Does it seem like the older you get, the more difficult it is to maintain a weight that makes you happy? Unfortunately, this is a pretty common complaint among women. Once you hit about 35, it can be tough to maintain your happy weight. However, this isn’t entirely your fault and it doesn’t have to be permanent.
Your happy weight can be affected by so many things that you CAN control, like how often you exercise, the variety of your workouts, and your diet. But, even if you’ve got these areas of your life figured out (or you think you do), there could be something else that’s holding you back.
I’ve explained to you that a blood sugar imbalance causes those annoying mid-afternoon sugar cravings. And, I’ve told you how chronic stress elevates your body’s perceived need for quick energy, so glucose is mobilized and then shunted to fat cells for storage when it’s not used up by your muscles. These two things are important to note. But, they aren’t all that’s going on.
Estrogen is another major contributor to weight issues. Estrogen, along with progesterone and a few other hormones, works synergistically to maintain the natural cycle of your reproductive system. With pregnancy, these hormone levels shift to maintain the pregnancy. But, eventually everything should go back to normal.
What Happens to Estrogen as You Age
We’ve all heard about menopause. We’ve watched our mothers, our aunts, or maybe even our sisters go through the hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety and other nasty symptoms. Or, some of us have worked in offices with other women who constantly sweat and complain about the heat (even though it’s only 20 degrees in the office and the rest of us are bundled up in blankets and fingerless gloves…or is that just me?).
Menopause symptoms start when estrogen and progesterone begin to decline. This decline is supposed to start around age 45 or so. But, more and more women are starting to see early signs of menopause at age 35!
When There’s Too Much Estrogen
Estrogen and progesterone are supposed to naturally decline as we age. If both of these hormones decline at the same rate, the early signs of aging are usually kept in check (or at least limited).
Our modern society, though, makes it a lot more difficult for us to clear estrogens from our bodies as fast as progesterone. If estrogen levels are too high, it’s tough to maintain your happy weight.
Excess estrogen relative to progesterone can cause fat gain, water retention and bloating.
Causes of Excess Estrogen
There’s a term for excess estrogen – estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is a major factor in why you struggle to maintain your happy weight as you get older.
As progesterone naturally decreases with age, the balance of estrogen to progesterone becomes imbalanced.
Why does our estrogen get so high? Well, a few reasons, actually. The two biggest causes of estrogen dominance, though, are stress and environmental toxins.
Let’s first talk about stress!
Okay, so, how does stress impact your happy weight and contribute to estrogen dominance? Well, besides the excess cortisol and fat storage thing?
Your body uses cholesterol to manufacture your stress and sex hormones. There are a bunch of scientific and complicated processes involved that I won’t bore you with but essentially this is what happens:
- Cholesterol is needed to make hormones.
- It can follow two paths – one is to make cortisol and one is to make progesterone and testosterone.
- Cortisol is like the loud, bossy sibling who always wants to get their way – they demand attention and they will do anything to get it. (FYI, this was NOT me, this was my brother.)
- So, if cortisol wants the resources, it gets the cholesterol. We only have so much cholesterol in our bodies so it can get used up fast, especially if we’re super stressed out all the time.
- Progesterone and testosterone don’t have enough resources so they don’t get made.
- Estrogen can still be made through a different process so it continues to thrive.
- Estrogen goes up, progesterone goes down.
- We get estrogen dominance.
This, in a nutshell, is how stress can ruin all your hard work to reach your happy weight.
Our Environments, Our Foods, Our Lifestyles
This is kind of a big category and can turn into a long, convoluted conversation. But, let me try to simplify things for you.
There are chemicals in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the products we clean our homes with, the cars we drive, the cities we live in, the makeup we apply everyday…okay, you get the picture, right?
Many of these chemicals are known hormone disruptors. (Also, a lot of them are known obesogens, which, as the name implies, promotes fat accumulation in the body.) These hormone disruptors mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Estrogen is a pro-growth hormone, so some of these estrogen-like toxins bind to receptors to promote fat cell growth and even the growth of certain cancers.
Another major downside to these chemicals and toxins is that they bind to our ‘good’ estrogen receptors. The toxins aren’t protective like the good estrogen though. Instead, they prevent good estrogen from binding and force it to be flushed out of your body. This leaves behind bad, dangerous estrogen and toxins.
And, this combination is not conducive to establishing your happy weight into your retirement years!
Other Causes To Watch For
Any type of hormone-replacement therapy with high estrogen levels (like the Pill) can lead to an imbalance in estrogen to other hormones.
Lack of exercise and poor diet will inhibit the body’s ability to detoxify and flush out excess estrogens.
The double whammy with estrogen is that estrogen promotes fat cell growth. But, fat cells also produce estrogen! So, your body struggles continually against itself in your drive to establish your happy weight. Annoying, right?
Also, totally not fair, especially for women!
But, here’s the good news: You can do a lot to reverse this estrogen dominant state by eating the right foods. You just need to follow a diet that balances blood sugar, nourishes every cell, and restricts the ingestion of chemicals.
Achieve (And Keep) Your Happy Weight with Fat!
Your hormones need the right kinds of fat from food for their production. Eat the right combination of fats, carbs and protein, and you will see results!
High fat/low carb diets are kind of the rage these days. I challenge you to find a fitness or health magazine or website that hasn’t touched upon the benefits of the ketogenic diet. The problem with the ketogenic diet, though, is that it promotes all the wrong types of fat – cheese, butter, dairy, bacon, a lot of red meat…
What’s common among all those foods? Sure, they’re high in fats but, because they’re also animal products, they’re also high in hormones! And, what do we want to do to help you achieve your happy weight?
We want to balance your hormones! Which mean, we don’t want to overeat animal-based foods. Plus, fat cells like to hold onto toxins, so fatty animal products, depending on how they’ve been raised and processed, could place more of a burden on your liver. And you need a healthy liver to detoxify excess estrogen.
Quite the conundrum, hey?
Well, you’re in luck! Studies show that women benefit from high fat / low carb diets when they eat plant-based fats. Blood sugar balances, estrogen-progesterone ratios stabilize, and those confusing symptoms associated with chronic stress start to go away.
Healthy Fats for Healthy Hormones
Women need healthy fats like olive oil, olives, raw nuts and seeds, unprocessed nut butters, avocados, coconut oil and coconut milk.
The caveat with high fat / low carb diets is to remove carbohydrate calories as you add fat. You want to maintain roughly the same caloric intake, just eat more fat and less grains and starchy carbs.
Women who do live with those confusing adrenal fatigue symptoms should make sure to eat some whole grains and / or starchy carbs (sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips) for dinner a few times a week, though.
Start slowly by removing excess refined sugars from your diet first and replace those with healthy, whole foods like berries, apples or raw nuts. Then, when you’re mastered this, you’ll be more ready to move onto a higher fat diet.