Female Hormones and Weight Loss - Personal Training Camden & Narellan

posted Sep 2, 2014, 6:37 PM by Rebecca Smith   [ updated Dec 14, 2017, 7:26 PM ]
A quick glance at a male versus female body tells you right away something is different. While we can certainly recognise the obvious, we ignore these differences when we talk about diet and exercise for fat loss. The standard health and fitness advice of eat less and exercise more often does not work once people get out of their twenties and into their thirties, forties and beyond.

The differences between men and women:

  • Women usually have smaller waists and more fat storage on the hips, thighs. 
  • Estrogen and progesterone have much to do with this. 
  • Estrogen is largely responsible for greater fat storage around the hips and thighs. 
  • Men, on the other hand, are usually much leaner through the arms and the legs and store more fat around the middle due to testosterone. 

Brief review of the menstrual cycle.

No discussion of female fat loss can take place without understanding the normal female menstrual cycle.The menstrual cycle can then be divided into two phases, the follicular phase and the luteal phase.

The follicular phase is associated with higher estrogen levels compared to progesterone, while the luteal phase is the reverse. The relative ratios of these two hormones can have an impact on female related fat loss and health.

Estrogen and progesterone balance

A key fat loss measure in women is the estrogen and progesterone balance and how those hormones interact with other hormones like cortisol or insulin. Just as looking at the girth of a man’s belly can tell you a little about his testosterone levels, bigger hips and thighs on a women suggest greater estrogen levels relative to progesterone. The reverse of that, smaller hips and thighs, MAY indicate the opposite balance of these hormones.

The menstrual cycle is another key indicator of hormone balance. Since the time just before menses is usually a progesterone dominant time, PMS is a strong indication there is a progesterone deficiency relative to estrogen.

Many women with low progesterone relative to estrogen will report feeling like a completely different person before ovulation (the first two weeks of cycle) vs. after ovulation (last two weeks of cycle), where they feel much worse. This ill feeling usually manifests as depression, moodiness, fatigue, lack of motivation, bloating, and other complaints.

Female Fat Distributions

  • Progesterone & estrogen both play a role in keeping the waist of women smaller 
  • Insulin and cortisol, together with testosterone and low estrogen, cause belly fat storage in women. 
  • Estrogen is the biggest factor in increasing fat storage at the hips and thighs providing the hour-glass shape. 
  • Progesterone with estrogen halts the storage of fat around the waist, but stress can have more of a negative impact on progesterone’s action. 
  • A women who sees fat accumulating around the waist may want to work to reduce stress and raise progesterone. 
  • Estrogen works to increase fat storage by up-regulating what is known as alpha-adrenergic receptors in female fat depots around the hips and thighs. 
  • Adrenergic receptors are like the gas and brake peddles on your car and work to accelerate or decrease fat usage. 
  • Beta-adrenergic receptors increase fat burning while alpha adrenergic receptors block it. 
  • The hips and thighs of a woman have higher amounts of alpha adrenergic receptors compared to men. This is also the major reason it is so difficult for some women to lose fat from the hips and thighs. 
  • It is interesting to note here that one of the best ways to decrease the action of these alpha receptors is by using a low carb diet. 
  • Women should not make the mistake of assuming estrogen is all bad. Too high is not good, but neither is too low. 
  • As long as it is in balance with progesterone and other hormones it aids fat loss for women. 
Women are often duped into believing the low calorie diet and aerobic exercise myth. This approach to weight loss rarely works and often creates damage to their body as a consequence.

As a woman ages, as a consequence of stress, several things begin to occur. The ovaries decrease their production of estrogen and progesterone. This widens estrogen and progesterone balance, further pushing the body more towards estrogen dominance.

Training with the menstrual cycle:

Interestingly, the menstrual cycle may provide unique opportunities for women with exercise.

  • Estrogen increases the amount of fat burned during exercise, but makes sugar burning less efficient. 
  • Since lower intensity exercise burns more relative amounts of fat and higher intensity is fueled more by sugar burning, women can cycle their training modalities to work with these fluctuations. 
  • It is important to understand estrogen and progesterone action on fat burning is completely wiped out by the influence of stronger hormones like insulin. 
  • In order for a woman to reap any benefits from this type of cycled training, the insulin exposure will need to be low, probably less than 100g of starchy carbs daily. 
  • More long duration and slower type exercises (walking, biking, running, etc.) may be of more benefit during the first two weeks. 
  • Higher intensity shorter duration activities (sprint training, HIIT, etc) may be able to generate more of an after-burn effect during the last two weeks. 
  • Weight training has benefits across the board in opposing the action of stress hormones and assuring plenty of HGH. 

The female fat-loss formula involves the following:

  1. Decrease exposure to all estrogen related factors in the diet and environment. Including plastic bottles, coffee, soy, pesticides, non-organic meats, sodas, etc. 

  2. Help the body deal with excess estrogen through natural detoxification. This is done through increased intake of green tea, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), increased fiber, tailored supplementation, and decreased dairy and grain (yes, these cause excess release of insulin and conventional milk products may add to the estrogen burden). 

  3. Decrease insulin and cortisol effects by decreasing most grains and starches, and replace with fruits and vegetables. Drink water (not out of plastic) and green tea, and skip coffee and other beverages. 

  4. Supplement with Vitamin D, calcium, and Fish Oil, yes to protect bones, but more importantly to decrease inflammation, protect against heart disease and cancer, and balance female hormones. 

  5. Train with weights 3 to 5 times per week. If you want to burn fat, decrease belly fat, build bone, improve mood, enhance strength, bolster self-esteem, tighten the body – NOTHING compares to weight lifting exercise. Walking is necessity, NOT exercise. Women should walk as much as they can daily. 

  6. Young menstruating women on low carb diets can use the unique attributes of the menstrual cycle to their advantage. 
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