If you're a woman, chances are you've grown up knowing that the hormone estrogen was to blame for a lot of things. We're taught that it makes us moody during our menstrual cycles, and it's the reason many of us have "curves" - especially in our butt, hips, and thighs.
While other hormones like insulin and cortisol are far more important to understand and manage for sustainable body change, the hormone estrogen can have an impact on fat loss as well.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a reproductive hormone manufactured in the ovaries and in fat tissue. It's the hormone primarily responsible for making us female! (Note: men have estrogen too, just far less!)
Estrogen also carries messages to lots of different organs and tissues: the brain, bones, bladder, and sex organs.
Estrogen is one of those hormones that can be a little gray and confusing. When you start learning about hormonal fat loss, you'll notice a theme: none of this is black and white. That's because hormones never work in isolation and are always in flux. It's like - you know how certain people bring out different sides of us? Well, hormones - and estrogen - are like that; they act differently depending on who they're hanging out with.
For female fat loss, here are a few basics you need to know about estrogen:
It's Why We're Pear-Shaped LOL
If you store most of your body fat in your butt, hips, and thighs (**and I'm raising my hand here), you can thank estrogen for that. Estrogen is why most females store more fat in their lower body that their upper bodies. Estrogen increases the number of alpha receptors on our fat cells making the fat there more prevalent and harder to burn. (Alpha receptors slow fat release; beta receptors increase it.)
Get this: Women have about 9x more alpha-receptors in the lower body as men!!!
Where do most guys store fat? In their gut. That's because men have more of these slow-fat-burning alpha receptors in their belly. Like most of us girls struggle with weight gain in our butt, hips, and thighs, the dudes struggle with it going straight to their gut. But enough about the guys...
Estrogen Isn't "Good" or "Bad" for Fat Loss; It's Both
Not only are your body's estrogen levels changing throughout the month, they are changing throughout your life. When estrogen is in proper balance with progesterone, estrogen can be beneficial for female fat loss. However, due to genetics, as well as diet and lifestyle choices, some women can wind up in a state of estrogen dominance, where the ratio of estrogen is greater than progesterone.
Estrogen dominance can cause a host of problems ranging from acne, PMS, and endometriosis to fat gain and fat loss resistance. See our 7 tips below for counteracting excess estrogen with diet, training, and lifestyle changes.
Estrogen, Cortisol, and Menopause
Estrogen helps counteract the effects of the stress hormone cortisol and is most responsible for giving the female body the "hourglass" shape. It helps give many of us (though not all) a more narrow waist in our younger years.
But levels of estrogen decline as women age. This is why many women start gaining fat in their midsection as they age, even though they keep their diet clean and are still exercising regularly. There isn't as much estrogen, so cortisol levels are now unchecked, meaning: more belly fat.
NOTE: If you're a woman approaching, in, or past menopause, you would do better to spend more time reducing stress in your life than killing yourself in the gym with hours of cardio and intense training. It could actually be working against you. Talk more walks. Do more yoga. Dial up the rest & restorative activities to lower cortisol.
How Do We Counteract Excess Estrogen?
1. Eat a lower carb diet. Obviously, this varies by individual, but eating a low-sugar diet is one of the best ways to keep estrogen levels in check.
"To avoid excess estrogen, you need to manage insulin because doing so is better for body composition. Persistently high insulin produces a poor endocrine profile that can inhibit estrogen metabolism." [Source: Poliquin Group Editorial Staff, 2012]
2. Improve body composition by training with weights 3-5x a week. Low muscle mass is associated with higher estrogen levels; the more fat you have, the more estrogen you have. (Excess fat cells make excess estrogen.)
3. Eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet with plenty of cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts) as these help rid the body of excess estrogen. Since it can be hard to eat enough cruciferous vegetables to achieve this, there are supplements (B-vitmains, DIM, etc.) that can aid in detoxing estrogen as well.
4. Eat organic meats, dairy, and produce when possible. The pesticides and hormones present in non-organic foods skew the ratio of estrogen:progesterone more into estrogen dominance.
5. Avoid soy, a known endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen in the body. If you've been chugging soy milk and eating tofu in an effort to win a "gold star" for healthy eating, you can stop that now:) (PRAISE HANDS.)
6. Decrease your use of plastics and never microwave plastic food containers. Plastics contain BPA and other chemicals that act as or mimic estrogen in the body, increasing your overall load of estrogen. Even plastics without BPA will leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into your food when heated.
7. Read your cosmetics labels: artificial fragrances, parabens, and other chemicals commonly found in cosmetics are absorbed by our skin. They're known as "environmental estrogens." Slowly wean yourself off mainstream cosmetics and opt for natural, safer alternatives.
The Bottom Line
Estrogen isn't good or bad for fat loss - it's both. It all depends on where and how it's acting. Much about estrogen is still unknown and we're still learning more. Like most things in the human body, hormones can be hard to study and there is no "final word" because research is ongoing - so keep your eyes peeled for new research and insights from quality sources like the ones we've linked to below.
For optimal health and body composition, keep estrogen balanced and avoid a state of estrogen dominance.
Did you like this article and wish you had access to more quality, science-based information on female fat loss and hormonal balance? This article was actually part of a lesson sent to our Winter 2018 Fat Loss Cooking School members in week 3. It's a taste of how we educate and train all of our clients in this 4-week online program.
Our live cooking videos and lessons on nutrition, combined with weekly education content delivered via email, will teach you everything you need to know to balance your hormones for sustainable fat loss. By learning to cook and eat real food that you actually LOVE, you'll create a lifestyle that gives you energy and sustainable results - and honestly, you'll never look back.
Spring 2018 Fat Loss Cooking School starts on April 9. Registration opens Friday, March 23 and we give priority access to our VIP Fat Loss Foodies. To join the FLF VIP list (it's free - and you get emails from us 3-4x a month), click here:
Learn more about Fat Loss Cooking School HERE.