Hormones are responsible for everything from sexual functions to controlling the metabolism. Unfortunately, these hormones can also cause weight gain for many women. If you’ve noticed a couple extra pounds on the scale even though you’ve had no change in diet and exercise, you might be experiencing hormone-induced weight gain.
Menstrual Cycles and Weight Gain
Naturally, a woman’s hormones are quite intense during her menstrual cycle, particularly in the week or so leading up to it. Most women already experience side effects like irritability, cramps, skin blemishes and some bloating. These are all caused by hormones.
Estrogen is the main “female” hormone that causes weight gain. This weight gain is simply your body preparing for pregnancy, which is great if you’re trying to get pregnant. It’s not so great when you’re already trying to lose weight. The estrogen hormone plays a role all throughout each month, from when your body is developing follicles to when you ovulate and finally begin your period.
After a menstrual cycle your body essentially “restarts”. First your body will start developing follicles and choose an egg for fertilization. During this stage the estrogen levels in your body are really starting up which means you will begin gaining a small amount of weight. This weight is caused by your uterine lining thickening to prepare for an embryo. Depending on your body you can expect to gain anywhere from ¼ to ½ a pound of weight during just this stage.
Your body will then go through an ovulation. Usually you will feel energized during this time but also gain water weight. After your ovulation you will go through another phase where your bloat will begin to dissipate but you also are going to start those PMS food cravings. Most women who gain weight during this stage actually do so because they are eating more without realizing it.
Once your actual menstrual cycle starts you may feel some abdominal cramps and act pretty moody. You may still feel bloated the first couple days. The good news is that your menstrual cycle sparks weight loss from what you gained thanks to your hormones. Immediately after your period you will likely be at your normal weight (if you haven’t given in to cravings).
The average menstrual cycle can bring about anywhere from a 1lb to 3lbs in extra weight from your hormones. However, this can be more if you indulge in cravings for salty or sweet junk food.
Aside from estrogen, there is another hormone that can cause weight gain in women.
The Stress Hormone
Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone”. This hormone is incredibly useful but sometimes does its job too well.
When you feel stressed, afraid or even just upset your adrenal glands fight back against those feelings by producing cortisol. Cortisol helps your body fight stressful events by stabilizing blood pressure, boosting your energy as a survival response (think fight or flight) and strengthening your immune system.
This is all well and good but the average person is stressed on a daily basis. In fact, according to a study done by the American Psychological Association 33% of people feel extreme stressed on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, over 70% of people cite experiencing both physical and psychological effects of stress.
So if cortisol is supposed to fight stress, how can it cause weight gain?
Simply put, people are so stressed that their adrenal glands are overloaded. The body responds with pumping out cortisol in an effort to fix this problem. A cycle of constant stress and overactive cortisol is where the problem begins.
Naturally humans produce some cortisol in the morning and very little at night. When this cycle is disrupted the body starts producing cortisol all throughout the day. Cortisol is an energizing hormone so when this occurs, people end up feeling pumped up and even jittery throughout the day and at night. This extra energy causes your body to need more food to fuel itself.
Not only will you eat more which causes weight gain but cortisol also increases your blood sugar levels. All of this extra insulin is transferred into stubborn fat by your body. Unless you start a stress management program these cycles will continue and eventually cause worse health issues than just weight gain.
If you’ve been eating the same diet and maintain a good exercise regimen but still gain weight, you may have a hormonal imbalance. It is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a checkup and a blood test to see if anything is wrong. See your imbalance as a medical issue, not just a weight gain issue.