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Female, Forty, and Frustrated: Hormones, Cravings, and the Battle of the Bulge
By: Matt Pitcher

Last year, I went to the annual IDEA Conference for fitness professionals. At that conference, I attended an amazing seminar about women and nutrition by Clinical Certified Nutritionist Carol Simontacchi. If you've read my Q2 2003 newsletter, you can read an interview I did with her about her great work. Today, I thought I'd share with you the notes I took while attending her seminar. Even if you aren't a woman, what follows is some great information that can help you make great food choices to better meet your fitness goals!

1.) Processed soy (actually, ANYTHING processed) is indeed bad. But, why soy? Three reasons: (a) contains chemicals that 'pull down' the thyroid (leads to hypothyroidism); (b) contains phyto-estrogens that block important minerals like Zinc and Magnesium from being absorbed into the body (2 VERY important minerals especially for women since having a deficiency in either one can cause numerous problems due to an estrogen/progesterone imbalance); and (c) does not contain essential amino acids. Soy products are commonly linked to weight gain and other hormone imbalances for these very reasons. It's also among the top allergens in this country, (the other top allergens include wheat, corn, dairy, chocolate, eggs, shellfish, and citrus). Many people have food allergies to soy and don't even know it.

2.) Zeno-estrogens (environmental estrogens commonly found in heating plastics and pesticides) are very bad. Why? They create an estrogen imbalance which leads to too many problems to list here. The scariest include: female puberty beginning at ages 7 or 8 (or earlier), irregular menstrual cycle, impaired liver function, fatigue, depression, weight gain, water retention, headaches, loss of sex drive, mood swings, inability to handle stress, irritability, low metabolism, symptoms of hypothyroidism (with even normal T3 and T4 levels), unstable blood sugar, cravings for caffeine, sweets, and carbs. And that's just scraping the surface.

3.) Excess Caffeine. Why? Leads to decreases in bone density, unstable blood sugar levels, causes the hypocalmus to produce higher levels of cortisol (the 'stress hormone' which leads to A LOT of other issues), adversely affects the hypothalmus's ability to stimulate the thyroid, and causes us to ignore healthy sleep patterns which also leads to the hypocalmus producing higher levels of cortisol. Excessive levels of caffeine have also been noted for bringing on more severe PMS.

4.) Zinc deficiencies and copper toxicity is common and leads to severe mood swings. The body needs 8 times more zinc than copper, however, most of us have the exact opposite in our body due to the high amounts of copper found in our environment (pesticides, pipes, chemicals in pool water, etc.) and the low levels of zinc in our diets.

5.) Mg deficiencies lead to carb carvings. Most women are Mg deficient, which is why a lot of women crave carbs, particularly around menses (sweets to be exact).

6.) Women are most likely to gain weight late in their menses, since their metabolic rate jumps during the luteal phase and the body wants more energy (i.e. women eat more food later in their cycle). Also, the body becomes more deficient in Mg and Iron due to the blood lost (for why that's bad, see #5 above).

7.) Aspartame destroys cells in the hypothalmus (and that's bad because it's the hypothalmus that's responsible for controlling hunger). So, avoid artificial sweeteners or artificial anything, as they cause numerous problems for the body.

Female hormones can influence weight management tremendously. Imbalances between estrogen and progesterone causes numerous challenges:
1. Estrogen dominance leads to sodium retention, leading to water retention, particularly in the week prior to onset of menses, and in menopausal women this can be an issue throughout the monthly cycle.

2. Loss of magnesium the week prior to the onset of menses often leads to carb cravings (particularly chocolate and/or other sweet cravings) and mood disorder.

3. Loss of iron during the week of menses often leads to cravings for other foods.

4. Increased fat deposition can be due to the influence of LPL enzyme, an enzyme triggered by estrogen dominance.

5. Estrogen dominance causes weight gain in the hips and thigh area (the 'pear-shaped' women).

6. PMS influences weight gain --

a.) Depression often accompanies certain types of PMS, leading to eating behaviors (often triggered by B complex deficiency and/or magnesium deficiency, or zinc/copper imbalance). Also causes deficiency in several other nutrients that trigger emotional and mental symptoms, particularly an increased zinc/copper ratio that causes severe depression or other mood disorders.

b.) Water retention the week prior to onset of menses may be due to Niacin/Potassium imbalance (caused by estrogen dominance).

So, can we fix it?
Yes! -- feeding the female system adequately is critical to maintaining hormone balance.

1. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are critically important because they are used in the production of the body's natural steroid hormones. Fats are good!

2. Are we providing our bodies with an appropriate balance of all essential amino acids (aminos that the body can't make on its own)? This is what's wrong with vegan and vegetarian diets. Are we eating enough protein to satisfy the energy demands of the body?

3. Unrefined carbs (particularly fresh fruits and vegetables) are critically important for maintaining cellular energy. Grains are problematic for many people, particularly people struggling with Syndrome X or food allergies (wheat is no longer natural in our foods and is now the top allergen in the world).

