How Hormones Make You Gain Weight

Discover how oestrogen and stress hormones can make you gain weight and what you can do to stop the vicious cycle.

Written by Dr. Nat Kringoudis TCM

We all gain weight uniquely, and it’s not always simple or easy to discover the culprit behind our weight gain. If you’ve never thought about your hormones being responsible, then it’s time to change your mindset. So, why do your hormones lead to weight gain?

Our hormones are chemical messengers that race around our body telling it what to do.  We don’t have to think or instruct our hormones–it’s automatic.  Our hormones control things like our moods, our menstrual cycles, our sleep, and hundreds of other processes. But how do hormones control our weight? It’s not so much that hormones ‘control’ weight, but that our weight is affected when our hormones don’t do their job adequately.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Because oestrogen is an anabolic hormone, excess oestrogen may lead to weight gain, specifically around the abdomen.

Oestrogen, for men and women alike, is a pesky hormone. We need it—don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t. Oestrogen is required for our menstrual cycles amongst other things. It controls our electrolyte balance, which is why we feel ‘fluidy’ or hormonal when oestrogen is off kilter and why we feel perky when it is within normal limits.

The issue is that so many factors in our environment drive oestrogen wild, and our body doesn’t know the difference between its own oestrogen and the oestrogen mimicking properties of chemicals (like what is found in foods such as soy and alcohol, body products, cleaning products, and pollutants in our air). Your body doesn’t discriminate between external oestrogen drivers and your own oestrogen, all it knows is that these things continue to influence oestrogen levels higher and higher.

Research scientists have found that having either too much or too little oestrogen signals the body to hold onto extra weight, especially around the waist, thighs, under the bottom, and at the tops of the arms. Also, as oestrogen levels rise, controlling your weight becomes really tricky because fat cells are also responsible for producing oestrogen. So the more fat cells you have, the more oestrogen that is released into your body, and the more fat cells will grow. It’s a cycle. To add to the issue, increased oestrogen contributes to bloating and fluid retention.

Those suffering from Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or breast irregularities, can also experience significant weight gain possibly related to excess oestrogen. It’s also why the pill causes weight gain. The pill and other synthetic contraceptives (think the Mirena, Implanon, and the like) also contain synthetic oestrogen—sometimes up to eight times the normal amount.

However, oestrogen excess isn’t only influenced by external factors like food and chemicals. Our thyroid is our internal thermostat that regulates our metabolism. The thyroid requires hormone messages to do its job, but stress and other issues can disrupt its function. When it is underactive, one of the main symptoms is weight gain.

In fact, stress is a huge weight influencer, mostly because stress hormones pull rank over your sex hormones. Over time, excess cortisol (one of the main stress hormones) will inadvertently push your oestrogen levels higher and higher.

Understanding what our bodies do on a fundamental level allows us to enact change. The key is to learn how to tame its wildness, and for that, we need to understand what drives oestrogen.

  • Stress

Cortisol, one of our stress hormones, bosses around progesterone. Progesterone and oestrogen need balance. Excess cortisol indirectly increases our oestrogen levels as cortisol puts a lid on progesterone.

  • Chemicals

Be it in our environment, body products, cleaning products, foods, etc. Most of these chemicals mimic oestrogen (they contain xenoestrogens), meaning your body doesn’t know the difference and the result is raised oestrogen.

  • Diet

Alcohol, caffeine, and various non-organic produce can affect your oestrogen levels. Even broccoli, while amazing for hormones, is often so heavily sprayed with chemicals that it can be counterproductive. You need to know which foods are best organic so that you can avoid raising oestrogen levels through consumption. Not consuming enough fiber can also contribute to higher oestrogen.

  • Weight Gain

Weight gain is a vicious circle since fat cells make oestrogen. More fat cells means higher oestrogen.

How to Fix Your Oestrogen

  • Address Stress

Stress is a major factor in your weight gain. If you want to stop the cycle, you need to address your stress. To get started, check out my e-course focused on debunking stress.

It’s time to take a break, even some time off, and commit to changing your work-a-holic mentality. I advocate applying the 8 + 8 + 8 rule, which is eight hours of play, work, and sleep per day. Whatever you’re doing, try and commit to change and see where it takes you.

  • Rest

You should be in bed around 10 pm each night because that’s when the magic happens. According to Chinese Medicine, your body begins to optimally build blood and recover from the day starting at 10 pm. Being in bed around this time also facilitates optimal production of melatonin (a hormone that helps address oestrogen).  If you have trouble sleeping, staying up too late may be part of the problem.

If you need help, visit a good Chinese Medicine practitioner or come into my clinic The Pagoda Tree. We would love to help.

  • Change Your Diet

As mentioned, alcohol and coffee raise oestrogen and cortisol levels. Try cutting them out of your diet, alongside any foods that trigger your migraines (chocolate, cheese, etc). Also, eat organic meats, poultry, and dairy, and keep consumption lower—no more than a fist-sized amount per serving.

In addition, make sure you’re getting enough fiber. Fiber helps to lower oestrogen. If you need to get more, add a heaped teaspoon of slippery elm and psyllium to diluted apple juice each morning.

  • Increase Exercise  

The trick to regulating your hormones is finding the right type of exercise. Short bursts of intense exercise or longer bursts of low-intensity exercise are best. Exercise helps decrease oestrogen levels and make more of the right type of oestrogen. Exercise is also a fabulous stress buster, and releases the feel-good hormones, too.

  • Ditch the Chemicals

As outlined earlier, chemicals contribute to increased oestrogen levels. Rather than tasking you to throw out your entire supply in one go, I suggest replacing each item for more hormone supportive alternatives as needed. Think about switching out your cleaning products for their greener friends, and the same for your body products.

  • Love Your Liver 

Your liver plays a huge role in hormone detoxification and conversion. Stress, chemicals, and toxins can place strain on your liver. And if your liver and digestive system aren’t working well, you can’t make hormones! To help your liver, try our Liver Cleanse. You can also try my Cleanse Yourself program. It’s a super simple start that will allow you to pave the way for happier hormones all round.

The fact is that if you can pinpoint your hormone triggers and work on minimising them, it can make a big difference in your weight gain. It’s what you do day to day that makes the biggest difference, and putting the wheels in motion is where it all begins.

However, sometimes it takes a little more work to balance your hormones. Seek the help of your healthcare provider to put the finishing touches on balancing out your hormones.

Natalie Kringoudis is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncturist, Natural Fertility Educator, Author and owner of The Pagoda Tree.

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