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Which Hormones Cause Weight Gain

Hormones are one of many complex factors that may affect your weight. In this article, we’ll review which hormones cause weight gain when they are imbalanced, and how to approach weight loss or weight management with a sustainable functional medicine approach.


When stress hits, our bodies release cortisol as part of the fight-or-flight response. This is a natural and adaptive mechanism that prepares the body for action. However, in our modern world, everyday stressors can keep cortisol levels consistently high, leading to prolonged exposure to this hormone. 

Chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause weight gain in a few different ways. First of all, cortisol promotes fat storage, particularly around the belly (1). Unfortunately, belly fat puts people at a greater risk for developing health problems like heart disease, liver disease, and some types of cancer (2, 3).

Imbalanced cortisol levels can also impact sleep patterns. A lack of quality sleep is not only detrimental to our energy levels and mood but also affects our appetite regulation. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of the hormone leptin, which signals satiety. This hormonal imbalance sets the stage for increased cravings, particularly for high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods.

What to do

Understanding the cortisol-weight gain connection allows us to take proactive steps to break the cycle. Incorporating stress-management techniques into our daily routines, such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, can help regulate cortisol levels. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine are also crucial for ensuring quality rest. We may also suggest supportive supplements for healthy cortisol levels, like ashwagandha or Sleep Support.


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Leptin and Ghrelin

Often referred to as the "satiety hormone," leptin is produced by fat cells and signals to the brain that we have enough stored energy, leading to a feeling of fullness. However, in cases of obesity, the body may develop leptin resistance, where the brain no longer responds appropriately to fullness signals. This resistance can result in a constant state of perceived hunger, contributing to overeating and weight gain.

On the flip side, ghrelin stimulates appetite, signaling to the brain that it's time to eat. Ghrelin levels typically rise before meals and fall after eating, contributing to the sensation of fullness. However, irregular eating patterns and poor dietary choices can disrupt this natural cycle, leading to overeating and weight gain.

What to do

There are a few ways to support healthy leptin and ghrelin levels:
  • Establish regular meal times to regulate ghrelin secretion
  • Opt for balanced meals that include a mix of protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar levels 
  • Aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night
  • Incorporate regular physical activity to influence leptin sensitivity 
  • Limit processed foods and added sugar, which contribute to leptin resistance and disrupt the body’s ability to regulate hunger and fullness
Remember, hunger is not a bad thing! It is an important biological cue for survival and obtaining the necessary nutrients for optimal health. However, implementing the above tips can encourage your body to become more intune with its natural hunger and fullness cues.


Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a central role in regulating blood sugar levels. When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose (sugar), causing a rise in blood sugar. Insulin acts as the key that unlocks our cells, allowing glucose to enter and be used for energy. However, when insulin function is impaired, it can lead to weight gain.

Insulin resistance is a condition where cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin, requiring the body to release higher levels of insulin to manage blood sugar levels. When insulin resistance occurs, the body is more likely to store excess glucose as fat, leading to weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area. 

What to do

There are many different things you can do to reduce insulin resistance and support healthy blood sugar levels. 

  • Opt for higher-fiber carbohydrates like beans, peas, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. These have a slower impact on blood sugar levels, which helps reduce the need for excessive insulin.
  • Likewise, aim to eat 30 grams of protein with each meal to stabilize blood sugar levels. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs, organic tofu, and beans.
  • Increase your activity level. Exercise enhances insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to respond more effectively to insulin. Start small. Even taking a 15-minute walk on your lunch break can support healthy insulin levels.
  • Minimize your intake of sugary beverages, sweets, and highly processed snacks to support insulin balance.

Beyond weight loss, many of our members find that when they begin to support healthy insulin levels, they also experience less sugar cravings, fewer breakouts, and other happy side effects. If you suspect insulin resistance, we may suggest our Metabolism Support supplement. This includes an essential ingredient called berberine, which is often referred to in the news as “nature’s Ozempic” because of its beneficial effect on weight loss. For women with period irregularities or polycystic ovary syndrome, we often recommend Ovasitol to reduce insulin resistance. Read more about using Ovasitol for PCOS.


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Key Takeaways: Hormones and Weight Gain

Hormones like cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and insulin may cause weight gain in certain circumstances. Incorporating stress management, adopting a balanced diet with protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrates, prioritizing sleep, and incorporating regular physical activity are key strategies for promoting hormone balance and a healthy weight. 

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