Endocrine System

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What Is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is made up of glands that make hormones. Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. They carry information and instructions from one set of cells to another.

The endocrine (EN-duh-krin) system influences almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies.

What Does the Endocrine System Do?

  • Endocrine glands release into the bloodstream. This lets the hormones travel to cells in other parts of the body.
  • The endocrine hormones help control mood, growth and development, the way our organs work, , and reproduction.
  • The endocrine system regulates how much of each hormone is released. This can depend on levels of hormones already in the blood, or on levels of other substances in the blood, like calcium. Many things affect hormone levels, such as stress, infection, and changes in the balance of fluid and minerals in blood.

Too much or too little of any hormone can harm the body. Medicines can treat many of these problems.

What Are the Parts of the Endocrine System?

While many parts of the body make hormones, the major glands that make up the endocrine system are the:

  • hypothalamus
  • pituitary
  • thyroid
  • parathyroids
  • adrenals
  • pineal body
  • the ovaries
  • the testes

The pancreas is part of the endocrine system and the digestive system. That’s because it secretes hormones into the bloodstream, and makes and secretes enzymes into the digestive tract.

Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus (hi-po-THAL-uh-mus) is in the lower central part of the brain. It links the endocrine system and nervous system. Nerve cells in the hypothalamus make chemicals that control the release of hormones secreted from the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus gathers information sensed by the brain (such as the surrounding temperature, light exposure, and feelings) and sends it to the pituitary. This information influences the hormones that the pituitary makes and releases.

Pituitary: The pituitary (puh-TOO-uh-ter-ee) gland is at the base of the brain, and is no bigger than a pea. Despite its small size, the pituitary is often called the “master gland.” The hormones it makes control many other endocrine glands.

The pituitary gland makes many hormones, such as:

  • growth hormone, which stimulates the growth of bone and other body tissues and plays a role in the body’s handling of nutrients and minerals
  • prolactin (pro-LAK-tin), which activates milk production in women who are breastfeeding
  • thyrotropin (thy-ruh-TRO-pin), which stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones
  • corticotropin (kor-tih-ko-TRO-pin), which stimulates the adrenal gland to make certain hormones
  • antidiuretic (an-ty-dy-uh-REH-tik) hormone, which helps control body water balance through its effect on the kidneys
  • oxytocin (ahk-see-TOE-sin), which triggers the contractions of the uterus that happen during labor

The pituitary also secretes endorphins (en-DOR-fins), chemicals that act on the nervous system and reduce feelings of pain. The pituitary also secretes hormones that signal the reproductive organs to make sex hormones. The pituitary gland also controls

and the menstrual cycle in women.

Thyroid: The thyroid (THY-royd) is in the front part of the lower neck. It’s shaped like a bow tie or butterfly. It makes the thyroid hormones thyroxine (thy-RAHK-sin) and triiodothyronine (try-eye-oh-doe-THY-ruh-neen). These hormones control the rate at which cells burn fuels from food to make energy. The more thyroid hormone there is in the bloodstream, the faster chemical reactions happen in the body.

Thyroid hormones are important because they help kids’ and teens’ bones grow and develop, and they also play a role in the development of the brain and nervous system.

Parathyroids: Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands that work together called the parathyroids (par-uh-THY-roydz). They release parathyroid hormone, which controls the level of calcium in the blood with the help of calcitonin (kal-suh-TOE-nin), which the thyroid makes.

Adrenal Glands: These two triangular adrenal (uh-DREE-nul) glands sit on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands have two parts, each of which makes a set of hormones and has a different function:

  1. The outer part is the adrenal cortex. It makes hormones called corticosteroids (kor-tih-ko-STER-oydz) that help control salt and water balance in the body, the body’s response to stress, metabolism, the immune system, and sexual development and function.
  2. The inner part is the adrenal medulla (muh-DUH-luh). It makes catecholamines (kah-tuh-KO-luh-meenz), such as epinephrine (eh-puh-NEH-frun). Also called adrenaline, epinephrine increases blood pressure and heart rate when the body is under stress.

Pineal: The pineal (pih-NEE-ul) body, also called the pineal gland, is in the middle of the brain. It secretes melatonin (meh-luh-TOE-nin), a hormone that may help regulate when we sleep at night and wake in the morning.

Reproductive Glands: The gonads are the main source of sex hormones. In boys the male gonads, or testes (TES-teez), are in the scrotum. They secrete hormones called androgens (AN-druh-junz), the most important of which is

(tess-TOSS-tuh-rone). These hormones tell a boy’s body when it’s time to make the changes associated with puberty, like penis and height growth, deepening voice, and growth in facial and pubic hair. Working with hormones from the pituitary gland, testosterone also tells a boy’s body when it’s time to make sperm in the testes.

A girl’s gonads, the ovaries (OH-vuh-reez), are in her pelvis. They make eggs and secrete the female hormones

(ESS-truh-jen) and (pro-JESS-tuh-rone). Estrogen is involved when a girl starts puberty. During puberty, a girl will have breast growth, start to accumulate body fat around the hips and thighs, and have a growth spurt. Estrogen and progesterone are also involved in the regulation of a girl’s menstrual cycle. These hormones also play a role in pregnancy.

Pancreas: The pancreas (PAN-kree-us) makes insulin (IN-suh-lin) and glucagon (GLOO-kuh-gawn), which are hormones that control the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Insulin helps keep the body supplied with stores of energy. The body uses this stored energy for exercise and activity, and it also helps organs work as they should.

What Can Help Keep the Endocrine System Healthy?

To help keep your child’s endocrine system healthy:

  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Go for regular medical checkups.
  • Talk to the doctor before taking any supplements or herbal treatments.
  • Let the doctor know about any family history of endocrine problems, such as diabetes or thyroid problems.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Let the doctor know if your child:

  • drinks a lot of water but is still thirsty
  • has to pee often
  • has frequent belly pain or nausea
  • is very tired or weak
  • is gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • has tremors or sweats a lot
  • is constipated
  • isn’t growing or developing as expected

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD Date reviewed: October 2018


Endocrine Glands

The endocrine glands secrete hormones into the surrounding interstitial fluid; those hormones then diffuse into blood and are carried to various organs and tissues within the body. The endocrine glands include the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal glands, gonads, pineal, and pancreas.

The pituitary gland, sometimes called the hypophysis, is located at the base of the brain (Figure 11.23 a). It is attached to the hypothalamus. The posterior lobe stores and releases oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone produced by the hypothalamus. The anterior lobe responds to hormones produced by the hypothalamus by producing its own hormones, most of which regulate other hormone-producing glands.

Figure 11.23 (a) The pituitary gland sits at the base of the brain, just above the brain stem. (b) The parathyroid glands are located on the posterior of the thyroid gland. (c) The adrenal glands are on top of the kidneys. d) The pancreas is found between the stomach and the small intestine. (credit: modification of work by NCI, NIH)

The anterior pituitary produces six hormones: growth hormone, prolactin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. Growth hormone stimulates cellular activities like protein synthesis that promote growth. Prolactin stimulates the production of milk by the mammary glands. The other hormones produced by the anterior pituitary regulate the production of hormones by other endocrine tissues (Table 11.1). The posterior pituitary is significantly different in structure from the anterior pituitary. It is a part of the brain, extending down from the hypothalamus, and contains mostly nerve fibers that extend from the hypothalamus to the posterior pituitary.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck, just below the larynx and in front of the trachea (Figure 11.23 b). It is a butterfly-shaped gland with two lobes that are connected. The thyroid follicle cells synthesize the hormone thyroxine, which is also known as T4 because it contains four atoms of iodine, and triiodothyronine, also known as T3 because it contains three atoms of iodine. T3 and T4 are released by the thyroid in response to thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by the anterior pituitary, and both T3 and T4 have the effect of stimulating metabolic activity in the body and increasing energy use. A third hormone, calcitonin, is also produced by the thyroid. Calcitonin is released in response to rising calcium ion concentrations in the blood and has the effect of reducing those levels.

Most people have four parathyroid glands; however, the number can vary from two to six. These glands are located on the posterior surface of the thyroid gland (Figure 11.23 b).

The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone. Parathyroid hormone increases blood calcium concentrations when calcium ion levels fall below normal.

The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney (Figure 11.23 c). The adrenal glands consist of an outer adrenal cortex and an inner adrenal medulla. These regions secrete different hormones.

The adrenal cortex produces mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and androgens. The main mineralocorticoid is aldosterone, which regulates the concentration of ions in urine, sweat, and saliva. Aldosterone release from the adrenal cortex is stimulated by a decrease in blood concentrations of sodium ions, blood volume, or blood pressure, or by an increase in blood potassium levels. The glucocorticoids maintain proper blood-glucose levels between meals. They also control a response to stress by increasing glucose synthesis from fats and proteins and interact with epinephrine to cause vasoconstriction. Androgens are sex hormones that are produced in small amounts by the adrenal cortex. They do not normally affect sexual characteristics and may supplement sex hormones released from the gonads. The adrenal medulla contains two types of secretory cells: one that produces epinephrine (adrenaline) and another that produces norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Epinephrine and norepinephrine cause immediate, short-term changes in response to stressors, inducing the so-called fight-or-flight response. The responses include increased heart rate, breathing rate, cardiac muscle contractions, and blood-glucose levels. They also accelerate the breakdown of glucose in skeletal muscles and stored fats in adipose tissue, and redirect blood flow toward skeletal muscles and away from skin and viscera. The release of epinephrine and norepinephrine is stimulated by neural impulses from the sympathetic nervous system that originate from the hypothalamus.

