Excerpt from the article Calories in vs. out? Or hormones? The debate is finally over. Here’s who won. By John Berardi, PhD, CSCS
Hormones seem like a logical scapegoat for weight changes.And while they’re probably not to blame as often as people think, hormones are intricately entwined with energy balance.But even so, they don’t operate independently of energy balance.
In other words, people don’t gain weight because of “hormones.” They gain weight because their hormones are impacting their energy balance. This often happens during menopause or when thyroid hormone levels decline.
Take, for example, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), two thyroid hormones that are incredibly important for metabolic function. If levels of these hormones diminish, weight gain may occur. But this doesn’t negate the Calories In - Calories Out (CICO) equation: Your hormones are simply influencing your “calorie (or energy) out.” This may seem a bit like splitting hairs, but it’s an important connection to make, whether we’re talking about menopause or thyroid problems or insulin resistance or other hormonal issues.
By understanding CICO is the true determinant of weight loss, you’ll have many more tools for achieving the outcome you want. Suppose you’re working from the false premise hormones are the only thing that matters. This can lead to increasingly unhelpful decisions, like spending a large sum of money on unnecessary supplements, or adhering to an overly restrictive diet that backfires in the long run. Instead, you know results are dependent on the fact that “energy in” or “energy out” has changed. Now, this change can be due to hormones, and if so, you’ll have to make adjustments to your eating, exercise, and/or lifestyle habits to account for it. (This could include taking medication prescribed by your doctor, if appropriate.)
Research suggests people with mild (10-15% of the population) to moderate hypothyroidism (2-3%) may experience a metabolic slow down of 140 to 360 calories a day. That can be enough to lead to weight gain, or make it harder to lose weight. (One caveat: Mild hypothyroidism can be so mild that many people don’t experience a significant shift in metabolic activity, making it a non-issue.) What’s more, women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS (about 5-10%), and those going through menopause, may also experience hormonal changes that disrupt energy balance.
So, it’s important to understand your health status, as that will provide valuable information about the unique challenges involved and how you should proceed.
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