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Hormones and Weight Gain? An Exploration of Hormonal Imbalances

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Are hormones and weight gain related? Can hormonal imbalances cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues? In this article, I explore female hormonal imbalances in light of my own research and test results.

Hormonal issues and weight gain

Hi there!

I’m Chantal. Welcome to Ironwild Fitness!

I should start by saying that I’m a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. However, I am not a registered dietician or doctor.

That being said, I have a deep interest in hormones and weight gain after struggling to lose weight for years.

In addition, I’m very interested in hormones in regard to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as I have also had an ongoing battle with them.

With that, I am especially interested in the role that nutrition plays here. What I’m about to share with you comes from a place of frustration and genuine interest in the subject for personal reasons.

But…just keep in mind that I am NOT a medical professional and I always recommend doing your own research.

Hormones and Weight Gain: The Backstory

I mentioned that I’ve had my fair share of mental health and weight loss issues, but that’s really just scratching the surface.

My issues with anxiety and depression began way before becoming a mom and having trouble losing weight.

If you are a mom struggling with depression, I urge you to visit your doctor. In the meantime, read this post about natural ways to fight back.

However, I will say that the most frustrating part of all was struggling to lose weight for YEARS.

And that struggle led to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, which further fed my anxiety and depression.

I wish that someone – anyone – had told me YEARS ago that all of my problems (anxiety, depression, weight gain) could be related to hormones.

That would have saved me a lot of time, energy, and sadness.

Only now, in 2023, do I know for a fact that I have multiple hormonal issues that are scientifically correlated to anxiety, depression, weight gain, and all of the other issues I’ve been having.

It’s given me a lot of hope along with some very specific things to work on in terms of nutrition. To say I needed that is an understatement.

I wrote an entire post about all of the different symptoms I’ve been having and the foods that can help with hormone imbalances, so check that out if you want to compare your own situation.

Maybe you are having some of the same issues.

(If you are a mom, I highly recommend looking into it.)

Honestly, I didn’t know much about hormonal imbalances until recently, when I decided that enough was enough and I was going to get to the bottom of things.

Long story short, it has been nine years of trying to lose the baby weight from my first pregnancy. The weight loss issue has been a real problem.

If you’re inclined, you can read about my postpartum weight loss journey by going way back to this post.

But what sent me deep into a hormonal research phase was the brittle nails, hair loss, uncontrollable acne, mood swings, overwhelming weepiness and anger, low libido, muscle weakness, and just general feelings of helplessness.

These issues have affected my business and personal life for long enough.

(It is very depressing to be a personal trainer and nutrition coach who can’t lose weight.)

Come to find out, the odds are stacked against me hormonally. Ladies – get your hormones checked ASAP. It’s going to change everything.

Can hormones cause weight gain?

An Exploration of Hormonal Imbalances in Females

A few years ago, I went to my doctor of 20 years and asked her to check my thyroid. My mom, grandmother, and maternal grandfather all had thyroid issues and I thought for sure that I did, too.

She ordered some tests and they came back normal.

However, what I didn’t know at the time was that the tests that she ordered only scratched the surface of what could be going wrong.

Sure, my typical thyroid results were normal.

But that didn’t take into account each of my hormones specifically. My thyroid panel also didn’t look at my liver, which come to find out, is responsible for much of what goes on with your hormones.

So, I just spent the next few years feeling like crap because I couldn’t lose the weight I’d gained when pregnant.

I hired a personal trainer to help me learn how to work out. I tracked my food in MyFitnessPal and joined fitness competitions at my local gym.

I ate all of the egg whites, spinach, and ground turkey that one human could possibly stomach.

What’s more, I was in a calorie deficit for months at a time, working out 4-5 days per week, and would only lose 4 pounds or so every six months. Then, I would get discouraged, fall off the wagon, and then do the whole cycle all over again. (For years!)

I became a personal trainer and a nutrition coach for selfish reasons. I wanted to lose weight and I thought that getting certified would not only help me learn what to eat and how to exercise but also keep me accountable.

Truthfully, I thought that my issue was one of dedication and consistency, not anything else.

And while I struggled with that from time to time, I have since learned that there is definitely a correlation between hormones and weight gain.

On the brink of total desperation, I recently decided to visit an integrative health center specializing in hormones and weight loss rather than my old-school primary doctor.

I am a bit of a hippy, and I prefer a holistic approach to basically everything.

Actually, I am the type of person who would break my back by pulling weeds before spraying any chemicals on my yard, and I use beef tallow to moisturize my skin instead of putting drugstore chemicals on my face.

