Before we get started, there are a few things you need to know about fat first (yep, fat!). It can build up as your metabolism slows when you become older. It can also be caused by a bad diet and a lack of physical activity.
You exercise most days of the week and eat as many nutritious meals as you can, yet the scale says you’re gaining weight, not reducing it, disappointing right?
It’s often the most difficult to reduce weight around your waistline. But, before you go to the gym and beat yourself up for not doing enough crunches, remember this: even a minor change in our hormone levels as we age can cause stubborn belly fat.
Hormone imbalance can be caused by a multitude of factors. Hormonal belly, or extra weight growth around the stomach, can result from this disruption. Hormones can cause extra belly fat in some cases. Hormones play a role in a variety of biological functions, including metabolism, stress, hunger, and sexual desire. If a person lacks specific hormones, it can lead to weight growth around the abdomen, which is referred to as a hormonal belly.
In fact, studies show that postmenopausal women who are on hormonal replacement treatment have less belly fat than those who aren’t. There are natural solutions to correct your levels before you run to your doctor for a prescription for your hormonal belly. Sugar reduction, elimination of processed foods from your diet, and avoidance of dairy, alcohol, and caffeine can all assist to balance your blood sugar and insulin levels.
So, how can you tell if those love handles are just a few extra pounds from a pizza and wine binge, or if they’re a sign of anything more serious? Here are six symptoms that your hormones are at fault.
1. Your waistline is getting bigger, but you’re eating right.
It could be an indication you’ve developed a hormonal belly if you’ve had a pretty flat stomach for the duration of your life and then that spare tire emerges overnight.
Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet, explains that as we age, our bodies might become more insulin-resistant, causing them to retain fat rather than burn it. “As we progress through perimenopause and beyond, women become increasingly estrogen-dominant.” “Estrogen dominance induces insulin resistance, which leads to the accumulation of abdominal fat,” she explains.
The majority of the time, belly fat may be linked back to your food. However, if your stomach is bulging despite a consistent diet and lifestyle, it’s possible that your weight gain is hormonal.
Hormone levels can fluctuate for a variety of reasons that are beyond your control, such as the following:
- aging (think menopause and andropause)
- some cancer treatments (hormonal therapies)
- underlying medical problems (thyroid issues, infection, etc.)
It’s possible that your estrogen or testosterone levels are shifting as you get older, resulting in belly fat gain. If you haven’t changed your lifestyle and aren’t nearing middle age, talk to your doctor about having your health checked for underlying concerns.
2. You’ve been craving a lot of sugar.
Insulin resistance can not only lead to diabetes, but it can also have side effects on other critical hormones. “Insulin resistance can lead to leptin resistance.” “Leptin is the hormone that tells your body when you’re full, but high insulin levels eventually lead to high leptin.” “Elevated leptin, contrary to popular belief, does not mean you’ll put down your fork and quit eating.”
According to Dr. Gottfried, “consistently increased leptin levels can lead to leptin receptor malfunction.” These receptors stop sending messages to the brain telling you to put down your fork. As a result, you perform the total opposite of what leptin is supposed to do: you keep eating while never receiving the signal to stop.
3. You’re experiencing a lot of mood swings.
Estrogen levels change a lot as women approach and pass menopause, which can cause mood swings and stubborn weight gain around the waist. This, according to a University of Wisconsin study, is why women are more likely than men to acquire mood disorders.
Estrogen levels in women fluctuate most frequently during reproductive cycle events and menopausal transitions, according to the study. Most women reported the onset of depression or recurrent depression around this time.
Natural fluctuations in estrogen levels occur throughout menopausal physiological changes, which can induce mood swings and weight gain. That is why Dr. Gottfried advises against blaming oneself for gaining too much weight. “Don’t blame your inability to lose weight on a lack of willpower or self-discipline.” “Your hormones have most likely turned against you,” she explains.
Instead, concentrate on things you have control over, such as your food and exercise regimen. Make a point of including plenty of veggies, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats in your meals. These foods will not only keep you full and satisfy your hunger, but they will also provide you with the nutrients you need to avoid age-related insulin resistance and muscle loss. Find out more about ways to lose weight around 40.
