Hormones And Weight Loss: The Connection & Tips To Improve Them In 2024

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Reviewed by Maggie Herrmann, PT, DPT
hormones and weight loss
Hormonal imbalances can make weight loss more challenging. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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As you navigate some of the challenges of losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight over time, you may become interested in the potential impact of hormonal imbalance. At times, it may feel as though you are doing everything right. You maintain a healthy diet and are physically active, but some of your goals may still feel out of reach. 

Hormonal balance is integral to many processes within the body, including hunger, feeling full, and metabolism. Hormone changes associated with aging can also impact this balance, so hormones and weight loss can become a particular focus for many individuals after turning 50. Learning more about weight loss and hormones can help you stay on track and achieve your goals. 

What Hormones That Affect Your Weight?

Many hormones can affect your weight loss efforts. Some important examples include:

  • Hormones that play a role in regulating metabolism: 
    • Glucagon-like peptide or GLP-1.
    • Cholecystokinin.
    • Leptin. 
  • Hormones that make you feel hungry:
    • Motilin.
    • Ghrelin.
  • Hormones that play a role in regulating metabolism: 
    • Insulin.
    • Estrogen.
    • Testosterone.
    • Thyroid.
    • Cortisol.

Changes in hormonal balance can occur for many reasons, including age, medical conditions, and current body composition. Staying informed of the potential changes you may be experiencing and learning how to maintain a healthy balance can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Hormones That Affect Your Weight

Hormones act as chemical messengers within the body, sending signals that define everything from mood to metabolism. Circulating hormone levels can be affected by several factors: 

  • Age: Over time, the amount of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone[1] our bodies produce can decrease. 
  • Medical conditions: Conditions like diabetes or hypothyroidism[2] can affect how our bodies store and metabolize energy sources. 
  • Current body weight: Current body composition can influence hormonal activity[3] in different body areas, including fat cells or adipocytes. An imbalance may lead to a set of conditions known as metabolic syndrome.[4] 

How hormones can affect weight depends on the kinds of signals[5] they send within the body. Hormones that affect weight can be broken down into some basic categories, including: 

  • Satiety signals: These hormones can send direct signals to your brain and nervous system, promoting a sense of feeling full. This may result in consuming fewer calories and achieving weight loss. 
  • Hunger signals: These hormones tell your body you are hungry, which may result in consuming more calories, leading to weight gain. 
  • Metabolism regulation: These hormones play a role in determining when and where energy is either stored or released from storage for your body to use.

Let’s look at some examples of these hormones and why they may circulate at higher or lower levels in your body. 

Hormones That Make You Feel Full

hormones and weight loss
Some hormones can make you feel full. Photo: Jihan Nafiaa Zahri/Shutterstock

Many hormones can contribute to your body’s sense of satiety or fullness. These are especially important to consider when assessing hormone weight loss. Some examples include:

  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 or GLP-1: Prescription medications that mimic the effects of GLP-1 are used in blood sugar management and have taken on a more central role in weight loss efforts in recent years. GLP-1 is naturally produced[6] by the intestine when a meal is digested. Increased GLP-1 activity results in slowed stomach transit time and reduced hunger. 
  • Cholecystokinin: This hormone helps regulate digestion by responding to the presence of food in the digestive tract. Cholecystokinin[7] is released in greater amounts in response to protein and fat content in meals. When released, it stimulates the release of digestive enzymes and promotes a sense of fullness. 
  • Leptin: The hormone leptin acts as a mediator, promoting a sense of satiety while inhibiting hunger signals. There is evidence of leptin resistance[3] among individuals considered obese. Hormonal imbalances involving leptin may be caused by obesity itself, but there is also evidence suggesting inflammation[8] or genetics may play a role.

Hormones That Make You Feel Hungry

hormones and weight loss
Some hormones send signals that increase hunger. Photo: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

The body also produces hormones responsible for sending the message that you need to eat. The primary examples of hormones that produce hunger include:

  • Motilin: When you are fasting, and no food in your intestine is being digested, motilin levels are released at higher levels. Motilin stimulates gastric motility (stomach emptying), and higher levels are associated with increased hunger.[9] 
  • Ghrelin: Higher levels of ghrelin are strongly associated with increased hunger. Individuals who are considered obese may be more resistant to leptin and more sensitive to ghrelin.[10] As hunger signals are more likely to predominate, individuals may gain weight. 

Hormones That Play A Role In Regulating Metabolism

Some hormones play a more nuanced role in influencing changes in body weight. These hormones can regulate energy expenditure and storage within the body. Examples include: 

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas when beta cells function normally. This hormone is responsible for processing glucose, which can be derived directly from meals or created as nutrients are broken down to provide an energy source. The development of insulin resistance is a common component[11] of metabolic disorders. 

Insulin resistance occurs when the target cells that store or use glucose as an energy source lose the ability to take in glucose efficiently. This leads to higher blood sugar levels and is associated with increased weight, diabetes, and higher rates of cardiovascular disease.

Estrogen

Levels of estrogen and their associated risks highlight the need for appropriate balance. High hormone levels are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer.[12] Low levels of estrogen,[13] such as those seen in postmenopausal women, are associated with increased distribution of body fat to the belly, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Testosterone

Similar to the effects of aging on estrogen levels in women, testosterone levels in men tend to decrease with age.[14] Other factors may also contribute to these changes over time, including stress management, sleep patterns, and diet. Low testosterone levels are associated with increased body weight[15] and the potential for increased belly fat distribution. 