I prefer to look at nutrition and lifestyle changes before I reach for any pharmaceuticals, and I knew that my doctor wasn’t going to help me look in that direction. Her go-to would be to prescribe me some SSRIs (anti-depressants) instead of helping me get to the root cause.

Or maybe she would have given me birth control (sorry no) in order to clear up some of my acne.

In my opinion, the side effects and risks of those kinds of drugs just aren’t worth it to me anymore.

Again, I’m a bit of a minimalist hippy when it comes to these things.

The truth is that most conventional doctors are the same way, and if you’re truly concerned about hormones and weight gain or any other root issues with your health, you may want to look for a naturopath or similar.

Anyhow, I was absolutely and totally impressed by this nurse practitioner that I saw. She explained how hormones work together in a sort of symphony.

If just one of those instruments (er, hormones) was out of tune, it could throw off the whole thing.

And that is exactly what happened to me.

My liver wasn’t working properly, which threw off my ability to get rid of estrogen, which led to low testosterone, and it’s all related to vitamin D and DHEA, and IDK, it’s somehow all connected.

More on that soon.

Hormone Test Results

After an hour-long interview about my symptoms and issues, the nurse practitioner practically had a book full of notes.

She sent me for blood tests and let me know that she’d be looking at every angle -not just my thyroid panels.

So off I went to the lab, where they drew a scary amount of blood into five different vials.

Then, I went home to await my results.

They came back later that day, but of course, being the Google master that I am, I started to research each thing that was flagged as abnormal.

This is the point at which I became very confused and overwhelmed about all of the different things that were wrong with me.

I decided to wait until my follow-up appointment to decide whether or not I was dying.

At that appointment, it was determined that I have:

  • Low DHEA
  • High LDL Cholesterol
  • Low HDL Cholesterol
  • High Bilirubin
  • Low Vitamin D
  • Low Cortisol (sometimes dubbed “adrenal fatigue”)
  • Low Iron
  • Low Testosterone
  • High Estrogen (AKA estrogen dominance)
  • High Liver Enzymes (AST & ALT)

Phew…that’s a lot. But what does that all mean?

And more importantly for me, does this combination of issues all add up to hormonal weight gain?

What about the issues I was having with my skin? Oh and the hair loss, brittle nails, depression, anxiety, low energy, and libido? (Don’t forget the night sweats!)

Well, at my follow-up appointment, I learned the following related to my personal symptoms:

Low DHEA is associated with depression, low libido, mood swings, psoriasis, obesity, and/or weight gain.

High LDL “bad” cholesterol is associated with low vitamin D levels and being overweight.

Low HDL “good” cholesterol is associated with insulin resistance, which makes it harder to lose weight.

High bilirubin is associated with poor liver function.

Low vitamin D is associated with fatigue, depression, hair loss, muscle weakness, and a weakened immune system. It inhibits your ability to absorb iron.

Low cortisol is associated with “adrenal insufficiency” and can make you fatigued and weak, in addition to making you feel anxious and depressed.

Iron deficiency is associated with fatigue, muscle weakness, and brittle nails, and can give you heart palpitations.

Low testosterone is associated with low libido, low energy, decreased muscle mass, weight gain, thinning hair, a messed up cycle, and depression and anxiety.

High estrogen is associated with anxiety, mood swings, skin problems, decreased sex drive, weight gain around the middle, period problems, and hot flashes or night sweats. (Yey me!)

High liver enzymes indicate inflammation of the liver and are associated with fatigue, and in my case, potentially non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

*Sigh*

Interestingly enough, I am not diabetic and my “regular” thyroid panel came back normal.

Yet based on these results, yes, hormones and weight gain can really go together.

In fact, looking at all of these as a whole, I would say the stacks have been stacked against me in terms of weight loss. (I wonder how long things have been so out of whack!)

There was not just one thing off, there were a whole bunch of things off!

Not one hormone issue that could cause weight gain or depression, but many!

Not one metric that could cause a bunch of weird skin problems and mood swings, but a handful of them!

Again, yey for me, right?

Honestly, I’m actually quite relieved to know that all my symptoms were not just in my head.

I had this fear that I would turn up “normal” on all of my tests and be lost all over again.

That’s because like I said, I attempted to have my thyroid checked a few years ago when I had already been struggling with my weight for some time.

It was very validating to know that I am not some perfectly healthy person who just doesn’t have the willpower to lose weight.

