WOMEN’S WEIGHT LOSS: THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE

You’ve started to consistently work out and eat healthfully. You lose a pound or two a week most weeks, but then appear to gain most of it back in the span of 3 days. This is common for women, and it will take place every month.

         Women are mostly responsible for the survival of the human race, so their bodies have evolved to efficiently meet that responsibility. This means holding onto extra fat to be prepared for pregnancy. Pregnancy exacts a large, energetic cost. From conception to birth, the energy expenditure can be an extra 50,000 calories.

         As a woman, you essentially have several different physiologies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. There is a lot of variability with this. Some women are fine during their PMS week. Others can hardly get out of bed. It’s important for your trainer to recognize when you’re in this phase because if PMS week incapacitates you, you won’t be able to do complex movements safely and you won’t be as strong during your training sessions.

         The menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but can actually range from 24 to37 days. The two key hormones in the phase are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is blamed often for women struggling to lose fat, but the real killer is actually progesterone. After ovulation on day 14 (the luteal phase), when progesterone rises, cravings rise, too. Progesterone stimulates acylation-stimulating protein and causes a temporary insulin resistance. Progesterone also decreases protein synthesis in the muscles by blocking androgen receptors, making it more difficult to work out. All of these factors make it harder to lose weight, by promoting fat gain so that a pregnancy is easier on the body. If, as a female, you starve yourself and create a huge caloric deficit (crash diets), your body will fight back harder and adapt metabolically so that you don’t lose much fat, and maintain homeostasis. This, again, is a survival mechanism for pregnancy. Because of the large risk for metabolic adaptation in women, it’s unwise to follow a crash diet.

         At the end of the menstrual cycle, progesterone drops. As a side effect from this, the cells in your body retain water. Women can gain anywhere from 1 to 10 pounds during this week, but 5 pounds seems to be the norm. Because of the constant fluctuation in hormones throughout the month, it isn’t smart for a woman to compare her weight week-to-week as a man does. Instead, women should compare their weight in week 1 of their menstrual cycle with the first week of the following cycle. You should compare week 2 of the first cycle to week 2 of the second cycle, and so forth. This is the most effective way to track weight loss on the scale. Every woman has a “fat week” where she’s holding excess water, and that’s important to keep in mind as she tracks her progress.

         If you get a group of women and a group of men that burn the same number of calories per day at the same caloric deficit, they will all lose about the same amount of weight. The caveat is that because women are smaller, they burn fewer calories. This means that they have to work out longer to burn the same number of calories. If a man and woman did the same workout for an hour, she would burn fewer calories and lose less weight.

         Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)- Studies indicate that when men start an exercise program, their daily energy expenditure tends to skyrocket. But for women, it often stays the same. Even though a woman burned more calories during exercise, she burned fewer calories in NEAT. Soake sure you’re staying just as active outside of the gym as you did before starting to exercise.

         It can be incredibly discouraging to see an increase on the scale after so much hard work. Be smart and keep this info in mind every week that you exercise, so that you can effectively track your weight loss. If you’d like to apply to my online coaching program and get started on your weight loss journey, click the “Online Coaching” tab above to get started.