Hormonal Imbalances and Weight Gain, Part 1

You exercise, watch your diet, and still the pounds won’t come off (or worse, you gain weight!) Can hormones be to blame? Get-Fit Guy explains the connection between exercise, weight, and your hormones.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #97

Hormonal Imbalances and Weight Gain, Part 1

Listener Sami recently wrote in:

“Fitness can be so frustrating at times! It feels like lately when I buckle down on eating well, get a gym routine going, cut out alcohol, and watch portions, I gain weight and inches. But when I don't pay much attention and just occasionally hit the gym, I drop weight. What is going on? Could it just be my hormones as a female in general?”

This is a great question Sami, and a frustration that many women (and men!) share: The body's seeming inability to lose weight even with the strictest of exercise programs. So in today’s episode, you’ll learn about the problem of gaining weight no matter how much exercise you do, and how changes in hormones can cause weight gain.>

Why You’re Not Losing Weight

In the episode Why You’re Not Losing Weight, I presented 10 reasons that you can be resistant to weight loss, including:

  • Not changing your exercise routine enough

  • Eating too much

  • Not eating enough

  • Not lifting weights

  • Avoiding high intensity cardio

  • Not eating enough hormone supporting fat

  • Relying primarily on pill popping and fat burning supplements

  • Snacking too much

  • Food allergies or intolerances

  • Hormone imbalances

While Sami could certainly explore any of these issues, it is hormonal imbalances that seem to be the most dominant issue among women (and men!) who are doing lots and lots of exercise without achieving the desired results.

Hormonal Imbalances in Women

In women who have a hard time losing weight no matter how much exercise they do, there can often be an issue with “estrogen dominance.” Estrogen is a hormone produced in the ovaries, and it promotes cell division, cell growth, and in excessive amounts, formation of fat tissue. Another hormone found naturally in women is progesterone, and progesterone protects against the “pro-growth” effect of estrogen.

Normally, estrogen and progesterone work together to achieve hormonal balance. But as women age, and especially between the ages of 35 and 50, the decline in progesterone occurs much faster than the decline in estrogen, and this gradual drop in estrogen combined with a steep drop in progesterone is what initiates a problem with estrogen dominance and growth of excessive fat tissue.

See also: Do You Need Hormone Balancing?

While this “estrogen dominance” is a normal, expected part of aging, the weight gain that it causes can be significantly increased by lifestyle or dietary factors that increase the amount of estrogen in the body.

Here are some of those “extra” sources of estrogen that can contribute to estrogen dominance and weight gain in women, along with what you can do about it:

  • Pesticides and herbicides. Check out the Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies that are best to buy organic so you ingest as few pesticides as possible. 

  • Poultry or beef raised on hormones. As much as possible, eat free-range or grass-fed animals that are hormone-free and when you’re eating out at restaurants, consider opting for the fish unless you know the beef and chicken is hormone-free.

    See Also: Hormones in Food

  • Chemicals found in consumer products. Creams, lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair sprays, and deodorizers all contain chemicals. The Silent Springs institute has created a research report on which consumer products are safe and which are not. Click here for details of that report.

  • Industrial solvents. Glues, paints, varnishes, fingernail polish, and fingernail polish remover are the biggest culprits of industrial solvents. These can be tough to avoid completely, but you can reduce your exposure by using any chemicals like nail polish or nail polish remover in fresh air and open spaces.

  • Stress and poor sleep. Both of these can decrease progesterone output. Simple ways to reduce stress include yoga, deep breathing, nature walks, and planning so that you have as much hectic-free time as possible to accomplish your daily tasks. Before bed, limit computer, phone and TV use, and sleep in a quiet and dark room.

  • Excessive calories. Consuming too many calories can cause body fat that converts steroids to estrogens. People often “sneak” excess calories into their diets with mindless eating in the workplace in front of the computer or grabbing morsels from their kids’ snacks. Instead, pay attention to what and when you are eating and choose foods that are high in proteins, healthy fats, and fiber that can keep your appetite satiated. Check out this podcast for some of the best appetite-satiating foods.

  • Poor liver function. The metabolism of estrogens takes place primarily in the liver, so you need to care for that valuable organ! High alcohol intake or use of pharmaceuticals can put a strain on the liver, so limit yourself to no more than 1 drink of alcohol per day, avoid pharmaceutical drugs unless entirely necessary, and if you have been drinking or using drugs heavily, consider including liver supporting supplements into your diet, such as cucumber juice, milk thistle extract, calcium d-glucarate, folic acid, and taurine.

  • Magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is necessary for metabolizing estrogen in the liver, and a magnesium deficiency can be created from low veggie and fruit consumption combined with high consumption of processed foods. Consider using a magnesium powder before you go to bed at night, and spray topical magnesium on any sore muscles after you exercise.

I’ve worked with women who have “tried everything” and just can’t seem to get rid of stubborn fat or continue to gain weight. The strategies I’ve outlined work best at beating the weight, and also at reducing the brain fog, appetite cravings, rapid mood changes, and other issues that can occur with estrogen dominance.

Feeling left out guys? Tune in next week, when I’ll explain the type of hormonal imbalance in men that causes the biggest resistance to weight loss!

If you have more questions about whether you can gain weight from exercise, just visit Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Check out my new book, Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body, to find out your body type and get your dream body--fast!


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.