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Exploring the link between hormones and belly fat

While there are many reasons why midsection body fat can accumulate, hormones are one of the main ones.

Exploring The Link Between Hormones and Belly Fat | Juniper

You’re eating a healthful diet, you’re committed to a daily 6am run, you’re chalking up 50 sit-ups a day… and the weight around your middle still isn’t budging.

If you’ve got a bit of extra abdominal weight and you’re having a hard time getting rid of it, it could very well be due to a hormonal imbalance.

While there are many reasons why body fat can accumulate around your midsection, hormones are one of the main ones. If you’re curious about the hormonal belly and the connection between your hormone levels and belly fat, here’s what you need to know.

Can hormones affect your belly?

They sure can! Hormones play a crucial role in helping your body coordinate a bunch of different functions, including maintaining blood sugar levels and blood pressure, supporting your sex drive and reproductive functions, managing hunger and metabolism, and even facilitating good sleep [1].

When your hormone levels are out of whack, though, it can result in abdominal weight gain — commonly known as a hormonal belly. This is because certain hormonal imbalances can change the way your body functions and distributes fat, leading to a build-up of excess weight around your middle [2].

What causes hormonal belly?

So what lies behind the hormonal imbalances that lead to a hormonal belly? There are several primary causes centred on different hormones.

Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

Your thyroid is an essential part of your metabolic function, supporting your body’s growth and the way it uses energy. Sometimes, your thyroid doesn’t perform as effectively as it should, producing fewer hormones and leading to a condition known as hypothyroidism [3].

An underactive thyroid not only impedes many of your body’s functions, but it can also cause abdominal weight gain.

Menopause and low oestrogen

Along with hot flushes, changing energy levels and a shift in mood, menopause can often bring about abdominal weight gain.

This is because oestrogen drops during perimenopause and menopause, which makes your body store fat around your middle instead of your hips, buttocks and thighs [4].

Other causes of low oestrogen include overexercising, eating disorders, or conditions that affect your pituitary gland or ovaries.

Excess cortisol

When you’re stressed, your body produces more cortisol — a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands that helps your body respond to stress.

Excess cortisol tells your body to store extra fat, and if high stress levels are left unchecked, over time you may notice weight gain around your abdomen, chest and face [5].

Insulin resistance

Insulin is another important hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and helps your body use blood sugar for energy.

Insulin resistance is when your cells basically reject insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and higher fat storage. When this happens, your body tends to accumulate fat around the abdomen [6].

Leptin imbalance

Leptin is secreted by your body’s fat cells and is the hormone that tells your brain when you’re full, making it crucial in regulating your body weight.

When leptin levels are too high, it can cause overeating — because your brain can’t detect when you’re satiated — and a higher risk of being overweight or obese as a result [7].

What does a hormonal belly look like?

A hormonal belly typically appears as accumulated fat around your waist, typically towards your lower waist. 

There are a few tell-tale signs that this excess weight is due to hormonal causes:

  • You’re only gaining weight around your abdomen. Women typically gain weight on their butts, hips and thighs. With a hormonal belly, though, your body redistributes the weight gain and instead concentrates around your middle.
  • You’re experiencing other signs of menopause. We know that menopause can often bring on weight gain around the abdomen, so if any other signs crop up — like moodiness, hot flushes, vaginal dryness and sleep issues — it could well be that your abdominal weight gain is due to low estrogen.
  • You feel stressed all the time. Consistently elevated cortisol levels are often behind excess abdominal fat.
  • You’re less full after eating and feel constantly hungry. These could be a result of high leptin levels.
  • You’ve got big sugar cravings. Both leptin resistance and an insulin imbalance can cause you to constantly crave sugar.
  • Your hair is falling out. Hypothyroidism is one of the causes of unexpected hair loss, but may also come with fatigue, dry skin, constipation and increased temperature sensitivity, among other symptoms.

How is it different from other belly fat types?

