How to “reset hormones” for weight loss: does it work?

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Sep 13, 2023

9 min read

Have you been struggling to lose weight? If it feels like you’re doing everything right but the pounds just won’t budge. Is it possible your hormones could have something to do with it? In some cases, an underlying condition such as PCOS or hypothyroidism could be messing with your hormone levels. In other cases, a few lifestyle changes can make all the difference. 

Read on as we explore how (and which) hormones affect body weight, as well as strategies for rebalancing your hormones for successful weight loss.

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How do hormones affect weight? 

Successful weight loss often gets boiled down to a deceptively simple formula that goes something like this: consume fewer calories than you burn. According to this formula, if you eat fewer calories (e.g. by dieting) and burn more (through exercise and/or going about your daily life), you should lose weight. While that formula generally holds true, it doesn’t account for at least one major element involved in weight loss (and weight gain): your hormones.

Your hormones affect almost every process and organ in your body. They support your growth and development, sex drive, sleep, and appetite. They also affect your body weight. 

Hormone levels, and how your body responds to them, can be determined (at least in part) by your genes. For example, research suggests that people with obesity have different hormone levels, and are more or less sensitive to certain hormones, than people with lower body weights. 

Certain health conditions can also impact your body weight and hormone levels. For example, your thyroid hormones are involved in both metabolism and energy balance. With hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone levels (“hypo” means “low”) slow down a person’s metabolism (meaning fewer calories get burned) and increase energy storage and fluid retention. Together, these effects can lead to weight gain. (People with hyperthyroidism, or high thyroid levels, conversely, tend to have faster metabolisms and lower body weights.) 

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is another hormonal disorder. Characterized by increased testosterone (androgen) levels, PCOS affects women and includes symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, acne, hair loss on the scalp, increased hair growth in other areas, and weight gain. Your genes are one risk factor for PCOS, as are obesity and insulin resistance — both of which, it turns out, can develop as a result of PCOS. Insulin itself is another hormone, which can encourage increased fat accumulation in people with PCOS. 

Can you “reset hormones” to improve weight loss?

As we’ll review in the following section, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to naturally reset hormones involved in weight loss. But, if you think you might have an underlying condition affecting your hormone levels, getting tested is a good first step. Your healthcare provider can often prescribe medication to rebalance your hormone levels and recommend specific weight loss strategies tailored to you and your current health situation. 

HThe TSH blood test helps diagnose thyroid conditions. It measures how much thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is circulating in your blood. This hormone comes from your brain to tell your thyroid gland, which is located in the neck area, to produce a hormone called T4. If your doctor sees elevated TSH, it may be a sign that your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough T4, resulting in hypothyroidism. Depending on your initial TSH level, your doctor may send you for another blood test to evaluate other hormones and reach a diagnosis. There are many different possible thyroid conditions and your provider will be able to determine which, if any, you might have and recommend the appropriate treatment. 

Diagnosis for PCOS is a bit less straightforward. PCOS affects up to 15% of women, but often goes undiagnosed. Part of this is due to the fact that the condition can present differently in different people, with not everyone experiencing all of the same symptoms. Also, many of the symptoms can exist on their own, unrelated to PCOS, meaning many physicians can miss the diagnosis. Generally, someone gets diagnosed if they a) have at least two of the three primary symptoms (irregular periods, hyperandrogenism, and multiple cysts on their ovaries) and b) other conditions like hypothyroidism have been ruled out. 

Testosterone testing can help healthcare providers confirm hyperandrogenism, while a hormone called AMH as well as a physical exam and ultrasound can help identify polycystic ovaries. PCOS is not curable but is manageable with medication and lifestyle modifications. Treatment usually starts with lifestyle changes (namely, diet and exercise) to lose weight as well as hormonal contraceptives and a drug called spironolactone to manage menstrual irregularities, acne, and hirsutism (excess hair growth).

PCOS often includes insulin resistance, as well. In some people, this can turn into full-blown diabetes. That’s why a healthcare provider may check your blood sugar levels as well as a measure called hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) which can indicate your blood sugar levels over the previous few months. Based on the results, they may also recommend diabetes medications such as metformin, as well as Ozempic or other GLP-1 agonists to manage your blood sugar levels.

6 hormones that can affect weight and how to improve them 

There are a number of hormones that can affect your body weight. Here are six of them.