Thyroid

Thyroid hormones play an integral role[16] in maintaining basal metabolism, defining how lipids and glucose are stored and utilized for energy by the body. Low levels of thyroid hormones are associated with higher BMI and prevalence of obesity. There are many potential causes[17] of hypothyroidism, ranging from autoimmune disorders (i.e., Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) to medication side effects like iodine imbalance caused by amiodarone. 

Cortisol

Adrenal glands are the source of cortisol, which is considered a stress hormone. Increased cortisol levels associated with our bodies’ response to stress can be characterized as an adrenergic response as the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol. This is also commonly called a fight-or-flight response, with symptoms that align closely with physical symptoms of anxiety, like increased heart rate and tense muscles. 

Increases in cortisol levels over time are associated with increased weight.[18] This appears to be related to a redistribution of fat to the abdomen and an increased craving for calorie-rich foods or comfort food. 

How Hormones Can Impact Your Weight

Maintaining a normal weight or healthy body weight for your needs can be difficult with hormonal imbalances. Various factors impact hormone levels, and the net result can be increased hunger and changes in how energy is stored and distributed within the body. 

In some instances, hormonal changes result from underlying disorders or aging. Other hormonal changes can be brought on by chronic stress or dietary choices over time. In any case, there are steps you can take to ensure you are aware of any challenges you may face and ways to promote a healthy balance moving forward. 

How To Improve Hormonal Balance

So, what steps can you take to protect or improve your hormonal balance?

Regular Checkups With Your Doctor

Keeping your regular appointments and discussing changes in how you feel can help you stay on top of any potential health-related challenges. Since many changes occur with aging, it is especially important to pay close attention to your hormones and weight loss after 50. Some changes in hormonal balance are detectable at the clinic and may benefit from direct treatment. 

For example: 

  • Low thyroid levels or hypothyroidism can be detected by monitoring free thyroid and thyroid stimulating hormone levels, or TSH. Some early signs of low thyroid levels[2] include fatigue, weight gain, sensitivity to cold, or hair loss.
  • Diabetes can be confirmed by testing blood sugar levels. If there are imbalances related to insulin levels or resistance to its effects, blood sugar levels can rise. Some early signs of diabetes[19] include increased hunger and thirst, blurry vision, or needing to urinate more frequently. 
  • Sex Hormone Imbalances: Lower levels of estrogen or testosterone are a part of normal aging, but there is a potential for these levels to decrease more rapidly than what would be considered normal. Low testosterone levels are potentially underdiagnosed in men, but there is some controversy related to the utilization of hormone replacement therapy.[20] If you are experiencing increased lethargy or changes in your sex drive, these are helpful conversations to have with your doctor. Menstrual cycle changes and menopause are common concerns among women. There are many approaches to management, and your doctor can help you determine which may be the most beneficial for your needs. 

Diet

Many hormones that affect hunger and satiety are affected directly by meal frequency and composition, but the potential for more insidious imbalances lies in the effects of dietary choices over time and body composition. Using leptin resistance and ghrelin sensitivity as an example, increased fat tissue and obesity are associated with increased hunger.[3] Unfortunately, this means appetite control may prove difficult. 

Being intentional with your food choices and tracking total calories can help you reach your goals. Weight loss requires burning more calories than you consume or creating a caloric deficit. Maintaining a balanced diet with essential nutrients is important as healthy weight loss takes time

Limit processed foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt content. Focus on incorporating more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These can also provide a good source of fiber, benefitting your digestion and helping to regulate blood sugar levels.[21] 

Finally, regular exercise combined with a healthy diet can also help you burn fat and maintain a caloric deficit.

Stress Management

Chronic stress[22] is associated with increased hunger and a preference for calorie-rich foods. Addressing your mental health and managing stress levels is central to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is important to note that sleep deprivation is also directly linked to increased hunger and weight gain.[23] 

Supplements

Many over-the-counter supplements, like fat burners, are available to help you reach your weight loss goals. These may offer some benefits, but it is important to remember that they are much more likely to be effective when paired with a healthy diet and regular exercise. These supplements often contain stimulants, and it is crucial to consult your doctor before starting a new supplement to ensure it will be safe and effective for your needs. 

Conclusion

Hormonal imbalances have the potential to create some frustrating setbacks during your weight loss journey. Understanding how these hormones may contribute to some of your body changes can provide a clearer picture of your needs. 

You may benefit from direct therapy provided by a doctor in some instances, but there are always beneficial steps you can take to promote a healthy lifestyle. Managing your mental health and maintaining a healthy diet can help you stay balanced over time. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What hormones cause rapid weight loss?

Hormones that work at least partially by making you feel more full, like GLP-1, leptin, and cholecystokinin, may help you consume fewer calories. When you eat less, you are likely to weigh less. Elevated thyroid levels can increase metabolism.

Why am I getting fat when I don’t eat much?

Sometimes hormones like thyroid hormones and estrogen or testosterone can change how energy is processed and stored. It is also helpful to maintain adequate physical activity and burn calories.

How do you treat hormonal weight gain?

This depends on the source of hormonal imbalance. In some cases, medications provided by your doctor can help restore balance. In other instances, the best approach is maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet. Stress management is always beneficial. 

What does hormonal weight gain look like?

Many hormonal imbalances result in an increased distribution of fat to the abdomen. Increased belly fat is a potentially visible change if a hormonal imbalance is present. 

+ 23 Sources

EHproject has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We work mostly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accurate information. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Sommers is a clinical pharmacist with more than 10 years of experience in the pharmacy profession. He has most recently transitioned from a leadership role in a community setting into clinical practice with a focus… See More