I want to tackle two areas in this article.
The first is, are our hormones making us gain weight? We have all said or at least know someone who has said that our contraceptive method has made us fat.
Here is the harsh truth that I know many will not want to hear.
Only consuming more energy (food) than you burn will make you gain fat! Energy balance, it’s the principle of fat loss. FACT!
BUT (phew there is a but)
Hormones can play a role in helping us consume that energy. I will explain.
The appetite hormones
We have what is called the “hunger hormone” AKA Ghrelin. This stimulates our appetite. Then we have Leptin. Leptin tells our brain we are full and promotes energy balance, we like leptin!!
These two hormones can be affected by lots of factors. Lack of sleep can make your hunger hormone (Ghrelin) for example sky rocket making you hungrier that day. We want to keep ghrelin low during a fat loss phase so eating a whole foods diet with lots of protein will keep you fuller for longer.
We want to be more leptin sensitive. We can do this by getting enough sleep, resistance training, avoid crash dieting, getting enough fibre and so on. Oh, wow look at that, balance and moderation!
So, we are all aware of the hormone’s estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
I will tackle each individually.
Estrogen – this increases in the first 14 days of our cycle (known as the Follicular phase) then decreases very quickly after ovulation around day 14. Let’s call Estrogen the nice hormone, we like estrogen. It keeps us on the straight and narrow and sane 😊 It also plays role in decreasing our appetite during the first 2 weeks of the cycle. If you are to start a diet for fat loss then this is when you want to do it.
Testosterone – We don’t have lots of this as its predominantly the male hormone but this is at its peak for us around ovulation. As this is when we have this highest chance of getting pregnant and testosterone improves our sex drive. Women who have PCOS can have 2-3 times more testosterone than women without and their cycle can be as long as 35 days compared the average 28 days of someone without PCOS. More testosterone can bring symptoms with it and women with PCOS hold body fat more central.
Progesterone – Let’s call this the horrid hormone. This rises from day 14 (luteal phase) right up to us getting our period. This causes the mood swings, can affect our sleep causing us to be irritable. We burn a higher number of calories in this phase, it can be up to 300 more. We also become more resistant to insulin which means we don’t tolerate carbohydrates as well but we crave them. Combine this with the affected sleep making our ghrelin hormones rise we end up consuming 500 calories on average a day more during this phase, hello weight gain!
So, you could say your hormones are helping you gain weight but its still energy balance that is what makes you gain fat. Understanding this can help you if you do suffer with the symptoms of the follicular phase.
As we head towards menopause these hormones decline and periods will stop eventually.
Is my pill/coil/implant etc. making you fat then?
Not directly, but it will be affecting your hormones and all the above will be happening! You can however hold a little more water with some contraception though which you will see on the scales.
It’s very different for everyone. Some are affected and some don’t even see any difference.
Exercise and the female cycle
The second thing I would like to discuss is training and exercise in relation to hormones.
Have you ever been to the gym and lifted a personal best only to find the following week you can’t lift it off the floor! Or done the best run of your life to two days later feeling like a slug?
It’s our menstrual cycle messing with us.
We mention above the Follicular phase and the Luteal phase.
Follicular phase – days 1-14 of our cycle. This is when out Estrogen is high and when we are at our strongest. This is when we should be doing our heavy lifting and HIIT sessions, we also get less muscle soreness during this time. Around day 14 (ovulation) out testosterone is high; we may get out best work out here!
The Luteal phase – days 14- 28 ish. Progesterone starts to rise and that yoga pose we were doing a week ago now seems impossible. Our balance and co-ordination are off, we can’t lift for shit and our works outs are just less satisfying. Planning the lighter exercises here would make sense.
I think once we know this and we understand where we are in our cycle then we can give ourselves a break, not beat ourselves up as much.
Take away – understand your cycle. If you are in a fat loss phase you can try and do your deficit in the first too weeks and then hit maintenance calories in the 2nd phase. You will still make progress. Its important to point out that we are all so different, some months we are good and others it hits us hard. If you suffer with PMS plan your training around this, don’t force yourself to do a workout that is possible not going to benefit you.
Its tough being a woman but we just have to get on with it!