Reality Check: Can the ‘hormone diet’ really control your weight?

Can eating certain foods really improve hormone function and help you lose weight?

Google “diet” and “weight loss” and you will be flooded with lists of eating plans that promise to turn us into leaner, fitter versions of ourselves.

One diet that has done the rounds in recent times is the “hormone diet”, which is essentially based on the idea that out-of-balance hormones can make it hard for some people to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

The theory goes that eating certain foods and avoiding others “rebalances” hormones to make them work more effectively and so aid weight loss.

As part of our Reality Check series, which breaks down latest health, wellness and beauty fads and trends, we ask experts to sort the fact from the fiction when it comes to the hormone diet.

What is the hormone diet?

The diet was created by naturopath Natasha Turner, who says fluctuating hormone levels lead to fat around the abdomen, weight gain, sugar cravings and feeling sluggish.

It is based on a mostly Mediterranean style of eating with low glycemic index (GI) foods, supplements and exercise.

Foods that are part of the hormone diet include:

  • Lean chicken
  • Vegetables
  • Most fruits – not citrus
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy from sheep or goat
  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa

The hormone diet avoids or reduces foods and drinks including:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Fried foods
  • Processed and cured meats
  • Peanuts
  • Full-fat dairy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • High glycemic index or refined foods like white bread

The diet includes supplements such as probiotics, turmeric and fish oil, and also promotes regular exercise with a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training.

What to know about hormones and weight

Hormones are natural chemicals that are transported through the bloodstream. They are “messengers” that instruct cells to do different things, and some affect digestion, weight and appetite.

“There are hormones produced in our gut that help us feel full after a meal,” says Austin Health endocrinologist Dr Priya Sumithran.

“There are also hormones from fat tissue that send signals to our brain about how much energy we have stored. A part of the brain then adjusts our appetite and energy expenditure to keep fat stores balanced.”

Does the hormone diet work?

Professor John Dixon, an international expert in obesity research at Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, says while hormones play a critical role in weight regulation, there is no scientific evidence as yet that eating or avoiding certain foods can steer hormones to promote weight loss.

“We’d love to have a specific detox or diet that works better than usual for weight loss but we haven’t found it yet,” says Professor Dixon.

“The best diet is one that people can comply with and stick to and that has a full range of nutrients. But in many cases when people are obese, they need support from obesity experts, dietitians and medication to help them lose weight and sustain that over time.

“Obesity is a chronic disease process that needs to be managed, just like conditions such as blood pressure and diabetes.”

Dr Sumithran says any weight loss achieved on the hormone diet will probably be due to eating a lower-calorie diet and exercising, rather than foods having a direct effect on hormones.

“But the hormone diet is low in processed foods and artificial sweeteners and it relies on healthy, fresh foods and physical activity, so those things are good,” says Dr Sumithran.

Written by Sarah Marinos