Eating Healthy, Working Out, And Still Not Losing Weight? It Could be A Hormone Problem

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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Little else is more frustrating than doing everything right when trying to lose weight and not being able to.

We eat all the healthy foods we can get our hands on and cut out junk, do high-intensity workouts seven days a week, and still the number on the scale won’t budge. We might even be told that it’s genetics or just the way we’re built, which is even more frustrating. We’re putting in all the work with little to no payoff.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle. But pursuing weight loss when it seems to evade us more than anyone else can become dangerous, especially if we’ve decided as a last resort to try fad dieting or other unhealthy mechanisms to drop a few pounds. 

Before we swear off carbs forever or turn to working out on an empty stomach and starving ourselves, we might need to consider the role our hormones are playing, whether they’re interfering too much in the process or not at all. It is entirely possible to eat healthy, work out, and still not lose weight, as many of us know. And the culprit could be a hormone issue.

Cortisol and Chronic Stress

In the world of “good” and “bad” hormones, we seem to view cortisol as a “bad” one, even though it plays an important part in our bodies’ processes. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and we produce it every single day in varying amounts. 

Cortisol, especially in elevated levels, is produced as the body’s response to stress – it raises our heart rate and our energy levels. If your body is in a constant state of stress and cortisol is produced as a response to that chronic state, the hormone could wreak havoc on our health, both mentally and physically. Not only is chronic stress terrible for your mental health, but elevated cortisol production can interfere with metabolism. Understandably, it can also prompt us to eat more as a response to stress and lead to the development of other metabolic conditions, like insulin resistance. 


The endocrine system helps regulate hormone response and production throughout the body, and the thyroid gland is at the forefront of that system. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which our thyroid is underactive, meaning it isn’t producing enough of the hormones we need. 

Symptoms include chronic fatigue, thinning hair, sensitivity to cold, and bruising easily.

Hypothyroidism is often the responsible factor behind seemingly inexplicable weight gain or inability to lose weight – especially if we seem to be under-consuming food and still gaining weight. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include chronic fatigue, puffiness or swelling, sensitivity to cold, bruising easily, joint aches and muscle weakness, thinning hair, and even depression. Hypothyroidism can be confirmed by testing thyroid levels or a diagnosis from an endocrinologist, and can be treated with hormone therapy.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

For many women, PCOS is the bane of what would otherwise be a successful weight loss regimen. Sometimes called a metabolic condition, other times labeled a hormonal disorder, polycystic ovarian syndrome affects women primarily in their childbearing years, and is often characterized by physical manifestations like obesity and inability to lose weight – though it’s hard to pinpoint if obesity contributes to PCOS, or the other way around. 

A PCOS diagnosis can be especially frustrating for overweight women because one of the primary recommendations by doctors is to lose weight to curb its effects. With PCOS – and I say this from personal experience – a specialized diet can be tremendously effective in treating the disorder’s harsher symptoms. Specifically, a PCOS diet should be rich in foods that have a low glycemic index, lean protein, and healthy fats. Foods that rely heavily on refined carbs and processed sugars, as well as foods that increase risk of inflammation, should be avoided. Lifestyle changes can make a huge difference for a woman with a PCOS diagnosis, though hormone therapy and other supplements might also be recommended.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance, the precursor to type II diabetes, is a notorious offender behind inability to lose weight. 

Insulin is a hormone produced by our pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When it’s working correctly, our cells respond positively to the insulin as it undergoes the process of converting sugar into energy for our body to use. But, when things aren’t working well, our muscle, fat, and liver cells respond negatively – they can’t respond to the insulin and take in the glucose, which provokes our pancreas to produce even more insulin to compensate. 

In an insulin-resistant person’s body, blood sugar is unable to be converted, turning those sugars into fat and leading to weight gain. 

Metformin or Myo-inositol can improve insulin resistance.

Being consistently active with an insulin resistance diagnosis is crucial, especially to prevent the development of type II diabetes. Getting enough sleep, avoiding processed foods (particularly sugar), decreasing stress, and looking into supplements can also be effective treatments. Multiple studies point to the success of intervention with metformin as a way to help combat insulin resistance. The supplement Myo-inositol combined with d-chiro-inositol has also been proven to be just as effective as – if not better than – metformin in improving insulin resistance. Once you have a diagnosis of insulin resistance, breaking down the process of how to most effectively approach weight loss becomes much easier.

Estrogen Dominance

As with any hormone our body produces, it’s essential that we’re not getting too much or too little – balance is key. As women, we need estrogen for healthy reproductive systems and to give us curves, but not so much that the estrogen starts to take over. 

If we have estrogen dominance though, as the name suggests, our body is producing an excess of estrogen, making it hard for our bodies to respond correctly to what we eat and drink, and resulting in weight gain and/or a harder time losing weight. Vegetable intake is key with estrogen dominance (which can be confirmed by a hormone or blood work panel) because the fiber content of vegetables helps our bodies to excrete estrogen, which integrative medicine expert Sara Gottfried refers to as “circulating around our bodies like bad karma.” Finding the right supplements which work for us and hormone therapy can also help break down estrogen dominance.

Closing Thoughts

All of us naturally have the ability to lose weight, and with enough hard work, we should be able to successfully. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out if something else (which might be seemingly unrelated to weight) is at play and making the journey a bit harder. Investing in our weight, whether we could lose or gain a few pounds, means investing in ourselves. If we seem to be having a harder time of it than everyone else, we might need to investigate further into our health to discover what our bodies are really trying to tell us.

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