That sounds really stupid, but for years and years, I felt awful (and depressed) because I thought that I was just not mentally strong enough to lose weight.

And I also thought that I was not tough enough to not be depressed and anxious all of the time.

I really just thought that I was a deeply flawed human who had a lot of personal issues and a lot of it was just my character. Yikes.

(I mean, I do take some responsibility, but c’mon.)

How disgusting is it that no doctor could just say, you know, “Let’s see if this is a hormonal thing!”

I really just spent the last 7+ years of my life feeling totally mentally ill and “down in the dumps” just to find out that it is not all my fault.

But the truth is that not all that many doctors are super good with nutrition and hormonal issues. This I why I felt obligated to learn about these things on my own and share them with you.

Ladies (especially moms), go get your hormones and liver checked out.

It is seriously a game-changer.

This whole process gave me VERY specific things to work on in order to balance my hormones and finally start feeling better. I would probably still be sitting here feeling sorry for myself if I hadn’t gone to get tested and hadn’t really learned about hormones and weight gain.

If you are having any weird symptoms, make someone listen and get down to the bottom of things!

Hormones and Your Liver

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you what I learned about your liver, weight gain, and hormones.

I had no idea, but your liver is largely responsible for removing spent or excess hormones from your body.

If your liver is not working properly, you are going to keep recirculating hormones instead of expelling them. (At least that’s how I understand it.)

Those imbalances can create more imbalances and then it all snowballs into one chubby, depressed, and anxious disaster. (I joke, but in all seriousness, protect the liver at all costs.)

I should note that I do have a family history of liver failure and depression, but what I’ve learned is that it might not be genetic!

It might just be that the liver is inflamed because it doesn’t like gluten or dairy. I don’t even drink alcohol (except maybe on NYE or the 4th of July) so I know I can rule that out as the cause of my issues.

However, alcohol consumption is a definite no-no if you want to make sure your hormones are balanced.

But anyway, long story short, your liver function, in a way, is tied to your mental health and your weight.

Who knew??? Not me.

Haha.

So what now?

How Do I Address This Hormonal Weight Gain Now That I Know What I Know?

I’ll tell you what my doc told me, but remember that I am NOT a registered dietician or doctor and I am not legally allowed to prescribe anything. You HAVE to go visit your doctor before making any moves here.

First of all, lay off the alcohol. (Easy, since I don’t really drink.)

Secondly, eat as many cruciferous vegetables as you can possibly stomach. Okay, maybe she didn’t say it like that, but she did say that these types of veggies are really good for liver and estrogen detoxing.

They have something called 3,3-Diindolylmethane, which binds to the estrogen and escorts it out. Apparently, broccoli sprouts have a TON of this stuff, so go ahead and start eating that too.

Next, get more iron and healthy fats. This is obviously specific to me, but “healthy” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) can help regulate hormones.

The iron thing is to address the fatigue and Vitamin D issues, so I am supposed to eat more meat and eggs and sit in the sun more often. I should note, vitamin C aids iron absorption so I’m eating an orange every day with my eggs. 🙂

You can learn more about the different types of fats in this post.

Take a bajillion supplements. I think I’m taking six different natural supplements right now, and I could have opted for more if I’d decided to take a vitamin D supplement. (I live in NW Oregon so I will need to take it in the winter but it’s summatime right now.)

Here’s what I’m taking:

  • An adaptogen blend to help mood and fatigue
  • A liver detox supplement to help with the enzyme problem
  • “DIM” (concentrated and encapsulated version of the compound in cruciferous vegetables) to help with estrogen detoxification
  • Calcium D-Glucarate to help with liver and estrogen cleansing
  • A magnesium blend to help with anxiety, cleansing, and racing thoughts
  • Iron to help with fatigue

I know it’s a lot, but for me, it’s worth it to try to get my life back on track. I am so tired of being sick and tired!

So what about you?

Are You Having Problems With Hormones And Weight Gain?

If you think you are, I highly recommend looking for a naturopath or similar medical professional who specializes in hormones and weight problems.

It might just change your life!

However, I want to remind you that my symptoms, my results, and the issues related to them are mine. None of these lists are comprehensive and there may be any number of issues in any combination.

But do know that hormones can indeed cause weight gain.

And if you have struggled with your weight for years and years, it’s time to get things checked.

Maybe it’s time to dig deeper and work on more specific issues instead of counting calories and working out all the dang time. (It’s refreshing!)

Best of luck,

Chantal

(Click here to find me on Instagram.)

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