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Can A Hormonal Imbalance Stall Weight Loss?

Hormonal Imbalance Stall Weight Loss

When you have decided to lose weight, it is of course very frustrating if this does not work. Especially when you feel you are doing the best you can. You may even have started drinking mud, going on a juice detox cure, no longer heating things in the microwave, never eating gluten again, and of course, no longer drinking satanic dairy. 

And yet there is no result. When you ate everything (except natural products, because they are of course good), nothing happened to your body weight. Lets see further below

Incidentally, you felt fantastic about this lifestyle. “So much energy without any sugars and gluten”. The reason you did not lose weight was not due to your calorie intake. No, your hormones may be out of balance. Hormones are the culprits. If they are out of balance, you are screwed. You can still be so busy with your nutrition. Hormone replacement therapy and weight loss has a great connection. You will not lose weight until you have all your hormonal ducks back in a row. I understand that this sounds like a logical story somewhere, but try to take a critical look at it. 

Hormones out of balance sound very vague. What hormones are we talking about? All hormones? Or a few? Or only those hormones that have to do with fat storage and muscle building? What are the normal values? Do they vary during the day? Do they vary between people? How can you measure hormone levels? How valid and reliable are these measurements? If you have measured hormone levels, is it necessary to aim for reference values? Even if you don’t experience any complaints?

Hormones, measuring is knowing?

Let’s take testosterone as an example. The sex hormone that gives men their appearance. Because I find the concept “out of balance” vague, I use reference values. Both too low and too high testosterone levels are associated with negative outcomes. 

In practice, testosterone is often a reduction that causes any complaints. How accurate is measuring testosterone levels? There is an amount of testosterone in your body that is bound and an amount that is freely available. The bound testosterone is not biologically active. The free testosterone does. At least you want to have enough of that circulating.

When testosterone is measured, it is often about the total testosterone level. So both the bound and the free testosterone. When the total testosterone falls within the reference values, the chances are quite high that the free testosterone also falls within the reference values. 

However, when the total testosterone level turns out to below, it only predicts to a limited extent how high the free testosterone level is. Also, it influences at what time of the day you measure the testosterone level since testosterone has a circadian course. So you cannot compare a measurement taken in the evening with a measurement taken in the morning.

The measurement can also be influenced by having eaten or trained in advance. Whether you have slept a lot or are very stressed. Also, one measurement is not very informative. One measurement can be an accidental deviation, so it is wise to take multiple measurements under the same conditions. 

It could be that you have your testosterone measured and the total content turns out to below. However, your free testosterone level is fine and you will not experience any specific complaints. Based on the measurement of your total testosterone level, you could be advised to use a form of treatment that is not necessary.

What I want to make clear with this is that measuring a hormone involves quite a few snags. At first glance, a measurement may be too low, but that does not necessarily mean anything. Let alone treat it by doing all sorts of vague things. Such as avoiding the microwave, not drinking from plastic bottles, loathing animal proteins, and wearing braids in your hair.

Measuring one hormone is already a challenge and hard conclusions cannot be directly drawn from the results of the measurement. How should that go with your entire hormone balance? Based on a single, possibly invalid, hormone test, what can a person who is guiding you make sense about? Or will this practitioner test all your hormones several times, then make changes to your lifestyle and then test again several times to see if results have been achieved?

What about hormones that stimulate fat storage?

Insulin has been receiving tons of shit for years. The problem in the reasoning surrounding insulin is thinking in substances and acute reactions. The reasoning is as follows; insulin regulates the process of lipogenesis (true). Carbohydrate-rich foods stimulate insulin production more than other foods (correct). 

So these foods cause weight gain (via lipogenesis) and you should avoid these foods (not correct). It is the same as; I fit in my jacket (correct). My jacket fits in my bag (correct). So I fit in my bag (not correct). Incidentally, I tried this…

Also, it is important to understand that lipogenesis (making fats) is not necessarily the same as gaining weight (fat mass). And that lipolysis (breaking down fats) is not necessarily the same as weight loss (fat mass). These decomposing and building processes are constantly in progress and acute changes in these processes are still too often used as an argument for chronic changes. That is too short through the bend.

