As a qualified fitness professional, I feel like I should have learned everything I should need to know by now – I should be fully able to train others to improve their own fitness, have all the tools I require to help people achieve their goals, and every trick in the book to get it right for the individual.
Well, despite qualifying back in 2011, I still feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of certain areas of fitness and only just beginning to fully appreciate which other key health and lifestyle factors play a huge part in what I can deliver here at SO51Fitness.
Since launching my own gym, I have welcomed hundreds of people through my doors. Many of them have similar goals, which quite often includes a degree of weight loss. This is common with women in particular. We women come in many shapes and sizes and on the whole we are far more self-critical about ourselves (at least more vocally so) than men. It astounds me when I listen to what often comes out of the mouths of women when discussing their fitness and training goals.
Many of these conversations I have with women are accompanied by tears and tales of long years of low self-esteem and weight-loss trials and tribulations. I always feel flattered when women are comfortable enough to let their guard down with me, and that makes me want to help them that little bit more. But I have realised recently that I am also still learning how to deal with my own body. Some of the things I am trying to get my head around are worth sharing here.
One of the key factors in understanding how weight loss works is that of hormone imbalances. Since I started to look into all this more myself this year, I’ve become more and more fascinated by this. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of The New York Times bestselling The Hormone Reset Diet, the real key to losing weight, gaining energy, clarity, and improved moods lies with your hormones.
In her twenty-five-year-long gynaecology and functional medicine practice, Gottfried has found that weight loss resistance is nearly always hormonally based on women. In her book, she explains the hormone imbalances that have the greatest effect on our weight—not to mention our mood and happiness—along with what to do if hormones are out of whack, how to reset one’s metabolism, break painful food addictions without self-blame, and the most important things we all should know about hormones.
During my research, I came across a local business called Hampshire Health and Hormones. Based at LB Healthcare in Whitely, Hampshire Health and Hormones is led by Dr. Katherine Hodgkinson and focuses on educating and empowering people to make nutritional and lifestyle changes to improve their health and wellbeing. Dr. Hodgkinson has a particular interest in the diagnosis and management of hormonal imbalances with the appropriate prescribing of body-identical and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, advice on supplements, lifestyle medicine, and diet adjustments to help restore the body’s balance.
I caught up with Katie to ask her just how much our hormones can affect us as women if we are wanting to lose weight.
“When it comes to specifically weight loss, hormones play a pivotal role in our bodies’ ability to achieve it,” she told me. “There are several known hormones that play a part in this but three of the most common hormones causing difficulty for women in losing weight are cortisol, insulin, and oestrogen.”
“Cortisol is one of our stress hormones. You need cortisol to get up in the morning, but too much stress on the body can impact hugely on our hormone balance leading to imbalances such as insulin resistance and oestrogen dominance. Insulin helps to convert blood sugar into energy. An unhealthy diet and lifestyle and too much stress result is an increased insulin production. Insulin resistance is a common imbalance in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Oestrogen is a vitally important hormone but the key is balance in particular with progesterone. Factors such as stress, insulin resistance, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can lead to weight gain. The relationship between oestrogen, cortisol, and insulin can determine whether the food you eat is stored as fat or burned”
This is all sounds pretty technical, but it does give us some clues about why women respond differently to different kinds of diet and training regimes. A high-profile athlete also interested in the interactions between hormone imbalances and physical fitness is Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, who posted a blog on her website last month (jennisfitness.com). She explains that “hormones get a bad rap, being blamed for moodiness around menstruation, hot flushes, sleep problems, unshiftable belly fat, and lots of other negative symptoms. But the reality is that it’s not hormones that are bad, it’s a hormone imbalance that is. Importantly, there’s an assumption that hormones and the less positive symptoms associated with them are either a “period thing” of a “female thing” and you just have to live with them.” You don’t. Hormones and weight loss go hand in hand and you cannot get results with an understanding of this process.
Here at SO51Fitness, I am busy creating a training programme that is designed for women. I want a 360-degree approach to making sure that it works as well as it possibly can, so it will incorporate not just fitness, but also nutrition, lifestyle, and mental health. And this is where my learning curve comes in. I am a fitness professional, yes – but by no means an expert in any other of the areas. I have therefore been on a mission to read and research more to offer the best programme I can create. It is fascinating and exciting, and it has taught me how much I still have to learn about what it means to be in good physical shape.