The pancreas is an elongate organ located between the stomach and the proximal portion of the small intestine (Figure 11.23 d). It contains both exocrine cells that excrete digestive enzymes and endocrine cells that release hormones.

The endocrine cells of the pancreas form clusters called pancreatic islets or the islets of Langerhans. Among the cell types in each pancreatic islet are the alpha cells, which produce the hormone glucagon, and the beta cells, which produce the hormone insulin. These hormones regulate blood-glucose levels. Alpha cells release glucagon as blood-glucose levels decline. When blood-glucose levels rise, beta cells release insulin. Glucagon causes the release of glucose to the blood from the liver, and insulin facilitates the uptake of glucose by the body’s cells.

The gonads—the male testes and female ovaries—produce steroid hormones. The testes produce androgens, testosterone being the most prominent, which allow for the development of secondary sex characteristics and the production of sperm cells. The ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which cause secondary sex characteristics, regulate production of eggs, control pregnancy, and prepare the body for childbirth.

There are several organs whose primary functions are non-endocrine but that also possess endocrine functions. These include the heart, kidneys, intestines, thymus, and adipose tissue. The heart has endocrine cells in the walls of the atria that release a hormone in response to increased blood volume. It causes a reduction in blood volume and blood pressure, and reduces the concentration of Na+ in the blood.

The gastrointestinal tract produces several hormones that aid in digestion. The endocrine cells are located in the mucosa of the GI tract throughout the stomach and small intestine. They trigger the release of gastric juices, which help to break down and digest food in the GI tract.

The kidneys also possess endocrine function. Two of these hormones regulate ion concentrations and blood volume or pressure. Erythropoietin (EPO) is released by kidneys in response to low oxygen levels. EPO triggers the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow. EPO has been used by athletes to improve performance. But EPO doping has its risks, since it thickens the blood and increases strain on the heart; it also increases the risk of blood clots and therefore heart attacks and stroke.

The thymus is found behind the sternum. The thymus produces hormones referred to as thymosins, which contribute to the development of the immune response in infants. Adipose tissue, or fat tissue, produces the hormone leptin in response to food intake. Leptin produces a feeling of satiety after eating, reducing the urge for further eating.

Table 11.1 Endocrine Glands and Their Associated Hormones

Endocrine Gland Associated Hormones Effect
Pituitary (anterior) growth hormone promotes growth of body tissues
prolactin promotes milk production
thyroid-stimulating hormone stimulates thyroid hormone release
adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulates hormone release by adrenal cortex
follicle-stimulating hormone stimulates gamete production
luteinizing hormone stimulates androgen production by gonads in males; stimulates ovulation and production of estrogen and progesterone in females
Pituitary (posterior) antidiuretic hormone stimulates water reabsorption by kidneys
oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions during childbirth
Thyroid thyroxine, triiodothyronine stimulate metabolism
calcitonin reduces blood Ca2+ levels
Parathyroid parathyroid hormone increases blood Ca2+ levels
Adrenal (cortex) aldosterone increases blood Na+ levels
cortisol, corticosterone, cortisone increase blood-glucose levels
Adrenal (medulla) epinephrine, norepinephrine stimulate fight-or-flight response
Pancreas insulin reduces blood-glucose levels
glucagon increases blood-glucose levels

Endocrine System Overview

Sometimes, hormone levels can be too high or too low. When this happens, it can have a number of effects on your health. The signs and symptoms depend on the hormone that’s out of balance.

Here’s a look at some conditions that can affect the endocrine system and alter your hormone levels.


Hyperthyroidism happens when your thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormone than necessary. This can be caused by a range of things, including autoimmune conditions.

Some common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • fatigue
  • nervousness
  • weight loss
  • diarrhea
  • issues tolerating heat
  • fast heart rate
  • trouble sleeping

Treatment depends on how severe the condition is, as well as its underlying cause. Options include medications, radioiodine therapy, or surgery.

Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder and common form of hyperthyroidism. In people with Graves disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid, which causes it to produce more thyroid hormone than normal.


Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Like hyperthyroidism, it has many potential causes.

Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • issues tolerating the cold
  • dry skin and hair
  • slow heart rate
  • irregular periods
  • fertility issues

Treatment of hypothyroidism involves supplementing your thyroid hormone with medication.

Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome happens due to high levels of the hormone cortisol.

Common symptoms of Cushing syndrome include:

  • weight gain
  • fatty deposits in the face, midsection, or shoulders
  • stretch marks, particularly on the arms, thighs, and abdomen
  • slow healing of cuts, scrapes, and insect bites
  • thin skin that bruises easily
  • irregular periods
  • decreased sex drive and fertility in males

Treatment depends on the cause of the condition and can include medications, radiation therapy, or surgery.

Addison disease

Addison disease happens when your adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol or aldosterone. Some symptoms of Addison disease include:

  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • abdominal pain
  • low blood sugar
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • irritability
  • a craving for salt or salty foods
  • irregular periods

Treatment of Addison disease involves taking medications that help to replace the hormones that your body isn’t producing enough of.


Diabetes refers to a condition in which your blood sugar levels aren’t regulated properly.

People with diabetes have too much glucose in their blood (high blood sugar). There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Some common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • increased hunger or thirst
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • irritability
  • frequent infections

Treatment for diabetes can include blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, and medications. Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet, can also help.

If you’ve always had trouble losing weight and keeping it off, you may have a “hormonal clog,” which keeps your setpoint elevated.

In a nutshell, setpoint refers to the level of stored fat the body works to maintain by regulating your appetite and metabolism through your hormones, genes, and brain, regardless of the quantity of calories you take in or exercise off.

You see, there’s an invisible force inside you that is conspiring to cling to extra pounds, and it has nothing to do with calories, points, mail-order meals, cardiovascular exercise, or any of the conventional diet nonsense you’ve been fed — and that has failed you over and over for most of your life.

What’s truly holding you back — and what can permanently set you free — is your setpoint. Here’s the good news: It’s something you can control. And, when you control it, you stay naturally thin.

How Your Hormones Affect Your Setpoint Weight

You can’t hear it or see it, but there’s a whole lot of chitchat going on inside you all the time. Your gut, organs, muscle tissue, and fat tissue are constantly communicating with your nervous system and brain via chemical messengers called hormones. They “talk” about, for example, how much fuel they think you need to keep your weight stable at your setpoint. If they feel you’re at risk of your weight falling below your setpoint, they relay chemical messages that drive your appetite and cravings up and your daily calorie burn down.

When you eat high-quality calories, this conversation goes well. Higher-quality calories trigger fat-burning hormones. The right amount of hormones are used and the desired message is communicated: “Burn body fat.”

However, when you eat low-quality, processed calories, it’s like the phone lines break down. Your body doesn’t have a good idea of how much fuel you need. Hormones become “dysregulated,” and your body demands more food and hoards calories, because it does not know what is going on and errs on the side of not starving.

This “hormonal clog” elevates your setpoint and therefore triggers a 24/7/365 increase in appetite and cravings and a decrease in energy and calorie burn. More calories in and fewer calories out is what just about every cell in your body is telling you to do to survive. Even if you do grit your teeth and stick to your starvation diet and daily jog, this hormonal clog will cause your body to store more of the calories you eat as fat, while burning fewer off during exercise. In other words, you do what the “boot camp” instructor tells you: You “try harder,” but basic human biology causes your body to fight back by storing more and burning less.

Which Hormones Affect My Setpoint?

As you can see, hormones play a huge role in regulating your setpoint. Fortunately, you aren’t at their mercy. There’s a lot you can do to control your hormones and how they influence calories in, calories out, and setpoint. You just have to understand what they are and how they work. There are several main hormones that affect your setpoint and how well your body burns fat.


Your fat cells produce a hormone called leptin, which signals your brain when it’s had enough food. As fat stores rise, more leptin is secreted, traveling to the brain with the message, “Your levels of body fat are on the rise so I’m going to make you feel full and fidgety so you unconsciously ‘eat less and exercise more.’” If fat levels fall, so do leptin levels, and your brain gets a strong hormonal signal to eat more and burn less. Leptin — not willpower — drives your motivation to eat and move.

Before you are victimized by internet ads for leptin supplements, please understand: Overweight people already have lots of leptin (remember, it’s secreted in proportion to the amount of fat on your body). The problem is, your setpoint gets elevated when you suffer from “leptin resistance,” in which the hormone is unable to get its message across. Therefore, increasing leptin levels to treat an elevated setpoint is as productive as adding water to a fish tank with no bottom.