4. You’re constantly stressed.
Cortisol is another significant factor in the hormonal belly fat game. Cortisol, often known as the stress hormone, rises when your body detects you’re stressed or overloaded, which can lead to obstinate weight gain. This is because the body goes into fight or flight mode, according to Jacqueline Montoya, MD, board-certified emergency medicine and critical care physician and owner of GreenMed MD. “High levels of stress and worry can trigger survival mode in the body, which raises cortisol levels and signals the body to store extra fat,” she explains.
5. You’re exhausted all the time but can’t fall asleep.
Insomnia and weariness can be telltale symptoms that your weight increase is due to hormones. Sleep deprivation leads to exhaustion, which in turn leads to stress and insomnia. All of this will cause havoc with your hormones, particularly your cortisol levels. Dr. Montoya notes that “high cortisol can lead to low thyroid levels, which might cause central weight gain.” “It can also lower growth hormone levels, which are important for tissue growth, muscle growth, and overall wellness.”
Sleep deprivation affects cortisol (the stress hormone), leptin (the hormone that instructs your brain to stop eating), and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) (the hormone that increases your appetite).
Doesn’t that sound like a formula for a hormonal belly?
Burning both ends of the candle can result in a hormonal belly. Skipping sleep, whether on purpose or not, can have serious health repercussions, ranging from lowering sex drive to increasing hunger. Even people who sought to make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on weekends had hormone shifts, weight gain, and higher calorie consumption, according to a 2019 study.
6. Your sex life has flatlined
Estrogen and testosterone, the same hormones that affect your libido, might also affect your waistline. Menopause (again, a season of major hormone upheaval) is linked to a sexual dry spell, according to research.
It has also been shown in studies to cause weight gain and an increase in visceral fat, which is fat that accumulates in the belly.
How to Naturally Reset Your Hormones
The fundamental challenge with combating hormonal imbalances that create belly obesity is that everything is cyclical—one problem leads to another and so on. That’s why many women struggle to get rid of a hormonal belly. Aside from medical intervention, you can break the cycle and reset your hormones by making lifestyle changes.
“The key to combating hormone imbalances is making conscious day-to-day decisions about what you eat, how much exercise you get, how many hours you sleep, and how you handle stressful circumstances,” Dr. Montoya adds.
Dr. Gottfried recommends rethinking your diet. “I recommend avoiding sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, and caffeine for 40 days,” she explains. “Aim to consume one pound of veggies every day, preferably cruciferous vegetables, as well as anti-inflammatory protein. The goal is to exclude highly reactive foods from the diet to alleviate nutritional stress.”
Dr. Gottfried suggests intermittent fasting in addition to altering your diet. She favors the 16:8 ratio. There is an eight-hour eating window and a 16-hour overnight fast every day. You can, however, choose whether you want to fast in the morning or in the evening. She also recommends undertaking high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and obtaining at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.” Poor sleep quality wreaks havoc on your internal biochemistry, and fatigued people are more likely to overeat,” she explains.
What You Can Eat
It’s known as “Glyci-Med” because it combines foods with a low glycemic index (or GI), which means they raise blood sugar slowly, with a classic Mediterranean diet.
Lean protein (think chicken breasts, eggs, and wild-caught fish); vegetables and most fruit; chia seeds, flaxseeds, and most nuts; olive oil and other unsaturated oils and fats, such as canola oil; and whole grains like buckwheat, brown rice, and quinoa are among the foods you can eat.
Caffeine, alcohol, fried meals, processed meat, peanuts, saturated fat, full-fat dairy, artificial sweeteners, and simple high-GI carbohydrates like white bread are all avoided or limited on this diet.
You’ll eat frequently — every 3-4 hours — and at least 80% of the time, you’ll eat healthful foods. You do, however, get one or two “cheat meals” per week, cause we all deserve it!
