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  • Writer's pictureJane Webber Nutrition

It's my hormones, so I can't lose weight!

Hands up who may have said this before!

Hormones are important substances that serve as chemical messengers in your body.

They facilitate nearly every bodily process, including metabolism, hunger, and fullness. Because of their association with appetite, some hormones also play a significant role in body weight

Here are 9 hormones that may affect your weight, along with tips for keeping them at healthy levels and I have set out 7 of these below.

Insulin, the main storage hormone in your body, is produced by your pancreas. In healthy individuals, insulin promotes the storage of glucose — a simple sugar you get from food — in the muscle, liver, and fat cells for later use.

Your body secretes insulin in small amounts throughout the day and in larger amounts after meals. This hormone then transfers glucose from food into your cells for either energy or storage, depending on your body’s current needs.

Insulin resistance is a fairly common condition that causes your cells to stop responding to insulin. This condition results in high blood sugar because the insulin cannot move glucose into your cells

Your pancreas then produces even more insulin in an attempt to boost glucose absorption

Insulin resistance has been linked to obesity, which in turn can play a role in other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease

Insulin sensitivity can be thought of as the opposite of insulin resistance. It means your cells are sensitive to insulin. Thus, it’s a good idea to focus on lifestyle habits that help improve insulin sensitivity, such as the following.

Tips to improve insulin sensitivity.

Exercise regularly. Research supports exercise, at both high and moderate intensities, as a means of improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance

Improve your sleep habits. Not getting enough sleep, or not getting quality sleep, is linked to obesity and insulin resistance

Get more omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that omega-3 supplements may improve insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic conditions such as diabetes. Try eating more fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils rather than supplements.

Change your diet. The Mediterranean diet —includes many veggies and healthy fats from nuts and extra-virgin olive oil Decrease your intake of saturated and trans fats as well.

Maintain a moderate weight. In people with overweight, healthy weight loss and weight management may improve insulin sensitivity

Focus on low glycemic carbs. Don’t try to eliminate carbs from your diet, aim to make most of them low glycemic and high fibre.

Leptin is a fullness hormone that works by telling your hypothalamus — the portion of your brain that regulates appetite — that you’re full

However, people with obesity may experience leptin resistance. This means the message to stop eating doesn’t reach your brain, eventually causing you to overeat

In turn, your body may produce even more leptin until your levels become elevated

Tips to improve leptin levels

Maintain a healthy weight. Because leptin resistance is associated with obesity, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, research suggests that a decrease in body fat may help reduce leptin levels

Improve your sleep quality. Leptin levels may be related to sleep quality in people with obesity. Although this association may not exist in people without obesity, there are numerous other reasons to get better sleep

Exercise regularly. Research links regular, consistent exercise to a decrease in leptin levels

Ghrelin is essentially the opposite of leptin. It’s the hunger hormone that sends a message to your hypothalamus indicating that your stomach is empty and needs food. Its main function is to increase the appetite

Normally, ghrelin levels are highest before eating and lowest after a meal. Curiously, research indicates that people with obesity have low ghrelin levels but are more sensitive to its effects. This sensitivity may lead to overeating.

Tips to manage ghrelin levels

One reason weight loss can be difficult is that restricting calories often leads to increased ghrelin levels, leaving you hungry. Additionally, metabolism tends to slow down and leptin levels decrease

As such, here are some tips for lowering ghrelin to help reduce appetite:

Maintain moderate body weight. Obesity may increase your sensitivity to ghrelin, ultimately increasing your appetite

Try to get good quality sleep. Poor sleep may lead to increases in ghrelin, overeating, and weight gain

Eat regularly. Because ghrelin levels are highest before a meal, listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and is produced by your adrenal glands.

During times of stress, this hormone triggers an increase in heart rate and energy levels. The release of cortisol — alongside the hormone adrenaline — is commonly called the “fight or flight” response

While it’s important for your to body release cortisol in dangerous situations, chronic high levels may lead to many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, low energy levels, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and weight gain

Certain lifestyle factors — including poor sleep habits, chronic stress, and a high intake of high-glycemic foods — may contribute to high cortisol levels. Plus, not only does obesity raise cortisol levels, but high levels may also cause weight gain, creating a negative feedback loop

Tips for lowering cortisol levels.

