Hormone upheaval during a woman’s life has always been cause for change. They are, as I like to say, the gift that keeps on giving. The truth is men too are affected by hormones, just not by as many and not nearly as many times during their lives.
Here’s a recap (and update) on the signs and symptoms of the wackiest hormones we deal with and how to handle your exercise and nutrition once you’ve identified the culprits that might be derailing you. You’ll see that the hormone exercise Rx is not necessarily what you’re told by a textbook-following trainer or what you get if you pull a video off of YouTube. Your exercise needs change along with your hormones. It’s not even a one-size-fits-all hormone prescription. To focus on your needs right now, you really have to design a program for these ho’s. It’s not just about the heart rate, muscles, and fat any more.
The sex hormones get your attention. That is, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone change big time during peri-menopause. Even so, cortisol has always been the problem. When cortisol teams with insulin, the two deposit belly fat like none-other.
Let’s look at two of the hormone mafia but realize I just gave away the biggest clue to solving the mystery. I can’t keep a secret.
Cortisol sits at the top of the mountain. When you are under stress on a constant basis, cortisol keeps pumping out and eventually begins to be a major drain on your system. Simply said, cortisol should be high early in the day and lower at night. If you stare at the ceiling at 2 am, can’t get to sleep in the first place, or you easily give in to the cupcakes in the break room in the afternoon chances are your cortisol levels are wanky. Both too high and too low levels cause you problems. Unfortunately, one problem leads to another. If you’re not sleeping, cortisol often causes cravings mid afternoon. It takes just one poor night.
The best way to reroute this hormone is often lighten your exercise load for a short time. Your body is on overdrive and it doesn’t know the difference between one stress and another. Take a week (or more) and focus on walks outdoors, yoga, stretching and catching up on other things that cause you stress. When you’re ready to reintroduce exercise, short high intensity bouts early in the day. Not every day though. One to two times a week of interval training with plenty of recovery between and two times per week heavy weight training is a smart practice.
The worst thing you can do? Daily long slow exercise, daily high intensity intervals, and weight training without progression. Not having a weekly plan is perhaps the biggest mistake. If you know you need to lift weights but don’t know (til now) till now you don’t want to do them daily, you’re adding more stress. Once you create a plan where you’re forced to think consciously about what you’re doing today and tomorrow, you’ll begin to feel better not just tired from exercise.
This is cortisol’s partner in crime. When the two team up its bad news for belly fat. If you have high levels of stress, that alone can make you more sensitive to cravings and foods that metabolize as sugar even if you don’t recognize them. Most carbs and wine for instance, contribute to the belly fat deposit known as either the muffin top or the even more serious visceral belly fat.
Here’s how it goes: you crave due to cortisol, you give in, your body releases insulin and fat metabolism halts while fat storage is enhanced. No, you’re saying, you’re a major discipline chic and you don’t give in? Too little carb can have the same effect on blood sugar as too much.
The best way to balance blood sugar really com
es back to stress. Reduce your stress response (stress really only goes away when you no longer have a heart rate so eliminating stress is futile). Add joy to your life. Find ways to offset stressors with laughter, friends, and deep breathing. This will help reduce cravings or your body telling you that it really needs a snack now!! (blood sugar related hunger signals are usually not subtle)
Eat foods that help balance blood sugars too: good fats, fiber, and protein. Have some avocado for a snack instead of the pretzels or even the apple. Try some nuts or seeds. Use cinnamon regularly. There are a lot of things you can do to naturally support your system.
In terms of exercise and stress, it gets tricky. You may tell me that you negate your stress with exercise. In that case, you’re far more likely to over do exercise during times of hormone swings. I can tell you this is true because that’s been my tendency for 34 years! It takes one to know one! Yet, one of the first and best things you can do for immediate relief from hormonal imbalances (in this case too high and low cortisol and too much insulin) is LESS exercise.
I have a formula I use myself and with clients I call 20:20 for short-term change and rapid feel-good. Then I treat every client like an athlete. We watched athletes do amazing things at Rio this past August. They don’t go hard every single day. They go with purpose every single day.
Exercise can be the hinge that opens the door to feeling better fast because it goes unrecognized as added stress on your body. Think about it. Your body is most comfortable at rest! So when you get it up to move whether it’s short and hard or long and light, it is all some form of stress.
Cortisol operates best under short-term stress followed by a break. You have to sprint to catch a plane. You have to get a major project done for work Friday. You have a final exam. OK. Your body can rise to the occasion and then bask in recovery when it’s over.
We don’t live like that though. We have far more stressors that are constant today with our connectivity to work, our young families and aging parents. Your hormone fluctuations amplify everything and then weight gain is another stress!
No matter what else you do, if you’re making some of the exercise mistakes that keep or push your hormones further out of balance, the first line of defense is changing exercise and lifestyle habits. Bioidentical hormones might be another option. Chinese herbal medicine might be your preference. No matter what else you couple with exercise changes, you’ll ne
ed to change your daily habits.
In the next part of this series I blog I’ll address how to identify some additional tricky hormones working their way with you. I’ll include the nutrition changes that help many of my clients feel better fast, even lose inches and pounds quickly and permanently.
If you want to read more right away, check out You Still Got It, Girl. If you want to see how your habits stack up, take a two-minute hormone-balancing habits quiz. This checklist can tell you which changes might make all the difference.
Need help planning that exercise program? I announce mini-workshops to my email subscribers! Join us here!