You can ensure that leptin gets the job done by healing the metabolic breakdowns causing “leptin resistance.” Guess what makes the metabolic breakdowns worse? Conventional low-calorie, high-carb starvation diets.


This hormone is all about appetite. Remember that when you cut calories and undereat, your body revolts. It starts defending a higher setpoint. As part of this defense, your brain signals an increase in ghrelin to get you to eat more. With traditional starvation diets, ghrelin increases. This is another big reason why traditional diets have failed you. They only make you hungrier and tell you to eat foods that caused the hormonal clog in the first place! Again, “you” are not doing anything “wrong.” Rather, ghrelin is out of balance, and you’ll be taking the right measures to get it back in check.


We can’t talk about fat-burning hormones without talking about insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. For glucose to get into cells to be burned for fuel, it needs to open “doors” to the cells. These doors are the insulin receptors on the cells’ surfaces. Insulin’s function is to usher glucose into cells through those receptors.

When your body digests the sugars and starches you eat, it breaks them down into glucose, which gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Your insulin automatically spikes to shuttle the glucose into cells.

If you eat too much sugary, starchy, highly processed food, glucose levels stay elevated longer than they need to. More insulin is cranked out, and it has to work overtime. When insulin is elevated 24/7, insulin receptors on cells get so used to it that they stop recognizing it — a condition known as insulin resistance. Think of this situation like stuck doors; they (the cell receptors) just won’t open.

Insulin must still do its job of removing glucose from the bloodstream, however, so when most of the cells in the body won’t “open up” to it, the insulin has no choice but to take the glucose somewhere else: to your fat cells. Fat cells will always accept more energy for storage. This initiates the vicious cycle of high insulin, high blood-glucose levels, and, of course, more fat storage. If this cycle continues long enough, all the nonfat cells in your body scream, “We are starving!” This causes the body to respond by increasing its setpoint. In the wake of this increase comes obesity, insulin resistance, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and diabesity. Therefore, keeping insulin levels in check is vital not just for preventing diabetes, but also for maintaining a healthy, low setpoint and weight.


This hormone is commonly thought of as a male hormone, but both men and women need adequate testosterone levels to keep their setpoint low. Most adult women have about the same testosterone levels as a 10-year-old boy. That’s part of the reason it is harder for women to burn fat and build muscle than it is for men. Low levels of testosterone promote fat storage and inflammation. Excess testosterone in women, especially around menopause, is associated with insulin resistance and belly fat. You can see why having this hormone in the right balance is so important.

Eating lots of refined carbohydrates and soy foods will downshift testosterone and elevate setpoint, in both men and women. On the other hand, nutrient-dense proteins and whole-food fats as well as “eccentric” exercise optimizes testosterone, lowering your setpoint.


Like testosterone, estrogen is present in both men and women, though is higher in women. A few years prior to menopause, however, a woman’s estrogen levels begin to dip — which makes her body hold on to fat. The good news is that the same nutrition and lifestyle factors that optimize testosterone levels to favor a lower setpoint also shift estrogen in better balance for both women and men.

Stress Hormones

Secreted by the adrenal glands, stress hormones are involved in weight and hunger signals. One of the most influential on setpoint and weight is cortisol.

Among cortisol’s many functions is to trigger the release of insulin to get glucose into cells for the energy to deal with short-term stress. This is a part of your body’s survival response to stress. If a tiger starts chasing you (the typical type of short-term stress humans faced for the majority of our history), you need fuel fast. Then the crisis ends, the glucose is burned off, and a relaxation response gradually returns the body’s systems to normal.

This is a normal and lifesaving response from your body. The trouble is that your body responds to all stresses in the same way. If you are experiencing marital problems, financial worries, job stress, starvation, or worry, guilt, and shame over your weight, it’s all “a tiger is chasing you right now” from your body’s perspective.

This is not good because these chronic sources of stress cause your body to keep churning out cortisol as if you were always right on the verge of becoming a tiger snack. Because cortisol prompts the release of insulin, that hormone stays elevated, too, and based on what you just learned about insulin, this is all sorts of bad.

But wait, there’s more. The insulin resistance caused by this cortisol chaos triggers feedback to the brain indicating that cells aren’t getting glucose, which then leads to cravings for more glucose. Guess where you find the most glucose? Sugar and starches. Know what makes weight loss nearly impossible? Intense sugar and starch cravings. Also, now you know why when you get stressed, the comfort food craved always revolves around sugar and starch. Why? Your brain “thinks” it needs glucose to prevent a tiger from tearing you in half, so you end up tearing a bag of potato chips in half for your own survival.

In short, chronically elevated cortisol leads to increased insulin, insulin resistance, sugar and starch cravings, even more insulin, even more intense cravings, an elevated setpoint, weight gain, prediabetes, and then type 2 diabetes.

Thyroid Hormones

Restrictive, starvation-type dieting slows the function of your thyroid and your metabolism, thus elevating your setpoint. The thyroid produces the thyroid hormones: an inactive form called thyroxine (T4) and an active form called triiodothyronine (T3). The T4 is transported through the blood, and once it reaches each cell, it is converted to the active T3 form.

Both hormones regulate your metabolism, which, in turn, affects your setpoint along with your heart, brain, digestion, and other bodily systems. So if your thyroid isn’t rocking and rolling, it can affect almost every aspect of your health.

The most common problem is an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, where levels of thyroid hormone are less than optimal. Among the main symptoms are fatigue, feeling cold, dry skin, weight gain (about 5 to 20 pounds), insulin resistance, depression, hair loss, and memory problems. More women than men suffer from hypothyroidism, largely due to fluctuating hormones during various life changes: onset of puberty, during and after pregnancy, at or just before menopause, and during postmenopause.

Other Setpoint Hormones

Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone that is involved in satiety. Research has found that overeating can make receptors on cells less sensitive to CCK. This triggers another vicious cycle: The more low-quality food you eat, the less your body recognizes the signal to slow down.

Adiponectin is another hormone that affects setpoint. Secreted by fat cells, this helps regulate blood sugar and promotes fat-burning. In combination with leptin, it reverses insulin resistance. Levels stabilize when you lower your setpoint and replace starches and sweets with nonstarchy veggies and nutrient-dense proteins, and improve your fitness.

It’s Not About Calorie-Counting — or Willpower

I know this is a lot to take in. But understand that we all have a setpoint — and that’s what determines how thin or overweight we are long term. Not calorie-counting or traditional forms of exercising. When you increase the quality of your eating, exercise, and habits, you lower your setpoint — and get your body to burn fat rather than store it.

That’s what The Setpoint Diet is all about. It removes the willpower, shame, and guilt from the weight and diabetes equation. It ends the frustration and the yo-yo dieting. It stops the painful and expensive health consequences of diabesity, and does it with a proven system that will set the naturally thin person inside you free once and for all.

Adapted from the book THE SETPOINT DIET: The 21-Day Program to Permanently Change What Your Body “Wants” to Weigh by Jonathan Bailor. Copyright (c) Jonathan Bailor by Hachette Books. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Bailor is the founder of SANESolution and is the author of the new book, The Setpoint Diet: The 21-Day Program to Permanently Change What Your Body “Wants” to Weigh, from which this piece is adapted. Check out his website, and for free recipes, food lists, and meal plans from Jonathan, please visit

How Your Hormones Affect Your Metabolism

Sarah Silver

Your hormones and your metabolism are deeply intertwined.

“Metabolism isn’t just about how quickly you burn calories—it encompasses all the ways your body stores and uses energy from food,” says Rocio Salas-Whalen, M.D., an endocrinologist in New York City.

In addition to the calorie torching, your metabolism turns protein, fats, and carbs into compounds like amino acids, fatty acids, and simple glucose, then transports them into your cells; grows and maintains your muscles; and breaks down the fat stored by your body.

“All these metabolic functions are completely controlled by your hormones,” she adds. To keep your body’s systems humming along smoothly, your hormones need to be in balance. If one shoots up too high or dips too low, your metabolism can get thrown out of whack, which can affect your workout, your mood, and your weight, says Liz Lyster, M.D., an ob-gyn in Foster City, California, who specializes in hormone imbalances. (BTW, this fancy new breathalyzer device claims to help you hack your metabolism.)

Read on for tips to keep your hormones in sync and your metabolism stoked.

Eat More Often

Waiting until you’re super-hungry to eat your next meal can backfire. (Can you say “hangry”?)

“It puts your body into stress, which can contribute to elevated cortisol levels and slow your metabolism,” says Dr. Salas-Whalen. It also makes you more likely to overeat, which can lead to blood sugar dips and spikes that throw off your levels of insulin, another key metabolic hormone. Too much insulin can cause your body to store more fat, says Dr. Lyster.

Experiment with timing your meals to figure out what works best for you. “You can have six a day or three—just choose whatever meal schedule keeps you from feeling famished in between,” says Dr. Salas-Whalen. (Next read: The Best Time to Eat Your Meals, According to Your Metabolism)

Work Out 2 or 3 Times a Week

“Exercise has a very positive effect on metabolism,” says Dr. Salas-Whalen. “Being active keeps all your hormones in harmony, which allows your metabolism to crank.”

