We’ve all heard some version of the following: Just burn more calories than you take in, and weight won’t be a problem. For those of us that struggle with our weight, this simplistic advice makes us so mad that we almost clench our fists and ruin our Snickers bar.We do have to admit, there’s a reason that this tired trope has so much staying power – it’s true. “Burn more than you take in” may ignore the hurdles of a varied metabolism, the relatively small calorie burn of exercise, the abundance of calorie dense, nutrient sparse foods, and the time and effort required to create their healthy counterparts, but technically the old line is true.
Except sometimes it isn’t. There are some factors that complicate this simple approach. No, we aren’t talking about tapeworms, although, that would complicate things. Don’t look up pictures unless you don’t want to sleep, trust us.
We’re talking about hormones, and estrogen in particular.
The presence of estrogen is directly correlated to levels of body fat. In fact, higher estrogen presence is the reason that women’s body fat percentages are about 7 points higher on average than that of men. That difference in body composition is largely responsible for the creation of feminine body features.
But estrogen and body fat don’t just have a simple cause and effect interaction. Perhaps the most important factor in creating a more complex relationship, is the fact that estrogen is stored in and produced by fat tissue.
Like with our “calories in, calories out” trope, things are more complicated than they first appear. So what does this information about estrogen and fat mean for the person who is looking to lose weight?
The Effect of Menopause
One of the biggest reasons you’ll want to be aware of the estrogen-fat relationship is because of how important it can become during menopause. During menopause, estrogen levels start to drop. Since estrogen and body fat are connected, that should be a benefit right?
A problem can occur because during menopause estrogen levels fall below the levels that the body wants to produce. It’s the endocrine system (the ovaries in particular) that are responsible for this failure to produce estrogen in the same levels as before.
While all of this is a normal part of the aging process, some conflict between our bodies, and flagging ovary hormone production is natural. Our bodies will still try to achieve the same hormone levels as before, despite the weakened output of the ovaries.
Unfortunately, this can mean the retention or buildup of fat tissue. Because estrogen is stored in and produced by body fat, our bodies may attempt to solve the problem of lowered estrogen by holding onto fat. While the body is in this state of estrogen conservation, fat loss, or even management, can be an uphill battle.
In these cases, estrogen supplementation can be a solution. When levels have raised enough to relieve the tension, the body will loosen its grip on the waistline.
Elevated Estrogen Regardless of Menopause
Another important reason to be aware of estrogen for your weight loss goals is the influence of estrogenic chemicals that are so pervasive in modern society. So many of the substances that we interact with on a regular basis can have an estrogenic effect, and over time it adds up.
Petroleum based products, plastics, Styrofoam, nail polish, household cleaners, hormones in our meats, pesticides on our plants, and a thousand other things all play a part. What’s the net effect? Essentially elevated estrogen levels regardless of gender, age or stage of life. And elevated estrogen will tend to increase body fat.
The solution for this common issue is to avoid the products and foods that expose you to estrogenic chemicals.
Maintaining your health, and a figure to be confident in is a challenge for so many of us. Don’t let issues with estrogen make it even more complicated than it already is.
Want to learn more? Click here to read our article, "Progesterone: The Forgotten Hormone."