmers market where you will be getting high quality and local food.
- Consume iodine – Many people nowadays are iodine deficient, which can affect your thyroid negatively. Instead of taking an iodine supplement, you can include natural sources of iodine in your diet such as seaweed and wild caught fish.
- Lower your stress levels – Since high levels of stress can cause thyroid hormone imbalances, try to stay calm as much as possible. Refer back to the cortisol lowering tips at the beginning of the article to get some ideas on how to lower stress naturally.
Overall, your hormones play a vital role in weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss is so much more than just eating right and exercise.
Hormones can really be the culprit and have more of an effect than you might realize. If you work on having an overall healthy lifestyle, it can help to limit your chances of having hormone imbalances.
Hopefully, this article opened your eyes to the severity of hormone imbalances and their connection with weight loss/gain.
Here’s How To Fix Your Hormones For Weight Loss
- Manage your cortisol levels by trying to avoid stress and doing gentle forms of exercise.
- Keep your sex hormones in balance by eating more fiber, cutting back on alcohol, eating healthy fats, and adding exercise to your routine.
- Avoid hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism by cutting down on salt, smoking, unhealthy foods in the diet, and high levels of stress
- Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have hormone imbalances to design a plan that’s right for you to lose weight