Hormones and Weight Gain

Do you ever look at an overweight person and assume that they became overweight by sitting on the couch and eating ice cream?


Just because someone is overweight doesn’t mean they over-eat.

Weight gain is often a hormonal dysregulation. Everyone has an internal “thermostat”, which tells the body what weight is “normal.”

There are a couple of hormones that cause your thermostat to be broken, but the primary driver is insulin.

It’s all explained in this video:

Insulin is a hormone, which tells our body to use the sugar we eat either as fuel, or to store it for a later use. So when we eat food, our insulin levels rise (normal), and then come back down once it’s done it’s job by telling the sugar to get out of our blood and into our cells.

What happens is if over a LOOOONG time, you start producing just a little more insulin than your body wants (either by eating carbs or another hormonal dysregulation) you can change your thermostat.

It’s the same as when you had your first experience with alcohol. You probably got slightly tipsy off of just one drink. Now, you may be able to have 3-4 drinks before you’re really “feeling it.” You’ve become more resistant to it, but that didn’t happen from your first drink to your second.

Similarly, insulin resistance is developed over the long term- it’s not something you develop instantly. That’s why it’s easier for people who gain weight quickly to lose it quickly, as opposed to people who gain 1-2lbs/year for 10 years.

That’s also why it seems like you’re not changing anything about your eating or exercise habits, but you’re gaining weight- you could be very slowly developing insulin resistance.

The other piece to this puzzle is that it’s not just by what you eat. Most hormones influence each other. For example, increased cortisol levels also increase insulin secretion. 

Cortisol is often termed the “stress hormone.” Being chronically stressed can cause you to release more insulin, which causes insulin resistance, which leads to weight gain.

Stress doesn’t always mean “I work 80hrs/week and my kids are in 6 different sports leagues, and I have to volunteer at church on Sundays and my grandma is in the hospital.” Yes, that is very stressful. But we can PUT stress on our bodies in different ways- two of which I see most commonly are not sleeping enough, staring at screens, and working out too much.

We often think of binge watching Tiger King for 5 hours as a de-stressor, when actually staring at a TV for that long is actually increasing your cortisol levels, which remember, increases insulin, which over time causes insulin resistance, which leads to weight gain.

Sleep deprivation also causes an increase in cortisol levels. One single night of sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels by 100%. Even sleeping only 4 hrs a night has shown to decrease insulin sensitivity. 

So, imagine what you’re doing to your biology if you’re watching TV for 2 hours before you go to bed, then fall asleep with the TV on in your bedroom, and then only sleep for 5 hours. You’re not just tired, there are SOOOO many other things going on.

Exercise also increases cortisol levels. This is a GOOD thing. But if you are exercising too much, are stressed out of your mind, using TV to then de-stress, only sleeping 4 hours/night, and then eating only when you remember/have time, there are other factors at play than eating too many carbs. 

So, where to start?

Each situation is unique, but here are a few action steps:

  1. Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.  Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
  2. Limit screen time past 6pm.
  3. Get outside first thing in the morning. Take a walk with no music, no podcasts, no cell phone. 
  4. Take a look at your meal timing throughout the day compared to your daily activities.
  5. SOME individuals may benefit from periodic fasting.

How to best reset your thermostat takes more investigation into your unique situation.

Interested in figuring out what the path to change may look like for you?

Book a Clarity Call by clicking here.