Do hormone diets work for weight loss? A dietitian weighs in

The latest diet trend aims to balance hormones with food and exercise to maximise weight loss – but does it actually work? We asked dietitian Melissa Meier for her expert opinion.

If you’re struggling to lose weight, you might’ve been told your hormones are out of whack – and that’s where the hormone diet comes in. The idea is that what you eat can ‘reset’ your hormones and just like magic, you’ll be able to lose weight again.

Sounds great, right? Of course it does! But just because your favourite wellness guru swears by it, doesn’t mean it will actually work, or that it stacks up in terms of science…

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Hormones 101

Your hormones work like couriers, carrying messages around your body in the form of chemicals. They control a host of different bodily functions, like reproduction, metabolism, growth and even digestion. You’ve probably heard of the words insulin (which helps your body to use and store energy) and oestrogen (which has an important role in pregnancy and bone health) – these are just two examples of the dozens of hormones at play in your body right now.

Unfortunately, if your hormones aren’t working properly, you can experience a host of frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms – so it makes sense that you’d do anything you can to achieve balanced hormones.

What do hormone diets involve?

The hormone diet starts with a two week ‘detox’, which means adios alcohol, coffee, red meat, dairy, gluten and sugary foods, and hello fruit, veggies, beans, seafood, gluten-free grains and alternative dairy options. There are some reports probiotic supplements and fish oil is recommended during this phase, too. Phase two involves reintroducing some of the previously restricted foods, and phase three focuses on increasing exercise.

Do hormone diets work?

The advice above isn’t all that crazy – so chances are, you could lose weight following a similar eating plan. As a dietitian, I too recommend strategies like bumping up fruit and veggie consumption while limiting alcohol and many heavily processed foods for weight loss. Another benefit of the plan above is the focus on exercise. After all, diet is only one factor in a healthy lifestyle, and how you move your body has a role to play in happy, balanced hormones, too (as do your sleep and mental wellbeing habits).

What I certainly do not agree with, however, is putting yourself through a gruelling detox to ‘kickstart’ weight loss and reset your hormones. You see, if you’re otherwise healthy, your body’s vital organs are more than capable of eliminating harmful toxins, and they don’t need a helping hand from whatever it is you choose to put in your mouth.

What’s more, many of the foods on the no-no list of the hormone diet (think: dairy, gluten-containing grains, red meat) are not innately bad. In fact, they offer tremendous health benefits when eaten in the right proportions. Dairy foods, for example, provide bone-strengthening calcium and muscle-building protein, while gluten-containing whole grains like rolled oats offer gut-loving fibre and micronutrients, and red meat is rich in iron to transport oxygen around your body. For the average Joe, there is no absolutely no need to rid these foods from your diet altogether.

The verdict

At the end of the day, if you have a true hormone problem, your diet alone probably isn’t going to fix it. You’ll need to be under the care of a medical doctor, and potentially seek advice from other qualified allied-health professionals (like dietitians and exercise physiologists) in order to get your hormones and weight under control.

Sure, some of the dietary advice grounded in the hormone diet could help you to shed kilos, but rest assured there’s absolutely no need to go on a detox or eliminate whole food groups from your diet. Just like most fad diets, this is simply unnecessarily, unrealistic and unsustainable.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her at Honest Nutrition or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.