Are Your Hormones Causing Weight Gain? (Guest Blogger)

Imbalanced hormones may lead to weight gain. Learn how to prevent hormone related weight gain with these tips!

The following post was written by guest blogger and dietitian, Mary Ellen Williams, from

With each year that passes, Americans’ waistline gets larger and larger. It is no secret that we have a weight problem in this country. The basic, textbook explanation for weight gain is eating more food than is necessary for our bodies. Our body will store excess calories in our fat cells. Research shows our risk of chronic disease, like heart disease or cancer, may increase with excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area.

But, what if there was more to it than just eating too much food?

Are there other factors at play in our bodies that contribute to weight gain, making it increasingly difficult for us to lose weight regardless of what we eat?

In this month’s article, we will spend time exploring other factors contributing to weight gain: specifically, hormones. It’s important to understand that this is not the “gold at the end of the rainbow” in your search for weight loss. Eating within your calorie requirements, consuming balanced meals, and exercising regularly are still MAJOR factors in weight loss. This article is intended to explore ADDITIONAL factors contributing to weight gain. You can’t get off that easily. Trust me, if weight loss were easy, everyone would be successful, and I would probably be out of a job.

Now that you understand the parameters, let’s jump right in. We will cover:

  • What are hormones?
  • Our hormones role in nutrition and weight management.
  • 3 things to do to avoid hormonal weight gain.

What are hormones?

The key role of hormones is to regulate, or control, different bodily processes that must occur so we can function properly as humans. The body is filled with hormones, housing about 50 different ones. Each one does something different. There are a lot of hormones that may affect your weight, but we will focus on a few that involve the process of eating and digestion: ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol.


Ghrelin (or, as I like to call it, gremlin) is your hunger hormone. This little guy is what lets us know when it’s time to eat! Ghrelin acts quickly, and is a rather strong hormone. How strong? I equate my ghrelin strength to those moments when I would come home from school and immediately head for the snack drawer that my mother kept filled with 100% organic, all-natural snacks…NOT. Usually, it was Little Debbie Cakes (dietitians are humans too!). Those times when you cannot speak, talk, or think until you eat something. That is the ghrelin talking! If you skip meals, ghrelin levels continue to rise until eventually all you can think about is food. Rather than Little Debbie Cakes (sorry mom, I still love you), keep apples and string cheese around as a better option for those moments when you must eat.

Want more ideas for healthy, balanced snacks? Download this free guide for over 30+ combinations!

Researchers discovered the link between ghrelin and hunger a long time ago. However, more recently we have learned that ghrelin levels also rise with stress. This relationship between our hormones and stress impact our ability to burn calories and contribute to weight gain. They also impact the types of calories we consumed. When stress is high, so are the fat and sugar content of our meals, especially in women.  Yes, there is a scientific reason why you want a tub of ice cream after a break-up!


Ghrelin and leptin go together like salt and pepper. If ghrelin tells us we are hungry, then leptin tells us we are full. Leptin is made in our fat cells and tells the brain when we have had enough food. Leptin levels ebb and flow with our sleep patterns, rising during the night, and falling when we wake.  This allows our bodies to go all night without food.

The more fat we carry on our body, the more leptin we carry as well.  But rather than using that increase in leptin to keep us fuller longer, our body becomes resistant to, or unaffected by, the leptin. Weight gain can then spiral out of control because the ability to feel full is not working properly.


Cortisol is a steroid hormone, meaning it helps control inflammation, salt and water balance, and immune responses. Typically, when we hear the term steroid we think of the synthetic form called hydrocortisone. But, our bodies produce steroids all on their own. Cortisol is released by the body in situations of stress and low blood glucose levels. Also, cortisol stimulates stomach acid production which helps metabolize fat, protein, and carbohydrates. When cortisol is chronically elevated (usually from poor sleep, trauma, or chronic stress), it may lead to weight gain.

The activities we do in our daily lives can have an impact on our cortisol levels.  Dancing, massage therapy, and even laughter can lower cortisol concentrations! Yes, laughter truly is good for the soul.

3 ways to help regulate these hormones

Three ways to prevent hormonal weight gain.

Consistent meal patterns.

  • Whether you eat 3 meals per day or 6-8 small meals daily, the point here is that you are eating at consistent times every day. This regularity prevents ghrelin levels from rising too quickly. High levels of ghrelin cause ravenous hunger pains which could lead to over eating and weight gain. Tip: if you find yourself in a ravenous state, leave healthy food options in convenient locations (car, kitchen counter, at the front of the pantry) for a fast, but healthy solution. Don’t be afraid of wholesome fat foods such as avocados, almonds or walnuts. While these foods should be eaten in proper portion sizes, they suppress ghrelin levels and provide fullness for longer periods of time.

Want easy breakfast ideas that take less than 10 minutes? Join the free resource library to have access to the Food Farm breakfast guide!

Establish a sleep routine and stick to it.

  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for ages 26-64.  Yet, 40% of Americans do not meet this recommendation! Americans have a sleep problem. As we learned from earlier, sleep deprivation causes our fullness hormone to decrease and our stress hormone to increase. In fact, studies show that people who sleep more (meeting the recommendations) weigh less than their sleep-deprived counterparts. Here are some factors that contribute to poor sleep patterns:
    • “Blue” light – this includes televisions, cell phones, tablets, etc. before bed.
    • Jet lag and shift work.
    • Stress and anxiety.
    • Eating habits: caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use.

Stress management.

  • Both ghrelin and cortisol levels rise in times of stress. These hormonal rises are what cause overeating and consumption of processed fat, and high sugar foods. As you may know, you can manage stress effectively by exercising and eating healthy, balanced meals. As a working mom with two kids under the age of two, I totally understand that everyday life can get hectic. But, it is in these times that our bodies need moments of stillness even more. A few methods for stress management include:
    • Meditation and/or prayer (even if it’s just for 5 minutes!). For meditation, there are many phone apps that can help you get started. Headspace is our favorite.
    • Yoga or stretching. You don’t need to spend a lot of money for a yoga membership! Try a quick 10-minute yoga session before bed to quiet the mind. This can also promote improved sleep habits. There are free yoga instruction videos on YouTube or phone apps as well (we like Down Dog).
    • Going for a walk outside. Nature can be extremely helpful in stress reduction. Try incorporating a short walk during lunch or after dinner. Plus, you’ll get a little extra movement in, for which your body will thank you.
    • Journaling. Writing helps relieve stress, improve your mood, and even boosts your immune system, helping your body to fight off the negative effects of the stress. There is no right or wrong way to journal, and it doesn’t have to be a long entry. Write about how you felt that day, what experiences you had, or maybe your worries and concerns.

Hormones play an active role in weight management.

Incorporating well balanced meals (fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, portion sizes) and regular physical activity remain the number one treatment for sustainable weight loss. However, it is important to identify other habits contributing to weight gain including meal patterns, stress management, and sleep. These practices must be included to help meet your health or weight loss goals.



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