High-intensity interval training is especially powerful. “Studies have shown that short bursts of intense exercise cause the brain to release growth hormone,” says Dr. Lyster. This hormone encourages the body to break down fat and build muscle, and it also enhances the activity of all your other hormones.

In research from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, women who sprinted for 30 seconds three times, with 20 minutes of active rest like walking or a slow jog between the intervals, boosted their growth hormone levels.

Focus On Fiber

There are several types of dietary fiber, and they all directly affect many of the hormones that govern metabolism.

“Getting enough soluble and insoluble fiber helps keep levels of estrogen steady,” says Zandra Palma, M.D., a physician specializing in functional medicine and hormonal health at Parsley Health in New York City. (Soluble fiber breaks down in water and slows digestion; insoluble doesn’t break down and helps you feel full.) Too much estrogen can slow the metabolism of fat and lead to weight gain. Aim to get around 28 grams of fiber a day from foods like healthy whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. (Here’s more on the important benefits of fiber.)

Prebiotic fiber, found in foods like artichokes and raw onions, feeds the healthy bacteria that live in your gut. That’s important because new studies show that your microbiome has a direct impact on your hormone levels. In one review in the journal Molecular Endocrinology, researchers discovered that inulin (a prebiotic in foods like asparagus and leeks) positively influenced the production of ghrelin, leptin, and peptide YY, three hormones that affect metabolism and help keep it revved. (Related: 5 Ways Your Food Could Be Messing with Your Hormones)

Wind Down at Night

The stress hormone cortisol is one of the major drivers of metabolism, says Dr. Salas-Whalen. “Its main function is to prepare the body in times of stress. One way it does this is by blocking the absorption of glucose in order to provide an easy energy source if you need to fight, run, or think quickly,” she says.

But if stress becomes chronic, your cortisol levels stay elevated, which drives up your blood sugar levels. The result: Your metabolism slows, and you gain weight, feel fatigued, and have trouble sleeping. (Se: The Surprising Way Stress Makes You Gain Weight)

Nighttime stress is especially harmful because it can disrupt sleep, which also raises your cortisol levels—and a new study from Stanford University found that a cortisol spike at night prompts your body to produce fat cells. Dr. Salas-Whalen recommends doing something relaxing an hour or so before bed: yoga, listening to music, reading, showering. Do any activity that gets you close to Zen. (Here’s more on how your mood and metabolism are linked.)

  • By Mirel Zaman

How Hormones Can Affect Weight Loss

Even with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, some women still find it hard to lose weight. One factor that many people don’t always take into consideration when it comes to weight loss is hormonal imbalances. Our body is like a big clock with a number of parts working together. Hormones are just one of the “cogs” involved in helping everything to run smoothly. Sometimes having a healthy diet and exercise regime might not be enough to fix these hormonal issues.
Jump to:

  • Inflammation
  • Cortisol
  • Serotonin
  • Thyroid hormones

I want to talk about some of the most common hormonal issues that can affect weight loss in this blog today. If you think that some of these could be relevant to you, the best thing to do is consult your doctor and see if you are indeed affected by these.

Hormones that can affect weight loss

These are a few hormones that can lead to imbalances and can affect your weight loss results.


There is a lot of research that suggests that inflammation within the body is one of the main causes for a number of diseases that we see in this day and age. Some examples include arthritis, eczema, digestive disorders and more.

So what exactly is inflammation?

Think about is this way – if you go for a big walk or run and roll your ankle, within a few minutes your ankle may feel a little tender, hot, and maybe even be a little swollen. All of these things are caused by the activation of your immune system, which tells particular cells to help fix the problem. When we are talking about inflammation within the body, this isn’t always as obvious as a swollen ankle may be, which is why it can be hard to realise that it is happening at all.

Certain aspects of our lifestyle, such as the foods we eat and other choices we make (such as drinking alcohol and smoking) can increase the amount of inflammation within our body. Did you know that when our body is in an inflammatory state, it may actually make it harder for you to lose weight? One reason is that inflammatory factors can influence other hormones that help to regulate food intake. Some examples include insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels, and leptin, which helps us to recognise when we are full.

It is really important to understand that there are many causes of inflammation and that this can stretch beyond what you put in your body. To help reduce this, it is important that you consider all aspects of your lifestyle including the foods that you eat, the drinks that you drink, other lifestyle choices, as well as the environment that you live in.


While many people know this as the “stress hormone”, did you know that cortisol is actually an important hormone that is involved in a number of processes within the body? Some of these include regulating our blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and our metabolism day in and day out.

When we go through periods of stress, the amount of cortisol that is produced by the body can increase to help us cope with the additional pressure, before returning to normal once the stressful situation has passed. However, if you are someone who is constantly stressed, this can result in elevated cortisol for long periods of time, which is when the trouble can start.

There is a lot of research that shows that increased cortisol over long periods of time may cause weight gain, and more specifically, it can cause more fat to be stored around your middle. I’m not talking about the fat that determines how defined your abs are (called subcutaneous fat), but the fat found deep inside your abdomen and surrounds all of your major organs (called visceral fat). There is a lot of evidence suggesting that obesity and high levels of visceral fat may cause a lot of health problems later in life.

3 hormones that affect body shape and weight loss

When we think of the word hormone, we tend to think of issues such as menopause, puberty, thyroid disease or…being grumpy and craving sugar at “that time of the month”. But…did you know the food you eat and the exercise you do has a huge impact on your hormonal health and weight? For weight loss, calories are not the entire picture. Hormonal balance is key to helping you burn belly fat and look and feel your very best at any age.

What are hormones?

Hormones are the most powerful chemical messengers in the body, and when it comes to weight loss and feeling well, can make it or break it. In addition to blood sugar control and insulin balance, hormones control metabolism and therefore are intricately connected to the amount of fat you gain or lose. In other words, burning fat and achieving successful weight loss is in fact partly a hormonal event.

The three little hormones I want you to know about are:

1) Insulin – Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas whose main role is to regulate glucose (sugar) levels and promote fat storage especially around the belly. Foods that promote the secretion of insulin include white refined flours and sugars.

2) Glucagon – Glucagon and insulin are “enemies” and have opposing effects. In other words, when one is up, the other one is down. Glucagon is a fat burning hormone and is secreted by the consumption of protein.

3) Cortisol – Cortisol is your stress hormone. Unfortunately, cortisol and insulin are best buddies. If cortisol is elevated due to mild to moderate periods of stress (typically chronic stress), insulin is typically raised which can make weight loss difficult.

Top 10 ways to achieve hormonal balance and promote weight loss include:

  • Minimize all insulin stimulating foods. These include white sugar, excess alcohol and all processed flours.
  • Pick glucagon stimulating foods at every meal. Glucagon stimulating foods are proteins such as chicken, fish, turkey, cottage cheese, yogurt, lean red beef, eggs, hemp, protein powder (pea, rice or whey).
  • Support your hormonal health with essential fatty acids. In addition to cold water fish, nuts and seeds – it is advisable to supplement with a distilled fish oil supplement daily (you will love what it does for your hair as well!)
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking 2 litres of water per day is critical for energy, vitality and overall health. No excuses on this one –just make it a habit.
  • Drink green tea. In addition to boosting metabolism, green tea secretes an amino acid called L-theanine which tends to have a calming effect.
  • Exercise, there is no way around it. Exercise is by far one of the most effective ways to lower cortisol response.
  • Sleep well. A good night’s sleep can do wonders for proper cortisol secretion and weight loss. In fact, research has shown poor sleep quality to be associated with an increase in cravings and hunger, thereby leading to weight gain.

  • Hug someone you love. Whether it is your child, hubby, friend or parent – hugging naturally lowers cortisol response.
  • Meditate, pray or journal. While this may sound “out there” for some of you, I assure you, it works.
  • Take time for you. Whatever it is that you love to do – walk, spend time with friends, – try to take time 15-30 minutes per day for yourself.

If you have a topic you would like me to blog about – I want to hear about it! Simply send me an e-mail at [email protected]

Why I Believe Hormones, Not Age or Diet, Caused My Weight Gain

About 3 years ago, I inexplicably gained 30 pounds. It didn’t happen overnight — but it happened quickly enough (over the course of a year) for me to take notice and express concern.

Because I have stage 4 endometriosis, my gynecologist often ends up being the first doctor I talk to about anything. She’s the medical professional I have the longest relationship with, and the one I’m most likely to see at least a few times a year.

So, I went to her first with my weight gain issue. But after running some blood work, she didn’t seem especially worried.

“Everything looks mostly normal,” she said. “Your metabolism is probably just slowing down.”

I love my gynecologist, but that wasn’t enough of an answer for me. There had to be some explanation for what was going on.

I hadn’t changed anything about my lifestyle. I ate a pretty clean and healthy diet, and I had a dog that had me out moving at least 2 miles every day — nothing I was doing explained the weight I was putting on.

So, I set out to find a primary care physician (PCP) — something I hadn’t had in nearly a decade.

The first one I saw was dismissive. “Are you sure you’re not eating more sweets than you should be?” He said skeptically, eyebrow raised. I walked out of his office and asked my friends to please recommend doctors they loved.

