Hormonal Weight Gain 

ideal weight for women

Hormonal weight gain is a reality that affects the weight ideal for women because it's the body's response to biological needs, ushering in a new life stage. But how our culture treats our body changes at these times can result in feelings of either shame or honor and that, it turns out is really important for our health when you understand the mind body connection.  It's a time when our mind body weight is often at odds.

Figuring out the ideal weight for women is even more complicated than figuring out optimal weight in general.   Women need different amounts of body fat at different life stages that will affect, and change, their weight needs.

There are three times in a womens life cycle when female sex hormones play and important role in her body needs to changes in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable due to cultural demands.  Unfortunately our so-called (and already manipulated with) 'ideal weight' ranges don't take these biological changes into  account.  In fact, it's a little well known fact that:

  • our BMI ranges are incorrect (too low - thanks to two pharmaceutical companies back in 1998 )
  • not designed for use with individuals, as they were only ever tested on large populations of men
  • yes- they have never actually been tested on women (not even groups of women). 
  • They are thus inappropriate for women.

But here's a health tip that is not often spoken addressed: women do have very different ideal weight needs than men - they also have very different needs for the amount of body fat they have, especially during because of hormonal weight gain:

* puberty,
* pregnancy and
* menopause.

What do these all have in common other than fluctuating sex hormones? Well they are all times of weight gain.

Hormonal weight gain

At puberty we go from having an almost boyish figure to having breasts, hips and a slightly more rounded tummy.  We will out and become more 'womanly.'  Our percentage body fat needs to go from around 14% to a minimum of 18% because this is the level of body fat you need for menstruation to begin.

During pregnancy, most of our fat gain occurs around our buttocks hips and thighs, while our tummy's and breasts mainly enlarge due to 'baby-gain.'  During pregnancy our hormones are rampant and while much of our weight gain is the baby and the amniotic fluid, some of our weight gain is also there for balance and to prepare the body to both protect the baby and ready us for breastfeeding.  Our percentage body fat needs to be somewhere between 25-35%.  Yet this is often a time when women are very concerned about their ideal weight, and this worry is sometimes spurred by the medical profession who are as indoctrinated about the 'badness of fat' as we are. 

During menopause, our shape changes again to become more apple-shaped as hormonal weight gain distributes most of our weight around the belly, and could it be there for a biologically protective reason? Nature knows what it's doing.  Again our percentage body fat needs to be somewhere between 25-35% for the functioning of our body.

There are silent processes going on inside our cells in tune with a biological clock and biological survival mechanisms which affect how our body looks on the outside and sadly the response of our culture is that FAT IS BAD and that WE NEED TO DIET when nothing could be farther from the truth.  Dieting is never the answer, especially during puberty, pregnancy and menopausal weight gain.  The weight gain that happens during these times is there for a biological reason, it's there because your body needs it.  Female body processes trigger necessary female hormones and if we could learn to live in harmony with these, we could have happier, healthier bodies and health at every size.  

But first, let's rewind a bit. Remember when you had that 'puppy fat' spurt at puberty -often the start of girls worrying about weight? It's the work of female sex hormones, mainly estrogen weight gain. But because of our fear of putting on weight, these times can cause a great deal of distress.  And here's the rub... stress and weight gain because of cortisol.  

The estrogen hormone that dominates female development is estradiol. It promotes growth of breasts and uterus, and is the main hormone to blame for hormonal weight gain during the typical pubertal fat spurt.

Pregnant tummy

During pregnancy, it's mainly estrogen and progesterone (plus some others) that are responsible for your changing body and also your ideal weight expectations.

Years later, as your body winds down from it's reproduction phase and heads towards menopause, your estrogen levels decline rapidly. One of the most noticeable effects, of course, is the end of the monthly menstrual cycle due to the levels of estrogen being too low to stimulate the lining of the uterus. Estrogen plays a big role in menopausal weight gain.

As your body produces less and less estrogen, your body, being the miraculous machine that it is and knowing it needs a certain percentage body fat in order to function and stay healthy, looks for other places to get needed estrogen from.

Now, one of the things your fat cells can do it to produce estrogen. This means that your body converts calories into fat to increase estrogen levels. As we naturally have more fat than men (once we've passed puberty) don't these bodily changes tell you that softer, rounder bodies are a biological requirement for women. 

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