Some researchers have hypothesized that insulin has a primary role in the obesity epidemic. According to them, this would mean that a low carb diet would work better than a low-fat diet. This has been tested in various studies and time and again the effectiveness of a diet appears to depend mainly on the extent to which it can be applied in practice. You can lose weight through a low carb diet as well as a low-fat diet. In fact, in a recent study, insulin secretion was not a predictive variable for dietary success.

Let me play the devil’s advocate and bother myself with my energy balance story. In which situations do you have to deal with significant changes in your hormone balance? Do these changes in hormone balance mean that the energy balance no longer counts? In other words, do you gain or not lose weight while using a calorie restriction due to a hormonal change?

Menopausal women

Menopause is a prime example of hormonal changes. The female sex hormone estrogen declines during this period. As a result, there is a shift in body composition. An increase in fat mass and decrease in muscle mass. Weight gain during this period is also plausible.

However, this increase is entirely attributable to the increase in age, the decrease in resting metabolism, and the decrease in physical activity, thereby further decreasing muscle mass. Nowhere in this story has the energy balance been sidelined. Advice to menopausal women generally focuses on influencing energy balance. Take fewer calories and consume more calories. In short; eat less and exercise more is the advice. 

So in a situation where hormones undergo clinically relevant changes, the energy balance still counts. What if you turn the situation around. You influence the energy balance and then look for hormonal changes.

Bodybuilders on competition diet

Bodybuilders in anticipation of competition create a calorie deficit to achieve a very low-fat percentage. There have been researchers who wanted to know, among other things, what happened to IGF-1, testosterone, and cortisol during this competition preparation period. A significant drop in IGF-1 and testosterone was visible. Cortisol was on the high side throughout the entire process. Do the changes in these hormones interfere with the intended result? No, the bodybuilders all lost weight. The weight they lost consisted mainly of fat mass.

Also, a case study (yes, it has limitations, but is still interesting) of a bodybuilder in competition preparation shows that testosterone in particular decreases and that cortisol increases considerably. It did not stop the bodybuilder from achieving a low-fat percentage. Incidentally, the hormone profile recovered within three months of the game by increasing caloric intake.

Earlier we talked about testosterone as an example for the hooks and eyes that are measuring hormones. Now we see that a short-term drop in testosterone is not a saboteur for getting a low-fat percentage. The energy balance is not affected. An increase in cortisol, according to hormone theories, should cause belly fat storage. In the case of the bodybuilders, the cortisol level was quite high and there was absolutely no excess belly fat. Cortisol therefore also does not seem to be able to influence the energy balance.

So in a situation where the energy balance is affected, hormones can respond to this by (significantly) decreasing or increasing. However, these hormonal changes do not sideline the energy balance.

Do hormones play no role at all?

Absolutely! Hormones are essential chemicals that send messages to your organs, for example. Your endocrine system can regulate itself through certain feedback systems. For example, when your blood sugar level rises, the pancreas will release insulin (hormone). Then when your blood sugar level falls below a certain level (feedback), the pancreas will release glucagon (hormone). This can cause your blood sugar to rise again. In a healthy person, such hormonal processes run smoothly.

In the above situations, we only looked at the role of hormones about energy balance. Hormonal changes can have many other consequences. In the case of menopause, a shift occurs within the body composition. Less muscle mass and more fat mass. Among the bodybuilders in competition preparation, a feeling of listlessness, psychological complaints, and a decrease in libido may have a negative effect. 

Serious consequences from hormonal changes. However, these consequences are not up for debate. The central question is whether hormones stop you from losing weight by sidelining the energy balance.

I’m trying hard here to sit in the prosecutor’s seat. Let’s assume that you have been able to establish that certain hormones do not fall within the reference values. What are you going to do? Treating with hormone therapy? Menopausal women and men with a chronically lowered testosterone level can, for example, receive hormone therapy. 