The next PCP I saw came highly recommended. And as soon as I sat down with her, I understood why. She was kind, empathetic, and listened to all my concerns before ordering a series of tests and promising we’d get to the bottom of what was going on.

Except that when those tests came back, she also saw no reason to worry. “You’re getting older,” she said. “This is probably just a factor of that.”

I really think I should be given some kind of award for not committing an act of violence right then and there.

The thing was, it wasn’t just my weight that I noticed. I was also breaking out like I hadn’t in years. And not just on my face — my chest and back were suddenly covered in acne as well. And I was getting these whiskers under my chin, along with just not feeling like myself at all.

To me, it was clear something was going on hormonally. But doctors running my panels didn’t seem to see what I was feeling.

Years ago, I talked to a naturopath who told me that she felt some traditional medicine practitioners didn’t always look at hormones the same way naturopaths did.

She explained that while some doctors were just looking for individual numbers within a range of normal, naturopaths were looking for a certain balance. Without that balance, she explained, a woman could find herself experiencing symptoms very similar to the ones I had, even if her numbers appeared to be normal otherwise.

I was convinced that if someone would just look at the whole picture, they would see my hormone levels were clearly out of balance.

And, as it turns out, they were — my estrogen levels were on the low end and my testosterone levels on the high end, even though both were within the range of normal.

The problem was, the naturopath I’d seen for hormone issues so many years before was no longer living in my state. And I really struggled to find anyone who would listen to my concerns and help me formulate a plan of action the way she previously had.

Most everyone I saw seemed to just want to write my complaints off to age.

It makes sense, to an extent. While I was only in my mid-30s at the time, I’m a woman with a complex hormone-driven condition. I’ve had 5 major abdominal surgeries, each one hacking away at my ovaries.

Early menopause has always been something I’ve anticipated, and the doctors I saw seemed to see me as being on that death march as well. Since between decreasing estrogen levels, menopause, and thyroid issues, I understood why my doctors seemed so convinced that that was what was going on.

I just wasn’t ready to simply shrug and accept this as to be expected. I wanted some sort of solution for relieving the symptoms I was experiencing — especially as I continued to gain weight I didn’t feel I’d earned.

That solution never came. But eventually, the weight gain stagnated. I still couldn’t seem to lose weight — I tried, I tried so hard — but at least I’d stopped gaining it.

It’s here that I should probably acknowledge a painful truth: I spent 10 years of my youth, from age 13 to 23, struggling with a pretty severe eating disorder. Part of my recovery has involved learning to love the body I’m in, whatever shape it is. I try really hard not to focus on my weight or on the numbers on the scale.

But when you’re inexplicably gaining weight, even though you feel like you’re otherwise doing everything “right,” it’s hard not to notice.

Still, I tried. Once the weight stopped increasing, I tried really hard to let go of my anxiety about it and to just accept my new shape. I stopped harassing doctors about the weight gain, I bought a new wardrobe to suit my bigger frame, and I even threw out my scale, determined to give up the obsessive weigh-ins I had started to gravitate back toward.

And then, a funny thing happened. After about 2 years of stagnation, I suddenly started to lose the weight last December.

Again, nothing about my life had changed. My eating habits and exercise levels were exactly the same. But over the last 5 months, I’ve lost about 20 of the 30 pounds I initially put on.

I should note that I went on the keto diet for the month of March — months after the weight loss had already begun. I wasn’t doing it for weight loss, but rather as an attempt to get some of my inflammation down and hopefully experience less painful periods (because of the endometriosis).

It worked. I had an amazingly easy period that month. But, keto proved too hard for me to stick to completely, and I’ve been mostly back to my regular eating habits ever since.

Yet I’ve continued to slowly drop the weight I once put on.

Around the same time the weight started to come off, some of my other symptoms began to ease as well. My skin cleared up, my mood lightened, and my body started to feel a bit more like my own again.

I haven’t had a hormone panel in over a year. I have no idea how my numbers today would compare to my numbers back when my symptoms first began. I should probably visit my doctor and check.

But at this point, I’d be willing to bet anything the balance is different. Even if everything is still in the range of normal, my gut tells me everything I’ve been experiencing over the last few years has been hormonal.

And for whatever reason, I think those hormones finally balanced themselves out and settled my body down.

I’d love to know why — to figure out how to maintain that balance moving forward. But for now, I’m simply enjoying feeling like myself again, in a body that once more seems to be following the rules. At least for the time being.

Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s a single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also the author of the book “Single Infertile Female” and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.

Here’s a mind-bender: Being overweight often has nothing to do with calories or exercise. For a huge number of us, the problem is misfiring hormones. Research is still catching up with this paradigm shift, which has yet to be comprehensively studied. But seeing how this revelation has helped my patients and I slim down and feel better gives me confidence that it’s true for most women who are trying to lose weight and can’t. You already know about some weight-affecting hormone issues, like thyroid and insulin imbalances. But more subtle ones could also be keeping you from the body you want. Here are some other ways your hormones might be causing weight gain.

Amazon The Hormone Reset Diet: Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Up to 15 Pounds in 21 Days $16.19

You’re consuming too much sugar.

I think of leptin as the hormone that says, “Darling, put down the fork.” Under normal circumstances, it’s released from your fat cells and travels in the blood to your brain, where it signals that you’re full. But leptin’s noble cause has been impeded by our consumption of a type of sugar called fructose, which is found in fruit and processed foods alike.

Related Story

When you eat small amounts of fructose, you’re OK. But if you eat more than the recommended five daily servings of fruit (which in recent decades has been bred to contain more fructose than it used to)—plus processed foods with added sugar—your liver can’t deal with the fructose fast enough to use it as fuel. Instead, your body starts converting it into fats, sending them off into the bloodstream as triglycerides and depositing them in the liver and elsewhere in your belly.

As more fructose is converted to fat, your levels of leptin increase (because fat produces leptin). And when you have too much of any hormone circulating in your system, your body becomes resistant to its message. With leptin, that means your brain starts to miss the signal that you’re full. You continue to eat, and you keep gaining weight.

🚨If you eat more than the recommended five daily servings of fruit, plus processed foods with added sugar, your liver can’t deal with the fructose fast enough to use it as fuel. 🚨

You’re super stressed.

The so-called stress hormone cortisol can create all kinds of trouble for women who want to shed weight. When cortisol rises, it encourages the conversion of blood sugar into fat for long-term storage. Hoarding body fat in this way was a useful survival adaptation for our ancestors when they faced stressful famines. But not so much today. Obviously, reducing stress in your life will help rein in this fat-storing hormone, but there’s another very common source of the problem: daily coffee, which elevates cortisol levels dramatically, causing your body to hoard fat when you least need to.

Your high estrogen levels are expanding your fat cells.

Although estrogen is responsible for making women uniquely women, it’s also the hormone that can be the most troublesome in the fat department. At normal levels, estrogen actually helps keep you lean by goosing the production of insulin, a hormone that manages blood sugar. When estrogen gets thrown off, though, it turns you into a weight-gain machine.

Here’s how: When you eat, your blood sugar rises. Like a bodyguard, insulin lowers it by escorting glucose into three different places in your body. When insulin is in good working form—not too high and not too low—it sends a small amount of glucose to your liver, a large amount to your muscles to use as fuel, and little to none for fat storage.

If you’re healthy and in good shape, your pancreas produces exactly the right amount of insulin to have your blood sugar softly rise and fall within a narrow range (fasting levels of 70 to 85 mg/dl). But when your estrogen levels climb, the cells that produce insulin become strained, and you can become insulin resistant. That’s when insulin starts to usher less glucose to the liver and muscles, raising the levels of sugar in your bloodstream and ultimately storing the glucose as fat. Your fat tissue can expand by as much as four times to accommodate the storage of glucose.

How do estrogen levels climb, exactly? Meat is one of the primary reasons. You take in a lot less fiber when you eat meat. Research suggests that vegetarians get more than twice as much fiber as omnivores. Because fiber helps us stay regular, and we process excess estrogen through our waste, eating less fiber drives up our estrogen.

Meat also contains a type of fat with its own estrogen problem. Conventionally raised farm animals are overloaded with steroids, antibiotics, and toxins from their feed and the way they’ve been raised. When you eat them, those substances are released into your system. They can behave like estrogen in the body, adding to your overload.

Your low testosterone levels are slowing down your metabolism.

You are confronted with an astounding number of toxins each day, including pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods, and about six different synthetic hormones in meat. Toxins are lurking in face creams, prescription drugs, processed foods, your lipstick, the linings of tuna fish cans, the fire-retardant materials in couches, and even the air you breathe. The list goes on.

Many types of these toxins, such as pesticides, plastics, and industrial chemicals, behave like estrogen when absorbed in the body. Experts believe that our increasing exposure to toxins helps explain why so many girls are entering puberty earlier and why many boys exhibit feminine characteristics such as developing breasts. Xeno-estrogens, as these particular toxins are called, have been associated with an elevated risk of estrogen-driven diseases like breast and ovarian cancers and endometriosis.

