A good friend of mine has done some informal research into the effects of hormones on weight loss – including cortisol and insulin – and its made me think about how my body reacts and what we all do every day that slows down or stops our ability to lose weight.
In case you hadn’t noticed I’m a woman and that puts me in a great position to understand the changes that take place in women’s bodies from the time of puberty, so with apologies to all the men I’m going to talk about “women’s stuff”!
From the onset of puberty women are affected (or afflicted depending on your view) by the hormonal changes that take place every month and I’m not sure that all of us, as adults, connect difficulties in our diets with these changes. Many women have extreme cravings, the effects of PMT often leads to emotional eating (and overeating), which mean that for three (or four or two, it really does depend on your own cycle) weeks of the month everything is tickety-boo and they eat normally, healthily and things are under control. PMT kicks in and the healthy eating goes out the window in favour of chocolate, crisps, pizza – high fat, high carb, high sugar foods that apart from any physical craving they satisfy work predominantly on the mental and emotional feelings of well-being.
And that’s before the PMT causes women to shout at the kids, argue with their husbands, fall out with their best friends and generally feel like the world has decided to change sides overnight – prompting yet more emotional eating and an increase in the stress, and cortisol levels (remember the lion?).
We wonder why our weight loss plateaus or we don’t reach our goals as quickly as we would like?!
So, imagine you are a healthy woman of child-bearing age in a happy long-term relationship but you really aren’t that keen on having children/any more children. Unless you have specific religious objections most women will, at some point, look into some form of long-term (semi)permanent contraception. Long term contraception is, more than likely to be one of;
All of which work on the basis of using artificial hormones to repress/stimulate the reproductive cycle so that it operates on a basis that works for us – it takes the guess-work out of periods, they become more predictable or even disappear and, when they do happen, they make them much more manageable. But, in achieving convenience and manageability women are not only messing up their own natural hormones they are adding artificial hormones to the mix and what does that do our bodies?
My own research (ok it currently consists of having read a few books, articles and blogs and of being a woman!) suggests that many women struggle with weight gain – there is so much anecdotal evidence that suggests that different forms of contraception impair women’s ability to lose weight. The trouble is there is no ‘one size fits all’ every woman will react slightly differently to different forms of contraception and one woman will lose weight taking the pill and another will gain weight and not be able to lose it.
Given that a large proportion of women have some kind of hormonal addition to their system through the use of contraception I am intrigued to understand what the research really suggests is its impact on weight loss – I don’t mean at the ‘I need to lose 5 stone” stage, weight loss at that stage will happen with the right diet and exercise but more at the ‘I need to lose 14lbs or 7lbs’ stage. How much of how much weight we carry is determined by the hormones circulating within our systems and is the amount of BFP ultimately determined by whether we want children or not?
I don’t know the answer – YET – but I am interested to understand more, if only to try and understand my body better but also to help my clients understand the difficulties they are having. I dont think any of us can or should underestimate the impact of hormones on our bodies – if cortisol and insulin have an impact, for me it stands to reason that the hormones associated with menstruation, fertility etc do as well, after all we all know that periods stop if the weight goes too low, the body’s way of preventing a pregnancy at a point in which our bodies would be unable to nourish it healthily.
So, on that basis, does the cocktail of artificial hormones and oestrogen etc sloshing around our bodies coerce our bodies into storing fat at certain times of the month, does it ensure a certain level of fat storage or do we even really understand the long-term impacts on female health? We all know that the advice changes pretty regularly as to the level of risk associated with long-term contraceptive pill usage and doctors in different countries don’t agree as to the long-term risks for usage of the coil I would assume that there is still a mass of research to be done.
And all of that is before you consider the effects of the menopause on the female body. In the same way that puberty kicks in at different ages so does the menopause ranging widely from early menopause which can happen in the twenties to the average age in the uk of 52. However, it is widely recognised that long before women are officially categorised as being menopausal they are pre-menopausal and suffer a wide range of early symptoms. As this is all controlled by those blasted hormones its quite easy to reach the conclusion that women are pretty much controlled by their hormones their whole lives – it is therefore a very small step to the assumption that such hormones must have an affect on body composition, weight, fat storage etc.
So what now?
We all need to understand the impact our hormones are having each week, each month and to perhaps learn to chart our emotional and physical changes over a longer period of time – why are women so surprised each month that they have PMT? Why don’t we all recognise what was going on until AFTER the event?! We have all had enough experience we should know by now but perhaps its just such a pain that we block it out until next time and pretend it doesn’t happen! Many of us become so fixated on losing a certain amount of weight that we judge in terms of success this week or this month but its only by charting our emotional and physical highs and lows over 8-12 weeks that we can begin to see a pattern and can start to understand what is happening inside our bodies.
It may only be then that perhaps we can stop being so focused on short term measures and begin to really understand what is happening to our bodies – for me, that is the way for me to go. I want to try and chart how my body is feeling, what it is doing, what I am eating, why, my emotions etc over several weeks/months to see if I can really see a pattern and more importantly, if its a pattern that I have the ability to change.