Female hormones and fat loss might be the least appreciated but most important topic in women’s fitness.

The natural reaction if you feel down about yourself is to think that if you get in shape, you’ll soon be cat walking down the street, striding into business meetings with the confidence of a lioness and have guys running after you like the Pied Piper.

It makes sense.

We can see what the problem is by looking in the mirror and at the same time can see other people who we want to look like.

The problem is that weight gain, excess fat and having the energy of a pregnant sloth are all effects and not causes.

You start smashing the gym classes, maybe hire a trainer and sort your diet out.

In theory, you’re doing the right things and heading in the right direction, but 12 weeks later, nothing has really changed.

You may have lost a few pounds and have a little more energy but the whole thing feels like a constant battle and you can end up feeling more deflated than when you started and at least had some hope that things were about to change.

More often than not, the cause lies deep down in your hormones.

When they’re out of balance, it is virtually impossible to get the results you crave and see others getting.

Here is a recent hormone test I had done for a client of a friend who had hit a wall in terms of progress.

Don’t worry about all the numbers, I just want to highlight some things that show why simply starting bootcamp three times a week won’t work.

Whilst every female differs slightly in terms of peak days and actual hormone levels, the general pattern is the same.

When a big deviation occurs from what should be going on, symptoms start to show including but not limited to…

…excessive PMS (and food cravings as an emotional pacifier)

…anxiety

…inability to lose body fat

…fluctuating strength and workout performance / hating the gym

In this case the stand out things which are virtually never considered in a female’s body composition efforts are:

  1. Low testosterone (not it’s not just a man’s hormone!)
  2. Low progesterone during the luteal phase (after ovulation)

Via a few enzymes, progesterone is converted to testosterone (amongst other reactions) so these two very much go hand in hand and give us more clues as to where to look!

While men clearly have and require higher levels of testosterone, women also need enough of it to support sex drive, muscle recovery/growth and workout performance – all critical for improving body composition and feeling great about life!

We also know an enzyme called aromatase (which is produced in fat cells) converts testosterone to oestrogen so we need to look at how to manage the reduce the effects of aromatase.

Excessive PMS symptoms usually come from excessive oestrogen (which doesn’t appear to be the case in this example), low progesterone (evident in parts here) and/or an imbalance between the two.

So for this client we would start with the following recommendations:

REDUCE AROMATASE ACTION

Clearly, reducing body fat is a priority here as the less fat cells we have, the less aromatase will be produced.

We would also look to reduce the effects of aromatase by increasing intake of zinc, selenium, green tea and citrus flavonones (present in citrus rind).

MINIMIZE ALCOHOL INTAKE

Alcohol is known to reduce testosterone production and increase oestrogen.

Reducing your intake will have a huge effect on the functioning of your hormonal system and go a long way to getting you to a state that promotes optimal body composition.

WORK ON STRESS MANAGEMENT

Modern lives are full of pressures which can easily turn into stresses that completely destroy the optimal function of our hormones, zapping energy levels, messing up body composition and making life feel like a chore.

Chronic stress reduces progesterone which we know will lead to lower levels of testosterone.

In this case, what you do OUTSIDE of the gym will have a big impact on your health, energy and ultimately, body composition.

You can’t out work this by training harder or eating less.

Read that again.

The old theory of “Eat less and exercise more” is mis-directed at best in a lot of cases.

DO LOTS OF STRENGTH TRAINING

Many women shy away from heavy weight training in favour of aerobics, cardio or at best, light weights/typical high rep bootcamp exercise.

This can be a massive mistake.

As in this case, doing some heavy strength training and lactic acid based training (e.g high intensity sprint work) would help increase testosterone, move closer to a balanced, functioning hormonal system and lead to improved body composition.

Obviously this needs to be designed to suit the individual’s experience and fitness levels but the principles of effective training remain the same.

WHAT ELSE DO WE FIND BY UNDERSTANDING HORMONES?

Other tests that I’ve had done for people show excessive oestrogen levels and/or progesterone:oestrogen ratios out of balance.

This is very common in a world where oestrogen exposure in our personal environments has sky-rocketed.

Ladies in particular are being exposed to higher oestrogen levels for longer periods of their life due to their excessive use of personal care products containing oestrogen-mimicking chemicals and taking birth-control pills from a young age.

This has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer but that’s for another article.

Someone who tends to store fat around the triceps and hips in particular often exhibit higher oestrogen levels than we’d like when trying to lower body fat.

In these cases, some powerful action steps include:

1) Lower your personal oestrogen load by moving to more organic personal care products, reducing your use of plastics in food storage and avoiding fruit and vegetables sources where herbicides and pesticides are used heavily.

2) Improve your gastrointestinal health by eating more fibre and taking a probiotic formula. This helps the ‘processing’ of oestrogen out of your body.

3) Eat more phytoestrogens which block oestrogen receptors in the body. These include leafy greens, alfalfa, sesame and flax.

4) Get more ‘DIM’ and Indo-3-carbinol, substances found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower which is known to block the effects of oestrogen.

WHAT NOW?

If you are struggling to increase your energy levels, lower your body fat and just feel positive about life, I strongly recommend looking in to having your hormones tested.

You then need to approach your health from the inside out, not by looking for answers in the next workout DVD or new class.

There can be a number of things going on in your body which you simply cannot discover or over-ride by smashing yourself at the gym.

Sure, exercise is always a good thing, but there can be genetic and lifestyle factors which will make training for lower body composition like driving a car with your foot on the brake.

The image above shows what should happen throughout a standard female cycle.

This also has a big effect on what types of workouts and dietary approaches work best at different times as your strength, body heat and metabolism fluctuate.

Knowing how your own cycle fits this template will do wonders for your body composition and training progress!

Simply ‘doing classes’ is like giving an apprentice mechanic a box of tools when he has no clue which one to use for different situations!

There are other hormones to be considered if you are struggling with energy and body composition but this is a good example of why you can’t just work at a surface level when you want to be in great shape!

All of this will be delved into in detail through the forthcoming Seductive Strength program, coming in September 2017 – stay tuned!