Are Hormones Making You Hold Weight?


How annoying is it when you decide to start a diet with your boyfriend or significant other and after two weeks he has lost ten pounds and you’ve only lost two? Hormones may be to blame. I’ve worked with several medical practices that specialized in weight loss and detoxification protocols. Yet the men almost always lost significantly more than the women following exactly the same program. Your first thought could be, well since men weigh more than women then they will automatically lose more. That’s not necessarily the case. Here are some reasons why hormones could be holding you back.

Estrogen Dominance Since women produce more estrogen, that keeps us storing fat in a different way than men do. Women who are estrogen dominant will have a hard time losing weight even when dieting. Some clues to determine if you may be estrogen dominant are PMS signs such as heavy periods, weight gain, mood swings, and loss of sex drive. With all the plastics and chemicals used in foods today, we are being given hefty doses of xenoestrogens from sources we may not even realize such as skin lotions, sunscreens, food colorings, insecticides, and microwaving food in plastic containers. Before you become symptomatic, the practice of checking your skin products for parabens, eating organic foods without chemicals and heating/storing your food in non-plastic containers is a little more work but definitely recommended.

Low Thyroid Function Thyroid disorders are especially prevalent in women and impact their ability to lose weight. The thyroid is like your internal thermostat and governs your metabolism. While some women have hyperthyroidism - which is an overactive thyroid - the most common thyroid disorder is hypothyroidism (under-active) thyroid or Hashimoto’s Disease. Hashimoto’s is when your body swings from hypothyroid to hyperthyroid. As someone who has experienced all the above thyroid conditions in addition to thyroid cancer, I urge you to check out your levels, especially if you can’t lose weight.

Essentially, you can be doing all the cleansing and healthy eating you like, but if your thyroid is not doing its job you will not get very far. Not only can hypothyroidism cause you to be puffy, retain water and gain weight, but it will make you so sluggish that you won’t be motivated to exercise. Thyroid function is generally treated after assessing your TSH. TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. The acceptable range on a lab test is somewhere between 0.4-4.0 although physicians are finding that the more suppressed the TSH, the better the patient usually feels in terms of energy and metabolic rate. So you can have a blood test with a TSH level of 3.5 and find that although you have all the symptoms of hypothyroidism, you are still within the “normal” range. There are also some people don’t feel well if their TSH is above a 2. So you need to have a conversation with your doctor if your results fall into the upper quadrant of normal range and sense something is not right. The other tests to ask for are Free T4, Free T3 and Reverse T3 thyroid antibodies. While some endocrinologists discount these tests, unexplained weight gain and fatigue could be related to being out of balance.

Oral Contraception Birth control pills may have benefits, yet the drawbacks may not be worth it. In addition to loading your body with synthetic hormones, weight gain is a common side effect. Some women rely on the pill solely to prevent a pregnancy mishap; there are tons of women, however, who stay on it for Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), acne or to ease PMS. While the pill won’t make everyone gain weight, just know that the last 8-10 pounds that you can’t lose can very likely be related. I’ve worked with young women that have been using the pill since their teenage years for their skin and swear by it. Yet they complain to me about not being the size they want. If that is the only reason they choose to use it, I try to see how they do being off the pill while making major dietary modifications. Many times they are eating too much sugar, yeast or processed foods. Once they clean up their diet, the skin will look better on its own. The weight comes off easier not being on the extra hormones and cutting out the unhealthy foods also helps to rev up the process.

You have to be your own detective to see if there is a root cause to failed dieting attempts. Tell your primary care physician that you want to complete a workup of your hormones.  Don’t just rely on a Google search to self-diagnose or follow the latest diet trend. What has worked for your friends may be completely counterproductive for your success. If you were trying to get pregnant and you had one failed attempt after the next, wouldn’t you visit the doctor and find out if you were fertile or even ovulating? It would be silly to keep trying with your partner hoping for a different result before ruling out any underlying reason. The same applies to losing weight.

You can follow the most restrictive of diets, yet if your metabolism is compromised due to a hormonal issue, you could be totally wasting your time with so much unnecessary suffering. On the flip side, take responsibility for your lifestyle and don’t blame a lazy thyroid for your size. You need to have confirmation either way.  Go back to square one, have your hormones tested, and find out what’s going on.