A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Weight Loss Wednesday: Hormones & Weight Loss

on February 12, 2014
In a Facebook weight loss support group (We Can’t Do It Alone – search for them; anyone is welcome!), there was a discussion earlier this week about the effects of hormones on weight loss. The conversation was primarily in the context of the effects of hysterectomy and hormonal birth control on weight loss, but it made me think of some of the odd hormonal effects I’ve noticed of weight loss. So, in the interest of reassuring anyone else who has (or will) experienced these things with weight loss, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about weight and hormones. I promise that this won’t veer into TMI territory for any squeamish types. 🙂
One of the first things I noticed when I lost weight was that I started having trouble with acne again after 15+ years of great skin! I also noticed that I had a spell of hair loss, just like I did after I had my son, and that I was having PMS symptoms for the first time ever. Given all of this craziness, I started doing some reading and think I’ve figured out what was happening (and my OB/Gyn agreed). One of the things that we know about fat stores, as far as adipose tissue itself is concerned, is that it actually increases estrogen production. That’s part of the reason obesity is a risk factor for certain cancers, particularly breast cancer, and the reason that overweight men develop actual breast tissue. The other thing that all of that increased estrogen does is decrease the production of the hormones in your pituitary gland that control menstrual cycles (see more info here). It works in what is called a negative feedback loop: the body senses that you’ve got lots of estrogen, therefore it doesn’t need to make the hormones (like FSH and LH) that would make you produce more estrogen. That’s part of the reason that overweight women, even without polycystic ovarian syndrome, can have less frequent periods than other women. In my case, losing all of that fat tissue that was making estrogen meant I no longer had that negative feedback and my pituitary gland started making all of those hormones again. Thus, it is like this weird hybrid of puberty and returning to normal hormones post-pregnancy while things are geeting back on an even keel. Fun times, right? I share this partially to make you feel a little less crazy if you’ve had the same thing and partially to explain a little bit about the whole fat/estrogen thing.
As far as hormonal birth control and weight gain is concerned, that is a very individual thing. In big population studies, hormonal birth control does not lead to significant weight gain or trouble losing weight (with the exception of Depo-Provera), but we all know people who have had trouble losing weight on certain kinds of birth control. It seems to be very individual though. Some people have trouble on pill “x” but do okay on pill “y”, while others have trouble on pill “y” but do well on pill “x”. If it is a concern, talk to your physician about trying a different but be prepared for them to tell you that birth control pills don’t cause weight gain, because they statistically don’t really seem to. Statistics aren’t people though. 🙂
Hysterectomy is a different consideration, even hysterectomy without removal of ovaries (and thus changing hormone levels). Hysterectomy is associated with weight gain in large population studies and there are a few different mechanisms at play. Women who are overweight before their hysterectomy or who have had significant weight fluctuations prior to hysterectomy appear to be at the highest risk for weight gain. It probably isn’t completely hormonal, given women who don’t have their ovaries remove still have weight gain. The current thinking is that lifestyle changes while recovering from the procedure lead to less muscle mass, which leads to a lower metabolic rate, which leads to weight gain and then this vicious cycle of being overweight so you’re tired and it is harder to exercise, so lose even more muscle and perpetuate the process (wow was that a long sentence! My high school English teacher Mrs DeLord would be horrified!).
Lower estrogen levels, both as a result of aging and as a result of removing ovaries, can play a role as well, making mice at least more likely to eat more and exercise less (not that everything mice do equates to humans, but this at least makes sense). Estrogen supplementation after menopause appears to increase the metabolic rate, so it makes sense that less estrogen might mean a lower metabolic rate, or lower baseline calorie burn. However, estrogen supplementation has lots of other issues so it isn’t something anyone is going to do just to help someone lose weight. All of these things work together against women after hysterectomy (and may be contributing to the weight gain some women see on other hormonal birth control, since that can also alter estrogen levels). None of this means you can’t lose weight if you’re post-hysterectomy, post-pregnancy or on birth control pills, but it may make it harder and slower. Ah, the joys of being female right?
Today, I am ordering diapers and snacks to be shipped to our resort for our Disney trip in less than two weeks! Polynesian here we come!
When O and I went out for our mommy & son breakfast date this weekend, a lovely woman gave us a box of Thin Mints (it’s great having a cute date! People give us all kinds of things) so we’ll definitely be packing those in our carry on for travel snacks. Have you ever had random strangers give you things when you were out in restaurants? O gets suckers from the waitresses and has gotten toys from random older people at our local Village Inn. At first, I felt awkward and embarrassed by the attention he gets but I’m getting used to it.

7 responses to “Weight Loss Wednesday: Hormones & Weight Loss

  1. Kristin says:

    Yummy, thin mints!!! Nice post and insight into weight lose!

  2. Haha the joys of being a woman, indeed!

    That is awesome you got a free box of thin mints. I’m still waiting on my pre-ordered Girl Scout Cookies! They are a weakness of mine lol :0)

  3. leannenalani says:

    I’ve never had a random person try to give me things, anywhere. Nice of her to give you thin mints! I’m ready to put my order in at school!

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