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How Do Hormones Affect Weight

Written by: Deanna Goodson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Hormones are poorly understood but very powerful. These chemical messengers facilitate nearly every bodily process, including metabolism, hunger and feelings of fullness, aka satiety. Some hormones can directly affect our weight.

Woman doing insulin injection.

Below, you will find four of those hormones and ways to keep them from impacting your ‘bottom line.’

1. Insulin

Insulin is the main storage hormone and is produced by the pancreas. Diabetics have issues with creating enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. What does insulin itself do? Well, it promotes the storage of glucose, which is a simple sugar you get from food (note: all food eventually turns into glucose in the body via digestive processes and hormonal interventions). Glucose is stored in muscles, the liver and fat cells. Throughout the day, your body secretes small amounts of insulin, with larger amounts being released after eating meals. The hormone will then transfer glucose from the food into your cells for either energy or storage, depending upon your needs.

Insulin resistance is a condition that many of us have heard about, but what is it really? Insulin resistance causes your cells to stop responding to insulin. The condition itself results in high blood sugar because insulin cannot move the glucose into the cells. Your pancreas, in order to deal with the added volume, produces even more insulin to boost glucose absorption.

Insulin resistance can be linked to both obesity which is linked to a host of conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Insulin sensitivity, on the other hand, is the opposite of insulin resistance. It means that your cells are sensitive to the insulin hormone. To improve insulin sensitivity, you can do the following:

  • Exercise regularly

  • Improve sleep habits

  • Get more Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Change your diet (aka practice the Mediterranean diet, which is high in protein, veggies and healthy fats while being low in simple carbs and trans fats.)

  • Maintain a moderate weight

  • Focus on low glycemic carbs (think brown, not white).

2. Leptin

Leptin is a hormone that tells our hypothalamus that you’re full. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates appetite. Unfortunately, people with obesity may have leptin resistance. As a result, their brains do not receive the message to stop eating. This naturally causes overeating. The body will then produce more leptin until your levels are elevated. The causes of leptin resistance are unknown but may be due to inflammation, gene mutations and/or excessive leptin production, which naturally occurs with obesity.

While there is no known treatment for leptin resistance, a few lifestyle changes can help lower leptin levels in the human body. These are:

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Improve the quality of your sleep

  • Exercise regularly.

3. Ghrelin

Ghrelin is the polar opposite of leptin. It’s the hunger hormone that lets your hypothalamus know you are hungry and in need of food. Its main function is to increase appetite. Ghrelin levels are highest before eating a meal and lowest after you’ve eaten that meal. Restricting calories can lead to higher ghrelin levels, leaving you hungry. This also causes your metabolism to slow down and your leptin levels to decrease. So, while leptin and ghrelin are opposites, they do work together in tandem to moderate hunger.

To reduce appetite, you should eat regularly, get good quality sleep and maintain moderate body weight.

4. Cortisol

Most of us have heard of cortisol. It’s the stress hormone and it’s produced by our adrenal glands. During times of stress, cortisol is released, increasing heart and energy levels. The release of cortisol, along with adrenaline, activates the sympathetic nervous system, aka the fight, flight or freeze response. While it’s important to release cortisol in dangerous situations, we tend to over-release it. As a result, chronic stress levels can lead to a host of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, low energy levels, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and even weight gain. Certain lifestyle factors like chronic stress and poor sleep habits can increase the amount of cortisol we release. Obesity not only raises cortisol levels, but those high levels can cause weight gain, making it a pretty intense and difficult situation to be in.

To manage cortisol levels, experts recommend the following:

  • Get enough sleep

  • Exercise regularly

  • Practice mindfulness (aka being present in the present)

  • Maintain a moderate body weight

  • Eat a balanced diet like the Mediterranean Diet

Of course, these are not the only hormones that affect weight in the human body. Hormones – and their effects – are poorly understood by many, including endocrinologists (doctors specializing in the study of hormones). The important takeaway from this piece should be that hormonal sensitivities and imbalances can largely be stabilized by engaging in certain activities such as sleeping, exercising and eating regularly.

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Deanna Goodson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Deanna Goodson is a professional life and mental health coach, nutritional counselor, and writer. She received her coach training at Rhodes Wellness College in Canada and received an ACC credential from the International Coaching Federation in May of 2019, which was recently renewed. As a mental health coach, Deanna is well-versed in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Emotional Freedom Technique, aka Tapping. Deanna is also a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and has a certificate in Emotional Eating Psychology (EEP). She follows an intuitive eating approach for her clients and helps them repair their relationship with food.



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