All this fake estrogen overwhelms your body’s testosterone—which is vital for hormone balance—and contributes to estrogen overload. Testosterone contributes to muscle growth, which in turn supports metabolism. And, as we already know, estrogen overload raises insulin insensitivity. The combination adds pounds to your frame: A study from Sweden published in the journal Chemosphere showed that exposure to a particular type of pesticide called organochloride was linked to a weight gain of 9½ pounds over 50 years.

And that’s just one type of toxin. Your risk of weight gain and disease from exposure to toxins may be greater than you realize. A survey by the CDC demonstrated that 93 percent of the population has measurable levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in store receipts and canned foods that disrupts estrogen, thyroid, and androgen hormones. Endocrine disruptors have been shown to interfere with the production, transportation, and metabolism of most hormones.

The bottom line: You have to to address your hormone imbalances.

Now you know the “whys” of your broken metabolism, these are reasons regular diets don’t address the root cause of your weight gain. Hormones dictate what your body does with food. Talk to a doctor about fixing your hormones, and your body will slim down without any extra effort from you.

From the book The Hormone Reset Diet: Balance Your Hormones and Lose Up to 15 Pounds in Just 3 Weeks! by Sara Gottfried. Copyright © 2015 by Sara Gottfried. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Are your female hormones sabotaging your weight loss?

Are you struggling to lose weight even though it seems like you’re doing everything right? Although the key to weight loss really is a simple math equation, there may be other factors playing the villain in your weight loss story.

Why can hormones affect weight loss?

As we know, hormones play a large role in many vital functions within the body including our ability to maintain muscle, lose body fat and how we experience stress and hunger, and when there is a hormonal imbalance it becomes infinitely harder to lose weight. If you are stuck in a weight-loss plateau, don’t worry! Hormones are not the be all and end all for weight loss, there is still hope! As long as your food quality and calorie intake are prioritised, then you will reap the benefits associated with a healthy diet whilst creating the ideal environment for optimal hormone production.

The most important factor when weight loss is the goal is calorie balance. Your calorie balance is the number of calories you consume (food and drink) compared to the number of calories you burn every day. If this amount is LESS than the number of calories you burn in a day, this means you are in a calorie deficit: the KEY component for weight loss. Fat loss is generally a longer process for women compared to men but as with any long-term goal, consistency and adherence will always be at the core.

Now, of course, I am not saying that hormones are irrelevant to fat loss as they can have a massive impact on fat loss, making it either a walk in the park or a dieting nightmare. If there is a hormonal imbalance, caused by factors including body weight, diet, stress levels and exposure to environmental toxins, then losing weight may seem impossible.

The main offenders in women include the sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone), cortisol and the thyroid hormones. Within this article, I am going to explain how these hormones are potentially sabotaging your weight loss efforts, how to overcome these and increase your chances of dieting success!

  • Oestrogen & Progesterone

Oestrogen and progesterone are the primary female sex hormones and play essential roles in the regulation of appetite, eating behaviours and energy metabolism. The balance between these hormones (oestrogen to progesterone) can have an impact on fat loss and health, with high oestrogen causing symptoms of PMS, weight gain and fatigue.

Although a natural fluctuation, hormone imbalances are also seen during the menstrual cycle and is an unavoidable topic when discussing weight loss in females. Women tend to eat significantly more calories during the luteal phase (~2013 kcal) compared to the follicular phase (~1790 kcal) reflecting the effects of progesterone on the thyroid hormone and consequently appetite . The increase in appetite and hunger in the luteal phase may mean starting a diet will be A LOT harder, so it may be a wise option to start in the follicular phase.

The natural fluctuation in sex hormones isn’t something we can directly control, but we CAN control the food we eat and the lifestyle choices we make. By implementing the steps at the bottom of this article, we can begin to control the potential hormonal imbalances caused by diet, lifestyle and exogenous oestrogens.

Another source of weight loss resistance is stress. The stress hormone cortisol is released from the adrenal glands in response to both physical and psychological stress. Acute stress is necessary for survival and adaptation as a human being, however, when this stress becomes a chronic state of being then we need to take action.

When we experience chronic stress, cortisol levels become excessively elevated which leads to suppressed immune function, increased appetite , abdominal weight gain and obesity and muscle loss. Stressful thoughts also activate metabolic pathways that may cause changes in insulin levels leading to weight gain. So it is essential we find ways to manage our stress whether that is improving our sleep, taking more time to yourself through meditation and doing activities you enjoy.

  • Thyroid

Thyroid hormones play an important role in maintaining a healthy weight as they regulate metabolic rate. When your body isn’t able to produce enough of the thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) is causes our metabolism to slow down significantly leading to weight loss becoming infinitely more difficult.

Healthy levels of thyroid hormones are really important when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. While some thyroid abnormalities can sometimes be caused by diet, it is also important to understand that these issues can be genetic. If you think that you have hypothyroidism, it is important that you speak to your GP as it can be treated.

How to maximise dieting success and minimise hormonal imbalances

Hormones will always play a part in fat loss but by implementing the simple steps below you will be able to optimise your health and lifestyle for weight loss, weight maintenance as well as hormonal balance.

1. Improve Your Diet

Following a well-balanced diet focusing on unprocessed produce, lean protein sources, whole grains and plenty of fruit and vegetables will improve health, encourage hormone production and reduce the risk of disease prevention . You can find my five tips on how a good diet can improve a hormone imbalance here.

2. Reduce Exposure To Exogenous Oestrogens

Hormonal imbalances may also be affected by our exposure to exogenous oestrogens, so including cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collard greens may help to balance the body’s levels of oestrogen . My previous article on exogenous oestrogens discusses the effects of exogenous oestrogens and what you can do to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

3. Move Daily

Incorporating regular physical activity and exercise will not only help with regulating calorie balance and weight control, but it also reduces stress, your risk of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and improves your quality of life . Being inactive and sedentary leads increased levels of circulating oestrogen causing a hormonal imbalance, making weight loss even harder.

4. De-stress

When it comes to health, finding ways to help manage stress that can be incorporated into your routine is fundamental to living a balanced life. Incorporating activities such as meditation and yoga may seem peculiar for some of you but has shown to improve anxiety, depression and pain , as well as decreased physiological markers of stress including cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate .

5. Sleep Well

Prioritising sleep will do wonders for healthy cortisol secretion and weight loss, with studies linking poor sleep quality with increased hunger and cravings leading to a higher daily calorie intake .

Improving your diet, increasing your activity levels and finding ways to manage your stress levels will all have a positive impact on your health, body weight and hormone production. By focusing on calorie balance and food quality, your body weight will start to drop which improve hormone levels and production, which will lead to weight loss. You can start to see the upward spiral now, right? There is never one simple answer to improving your health, all you have to do is make a start and the positive effects will flow into every aspect of your life.

Hrischberg, A. L. (2012). Sex hormones, appetite and eating behaviours in women. Maturitas, 71(3), 248-56.

Spencer, S. J. & Tilbrook, A. (2011). The glucocorticoid contribution to obesity. Stress, 14(3), 233-46.

WHO (2018). Physical Activity –

How Imbalanced Hormones Can Stall Weight Loss!

Almost every woman I know has struggled with their weight at some point in their lives. Whether it’s ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred pounds they need to lose, the feelings when the numbers on the scale refuse to budge are the same. They feel defeated, angry at themselves, hopeless and frustrated – especially when they know they’re doing everything “right.”

Women are so often sent the message that weight loss is a matter of will power. It isn’t! Trust me when I say that if it was that simple, there would be no need for the myriad weight loss programs out there, and women wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars each year trying to shed those stubborn pounds.

Weight loss is complicated and individual. That’s why one program won’t work for everyone. What goes on inside your body is so very unique, and different than what’s going on for anyone else. Every single person alive has a distinct biochemistry, and if you don’t know what yours looks like, it can be nearly impossible to meet the goals you set for yourself.

Hormones are a major piece of this puzzle. Hormones send messages about everything that’s going on in your body to your brain. And if the messages aren’t accurate, your body may hit the brakes on weight loss in a noble – but unnecessary – attempt to protect itself.

I’ve written about hormones a lot, but let’s take a closer look at how hormonal imbalances are connected to weight loss – and what you can do to shift the balance and start losing weight!

How Hormonal Imbalance Can Affect Weight Loss

Hormones are chemical messengers that let your brain know what your body needs – including how fast your metabolism needs to work, and how much fat you need to store for leaner times. But here’s the problem — those messages often get distorted, and your body ends up holding on to fat even when you’re survival isn’t threatened.

The levels of specific hormones circulating through your body can vary hour to hour – or even minute to minute, depending on the signals your brain is receiving. Different levels of hormones are released at different times of day, and change throughout your menstrual cycle as well.

As we age, some hormones naturally decrease, which isn’t a problem on its own. Difficulties begin when the levels are out of balance with each other. Ratios between certain hormones are important, and if the balance is off weight loss becomes incredibly difficult no matter what you do!

Hormone production begins with the HPA (hyothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and so many things can go wrong right from the very beginning of the process. That’s why it’s so important to look for the root cause of weight loss resistance instead of taking drastic measures to try and drop the weight. That weight is a symptom – and you need to know what caused the gain in the first place if you want the interventions you choose to be effective.

