Ladies, have you ever felt like your changing hormones also changed your weight? You may be right! Hormones play a large role in how your body’s use the food you eat and how much fat you store. If your hormones aren’t balanced or they’re going through some adjustments as a regular part of life you’ll have some changes that can make you more likely to gain weight.
Before we go through the changes that could be impacting your metabolism, it’s important to first understand what normal looks like before menopause.
REGULAR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
A regular menstrual cycle should be anywhere from 21-40 days with the average being 28 days. Your body goes through four different phases during the cycle: menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase and luteal phase. Throughout these four phases your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and water retention change.
Your metabolic rate will be slower during the menstrual and follicular phases and will be slightly higher during the ovulatory and luteal phases. Water retention will be highest at the beginning few days of your menstrual cycle and then gradually decrease. You’ll retain water again when you ovulate and towards the end of the luteal phase as your body prepares for another menstrual phase.
What this means for you? If you’re having regular periods you’re hormonally balanced! Woohoo! Don’t take that for granted. You will be able to achieve your best performance for high intensity workouts during the ovulatory and luteal phases. Be cautious though, high intensity workouts combined with a higher level of progesterone will make for very strong hunger cues and cravings for sweets. Be sure you are keeping an eye on your serving sizes and building your meals to keep your blood sugar curve even. If you’re trying to lose weight this time of the month may the most difficult to stay on track. During the first few days of the menstrual phase it’s best to do easier workouts and use this time for recovery. Lighter workouts will help you not have such strong cravings during this time.
Now that you know what normal looks like, let’s take a look at a common imbalance that causes all sorts of problems.
If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome, are experiencing chronic stress, have an unhealthy liver, are obese or overweight, are taking hormone replacement therapy, have unhealthy gut bacteria, struggle with constipation or inflammation and have a poor diet you could have estrogen dominance.
In addition to having irregular periods, you are likely experiencing some of these symptoms: weight gain, weight loss resistance, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, low libido and severe premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a straightforward way to test for estrogen dominance. Everyone’s “normal” level of estrogen is different so even though your estrogen may be “normal” on lab tests, it can still be an imbalanced level for you.
To optimize your estrogen levels, make sure you’re eating plenty of fiber. Fiber binds to excess estrogen and moves it out of your body through your bowel movements. Not only will fiber help bind to estrogen, but it will also feed the good gut bacteria that help balance your hormones.
If you’re taking any hormones for contraception, discuss other options for contraception with your healthcare provider and if possible switch to a non-hormonal method. Be sure to drink plenty of water to assist your body with the estrogen elimination process and manage your stress as much as possible. To read about other ways you can balance your estrogen, check out this guide that I made with 6 ways to balance your estrogen. The guide includes 5 recipes to help you start eating strategically to balance your estrogen.
As a normal part of life your estrogen levels will lower. This process begins around 35 years old with the average onset of menopause (one year without a menstrual cycle) at 51 years old. You can also have lower estrogen levels from ovarian failure and eating disorders.
Symptoms of low estrogen include hot flashes, weight gain around your waist, insomnia, night sweats, irregular periods, mood changes and difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
Lower estrogen levels cause a lower RMR which makes it easier to gain weight. There is some insulin resistance that occurs with decreased estrogen which promotes fat storage as well. Having lower estrogen puts you at risk for heart and vascular disease as well as osteoporosis.
Instead of “balancing hormones” during this phase of life you should be aiming to support your body as it changes. Your focus should be on weight maintenance and disease prevention. Fortunately, those two things go hand-in-hand. Decreasing your sugar intake will fight against the insulin resistance. Keeping your protein intake up and getting regular resistance training will help you maintain your muscle mass. Maintaining and increasing your muscle mass will optimize your metabolism and help you fight against osteoporosis.
Be gracious with yourself as you adjust to your body with lower estrogen.
High testosterone is a rarer imbalance in females but it does occur. The causes of high testosterone are polycystic ovarian syndrome and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Symptoms of high testosterone are weight gain, acne, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, male pattern hair loss, facial hair growth, abnormal periods, infertility and darkened skin.
Unfortunately, these causes usually require medical intervention and medications but there are lifestyle changes you can make to promote hormonal balance.
No matter what your hormone imbalance- the same lifestyle factors are important to help your body do its job to balance your hormones.
Balancing your hormones won’t happen over night but if you are persistently consistent with healthy lifestyle behaviors, you’ll make some great progress over a few months.