Other Reasons You Could be Gaining Belly Fat
You’re not certain it’s your hormones to blame? Check for any combination of these likely culprits:
- Unhealthy eating habits. Loaded nachos, hot fudge sundaes, and other Friday night party meals are notoriously low in nutrients. The American Heart Association recommends against eating too many foods high in trans fat, sodium, and sugar. To lose belly fat, replace those snacks with high-protein or fiber snacks.
- Consuming too many calories. A food diary or calorie counter might assist you in keeping track of your everyday eating habits. Of course, if you suffer from disordered eating, keeping track of your food intake could become a triggering habit. Instead, concentrate on mindful eating.
- Booze belly. Alcohol is a combination of empty calories and decreased inhibitions. (Is there going to be another round of BOGO happy hour apps? After all, why not?!). It also puts your liver and digestive system under strain. Drink slowly, slam a glass of water between drinks, and set reasonable boundaries to avoid weight gain.
- Lack of exercise. It’s possible to gain weight if you expend fewer calories than you consume. If you’re a sedentary person, adding some exercise (like dancing or walking) will help you rebalance your stomach.
- Vitamin D deficiency. Obesity and vitamin D insufficiency have been linked by several researchers. But just because those with higher abdominal fat are more likely to be vitamin D deficient, doesn’t mean the vitamin is a panacea. Consult your doctor about supplementing if you believe you are inadequate. It might be the key to unlocking the secret of your abdominal fat, as well as alleviating other deficiency-related symptoms.
5 Tips for Tackling Hormonal Belly
Hormonal weight gain has no one-size-fits-all solution. Your strategy will be determined by which hormones are out of whack and why. These five strategies, however, are a solid place to start.
1. Zen out
Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” for a reason. Chronically high cortisol levels, whether caused by constant stress or Cushing’s disease, can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and other health problems. So begin by addressing your stress before addressing your hormonal belly.
Consider meditating. Participate in a yoga class. Try focused breathing for a few minutes.
2. Rest up
Do you find yourself sleeping on your sleeping habits? Now is the time to take things seriously.
Restless evenings have been linked to a higher BMI in studies (BMI). To assist regulate hormones and restore a healthy digestion rhythm, aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. It is necessary for your brain and body to rest, reset, and keep your hormones in good operating condition.
3. Eat more hormone-balancing foods
Diet can have a big impact on hormone cycles. When hormones (particularly insulin) are out of whack, your body may accumulate excess belly fat or potentially develop type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, consuming high-fiber foods on a regular basis can keep your insulin on track.
Stock your cupboard with other healthy, hormone-balancing items like broccoli, chickpeas, lean meats, and sour cherries (which are fantastic for the belly issue).
4. Pass on the sugar
Hormone regulation is harmed by blood sugar increases. A low glycemic diet, which focuses on foods that take longer to convert to sugar in your bloodstream, can help you control your hormonal belly.
People who have a hormonal belly due to PCOS have also reported weight loss results by lowering their sugar intake. Other suggestions include increasing your protein and fiber intake.
5. Limit your alcohol
Alcohol use has been shown to impact hormones, even raising estrogen in premenopausal women, according to research. If you suspect your weight increase is due to hormones, consider abstaining from alcohol for a month.
To see if it makes a difference, try it out. It’s possible that your evening glass of wine has been secretly boosting your endocrine system.
The Bottom Line
Weight gain typically happens when you’re consuming more calories than you burn. But sometimes, belly fat can be the result of hormonal imbalances like wacky estrogen or testosterone levels. Stress and lack of sleep can also wreak hormone havoc.
You might be able to tackle hormonal belly with lifestyle changes. But if healthy eating, solid sleep, and stress reduction don’t do the trick, it’s time to talk to your doctor. They can help you identify and fix a hormone imbalance.
A person may gain weight around the abdomen due to hormonal deficiencies and imbalances. The conditions that cause hormonal belly weight may also cause other health problems. Hormonal deficiencies may require treatment, so it is a good idea to see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Treatment may include hormone replacement therapy, medications, or lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
Keep in mind that your hormone levels are influenced by a variety of factors. It’s not simply about what you eat. It is erroneous and oversimplifies the role of nutrients in the body to suggest that certain foods are “hormone hindering.”