Here are some lifestyle changes that may help manage cortisol levels:

Optimize sleep. Chronic sleep issues, including insomnia, sleep apnoea, and irregular sleep habits (like those of shift workers), may contribute to high cortisol levels. Focus on developing a regular bedtime and sleep schedule.

Exercise regularly. Cortisol levels temporarily increase after high-intensity exercise, but regular exercise generally helps decrease levels by improving overall health and lowering stress levels

Practice mindfulness. Research suggests that regularly practising mindfulness lowers cortisol levels, though more research is needed.

Maintain moderate body weight. Because obesity may increase cortisol levels and high cortisol levels can cause weight gain, maintaining a moderate weight may help keep levels in check

Eat a balanced diet. Research has shown that diets high in added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fat may lead to higher cortisol levels.


Oestrogen is a sex hormone responsible for regulating the female reproductive system and the immune, skeletal, and vascular systems. Levels of this hormone change during life stages such as pregnancy, nursing, and menopause, as well as throughout the menstrual cycle

High levels of oestrogen, which are often seen in people with obesity, are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

Conversely, low levels — typically seen with ageing, perimenopause, and menopause — may affect body weight and body fat, therefore also increasing your risk of chronic ailments.

Individuals with low oestrogen levels often experience central obesity, which is an accumulation of weight around the middle of the body. This can lead to other health problems, such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and heart disease

Tips to maintain healthy oestrogen levels.

To keep oestrogen levels at a healthy equilibrium, try some of these techniques:

Try to manage your weight. Weight loss or maintenance may reduce the risk of heart disease due to low oestrogen levels in women ages 55–75. Research also supports healthy weight maintenance for reducing chronic diseases in general.

Exercise regularly. Low oestrogen levels may leave you feeling less capable of working out. Nonetheless, during periods of low oestrogen output, such as menopause, regular exercise is still important to aid weight management

Follow a balanced diet. Diets high in red meat, processed foods, sweets, and refined grains have been shown to increase oestrogen levels, which may raise your risk of chronic disease. As such, you may wish to limit your intake of these foods

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone produced by cells in your brain and nervous system that stimulates appetite and decreases energy expenditure in response to fasting or stress

Because it may stimulate food intake, NPY is associated with obesity and weight gain.

It’s activated in fat tissue and may increase fat storage and lead to abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome, a condition that can increase the risk of chronic diseases

Research has shown that NPY’s mechanisms that lead to obesity may also cause an inflammatory response, further worsening health conditions

Tips for maintaining low NPY levels.

Here are some tips for maintaining healthy levels of NPY:

Exercise. Some studies suggest that regular exercise may help decrease NPY levels, though research is mixed

Eat a nutritious diet. Although more research is needed, high-fat, high-sugar diets may increase NPY levels — so you may want to consider lowering your intake of foods high in sugar and fat

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in your gut when nutrients enter your intestines. It plays a major role in keeping blood sugar levels stable and making you feel full

Research suggests that people with obesity may have problems with GLP-1 signalling.

As such, GLP-1 is added to medications — particularly for people with diabetes — to reduce body weight and waist circumference. Recently new medication has come onto the market that helps stabilise your GLP-1 levels helping people lose weight. All need to be injected, either daily or weekly and once you stop, then your GLP-1 revert back and any weight you have lost comes back.

Tips for keeping GLP-1 levels in check.

Here are some tips to help maintain healthy levels of GLP-1:

Eat plenty of protein. High-protein foods such as whey protein and yoghurt have been shown to increase GLP-1 levels

Consider taking probiotics. Preliminary research suggests that probiotics may increase GLP-1 levels, though more human research is needed. Additionally, it’s best to chat with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements.

The hormones listed above are all linked to body weight. Research suggests that certain lifestyle habits can optimize levels of these hormones, but it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional if you believe your hormones may be at unhealthy levels.

Overall, pursuing a balanced diet, prioritizing sleep, and exercising regularly may benefit your overall health and reduce your risk of chronic disease

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