My Own Experience with Hormones and Weight Gain

Cortisolis one of the biggest problems when it comes to hormonal imbalance. When cortisol levels are skewed, so many other hormones are impacted as well. That’s why I suggest starting with looking at your cortisol production – and the stress in your life.

I know first hand the effects that stress can have on weight. I was in perimenopause when my mother got sick, and not only was I caring for her, I was also raising three young children, and working insane hours in my thriving practice.

During this time, I gained 20 pounds, seemingly out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe it — I had changed nothing about the way I ate, but my body was certainly changing! I tried everything to drop those extra pounds. I joined a weight loss program and actually ran to meetings for weigh-in then ran back home again. I didn’t recognize that I was increasing the stress on my body, thereby making the problem worse!

It wasn’t until I took a step back and realized that I was directly contradicting the advice I gave other women that I knew what had to be done. Stress reduction was a necessity, not a luxury!

It’s funny how much you can miss when it comes to your own life, isn’t it? I knew that stress and rising cortisol levels could impact weight, but it’s like I forgot it all when I got caught up in my own personal stress cycle. I’m so grateful for my education and training, because it allowed me to remember all the things I passed along to women in my practice every day.

As soon as I stopped and took the time I needed for myself to reduce stress, get present in the moment, and enjoy the life I had instead of simply tearing through it, the weight began to come off.

Other Hormones That Impact Weight Loss

As important as cortisol is to hormonal balance and weight loss, it’s certainly not the only hormone to have an effect on weight. Let’s take a quick look at some other important players.


Insulin regulates the amount of glucose that can be absorbed by your cells. When insulin levels aren’t right, or your body can’t produce insulin as needed, insulin resistance can result. What that means is that the glucose made by the food you eat can’t be properly absorbed. But your body has to do something with this extra blood sugar, so your liver converts the glucose to fat.


Leptin is a hormone directly connected to appetite. Leptin carries the message “I’m full” to your brain, which in turn sends out the signal to stop eating. When you have too much leptin circulating, however, you may find yourself constantly hungry, eating too much or too often, and consequently gaining weight. That’s because your brain can’t keep up with the constant flood of leptin. Receptors stop working, the “full” signal is missed, and you just keep eating.

Thyroid hormones and metabolism are intimately connected. The more thyroid hormones your body produces, the faster you’ll burn calories. So if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism, where your thyroid gland can’t produce enough thyroid hormones, your metabolism will slow. This can cause you to gain weight — along with a host of other uncomfortable symptoms.

Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen is on every woman’s mind as she gets older and enters perimenopause or menopause. The effects of estrogen dominance are well documented, including weight loss resistance, mood disorders, PMS and irregular periods. With estrogen dominance, the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is off. This balance is essential to healthy functioning. Estrogen levels may fall in the “normal range” but if you have too much in comparison to the amount of progesterone in your body, you could still have big problems.

Am I Destined to Gain Weight in Menopause?

Let’s stop for just a second and look at menopause and weight. So many women come to me with incorrect assumptions about menopause – including the false notion that weight gain is inevitable and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

But there’s always something you can do. That doesn’t mean I think it’s easy, and I’m certainly not saying that it’s all about willpower. It’s more than that. It’s not about having the desire to change – it’s about having the tools! And the first tool you need is information.

It’s really no surprise that so many women struggle with weight gain in menopause. Hormone production is changing while at the same time, stress is hitting an all time high.

Parents are aging but children are still young; careers are heading towards their peak; women are pulled in so many directions, tending to everyone else – and forgetting to care for themselves!

You can’t always change these stressors, or when they hit. What you can change is your attitudes and beliefs. Rather than being a period of life that is feared, perimenopause and menopause should be celebrated!

With the right perspective, this can be the best time of your life. And that starts with not throwing up your hands and giving in when a few extra pounds mysteriously appear. Instead, stop and take a close look at all the areas that can impact your hormonal health and stall weight loss. I can help get you started.

5 Tips to Promote Hormonal Balance

I know that it’s hard. I know that when it feels like stress is the only constant in your life, finding the motivation and strength to make even small changes can is supremely difficult. That’s why extreme diets and weight loss programs so often fail.

When I was struggling with all that stress and those extra twenty pounds, and responded by trying an intense weight loss regimen, I failed. But when I took a step back and tried to find small ways to decrease stress – and subsequently lower cortisol levels – things began to shift. It didn’t happen overnight; there are no quick fixes. But it did happen. Every small thing I did to care for myself helped me make a little more headway, until those pounds were just a memory.

And here’s another “lightbulb” moment I had, which has kept me moving forward all these years. The weight loss was just a bonus! When I started focusing on myself, and what I needed, I began to really feel good for the first time in years. I had more energy, I felt joyful, and I was better able to cope with the everyday stressors. By taking the time to get my hormones in check, I became a better mother, better daughter, better health care professional — an all around better me! You can too, starting today with these five tips.

1. Honestly Assess Your Diet and Make Small Changes Wherever You Can.

Remember how I said extreme programs rarely work? That’s because they simply aren’t sustainable. Cutting out everything you love, every food that has positive memories attached or has comforted you for years, will soon lead to a crash. No one enjoys feeling deprived!

The key here is to add healthy choices while slowly eliminating the less healthy options. So instead of saying you won’t eat anything sweet at all, try baking with xylitol, and paying close attention to portion size. Substitute a salad filled with colorful veggies for a starchy side. Instead of a glass of wine, pour seltzer into a wine glass and add fresh fruit for color.

There are so many small ways to change your diet a little at a time – and soon, you may find you don’t miss your old habits at all!

2. Don’t Try to Manage It All Alone

So many women I know think they have to manage everything all on their own. But trying to do it all without support only increases stress levels.

If you have a partner, talk openly and honestly about what you need – they can’t read your mind, and it’s not fair to expect them to. Discuss symptoms with a trusted healthcare professional who can help you determine the best treatment for your unique situation.

Don’t ignore the emotional side – a counselor or personal growth experience can identify internal stressors you may not even recognize, and help you let them go.

3. Supplement Wisely

Hormonal balance depends on your body getting all of the nutrients it needs. When there are nutritional gaps, which are so common in our modern lifestyles, you might need to add a little extra support until your hormones level out. I recommend that all women take a high-quality multivitamin, along with omega-3 and Vitamin D supplements. Targeted supplements that help ease stress and allow for better quality sleep might be necessary while you heal.

4. Cultivate Joy and Self-Care Every Day

If you never take time to stop and give yourself the loving attention you need, it’s very likely that your hormonal balance will suffer. Self-care is more than a massage or manicure once in a while. You deserve attention every single day, in whatever form makes you feel happy and at peace.

Whether your love spending time in nature, dancing, singing, writing, socializing with friends, or reading a good book purely for pleasure, it’s crucial to find time every single day to pursue your passions — whatever they are!

5. Be Mindful and Present

If your mind isn’t fully focused on whatever you’re doing in the moment, it’s far too easy to lose track of healthy choices that influence your hormonal health. How many times have you mindlessly eaten an entire bag of chips without even realizing it? Had one too many drinks at a party? Gone a full day without a single glass of water because you were “too busy” to stop what you were doing? Realized it was 1 o’clock in the morning and you are still working, when you need to be up at 5 am?

Setting up a daily mindfulness practice – even for five minutes – can help you stop and take notice of the choices you are making all day long.

Balanced Hormones Make Weight Loss Easier – and Life a Lot More Fun!

I’m not trying to make light of the hard work it takes to be sure your hormones are working for you instead of against you. Trust me, I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to stop and alter the course of your life. But with a few lifestyle changes and attention to hormonal balance, you can create a life you love. I’m here to help every step of the way!


Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD

Diet and exercise are extremely important components of maintaining a healthy weight, but there are other factors at work that are more difficult to spot, namely: the role of your hormones.

Hormones play an integral role in determining your mood, causing you to seek comfort or distraction in the form of food. But that’s not the only influence your hormones have over your weight Their presence–or lack thereof– affects the fundamental mechanics of your system, influencing how your body manages the food you take in and redistributes it into energy or fat.

Researchers continue to study the complex interplay between hormones and weight, but they have discovered a few important connections that affect your ability to lose weight.

Thyroid imbalance

Part of your endocrine system your thyroid gland controls hormones that affect a number of your body’s critical functions, including heart rate, breathing, cholesterol levels, body temperature and weight. An unexpected change in weight is one of the most prevalent signs of an imbalanced thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism–an underactive thyroid–can result in significant weight gain, especially around your mid-section, which might explain why no matter what you do, you still can’t seem to eradicate that excess belly fat. If you think thyroid imbalance might be affecting your efforts to lose weight, speak with your doctor about conducting a screening for proper thyroid function.

