Belly fat can be tricky to ditch. That’s probably why it’s one of the most common problems posed to Dr. Google.

And there isn’t always a simple solution. It’s not always the case, but belly fat could be linked to your hormones. Keep scrolling for a deep dive into the causes and solutions for hormonal belly.

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Your diet hasn’t changed. Your gym schedule is the same. But for some reason, your belly’s different. What gives?

These are some signs that something’s up in Hormone Town.

1. You’re eating clean, but your tummy’s still expanding

More often than not, belly fat can be traced to your diet. But if your tummy’s popping despite a steady diet and lifestyle, your weight gain could be hormonal.

Hormone levels can change for a variety of reasons outside your control, including:

Belly weight gain could just mean that your estrogen or testosterone levels are fluctuating because you’re getting older. But if you haven’t changed your lifestyle and you aren’t approaching middle age, chat with your doctor about checking for underlying health conditions.

2. You’re moody AF

Hormonal belly often comes with a side of sadness, rage, or a wild combo of the two. That’s because when your hormones go haywire, your whole body is affected.

Most folks with vaginas go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s typically known as the time when Aunt Flow leaves town, but the sudden drop in estrogen triggers other changes too. Vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and even weight gain can all be symptoms.

Testosterone levels can drop with age, too. And whether it’s age-related or not, testosterone deficiency can cause:

3. Your sex life has flatlined

The same hormones that mess with your libido (estrogen and testosterone) can impact your waistline.

Research suggests that menopause (again, a season of *major* hormone upheaval) often leads to a sexual dry spell. Studies also show that it can lead to weight gain and increased visceral fat, which usually accumulates in the belly.

4. You’re never not stressed

Not all hormones are related to sex. Your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol in response to stress. Cortisol also plays a major role in metabolism regulation, inflammation management, and blood sugar levels.

Basically, chronic stress can lead to chronically high cortisol. That’s a one-way ticket to a big appetite and high blood sugar. (Next stop: belly fat!)

5. You just want a nap 🙏

Burning the candle at both ends can lead to hormonal belly. Whether intentional or not, skimping on sleep can have major health consequences, from slashing your sex drive to boosting your appetite.

In particular, lack of sleep messes with cortisol (that stress hormone), leptin (the hormone that tells your brain to stop eating), and ghrelin (the hormone that increases your appetite). Sounds like a recipe for hormonal belly, right?

One 2019 study found that even folks who tried to make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends still experienced hormonal fluctuations, weight gain, and increased calorie intake.

6. You’ve got sugar on the brain

We’re not talking about wanting a cookie now and then. But if you can’t deal without your sugar top-up each day, step back and ask yourself why. Cravings are often an early clue to hormone issues.

You may have leptin resistance. Remember, leptin is the hormone that helps regulate your appetite. It tells your brain when your belly is full. If your body starts ignoring leptin’s messages, that’s called leptin resistance.

Researchers know that leptin resistance leads to weight gain. Talk to your doctor if you don’t feel full even after big meals. Leptin resistance could be a problem, and it could be leading to overeating.

It could be an insulin issue. Another hormonal cause of belly fat? Insulin imbalance. Wild sugar cravings, sudden weight gain, and lack of focus could all indicate insulin issues. There are natural ways to lower insulin, but it’s also a concern you should bring up with your doctor.

There’s no magic fix for hormonal weight gain. Your game plan depends on which hormones are wonky and why. But these five tactics are a good place to start.

1. Zen out

There’s a reason cortisol has been dubbed “the stress hormone.” Chronically high cortisol levels — whether they’re from never-ending stress or Cushing’s syndrome — can trigger weight gain, insulin resistance, and more.

So start tackling your hormonal belly by tackling your stress. Try meditation. Take a yoga class. Give mindful breathing a whirl.

2. Rest up

Sleeping on your sleep habits? Now’s the time to get serious.

Research has linked restless nights with a higher body mass index (BMI). Aim for 7 or 8 hours per night to help regulate hormones and bring a healthy rhythm back to your digestive system. There’s truly no substitute for sleep. Your brain and body need it to rest, reset, and keep your hormones in working order.

3. Eat more hormone-balancing foods

Diet can play a major role in hormone cycles. When hormones (insulin in particular) go haywire, your body might store up extra belly fat or even develop type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, consistently eating high fiber foods can set your insulin on the straight and narrow.

Set yourself up for success by stocking your pantry with other nourishing, hormone-balancing foods like broccoli, chickpeas, lean proteins, and sour cherries (great for catching a few winks!).

4. Pass on the sugar

Blood sugar spikes are no bueno for hormone regulation. You can tame your hormonal belly with a low glycemic diet, which focuses on foods that take longer to turn to sugar in your bloodstream.

Folks with hormonal belly from PCOS also report weight loss success by dialing down the sugar. Other tips include eating more protein and fiber.

5. Limit your alcohol

Research suggests that alcohol consumption affects your hormones, even boosting estrogen in premenopausal women.

If you think your weight gain is hormonal, try ditching booze for a month. See if it makes a difference. It could be that your evening glass of vino has been jacking up your endocrine system behind the scenes.

Not convinced your hormones are to blame. Check yourself for any combo of these possible culprits.

  • Unhealthy eating habits. It’s no secret that loaded nachos, hot fudge sundaes, and other Friday night party foods aren’t exactly nutrient-dense. The American Heart Association specifically warns against too many noms saturated with trans fat, sodium, and sugar. Try swapping those snacks for high protein or fibrous nibbles to tackle excess belly fat.
  • Consuming too many calories. A food diary or calorie counter can help you manage your daily diet. Of course, if you struggle with disordered eating, tracking consumption could become a triggering habit. In that case, focus on mindful eating instead.
  • Booze belly. Alcohol = empty calories + lowered inhibitions. (Another round of BOGO happy hour apps? Why not?!). It also stresses your liver and digestive system. These factors can lead to weight gain, so sip slowly, slam a glass of water between drinks, and set healthy limits.
  • Lack of exercise. If you’re burning fewer calories than you’re eating, that can lead to weight gain. 🤓 If you’re super sedentary, adding some movement (like dancing or walking) can bring balance back to your belly.
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Some scientists have noticed a link between obesity and vitamin D deficiency. But just because folks with more belly fat tend to be deficient in vitamin D doesn’t mean the vitamin is a magic fix. If you think you’re deficient, chat with your doc about supplementation. It might solve the mystery of your belly fat *and* soothe other deficiency-related symptoms.

Weight gain typically happens when you’re consuming more calories than you burn. But sometimes belly fat can be the result of hormonal imbalances like wacky estrogen or testosterone levels. Stress and lack of sleep can also wreak hormone havoc.

You might be able to tackle hormonal belly with lifestyle changes. But if healthy eating, solid sleep, and stress reduction don’t do the trick, it’s time to talk to your doctor. They can help you identify and fix a hormone imbalance.