Hormone check: why you may not be losing stubborn fat in problem areas
How do your hormones affect your ability to move stubborn fat? We turned to head trainer Alexa Towersey for her insight.
Why we store fat where we do is a product of our hormones and their interaction with the environment – a combination of nature and nurture. Our hormones either work for us or against us, and when even one is out of balance, it has a domino effect on the rest. Any kind of hormonal imbalance can make losing weight an uphill struggle.
Hormones are in constant fluctuality and are affected by all our training, nutrition and lifestyle choices: how long and how hard we train, what we put in or on our bodies, when we go to sleep, how much water we drink and how much we stress. Hormones can explain why some women have slender stomachs but thunder thighs, and why getting older often requires different tactics.
The three most common female ‘problem areas’ are the stomach, the hips and the thighs.
1. Belly: cortisol
This is correlated to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol over a prolonged period of time. Cortisol is essentially responsible for our fight or flight response, but is only designed to be secreted over a short period of time. Any excess cortisol circulating in the body is converted to fat. The majority of our cortisol receptors are in the abdomen, hence this becomes the primary storage area. Stressful situations are not just emotional but include food intolerances, digestive issues, malnourishment, poor sleep, dehydration, overtraining and under-recovery. For the stress puppy, a solid plan of attack would be a periodised strength and hypertrophy weights program, HIIT, minimal caffeine and sugar, and a huge emphasis on stress management practices (yoga, meditation and massage).
2. Thighs: oestrogen
Oestrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss, but too much causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating and a host of other health issues. There are two ways to accumulate excess oestrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own (endogenous) or acquire it from our environment (exogenous). We are constantly exposed to oestrogen-like compounds such as plastics, pesticides and parabens. These are toxins and toxins are stored in fat cells, with the majority of female fat cells in the thighs. Women with oestrogen dominance tend to have success with training protocols that involve high volume and low rest with a focus on weight training for the lower body; a nutrition plan high in fibre and green cruciferous vegetables and a heavy emphasis on detoxification strategies (infrared sauna, Epsom salt baths, lymphatic drainage massage and acupuncture).
3. Hips: insulin
An excess of body fat around the hips suggests issues with insulin resistance, carbohydrate tolerance and blood sugar management. When we eat, the sugar in our blood stimulates the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin binds to cell membranes and when there is too much insulin in the blood, the cell body becomes stressed and the insulin receptors are shut off. The excess sugar in the blood is stored as fat. Essentially this is your nutrition site and fixing the problem is all about eating the right foods at the right time in the right amounts.
Ultimately our bodies are very clever, and by learning to listen to what they have to say, we are able to develop personalised long-term strategies for successful fat loss.