Are hormones playing havoc with your desired weight loss?

8 January 2022

Written by Jennie Bayliss

When you wish to lose weight and stay slim, it’s not just about what you eat or how much you exercise you do. It’s also down to whether your hormones are balanced and how well they are functioning.

Until fairly recently, in all its different diet guises, weight loss was focused on reducing calories and exercising more. The old Atkins and the new Keto diets changed our understanding about weight loss. Both tap into how the body processes carbohydrates and fats and how they are used or stored as body fat. Both diets manipulate the balance of these energy-giving foods, making it possible for the body release stored body fat faster than just reduced calorie intake.

I am not a fan of either diet as in the long run they are not healthy. These diets did though help further our understanding of how the body releases stored body fat and how hormones play a bi role in this too.

Six hormones that influence weight loss

Hormones are chemical messengers which signal and help regulate various functions in the body. There are over fifty different hormones, but the six below play a key role in how easy or difficult it is to lose weight and stay slim:

  • Insulin regulates blood sugar levels
  • Ghrelin signals hunger and increases the desire to eat.
  • Leptin conveys the message of satiety and diminishes appetite.
  • Cortisol plays many roles in the body. Regarding weight loss, it raises blood sugar levels, stimulates insulin secretion, and helps with waking up.
  • Adrenaline works alongside cortisol to deal with stress.
  • Melatonin is attuned with daylight. Levels increase at nighttime to induce sleepiness.

Cortisol and adrenaline

Early in the morning, as dawn breaks, cortisol levels begin to rise. At the same time, melatonin levels drop. This process helps us to wake up and start the day.

Cortisol works primarily with adrenaline. These hormones act as alarm bells for stress and prepare the body for a fight or flight response. Cortisol helps by releasing stored glucose from the liver and muscles into the bloodstream for perceived additional energy needs. Meanwhile, adrenaline increases blood flow to the limbs and decreases the amount of blood in the digestive system. The body’s rationale is that it is better to survive than digest the last meal. This messaging is perfect for dealing with a single stressful moment because cortisol can reverse the signalling afterwards. However, living with constant stress means the alarm bells are constantly ringing.

Ongoing stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which leads to a weakened digestive system and blood sugar levels out of balance. In conjunction with the role of insulin, this can lead to increased weight gain.

Restoring balance: Overwhelming and ongoing stress leads to high cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, which plays havoc with your weight loss. High cortisol levels also cause inflammation. To be well and happy, reducing stress is vital. Easy ways to bring down stress include meditating and taking time out in nature. A daily ten-minute walk in a park or anywhere in nature will instantly diminish the alarm signalling of cortisol and adrenaline. See my article, Can stress cause weight gain?


As cortisol helps raise blood sugar levels to provide supplementary energy, insulin gets ready to reverse this process if blood sugar levels become too high. Today we rarely need to run or fight as a response to stress. But cortisol still reacts as if we need this extra energy. So it continues to raise blood sugar levels, and then insulin kicks in to lower it once more. Whereas cortisol releases sugar from stored glucose in the liver and muscles, insulin is more likely to take the recovered sugar and store it as body fat.

Insulin is also very good at its job. So good that often the blood sugar level drops to below normal levels. The lower blood sugar levels stimulate cravings for sweet and starchy foods. If this desire is acted on, it leads to blood sugar levels going back up, then insulin stepping in again to drop it once more. A roller-coaster of blood sugar levels can lead to weight gain.

Restoring balance: When caught in a sugar craving cycle, choose a protein snack over carbohydrates. The digestion of protein slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, allowing blood sugar levels to stabilise. See my article on, Are your blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster? Also, Cinnamon can help with weight loss as cinnamon has insulin mimicing properties.

Ghrelin and Leptin

These two hormones work together like an on and off button. Ghrelin signals hunger and a desire to eat. Then leptin tells the brain we have eaten enough to maintain our body fat levels, so it’s time to stop eating.

Ghrelin is produced in the stomach, while leptin is released from our stored fat. If the body has excess stored body fat, there will also be higher amounts of leptin. In theory, this should diminish the appetite until we have reached our healthy weight. But something goes awry when leptin levels become too high. The brain begins to ignore the signals from leptin, leading to what is known as leptin resistance.

Also, a lack of sleep triggers an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptin. After even just one night of insufficient sleep, we tend to overeat due to having higher ghrelin levels.

Restoring balance: Restoring the proper functioning of leptin can be tricky. However, regular exercise—30 minutes walking 5–7 times a week is enough to begin this process—radically reducing foods and drinks with added sugar, increasing the amount of low-fat protein and eating masses more coloured vegetables, will lead to weight loss and rebalanced leptin functioning. Prioritising good sleep is also vital in this process. See my article on, Protein and weight loss—does eating more protein help?


Melatonin works with cortisol. Melatonin production increases as dusk falls and decreases with the arrival of dawn. Melatonin’s role signals for the body to wind down to enable deep sleep at night. Cortisol reverses this process to wake us up.

The lack of natural light stimulates melatonin production. Artificial light, especially blue light emitted from TVs, computers, laptops, and mobile phones, means melatonin levels may not rise enough. And that may trigger an imbalance of ghrelin and leptin.

Restoring balance: Prioritise sleep because not only does it have an impact on our hormones, it also affects how we feel. When we wake up refreshed and feeling good, we are less likely to crave food or binge. See my article on, How good sleep can help you become slimmer

Understanding and learning how to balance your hormones is covered in more detail on the Eat Well—Be Well program. Call me of book a free 30-minute Zoom or telephone call to have a chat about how I can help you both lose weight and STAY slim.

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