1. Leptin

Leptin is known as the “satiety,” or “fullness,” hormone. Its main job is to tell your brain that you’re full, but it also plays a role in reproduction, blood pressure, and the immune system. Together with ghrelin, which we’ll review next, leptin helps your hypothalamus regulate your appetite

Some people with obesity may have leptin resistance, which interferes with leptin’s ability to communicate with the brain. As a result, their brain doesn’t get the message that they’re full, and they may overeat, leading to weight gain.

Leptin is released by your adipose (fat) tissue. When you lose fat, leptin levels go down which essentially tells your brain you need to eat more. (This helps explain why we feel so hungry while losing weight!) Once you eat, leptin levels go up, sending signals to your brain that you’re full. Though again, in people with leptin resistance, the message never arrives, so they don’t feel full even though they ate.

How to reset leptin levels:

While more research is needed to prove the effectiveness, there are some small studies that suggest that certain nutrients can help reverse leptin resistance and restore leptin’s ability to communicate with the brain. These include:

  • Vitamins A and D

  • Tea saponins and caffeine

  • Resveratrol from red grapes

  • Taurine in meat and fish

Increased stress and poor sleep can both mess with leptin levels. To reset leptin, aim to get a good night’s sleep every night (7 hours or more) and manage your stress. Exercise, yoga, breathing techniques, meditation, and more can all help. 

2. Ghrelin

Ghrelin is the “hunger” hormone. It works hand in hand with leptin to regulate your appetite and energy. Unlike leptin, its job is to tell your brain that you’re hungry so you eat more. While leptin is produced by your fat tissue, ghrelin comes from your gut, and both communicate with your brain. 

Ghrelin levels typically operate inversely to leptin levels. When leptin is high, ghrelin is low. Ghrelin rises before you eat, and lowers afterward. Ghrelin also rises when we’re on a diet, which can make it hard to keep the weight off.

Perhaps counterintuitively, research shows that people with obesity tend to have lower levels of ghrelin circulating in their blood. However, their levels remain higher after eating when compared with people with a lower BMI, which may explain why people with obesity still feel hungry after a meal. 

How to reset ghrelin levels:

Ghrelin levels rise when you’re stressed. And for people with obesity, they rise even higher, and for a longer period of time. There is also some evidence that ghrelin levels don’t lower as much in emotional eaters when compared to non-emotional eaters, which may lead them to eat even more when they’re feeling stressed out. 

If you tend to eat to cope with your stress, try replacing that habit with other, healthier ones. Try occupying your hands with knitting, drawing, or a puzzle. Go for a walk outside. Explore new ways to manage your stress levels

Too little sleep also raises ghrelin levels. So, if you want to feel less hungry, try to get more sleep! Regular exercise can both improve sleep and reduce stress, making it even easier to sleep well while you work towards your weight loss goals.

3. Cortisol

Speaking of stress, it’s time to meet cortisol: the stress hormone. When you’re stressed — whether it’s because you just saw a bear or you’re burnt out at work — your adrenal glands release cortisol and your body enters fight-or-flight mode. 

That extra boost of cortisol helps your body rev up the systems you might need to face the threat, like your heart rate. At the same time, it slows down ones it deems unnecessary, like your metabolism. Moreover, stress lowers your sensitivity to leptin and stimulates your appetite, specifically for foods high in fat and sugar.

As a result, people who are chronically stressed tend to gain weight. One study found that the more stress you’re dealing with, the slower your body burns calories after eating. On average, the researchers calculated that this could lead to an additional 104 more calories per day, or nearly 11 pounds per year. 

How to reset cortisol levels:

As we mentioned earlier, not getting enough sleep can make you feel hungrier. It can also make you feel more stressed, which makes you feel even hungrier. And, stress itself can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. So, what are you to do?

To improve your sleep and rebalance your cortisol levels, make room to get at least seven hours of quality sleep per night. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark. Try following a bedtime routine that helps you de-stress. You could light an aromatherapy candle, listen to soothing music or a calming audiobook, or take a bath. 

Stress management techniques like mindfulness meditation have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. So has the Mediterranean diet, according to a study of European teens. The Mediterranean diet primarily consists of plant-based foods, with a healthy mix of veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, unsaturated fats, and whole grains. Try the diet and see if it works for you. 

