The never-ending debate is:

“Calories in versus calories out is all that matters!”

“Hormones are the sole cause of weight gain because #stress!”

I want to dive down this rabbit hole today and set the record straight.

The facts are, when it comes to weight management, caloric intake and expenditure, as well as someone’s hormone profile, both matter in different ways.

Hormone Imbalances in Weight Gain

Physics (calories in versus calories out) will always be the main player when it comes to weight maintenance. We all know that in order to lose body fat, one must be in a caloric deficit (eating less than you consume) to lose weight. This is true across the board.

However, when someone has certain hormone conditions, it makes achieving a caloric deficit much harder; that is why hormones do matter, and this is especially apparent in women. For example, insulin dysregulation can cause someone’s hunger cues to be out of control, leading them to chronically overeat because nothing satiates them. Or, say someone’s cortisol is through the roof. They may crave sugar way more than someone who has normal cortisol levels. Or if someone’s testosterone is too low, they will struggle with energy and strength, muscle retention/building, and they will naturally store more body fat due to this. See what I mean here? 

Telling someone with hormone dysfunction to “eat less” is completely ignoring why they struggle to eat less or lose body fat in the first place.

It is pretty clear through women’s lived experiences that hormones matter A LOT for us. Anyone who tells women their hormones do not come into play in regards to how we feel, fat loss, energy, and overall quality of life, is unfortunately the byproduct of a patriarchal medical system. And yes, hormones do matter for men as well, obviously, but women tend to be affected more by suboptimal levels compared to men.

Hormones Matter

And trust me, I have personal experience with the Hormone Shit Show.

  • Have you ever gained 10, 20, or 30-plus pounds out of nowhere, but nothing else in your life changed? I have.
  • Have you ever needed to nap every single day in order to “make it?” I have.
  • Have you ever had cramps so bad during your period that it caused a fever? I have.
  • Have you ever lost clumps of hair in the shower after stopping birth control? I have.

So YES. Hormones fucking matter. Full stop. Debate over.

If our hormone health as women plays such an integral part of our lived experience, it should be a no-brainer to integrate them into our health journey and optimize them where we can.

That is why I want to dive into specifically HOW hormone imbalances lead to not only weight gain but low energy, shitty moods, and just overall not feeling ourselves.

Balanced Hormones

But before we get into that, what does “balanced hormones” even mean?

Having balanced hormones means your hormones are functioning at optimal levels. The key word here is optimal. Balanced hormones does not mean all hormones are “equal or the same” or “in range.” Big difference. 

So now that we have that out of the way, what are some hormones that can lead to weight gain when not at optimal levels?

  • When estrogen is too high (estrogen dominance).
  • When progesterone is too low (another form of estrogen dominance).
  • When thyroid hormone, specifically T3 Triiodothyronine, is too low (hypothyroidism).
  • When cortisol is too high OR too low (adrenal stress).
  • When testosterone is too high OR too low (androgen dominance or deficiency).
  • When fasted insulin and blood sugar are too high (insulin resistance).

Even with a caloric deficit in place, if these above hormones are off, it will make fat loss an absolute bitch. So, with that being said, how do these specific hormones affect how you feel and your fat loss efforts?

Specific Hormone Imbalances

  • When estrogen is too high: You will store more body fat in your lower belly, hips, and back of your arms.
  • When progesterone is too low: It will also lead to estrogen dominance, causing excess belly fat, but it will also cause thyroid hormone (metabolism) to downregulate.
  • When thyroid hormone (T3) is too low: T3 is our active thyroid hormone, or as most of you know it, metabolism. When our metabolism is too slow, we do not burn calories normally. We store more calories as body fat regardless of caloric intake or energy expenditure.
  • When cortisol is too high or too low: Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that helps give us energy during stress. However, when we are overly stressed, our adrenals get burnt the f*ck out. When this happens chronically over time, it also increases fasted insulin levels and blood sugar, leading to increased hunger cues/cravings and, therefore, consuming more calories than you need.

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  • When testosterone is too high or too low: We see high testosterone in women with PCOS and this leads them to gain fat mainly in their core and face, leading to an “apple” shape. Whereas when testosterone is too low, it is extremely hard for women to gain muscle or have energy, so they tend to have low muscle tone and excess body fat.
  • When fasted insulin and blood sugar are too high: This causes insulin resistance. Meaning, you have higher circulating blood sugar, and your muscle cells are not as sensitive to the absorption of glucose, so you store more glucose as adipose tissue (fat). Even if calories and expenditure are equated, someone with lower fasted insulin and blood sugar will lose body fat at a faster rate than someone with high fasted insulin and blood sugar (which can also be genetic).

Hormone Panel Importance

So, now do you see why paying attention to your hormones is so important? This is why so many women “feel like they are doing everything right,” but nothing is working.

Because hormones matter!

This is why getting hormone panels done can be so beneficial. By getting a hormone panel done, you have some direction when it comes to the goals you are trying to reach. We do not need to play the guessing game anymore these days. We can get testing done to see what the actual issues are. Do not sleep on that!

At the end of the day, calories will always be the number one factor for weight management. However, how we utilize those calories will largely be affected by our hormone profiles. To overlook that, especially with the resources we have at our disposal, is shortsighted. 

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Alycia Israel is a nationally qualified NPC figure and bikini competitor, and raw powerlifter. She has a master's degree in exercise physiology, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, and is an ISSN-certified sports nutritionist. As the former personal training coordinator at Ohio State University for seven years, she currently owns and operates Alycia's Barbell, an online training and nutrition business that helps clients lose fat for life or jump on the competitive bodybuilding stage. She can be contacted at