How Your Hormones Can Explain Weight Gain

Jennifer Abayowa

Although weight gain can result from genetic causes or medical disorders, you can shape your lifestyle to alleviate your hormonal imbalance and help you lose weight. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are key factors for regulating your hormones and preventing weight gain.


You may be feeling like it’s easier for you to gain weight than to lose weight. Maybe you’ve tried to change your diet or even exercised several times a week, but none of your efforts have worked. Unfortunately, 80% of people who happily lose at least 10% of their body weight end up regaining it completely and getting larger.1 Why do so many people have trouble with losing weight? If you are having trouble understanding your recent weight gain, a deeper insight into your hormones could provide the answers you need.

Causes and Symptoms of Weight Gain

Causes of Weight Gain

Research shows that many factors can prevent you from losing weight and contribute to weight gain.

The following are some factors that contribute to weight gain:

  1. Your genes: Genetics can influence how your body controls your appetite and how fast you can burn calories.2 However, even if you have a genetic predisposition to gaining weight, you can still control your weight by the choices you make in nutrition and physical activity.
  2. The amount of fat in your diet: The fatty content in the foods you eat have a higher probability of causing weight gain than the number of calories you consume.2 When you eat unhealthy fatty foods, the calories you consume are stored up in your adipose tissues (fat cells). However, when you eat healthy carbohydrates, protein, fruits, and vegetables, the calories you get are immediately converted into fuel for your activities2.
  3. Sedentary or active lifestyle: If you are not physically active, your adipose tissues will accumulate fat. This can lead to insulin resistance and increased caloric consumption. A combination of lack of exercise and eating calorie-dense foods leads to weight gain.3
  4. Mental health: Individuals who are experiencing depression or anxiety tend to be less interested in becoming physically active. Hence, they gain weight faster than others who do not have mental health issues.
  5. Medical disorders: Some conditions can increase your chances of gaining weight. Some examples include:

    • Cushing’s syndrome
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Neurologic disturbances

Symptoms of Weight Gain

A little weight gain does not cause any symptoms. However, excessive weight gain or obesity can result in the following symptoms, including2:

  • Arthritis and other bone issues
  • Hernias
  • Heartburn
  • Adult-onset asthma
  • Gum disease
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Gallstones
  • High blood pressure
  • Menstrual irregularities or cessation of menstruation
  • Fertility problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders
  • Skin disorders
  • Emotional and social problems

You Ask, We Answer

What is Hormonal Imbalance?

Hormones are chemical “messengers” that affect the way your cells and organs operate. Hormonal imbalance occurs when your hormones are lower or higher than normal levels. Hormone fluctuations can occur naturally, for instance during puberty, menopause, and perimenopause. However, they can also be the result of an underlying medical condition.

What is weight gain?

Weight gain is an increase in body weight. Many factors contribute to weight gain, including:

  • muscle mass
  • fat deposits
  • excess fluids, for example, water

Obesity is excessive weight gain or an abnormal accumulation of body fat, typically 20% or more over your ideal body weight.2 If your body mass index (BMI) is 25.9-29, you are considered overweight.

Are there differences in symptoms of traditional weight gain versus hormonal weight gain?

In both traditional and hormonal weight gain, the symptoms are the same. This is where the difference lies – if you have an unhealthy lifestyle, for example, if you eat unhealthy foods and do not exercise, you should expect to gain weight. However, if you are eating right and exercising frequently and still find yourself gaining weight, the culprit is most likely your hormones.

Which hormones affect weight gain?


Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced by the adrenal glands when you are stressed. When cortisol is released, your body’s blood pressure and heart rate are increased, and your liver also releases glucose into your blood stream.4 If elevated cortisol levels are not controlled, your body can become resistant to insulin and your body will shift energy from burning fat to storing fat, which causes weight gain.


Estrogen is a hormone produced by the ovaries that helps to regulate metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity, and keep sugar levels and body weight in check. In menopausal women, the levels of estrogen decrease. When estrogen levels decline, the body becomes insulin resistant. This is why weight gain, especially around the hips and thighs, is a constant complaint of women in menopause.5

Thyroid hormones

The T3 and T4 thyroid hormones are produced by the thyroid gland at the base of your neck. These thyroid hormones help in regulating the body’s metabolism. If your thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones, you may experience excessive weight gain.


The pancreas produces and secretes insulin. The function of insulin is to break down glucose. If your pancreas is producing insufficient amounts of insulin or your body becomes resistant to insulin, you will not break down glucose properly. This can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels and also cause weight gain.