4. Insulin

Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by your pancreas. This hormone is responsible for helping your body use and store glucose (sugar) from the food you eat for energy to be used either now or later. It also helps regulate your blood sugar levels. Your body releases insulin throughout the day, but especially after meals.

In people with insulin resistance, the body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it’s supposed to. Insulin has a tougher time moving glucose from your blood into your cells. With more glucose in your bloodstream, your blood sugar levels increase. To compensate, your pancreas starts producing even more insulin. Over time, this can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, prediabetes (and type 2 diabetes), as well as an energy imbalance associated with an increased risk of obesity.

How to reset insulin levels:

Exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet can all boost insulin sensitivity, as can losing weight. In particular, one study found that both high- and moderate-intensity exercise can improve insulin sensitivity within 12 weeks. Increasing your physical activity more generally, and moving more throughout the day as opposed to sitting, can help, too.

Sleeping both too little, as well as too long, can worsen insulin resistance, so aim for that sweet spot of 7–8 hours per night. 

According to a number of studies, different macronutrients and diets can help increase insulin sensitivity. These include fish oil supplements, the Mediterranean diet, low-fat vegan diets, and low-glycemic, high-fiber diets.

5. Glucagon-like peptide-1

Glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1 for short, is a gut hormone. GLP-1 kicks into action after you eat, telling your pancreas to release more insulin, slowing down digestion, and inhibiting glucagon production in your liver. Together, these effects help control blood sugar levels. They also increase feelings of fullness, helping regulate your appetite by telling your brain you’re full.

However, genetic research suggests that for people with obesity, GLP-1 signaling doesn’t work as well as it should. As a result, their brain doesn’t get the message that they’re full, which can lead to overeating

How to reset GLP-1 levels:

Given GLP-1’s positive impacts on both blood sugar levels and satiety, a class of medications known as GLP-1 agonists have been developed to help treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. You may recognize some of these GLP-1 medications by their brand names, Ozempic and Wegovy

When taken in combination with diet and exercise, GLP-1 medications can lead to significant weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, less food cravings, and even changes in the kinds of foods you crave (such as a lower preference for calorie-dense foods).

Beyond medication, foods containing whey and milk proteins have been found to naturally increase GLP-1 levels. And, exercise has been found to increase GLP-1 levels in both healthy people and those with obesity.

Ozempic Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Wegovy Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

6. Estrogen

Estrogen is a sex hormone that, along with other ovarian hormones like progesterone, has been found to play a significant role in women’s risk of obesity and fat distribution

During your reproductive years, estrogen encourages your body to store fat in the hips and thighs. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, estrogen and progestin can affect your appetite, your desire for certain foods, and your likelihood of emotional eating to different extents.

Once you hit menopause and estrogen levels go down, your overall body fat increases (especially around the belly) while lean muscle mass decreasesincreasing your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and more. By postmenopause, belly fat represents 15–20% of the average woman’s total body fat, compared to only 5–8% before menopause.

How to reset estrogen levels:

Hormone replacement therapy can help rebalance estrogen levels and relieve menopause symptoms. Losing weight through a diet also helps shed belly fat and improve estrogen levels.

Experts recommend that women increase physical activity during and after menopause, as this can be a time when people become less active. Engaging in regular exercise can encourage your body to burn more calories, even after you’ve finished your workout. It’s also a predictor of successful diet adherence and weight loss.

Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol consumption, and following a Mediterranean diet can also rebalance estrogen levels (while reducing the risk of breast cancer) in postmenopausal women. 

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How long does it take to reset hormones for weight loss?

As with many things in life, it depends on the person. Your hormones are involved in so many aspects of your day-to-day life, and your sleep, stress levels, exercise, diet routine, genes, and current health and hormone levels can all impact how long it takes to reset your hormones. 

If you take medication to treat a hormonal imbalance, the timeline can be easier to calculate. For example, if you take levothyroxine to treat hypothyroidism, your thyroid hormone levels may start to normalize within a few weeks to months after starting treatment. 

Many of the tips for naturally resetting hormone levels can help promote better health in the long term, which in turn can help hormone levels stabilize. Eating and sleeping well, reducing your stress, and exercising regularly can help you feel better and maintain a healthy body weight.

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

September 13, 2023

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Yael Cooperman, MD


About the medical reviewer

Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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