Some of you may remember I posted the Hormonology Guide to Slimming Down back in June. Well, putting my money–and my body–where my mouth is, I just used this guide myself to help shed excess pounds.
When I started in June, I was just above my normal body mass index (BMI). Since then, I’ve lost over 25 pounds, which puts me in the middle of my normal BMI range, and I dropped my body fat percentage into the fitness level–a far healthier place to be.
So, today I want to share this Hormonology Guide to Slimming Down with you again in case you missed it–or you thought it couldn’t help you. And this time, I explain how each week’s tips helped me drop the weight.
This guide isn’t a magic bullet–you’ll still need to exercise and adopt a lower-calorie healthy diet to reach your weight-loss goal.
However, knowing how your hormones will be impacting your appetite, metabolism, energy, cravings, water retention and other factors that affect your weight can help you reach your goal faster and help you stick to your exercise and diet regimen so you don’t give up.
That’s because you’ll be aware of hormonal hurdles coming your way–like intense food cravings–so you can dodge them. And, you’ll know when to take full advantage of hormonal benefits that make losing weight easier–for instance, by exercising more during the two weeks in your cycle when you burn up to 30% more fat when working out.
Read on to learn how to take advantage of your body’s hormonal benefits and sidestep hormonal diet saboteurs each week of your cycle–and find out how each week’s tips worked for me….
Week 1: Set your goals and get started
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
While it’s true you may get off to a slow, tired, achy start due to your period, this week is actually perfect for starting–or rededicating yourself to–a weight-loss regimen. That’s because as estrogen rises throughout your Week 1, it boosts optimism and inner strength, making it easier create–and stick to–diet and exercise resolutions. Even better, cravings for sugary, salty, fatty and carb-rich foods that plagued you during the second half of your cycle due to progesterone ease up as this hormone makes a hasty exit. On top of that, research shows you’re naturally eating a little less now than you did during the second half of your cycle thanks to rising estrogen, which has a mild appetite-suppressing effect. While pep and endurance start out low in the first half of this week, they grow in intensity by the second half thanks to rising estrogen, giving you more energy to work off the weight.
Your Week 1 weight-loss challenges: If you end up caving in to temptation by eating a food on your no-no list, rising estrogen is giving your brain a bigger buzz from it, making it difficult to cut yourself off before doing real damage to your calorie count. And if you’re bothered by menstrual cramps, you may be tempted to soothe away the pain with indulgent snacks.
To reach your weight-loss goal: Start by mapping clear, practical and attainable diet and exercise strategies–don’t let estrogen-fueled optimism let you bite off more than you can chew or you could give up altogether. Then, take advantage of these low-craving days by eating more high-nutrient, low-calorie foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources. Finally, monitor your eating habits (for instance, by eating mindfully or jotting down what you eat in a daily diary) to help you become more aware of when you’re about to go overboard with snacks or portion sizes. If you do tuck into your favorite munchies, use portion control dishes or dole out a small serving so you don’t accidentally eat more than you intended.
How I used these tips to drop 25+ pounds: At the start of every Week 1, I rededicated myself to my diet and exercise regimen, going over my goals and weight-loss plan, which for me included cutting down portion sizes (I don’t count calories–too many numbers to keep track of), not drinking my calories (bye-bye, cola and sweet tea) and exercising three to four hours per week (I jog and do high intensity intervals on the treadmill and use free weights). Because my rising estrogen energy kicks in pretty quickly in my Week 1, I also included a lot more active tasks in my day, like walking my dogs and doing intensive housecleaning and/or gardening.
Week 2: Take action
Day 8 to Day 14 (or Ovulation Day in your cycle)
Peaking estrogen and testosterone amp up the positives from last week–you’re still enjoying a slight-appetite suppressing effect, you have loads of energy and endurance, and your optimism keeps you motivated about reaching your weight-loss goal. These rising hormones also make you more open to trying anything new, including healthy recipes and workout routines. This makes it a great week to amp up your efforts by joining a support group or exercise class, fitting in an extra workout and challenging yourself to swear off one high-calorie baddie altogether, like soda, ice cream or chips.
Your Week 2 weight-loss challenges: High hormones are also amping up all the negatives from last week–once you start munching, it may be difficult to keep calorie counts in check because it tastes so darned good. What’s more, you may feel so overly confident about reaching your goals that, if you do overindulge in calorie-rich foods, you’ll try to convince yourself you’ll be able to make up for it by cutting back on something else or exercising more. You have one more challenge to your weight goal this week: Peaking estrogen makes your stress response more intense, which can prompt the production of stress hormones, like cortisol, that trigger food cravings and emotional eating.
To reach your weight-loss goal:Continue monitoring your portion sizes and keep stress levels in check by taking a walk, meditating, doing deep, slow breathing exercise or sipping chamomile tea at the first sign of tension.
How I used these tips to drop 25+ pounds: During my Week 2, my hormone-fueled energy is through the roof. So, I added in more exercise days and did higher-intensity workouts. Almost to my detriment, actually. On some days, I pushed myself a wee bit too far, leading to soreness or injury that prevented me from working out the following days. So, be aware of that high-hormone hazard. I also ate less in my Week 2 because I knew high estrogen was reining in my appetite. But, just like exercise, this can be taken to an extreme, so I made sure I still ate three square meals daily. They were just smaller meals. To keep stress in check, I sipped chamomile tea, took walks and lately I’ve been using the Stress Releaser app that helps you slow your breathing while providing instant heart rate feedback results.