Progesterone is another hormone that helps to regulate metabolism as one of its roles is to support the thyroid gland while increasing body temperature and metabolism.
Insufficient progesterone can leave the thyroid unsupported, which means that your metabolism may not be regulated properly. During menopause, women experience a decline in progesterone. This leads to estrogen dominance or too much estrogen, which can cause weight gain. Although we already mentioned that menopausal women experience a decline of estrogen, you should note that progesterone declines even faster during menopause, which leads to estrogen dominance. It may be confusing to learn that estrogen dominance and a decline in estrogen can both cause weight gain, but both present different types of hormonal imbalance, especially in menopausal women.6 Note that many women who take progestin-only birth control pills or supplements tend to gain weight as well. This means that increased levels of progesterone can also cause weight gain, although this is most likely not the main culprit for weight gain.

Common Home Remedies for Hormonal Imbalance That Can Curb Weight Gain

There are practical natural ways to help your body balance your hormones as you are losing weight. Let’s go through a few of these home remedies.

Eat foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals

The phrase “hormone diet” is quite common. Many experts and books claim that certain diets can balance your hormones and help you lose weight rapidly. However, be aware that not all diets will actually help you lose weight in a healthy way. You are better off focusing on the quality of your meals. Eat foods that are rich in high-quality carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.


You can get more fiber by eating high-quality carbs, including 100% whole grains such as quinoa, oats, and buckwheat; pulses such as lentils and chickpeas; flaxseeds; sweet potatoes; and fruits such as oranges and berries. How does fiber help balance your hormones? Research shows that a type of dietary fiber known as lignans contain precursors known as phytoestrogens (enterodiol and enterolactone), which closely resemble estrogens.7 Because these lignan precursors look like estrogen, they can bind to the enzymes involved in estrogen metabolism, and, therefore, help to regulate the levels of estrogen in the body.7 Flaxseeds are the greatest source of lignans.


Certain vitamins support hormonal health. Selenium is a vitamin found in your thyroid gland that supports your immune system, cognitive function, and fertility.8 You can find selenium naturally in Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, and lobster. Vitamin D is important for building your bones. If your thyroid is secreting too many hormones (hyperthyroidism), this causes bone loss. You may need vitamin D to alleviate this bone loss.8 You can get vitamin D from sunlight, fortified milk, eggs, dairy, mushrooms, and fatty fish, such as salmon. Vitamin B12 also supports thyroid function. It also keeps your neural system and blood cells healthy. You can get vitamin B12 from meat and dairy.8 Iodine is a component of thyroid hormones so you need it in your diet. You can get iodine from using fortified table salts in your cooking.8

Cut out processed foods from your diet

Processed foods, such as cookies, potato chips, dried fruits, and bread that is not made from whole grains, are typically high in calories and low in nutritional value. These types of foods increase your blood sugar levels and cause your insulin to go out-of-whack. Cut out processed foods to help your hormones stay balanced.

Skip the alcohol

Alcohol contains empty calories and is used by the body as energy first before carbohydrates and fats. When this happens, the excess glucose and lipids are converted into fat, which results in weight gain and “beer gut”.9 Skipping alcohol can help in your weight loss journey.

Exercise routinely

Exercises, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can help your body to regulate insulin levels, glucose, and fat utilization. HIIT exercises can also help your body regulate cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone.

Get Enough Sleep

If you are struggling to sleep at night or not getting enough sleep, your body will secrete excess cortisol hormone, which can lead to weight gain. Scientists recommend getting 7–9 hours of sleep every night.


  1. Goodman B, MA. Research Sheds Light on Why People Who Lose Weight Gain It Back. WebMD. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  2. Weight gain. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  3. Seaman DR. Weight gain as a consequence of living a modern lifestyle: a discussion of barriers to effective weight control and how to overcome them. J Chiropr Humanit. 2013;20(1):27-35. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2013.08.001
  4. Elsesser J. Hormonal Balance and Metabolism: How Exercise Can Positively Affect Hormones. NASM Blog. December 2017. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  5. Estrogen and weight gain: What to know and how to manage it. Medical News Today. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  6. Causes of Weight Gain During Menopause. Marion Gluck. April 2018. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  7. Lignans. Linus Pauling Institute. Published April 29, 2014. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  8. Four nutrients to help your hormone imbalance. Accessed November 8, 2019.
  9. Alcohol and Weight: 8 Ways Drinking Slows Weight Loss. Healthline. Accessed November 8, 2019.