While the appearance of a hormonal belly can vary from person to person, it does tend to have some characteristics that distinguish it from other types of weight around the midsection. 

A hormonal belly is often positioned at your lower waist and the fat is quite soft. On the other hand, other belly fat types might look like the following:

  • Bloat is when your stomach distends over a short period of time due to gas and fluid build-up. Sometimes, it’ll feel hard.
  • Beer (or, indeed, any other type of alcohol) belly occurs after an extended period of excessive drinking. An alcohol belly usually sits higher up on the abdomen and can feel quite hard due to the fact that it’s an accumulation of visceral fat.
  • The post-birth belly is a leftover from pregnancy but can either be a mass of subcutaneous fat or loose skin.

How big of a factor is stress on the hormonal belly?

A pretty major one. Stress in itself doesn’t directly make you put on weight, but we know that elevated cortisol levels can eventually lead to extra weight around your middle. 

It’s also the flow-on effects of stress that can make you put on weight. Ever had a particularly stressful day at work and reached for a glass of wine or some comfort food?

Drinking alcohol and eating indulgent foods, along with other stress-induced issues like sleep deprivation and a lack of exercise, can all contribute to weight gain.

Does hormonal belly ever go away?

By now you’re probably wondering if your hormonal belly will go away on its own, or if there’s anything you can do to get rid of it.

Without doing anything, it can be really hard to shift the weight around your middle. But the good news is that belly fat can be reduced with a few changes — namely addressing the hormonal imbalance behind it and making changes to your lifestyle and habits

Ways to shake the hormonal belly fat

Ready to find out how to get rid of hormonal belly fat? Here are our top tips.

Address the underlying cause

Because a hormonal belly is a result of some kind of hormonal imbalance, addressing the underlying cause can sometimes help to shift the weight. 

Your first port of call should be a medical professional, who can look at any potential causes and advise how to treat them. They might detect issues such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance or lifestyle factors like a poor diet or ongoing stress, which also contribute to hormonal imbalance. 

Depending on the cause, your doctor may recommend treatments — like medication or hormone replacement therapy — or lifestyle changes.

Moderate your diet

The benefits of a nutritious diet can’t be underestimated: not only will eating nutrient-dense foods provide you with sustained energy and ample nourishment, but it can also help restore your hormone levels and shift belly weight. 

Instead of crash dieting, focus on foods that are high in lean protein and preferably plant-based. Try to avoid excess consumption of sugar and saturated fat. Inflammation can contribute to hormonal imbalances, so anti-inflammatory foods — like olive oil, green leafy veggies and berries — may help, too [8].

Up your exercise

Exercise is another important factor in losing belly weight. In fact, there’s evidence indicating that, combined with a healthful diet, exercise can have a significant impact on your ability to lose weight.

A 2012 study of 400 postmenopausal women who were either overweight or obese found that participants who switched to healthier foods and exercised every day for a year lost more than 10% of their body weight.

By comparison, those who only changed their diet for a year lost 2.4% of their body weight and those who just exercised daily lost 8% [9].

Curb your stress levels

Chronic stress can seriously elevate your cortisol levels, so getting on top of stress may just help improve your hormonal belly. Think of ways to destress that work for you and your lifestyle, like exercise, meditation, breathing exercises or doing something relaxing that you enjoy [10].

Catch enough ZZZs

A lack of sleep can also contribute to high cortisol and make you feel so rotten that things like exercise and a healthful diet quickly go out the window. 

You may find that decreasing your stress levels or boosting your exercise regimen, in turn, improves your sleep, but you can also try other tactics like curbing electronic device use before bed, creating a sound sleep space (one that’s dark, cool and quiet), and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol [11].

Consider a weight loss programme

If you’d like a helping hand on your weight loss journey, you could consider a dedicated weight loss programme — such as our Weight Reset Programme.

With ongoing support from UK clinicians and health coaches, plus health tracking and breakthrough weight loss medication prescribed by a pharmacist, you’ll have everything you need to tackle hormonal belly head-on.