Let’s face it, women are just wired differently. Intermittent fasting and longer, intense exercise sessions that we do in order to burn calories and lose weight can be quite hard on us (of course, there is the factor of bio-individuality, so if you like doing those things then do what makes you happy). Certain types of weight gain can be traced to excessive exercise. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It all starts with the female hormones that we love to hate. So when you see men, even well known doctors (who are male, of course) touting all the benefits of intermittent fasting and intense exercise, remember that most of the research out there on intermittent fasting and intense exercise has been done on MEN. We are not men (duh!) our bodies don’t carry the same ratio of hormones and they were designed to do different things than a man’s body. So let’s look at how our hormones and excessive exercise can affect our weight.
A healthy woman’s body maintains a correct ratio of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Information from the brain, ovaries, adrenal glands and other systems determine how much of each hormone should be made. Sitting on top of your kidneys are your adrenals. The adrenals make many essential hormones including DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. They also produce our stress hormones. When we start exercising harder/longer, (think anaerobic zone where your heart rate is up fairly high) it sends signals to the body that we are under stress. If we keep doing that the body will read it as a constant stress signal. So naturally, our body reacts. It starts producing more cortisol, but since we keep exercising (as in long cardio sessions or killer workouts that you leave sore and fatigued) we keep placing our body (adrenals) under chronic stress. The adrenals run out of what they need in order to produce cortisol and they start stealing progesterone to convert it into the needed cortisol. As more progesterone is used to make cortisol, less is available to balance the estrogen. With the decreased level of progesterone we end up with estrogen dominance. When we are estrogen dominant it causes us to put on and hold onto more fat and retain fluids (because we don’t have a balanced amount of progesterone to act as a normal diuretic and fat burner) and since your body has been receiving the message over and over that it’s under stress and wants to protect you it begins storing the fat around your mid-section in order to protect your vital organs. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle because fat cells make estrogen and estrogen causes fatty tissue growth so more estrogen=more fat=more estrogen=more fat and so on.
You might have experienced estrogen dominance in a more temporary manner, like bloating, swollen or tender breasts right before your period, or you might be experiencing it in a more permanent manner (like I did) due to chronic stress situations (excessive running was my culprit) by gaining or retaining weight in your mid-section. I’m a runner and it’s just not me in to quit running, so I had to learn to run smarter. It’s depressing when your entire closet full of clothes is all a size too small and you work out and eat right. Sweat pants and track suits became my go-to outfit, sexy, right? My answer to this problem was to scale back the amount I was running, move to more low impact activities like yoga and strength training, and absolutely quit feeling guilty if I wasn’t working out 5-6 days a week. So what if I only worked out every other day? Not every workout should leave you feeling wiped out. Milder workouts and more rest periods gave my body some time to relax and repair. I believe diet is much more important than working out, so as long as on my days off I wasn’t sitting on the couch scarfing potato chips, I wasn’t going to lose fitness and/or gain weight. I also changed up my running by paying attention to my heart rate. Now when I run, I monitor my heart rate and most days keep it low, so I know I’m in the aerobic zone (which is awesome because this is the zone where your body taps into and burns fat as a fuel supply) but it’s not so awesome because it means I’m running really, really, slow. I was out “running” like this the other day and saw one of my co-workers. When I got to work later that day he said, “hey, I saw you out walking this morning.” Irritating, as I run a much faster marathon than him, pride is a bitch I tell ‘ya. I let it go though because I know the law of adaptation says I will get faster if I stick with it. Plus, it’s another way to exercise without sending massive stress signals to the body. Our bodies are incredibly smart machines with an amazing capacity to adapt, teaching us to run faster with less effort as long as we can be patient and are willing to go slow for as long as it takes. So go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief and keep on working out, but take some of that pressure off yourself and lighten the load.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, check out my first book The “Shucking” Truth: Those Extra Pounds are NOT Your Fault! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0084HME7I
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