Although this can repair the negative consequences of the low hormone level, it also has the necessary side effects. The net result is that you don’t always improve. It is not all “fun and games” and hormone therapy is therefore not given without good reason.

But I still get results?

You are convinced that your hormones are out of balance and that you can restore them by following a diet plan from a hormone specialist. You then lose weight, feel more comfortable (literally and figuratively), and all that by balancing your hormones, right? No, that’s simply because you followed a diet plan that emphasized eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein sources that allowed you to use a calorie restriction. 

Nothing magical about it. But if it works, who cares that the underlying mechanism of action is not clear? That makes a lot of difference. If you don’t know why and how something works, how do you want to manipulate it? In this case, you will always need to lean over the hormone specialist’s diet plan. So let’s just call the beast by name. The whole hormone story is fun, but in practice, it’s a way of explaining the limited amount of diet success in a way that is beyond your fault. Because after all, you did your best. It cannot be caused anyway. It must be an external factor. A factor over which you have no influence. You will find a certain amount of peace in the statement that losing weight is unsuccessful due to a disturbance in your hormone balance.

Influence the energy balance

You can now use the word energy balance

not read anymore. Beautiful! Repetition is good for actually storing information. A calorie restriction leads to weight loss. Yes, not in all cases, because you can also train hard and use a calorie restriction and then gain weight and lose fat, which keeps your weight about the same (or even more). Then you are lucky. But then a calorie restriction, in this case, leads to fat loss. A great deal of research has shown that influencing the energy balance works and should no longer be open to discussion. Very clear evidence comes from a so-called metabolic chamber study. The subjects are continuously in a room in which energy consumption and energy intake are tracked. This is done to optimize the accuracy and thus the internal validity of the research. Such a study design was done not long ago. This showed that controlled calorie restriction causes weight loss.

We list several points:

  • Measuring hormone levels is a difficult job and does not always provide the correct information given the context.
  • Treatment with hormone therapy only happens if there is a valid reason for this and also has disadvantages.
  • In situations where hormones are heavily influenced, the energy balance still appears to be applicable.
  • A diet results in weight loss if the diet realizes a calorie restriction.
  • In short; when you hear or think that your hormones are not in balance, you should ask yourself if you want to go that way. As far as I am concerned, it is a dead-end and you can better spend your energy differently.


It is somewhat worrying that in 2019 we still have to spend time explaining the energy balance and debunking fairy tales about hormones. I am still surprised how often people talk about the imbalance of the hormones as a cause for not being able to achieve weight loss. We regularly indicate that losing weight is essentially simple. Namely taking fewer calories than you use. In short; affect the energy balance.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that losing weight is simple in practice. Anyone who claims that has a hard time arguing. Adjusting your behavior, creating new habits, dealing with an environment that almost pushes the food into your mouth, and having a certain genetic predisposition make weight loss a difficult task. In some cases, making waste attempts, in the long run, is even counterproductive and should therefore not be standard advice.

At the end of the ride, it’s as simple as it is difficult. The energy balance is leading, when you don’t lose weight you eat too much. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but it is the reality. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s better to face this reality than belief in fairy tales about hormones. 

That’s not going to bring you anything anyway. The reason you do not lose weight is not with your hormone balance. You lose weight when you use a calorie restriction for a longer period. Nothing more, nothing less. The reason you do not (yet) succeed is not only physiological but above all psychological. You cannot fight against an environment that stimulates food with the right weapons. You are unable to break old habits and create new ones.

And you are unable to manage your motivation. And that is not surprising at all! That is quite normal. It is really difficult to make changes in your behavior. But don’t be tempted to the hormone story. With that, you go into the mist and you put all your money on the wrong horse. Concentrate on creating a calorie deficit. Don’t do this by eating less, but by eating fewer calories (yes, you can!). As much as possible, look at your diet with a flexible view. Realize this by implementing new desired habits.


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