Week 3: Munchies vs. fat burn
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (that’s Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
The excitement and confidence you had about your weight loss goal during the first two weeks of your cycle may be replaced by fear and self-doubt. That’s because estrogen and testosterone are plunging, taking your confidence with them. What’s more, progesterone rises all throughout Week 3, and this prompts bloat by triggering constipation and water retention, making you feel like you packed on 10 pounds overnight. But, it’s not all bad news: Research shows that progesterone helps your body burn up to 30% more fat during exercise all through Week 3 and most of Week 4!
Your Week 3 weight-loss challenges: You may get suckered into thinking you blew your diet because the numbers on the scale stop moving or you put on one or two pounds this week; the constipation and water retention from rising progesterone are the likely culprits, which means the weight stagnation or gain is probably temporary. However, this hormone is also triggering cravings for sweets, carbs, fats and salty foods, making them more difficult to resist when you go grocery shopping, to the movies, parties or anywhere else munchies may be within easy reach. What’s more, this sedating hormone is making your energy drag, so you may not feel like getting up off the couch to exercise.
To reach your weight-loss goal: Combat a weight-loss stall by shedding those extra progesterone-fueled pounds with high-fiber foods (such as whole fruits, vegetables and grains) along with water to ease constipation. And try natural diuretics (such as asparagus, melon and dandelion tea, as long you have no ragweed or rubber allergies) to eliminate water retention or sweat it out through exercise. Also, try to avoid salt since it exacerbates bloat. As for cravings, when the urge hits, go for a short walk, play a video game or read for a few minutes. Research shows that distracting yourself for a short while helps you get past food yearnings so they fade without you giving in. Finally, motivate yourself to move by reminding yourself that your body burns 30% more fat during exercise. Then take advantage of this biological blessing by doing fun activities that get your heart pumping, such as hopping on a bike or dancing.
How I used these tips to drop 25+ pounds: When rising progesterone was lulling me to stay in bed when I should have been hitting the gym, I just reminded myself that this same hormone helps my body burn up to 30% more fat from exercise during this week and most of next week in my cycle. Most times, that boosted my motivation to work out right up! However, that motivation often came spiraling back down whenever I stepped on the bathroom scale: Like clockwork, every Week 3, the numbers would slow to a crawl…or not budge at all…no matter how much I dieted and exercised. But, I reminded myself over and over that this is the phase when progesterone-fueled water weight and constipation can really skew the numbers. And, virtually every time I waited till my Week 1 arrived again–and my body shed all that excess stuff it was holding onto–my weight would suddenly plunge. Patience and perseverance in this week and next week were seriously key. As for food cravings, I get my worst right at the start of my Week 3 as progesterone rises and estrogen plunges–that’s such a food craving double-whammy! So, this was the time in my cycle when I allowed myself to indulge in one incredibly decadent treat, like a malted milkshake or a Cinnabon. And I ate it slowly and mindfully. That way, I got to enjoy something I absolutely love while still keeping overall calorie intake in check–so I didn’t feel deprived or guilty.
Week 4: Final stretch
Final 6 days of your cycle
Okay, so cards on the table: This may be the most difficult week of your cycle when it comes to sticking to your diet. That’s because plunging estrogen drags down the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which can sap willpower, make you feel like you somehow failed in your weight loss efforts and/or that you don’t see any positive changes in your body. If you can get past those negative feelings and not let them sabotage your goals, you can actually use Week 4’s hormones to help you slim down faster. That’s because progesterone is still making your body burn up to 30% more fat during exercise up to two days before your period!
Your Week 4 weight-loss challenges: To make up for your lack of serotonin, your body will push your toward comforting carbs (such as cookies, bread, cake, pizza, etc.), because they boost serotonin levels back up. (Ever notice how grouchy people get while doing low-carb diets? Mystery solved.) Plunging estrogen is also making you more sensitive to aches and pains during your workout and driving down your pep and endurance. As a result, you may tire out easily or find it harder to do you usual exercise routine.
To reach your weight-loss goal: When you get a hankering for carbs, remind yourself that “simple” carbs (like sugar and white flour) aren’t the only serotonin-lifters around. Healthier carbs (like whole grain bread, brown rice and beans) also boost flagging serotonin back up. Even better, they’re filling and help stabilize blood sugar, so you’ll naturally eat less at meals. You’re still experiencing bloating and constipation due to progesterone, so continue with Week 3’s tips for combatting both. And, finally, if you feel like giving up altogether on your weight-loss goals, just remember it’s probably just due to plunging hormones. Try journaling your feelings or calling a friend for support. If you keep up the forward momentum, you’ll see in just a few short days you’ll be feeling optimistic and renewed about your weight-loss efforts once again.
How I used these tips to drop 25+ pounds: Knowing my body was still burning up to 30% more fat during exercise throughout most of my Week 4 kept me motivated to go to the gym. And, if flagging estrogen sapped my energy, I didn’t feel like I needed to push myself to do a marathon workout. I let my body be my guide. I can get food cravings during my premenstrual week, but they’re usually not as intense as they are when progesterone is rising in my Week 3. So, I allowed myself two of those tiny “bite-sized” versions of candy bars, like Twix, and that usually banished them completely. But, that may be because I already eat a lot of healthy serotonin-boosting carbs, such as beans and whole grains, as part of my vegetarian diet. Women who don’t get as much of these foods may have more intense food urges during this premenstrual week. Seeing those numbers on the bathroom scale remain at a standstill was tough and a bit demoralizing–but, as I mentioned before, once I reached my Week 1, without fail the numbers would suddenly drop and I’d see the results of all my hard work. So, I always kept reminding myself: Patience is key!
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