Your hormones do a lot for your body, from helping regulate your sex drive to impacting how stressed out you feel. There’s also been a lot of chatter about “hormonal belly”—the idea that you are gaining weight in the stomach area due to a hormone imbalance.
With the hormone-weight buzz also comes the supposed solutions, often in the form of diet plans that claim to help you lose weight by targeting said imbalances, such as the Galveston diet and the so-called Hormone Diet (which was coined by a naturopathic doctor—all the details coming up!). So…is it legit?
It’s true that your hormones can affect your weight. “Hormonal fluctuations play a significant role in weight for women over the life course,” says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Hormonal shifts during [certain life stages] may influence hunger signals in the body,” Dr. Stanford says. There are three major times where you might see weight changes:
- When you first start your period
Several hormones have been linked to weight gain, says Jessica Cording, RD, a nutritionist and the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. The biggies you’ve probably heard of include the stress hormone cortisol, estrogen, insulin, serotonin, melatonin, and testosterone. They way they all work is a little different, but, in a nutshell, the hormones either impact how hungry you feel or signal to your body to hold onto weight, Cording says.
“There are female hormones like estradiol and progesterone that may influence weight,” Dr. Stanford says. “They act upon hunger hormones like ghrelin, which tells us to eat and store more, and leptin, which helps us feel full to influence eating behaviors and fat storage in the body.”
Meet the experts:
Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, is an obesity medicine physician and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mir Ali, MD, is a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.
Jessica Cording, RD, is a nutritionist and the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
But it’s important to state this upfront: The relationship between hormones and weight is complicated, and weight loss isn’t necessarily as simple as getting your chemicals in line—unless you have a condition like hypothyroidism, says Mir Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
So, what can the Hormone Diet really do for you? Here’s what experts have to say about it.
First: What is the Hormone Diet?
The Hormone Diet is an eating plan and book by Natasha Turner, a naturopathic doctor. (The full book title is The Hormone Diet: A 3-Step Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Strength, and Live Younger Longer.)
Turner believes regulating your hormones can help you lose weight. In her book, Turner suggests going on an anti-inflammatory detox, along with taking nutritional supplements and focusing on working out, sleeping well, managing stress, and using clean skincare to help manage your hormones.
She also says that your body is trying to give you signals that your hormones are out of whack, like when you have mid-afternoon sugar cravings, chronic headaches, and a lack of energy.
How does the Hormone Diet work?
The Hormone Diet is a three-step program designed to last six weeks.
During the first stage, there’s a two-week detox where you avoid gluten, dairy, alcohol, most oils, caffeine, peanuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners, red meat, and citrus fruits. The diet encourages you to consume gluten-free grains, most vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, poultry, fish, eggs, plant milk, and goat or sheep’s milk products.
At the same time, you’re supposed to take supplements like probiotics, turmeric, and fish oil.
At this time, you’ll want to incorporate some foods back into your diet and seeing how your body feels, says Cording. You’re supposed to also steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup, products that aren’t organic, fish high in mercury (think: sea bass, mackerel, and tuna), raisins, dates, peanuts, processed foods, refined grains, and foods that contain nitrates.
As a whole, Turner says that her approach is a mix of the Mediterranean diet and foods that won’t spike your blood sugar.
Finally, you are encouraged to continue the second phase while focusing on cardio and strength training.
Is the Hormone Diet effective for weight loss?
There isn’t direct scientific evidence linking the Hormone Diet to weight loss or that shows it can even have an impact on your hormones. But experts say some concepts within the eating plan can potentially help you lose weight.
For one, it’s always better to eat a minimally processed diet, Dr. Stanford notes. “However, if you only follow a plan for six weeks, you will likely find that any weight you may lose will return once you start eating within your normal pattern. So, if you commit to a diet that works for you, you must continue it,” she adds.
The Hormone Diet is “very similar to other diets that people find success with decreased sugar intake and carbohydrates while sticking to more organic and healthier foods,” Dr. Ali says.
Overall, she thinks the nutrition guidelines within the diet seem generally safe for a healthy adult—but the hormone-focused name doesn’t mean much. “I don’t see anything wrong with it, but I don’t see how it will have much effect on your hormones,” she says.
If you believe hormones are the culprit behind your inability to lose weight or weight gain, it’s better to consult with your doctor to first confirm that’s the case and then come up with an action plan.
What are other potential benefits of the Hormone Diet?
As a whole, experts say focusing on foods that aren’t processed is a good idea. “Eating a minimally processed diet is good for the body, and it can lead to better health,” Dr. Stanford says.
When someone eats a lot of highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats, it’s not beneficial to their health, research bears out. In fact, the opposite: These foods have been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. So, avoiding them may lower your risk.
What are the potential downsides of the Hormone Diet?
There are a few things experts don’t love about this diet. “This diet may be costly, time-consuming, and not work for some,” Dr. Stanford says.
The beginning phase is also “pretty restrictive,” Cording adds, noting that can be triggering to people with a history of disordered eating.
Bottom line: Experts say that trying to minimize processed foods in your diet is a good idea—but you don’t necessarily need to follow the Hormone Diet to make that happen.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.