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  • Luke French, PT

Female Hormones and Fat Loss


Estrogen and progesterone are your 2 primary female sex hormones, they control the women’s cycle.

Estrogen regulates mood and influences other metabolic hormones such as cortisol and insulin. Progesterone is important for sense of equilibrium and is a natural diuretic. It affects thyroid hormone and because it is a precursor to cortisol, it can influence stress.

A common problem is that women produce too much estrogen. This disrupts the ration between estrogen and progesterone and any hormone imbalance will cause a whole cascade of normal effects, leading to fat gain. Estrogen dominance can co-incident with elevated cortisol, increasing appetite and an unfavorable change in your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. This, in hand with less activity will result in fat gain.

What happens at the menopause? (Insulin)

A women’s ovaries stop producing estrogen and levels become very low. The fact testosterone levels are maintained, the ratio between E compared to T is smaller. This imbalance along with the fact women normally lose muscle mass during this time, results is reduced sensitivity of the cells to insulin, leading to fat gain. Estrogen has an insulin sensitising effect, so when E plummets, insulin sensitivity reduces, losing their metabolic protection equaling fat gain.

How to improve your insulin sensitivity:

- STRENGTH TRAIN

- Limit carbohydrate intake

- Ensure you ingest enough magnesium

- Consume healthy fats

- Eat quality protein (reduce muscle loss)

What happens at the menopause? (Cortisol)

Cortisol (the stress hormone) is released from the adrenals to free energy stores in a response to a physical or physiological stressor. In the short term this is good, like a 45 minute strength training session. However prolonged elevated cortisol has a negative effect, resulting is muscle loss, fat gain, suppressed immune function and trigger higher carb food intake which leads to increase in fat stores.

Estrogen and progesterone have a protection effect against cortisol, preventing it from storing fat. After the menopause, women tend to become more stress reactive, meaning situations that never made you stress much, now seem to stress you much more, in turn suffering a greater release of cortisol from physical and physiological challenges. So the combination of lower estrogen and progesterone, higher cortisol and higher insulin resistance(previous point) will shift the body to ‘fat storing mode’

How to manage cortisol:

- Limit coffee intake

- Prioritise sleep

- Dont train for longer than 1 hour at a time

- STRENGTH TRAIN (Lift Heavy)

- Avoid long duration cardio

- Use parasympathetic calming techniques to calm the nervous system

- Eat small meals often (to help re-balance metabolic hormones and keep protein intake regular

The Thyroid Hormone: What happens during the menopause?

Firstly the thyroid hormone regulates metabolic rate. It is very sensitive to factors like calorie restriction, excessive exercise, changes in other hormones. Higher thyroid hormone will mean higher body temperature, higher metabolic rate and more calories burned.

The Thyroid hormones T3 (Active) and T4 (inactive) are released. T4 can be converted to the active form T3 in the lover but cortisol can impair this conversion. Cortisol can also blunt messages from Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH) and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) reducing T3 secretion.

What to do:

  • follow all previous pointers to make sure metabolic hormones are balanced.

  • Do not restrict calories too much.

  • Do not take part in excessive exercise (overtrain)

  • DO NOT “eat less move more” as this will mess up your thyroid.

As you age, fewer calories are needed to survive, so around the menopause age, an average women would only need 1600-1800 calories a day to maintain their weight. What also happens at the menopause age is women like to drink more wine and treat themselves to cakes and biscuits. This will completely mess up your calorie balance and put you in a surplus for sure. As I mentioned, to keep your thyroid working well, you cannot restrict calories too much, so ask me, or find out your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) and just eat fewer calories than that, 200-300 fewer.

The menopause is not a barrier to your health and fitness goals, it just means some adaptations to your lifestyle will need to be made. So some main points to take away:

  • STRENGTH TRAIN

  • High Protein, High Fat diet

  • Manage stress by parasympathetic activities and prioritize sleep

  • Make sure you have no nutrient deficiencies (colourful plate every meal)

  • Do not do long duration cardio


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