Insulin resistance

Insulin is a vital hormone produced by your pancreas that helps process glucose from carbohydrates into energy or store it as glucose for future use. During retreats at our weight loss resort, we dive deep into the important role insulin plays in managing your weight, since it’s often misunderstood or overlooked. Insulin resistance results in your cells losing their ability to absorb glucose, which causes a buildup of sugar in your blood. The symptoms of insulin resistance are few, but it can increase your risk of being overweight. This hormonal imbalance can also signal a precursor to diabetes. Discovering insulin resistance can be done through various tests, including an A1C test that measures your average blood sugar over the previous few months or a glucose tolerance test.

To combat the weight-gain effects of insulin resistance, its necessary to change your diet. Eat small healthy meals throughout the day, in place of fewer large meals. Consume a greater number of low-glycemic carbs, including beans, fruit and non-starchy vegetables. Finally, go easy on your pancreas by eliminating all added sugar.

Too much leptin

Leptin is the helpful hormone that lets your body know that you’re full. When you eat an excess of fructose (the natural sugar found in fruits) or processed sugar, your liver shifts away from converting fructose into fuel, and begins converting it into fat. Since fat produces leptin, as you consume more fructose, you generate more leptin. The more leptin you produce, the more your body begins to resist its signal, muting the sense that you’re full. So you eat more, and gain more weight. To lower your leptin production, reduce your fructose intake by eliminating added sugar from your diet and avoiding processed food. Eat Omega-3 abundant foods like fish, chia seeds and grass-fed meat. Finally, continue to exercise regularly.

Too much cortisol

Cortisol is the hormone your body releases when experiencing stress. As your cortisol levels rise, your blood sugar is converted into fat for long-term storage. This is definitely a problem if you’re trying to lose weight. Reduce your daily stress levels through meditation, mindfulness, spending quality time alone, and getting enough sleep. Finally, lay off the morning coffee, since it causes your cortisol levels to skyrocket. Enjoy a steaming cup of black tea instead.

Estrogen imbalance

An imbalance of estrogen, the group of so-called “female hormones,” can have a negative impact on weight loss, in both sexes. In men and pre-menopausal women, too much estrogen can cause excessive water retention, bloating and fat increase. For women in particular, as multiple hormone levels drop during menopause, your body’s progesterone levels might drop faster than your estrogen production, causing you to gain weight and store fat around your waist. To lower the levels of estrogen your system produces, reduce your red meat intake since meat causes estrogen levels to rise. Eliminate processed foods and added sugar. Finally, consume a full pound of vegetables per day. This fiber boost will help your body release extra estrogen.

Bringing your hormones into balance

The only way to truly understand the role hormones are playing on your weight loss journey is to have your hormone levels tested. Speak with your doctor about how your hormones may be affecting your weight or consult with the medical team during your stay at a weight loss resort. Equipped with this knowledge, your doctor and nutritionist can design a long-term healthy living action plan specifically for you.

Comprehensive retreats at our weight loss resort begin with a complete blood test and interpretation from VeraVia’s team of experts. Contact us today to schedule your stay.

Fat Hormone Boosts Metabolism

In the study, published in the April issue of Nature Medicine, researchers injected adiponectin into normal laboratory mice. They found that the mice lost weight even though the hormone didn’t seem to alter appetite or cause changes in the amount of food the mice ate.

“The animal burns off more calories, so over time loses weight, which was very fascinating because we knew that leptin caused weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolic rate,” says researcher Rexford Ahima, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a news release. “Here we have another fat hormone that can cause weight loss but without affecting intake.”

Researchers say fat hormones, such as leptin and adiponectin, are of interest because they may aid in promoting long-term weight loss. Over time, weight loss becomes more difficult because the body compensates, in part, by lowering its metabolic rate — the rate at which it burns calories.

If drugs can be developed that capitalize on the metabolism-boosting properties of these fat hormones, they may be able to sustain weight loss efforts over a longer period of time without adverse health effects.

“Adiponectin or its targets in the brain and other organs could be harnessed to sustain weight loss by maintaining a high metabolic rate,” ways Ahima. “This is only a possibility. We’re not suggesting at this point that adiponectin will become a drug.”

4 Hormones That Sabotage Weight Loss (& How to Control Them)

You’ve tried everything to lose weight.

  • Not just exercising, but every kind of exercise—running, lifting, yoga, Pilates, CrossFit.
  • Not just dieting, but every kind of diet—Weight Watchers, Atkins, vegetarian/vegan, Paleo, low carb, SlimFast, Beachbody.
  • Not just supplements—but hundreds of dollars of pills, powders, shakes, you name it.
  • Not just self improvement, but every kind of self improvement—meditation, prayer, deep breathing, affirmation, self love.

Then why is it STILL not working?

You’ve followed the rules. You’ve read the blogs. You’ve bought the supplements. Cooked the food. You feel you should be able to figure this out.

But you haven’t. And it frustrates and exhausts you to no end. It doesn’t seem fair.

Your hormones could be to blame.

My team of Dietitians and I see clients just like you—people who are seemingly doing everything “right” and yet they aren’t seeing the fat loss they want. I know how frustrating it is to work so hard and not see results on the scale or in the mirror!

That’s why we always look deeper in our 1-1 coaching—beyond just food, calories, and exercise. We know that the real answers lie in the commonly overlooked factors (many of which I share with you in my #1 bestselling book.)

One key that has been a huge “a-ha” for both myself and our clients, is hormones!

When your hormones are in harmony, your metabolism is supported and you feel amazing—you’re energized, in control of your moods, your cravings fade away, and you’re ready to conquer the world!

On the flip side, when they’re out of balance, you feel exhausted, out of control, and your metabolism tanks. (And that’s when it seems impossible to lose weight, or worse—you gain weight.)

4 Key Hormones and How to Keep ‘Em Balanced:

1) Insulin. You can think of insulin as your master hormone because when insulin is at work, the activities of other major hormones are suppressed. When insulin plays its trump card, all other hormones step out of the way. Insulin’s main job is to store fat, which is why it’s important to keep insulin’s workload as light as possible. When insulin is working hard, you’re packing on more pounds.

How to keep insulin on the sidelines: Keep your blood sugar levels stable to keep insulin levels low…or else insulin takes over the show. Do this by eating in PFC balance to stay off the blood sugar roller coaster that drives insulin (and your weight) up.

2) Cortisol. Cortisol (also known as your “stress hormone”) is one of the most important hormones in your body because without it, you couldn’t handle stress. It regulates your “fight or flight” response, and exists as a survival mechanism—it is triggered when you are in danger and is meant to be released in small doses and for short lengths of time. It serves its purpose when you need to kick into high gear. It increases your blood sugars and blood pressure. You can thank cortisol for the surge of energy you get when you are being chased by a tiger. Because cortisol causes your blood sugars to rise, any time you are stressed out, you have elevated blood sugars, so it’s as if you’re eating high amounts of sugary foods all day long. As we just discussed, this causes insulin—your fat storing hormone—to come out to do its job of transporting sugar from your bloodstream to your cells to be stored as fat. And, well, you see where that can lead. This is how you gain weight when you’re stressed…independent of your nutrition…without even eating any more, less, or differently!

How to keep cortisol balanced: Manage your stress. I know…easier said than done. But the reality is that stress is the enemy of a balanced hormonal system. In short, when your body is stressed, it shifts its resources to make cortisol, your stress hormone, and and other hormones such as the sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, suffer. (That explains why you might notice a low sex drive when you’re stressed out.) Take time out to deep breathe, go for a walk, journal for a few minutes, talk to a counselor, take stress-reducing supplements, and make it a priority to keep your stress in check.

3 and 4) Estrogen and Testosterone. These are BIG ones. Estrogen is what we often think of as our female hormone and testosterone our male hormone. A lot of people don’t realize that both sexes have both hormones, and that estrogen dominance can occur in both men and women. Testosterone tends to be converted into estrogen when men and women gain weight, and problems arise when estrogen levels are out of balance. This can easily happen when we are under stress, eating processed foods, consuming soy, not getting enough sleep, taking hormones (like the birth control pill), and also when we’re exposed to estrogen-like compounds found in plastic and styrofoam. These problems continue to pile up if we aren’t doing anything to eliminate the negative effects. When estrogen levels are too high, we see an increase in the prevalence of breast cancer (in both women AND men!), infertility, low libido and weight gain. Women specifically can suffer from endometriosis, excessive PMS, perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms when their hormones are out of whack.

Grab my free guide that elaborates on Tip #3 here!

How to keep estrogen and testosterone balanced: Eating balanced is an important first step, and as important as it is, I’ve found from working with our clients that food just isn’t enough when it comes to keeping estrogen and testosterone levels balanced.

That’s why I formulated SynerVive™ for women and TestraVive™ for men. They both promote hormone balance by featuring targeted nutrients that support healthy estrogen metabolism and detoxification to keep these 2 hormones where they should be. These supplements don’t contain any synthetic hormones—instead they help your body balance its own estrogen and testosterone levels naturally.

Here’s what Madeleine has to say about SynerVive™:

“Synervive has helped with my mood swings, aches and cramps during my cycle. I was able to run a half marathon the morning my cycle started with the help of this supplement taken on a regular basis. So glad I was introduced to this product!” -Madeleine B.

Implement these tips to get your hormones on track, and download my free hormone balancing guide below:

Hormones preventing weight loss

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