4. Micronutrients are particularly important, especially to 'dieters' since they are notoriously deficient in many vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies are one of the primary causes of inappropriate cravings for foods, or for loss of dietary 'compliance.'

5. Drink water and very little else! Americans consume, on average, 50 gallons of coffee per year. Teenage girls drink, on average, 46 oz. of soda per day! Osteoporosis will be an epidemic in 20 years.

6. Include 35+ grams of fiber daily. Fiber helps remove excess estrogens from the colon before they can be re-absorbed (leading to estrogen dominance).

7. Be sure to nourish the adrenal gland (through sleeping, napping, Siberian Ginseng, Holy Basil, etc.), as cortisol production (through stress) is a problem for female hormone balance!

8. Other lifestyle issues: get plenty of sleep and rest! Stop trying to be superwomen (superwoman is dead!). Exercise frequently, vigorously, and efficiently -- but don't over do it. Excessive exercise can cause endocrine disruption and increased fatigue. Never exercise beyond the body's ability to sustain.

Exercise tends to be more difficult for women than for men, due to lower levels of testosterone and human growth hormone.

'Difficulty' here means the inability to stick with a program over the long term and, more importantly, the ability to lose weight quickly and keep it off. And, it certainly has nothing to do with laziness or 'inferiority'. It's strictly physiological.


a.) When testosterone levels drop (because of insufficient adrenal output) energy is decreased and it is more difficult for women to lay down lean muscle tissue.

b.) Human growth hormone (hGH) levels are more difficult for women to maintain, particularly as they approach menopause. As hGH levels drop, energy plummets because lean tissue slowly decreases. Loss of hGH therefore leads to lowered metabolic rate as metabolically active muscle decreases.

Factors that diminish hGH include the following:

i. Increased fatty acids in the blood (triglycerides).
ii. REM sleep (lack thereof).
iii. Emotional deprivation.
iv. Hypothyroidism.
v. hGH itself (through negative feedback loop).

Symptoms of low hGH include the following:

i. Fatigue
ii. Increased weight and abdominal obesity
iii. Decreased lean body mass and decreased muscle mass
iv. Poor sleep
v. Impaired sense of well-being
vi. Decreased exercise capacity and physical performance
vii. Reduced cardiac performance

Factors that stimulate the production of hGH include the following:

i. Low blood sugar
ii. Decreased fatty acides in the blood
iii. Deep sleep (stages 3 and 4 of NREM sleep) - which is why naps are so important; also decreases cortisol
iv. Increased activity of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system
v. Vigorous physical activity

So, as you can see, there's a lot of control we can have over our hormones as it relates to weight management without the need for drugs or other artificial means. It's simply a matter of educating yourself and then practicing self care consistently.

Then, you'll be on your way to being Female, Forty, Lean, and Happy!

About the Author

Matt is a certified fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association, author of numerous health and fitness related articles, an entrepreneur, and investor and co-founder of the popular website.

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The Power of Stretching    - Dave Snape


Your muscles ache from a good stretch. This is quite
normal and is part of the process. Stretching has
seemingly been with us and particularly with athletes
since the beginning of time.

A very key point to good stretching is to hold the
stretch for at least seventeen seconds. This is a
pearl of wisdom gleaned from a ballet teacher a few
years back. She said that any stretch under 17
seconds was just not effective.

The 17 second rule is exceeded in the high intensity
Bikram's yoga where stretches are held for about 30
seconds. Don't forget the high level of heat that is
used in Bikram's to extract that last little bit of
stretch out of your muscles. An interesting twist that
is not necessary to gain benefits from stretching. But,
it can't hurt, right?

So what kind of benefits can you expect from
stretching? That's an easy one. Have you ever seen the
movie, Blood Sport? Did you know that Frank Dux could
truly stretch his body to the extreme. The actor that
played him was quite elastic as well.

Great elasticity is also something you might see in
well trained Spetsnaz (Russian) agents. They often work
out with Russian kettlebells too. They are for superior
strength gains and the ability to withstand ballistic

Why are stretching and flexibility considered important
to these people? Stretching gives one the ability to
have explosive power available at one's fingertips
without the need to warm up. Of course most of us are
not martial artists or agents. But, you'll be happy to
know there are plenty of other benefits.

Let me give you an example. After learning to sit in
the full lotus position for long periods of time, my
ankles became very flexible. One day I was walking
along and my left foot fell into a pothole. This mishap
pushed my ankle sideways to about 90 degrees from it's
normal position.

Amazingly, this didn't even hurt, not one bit. If my
ankle hadn't been so flexible, I may have suffered a
sprained ankle. At the very least, it would have hurt
for days.

Key point: stretching helps you to avoid injuries.
Not only that but if you do have a muscle, tendon or
ligament injury it should heal faster, theoretically

Stretching actually grows the ligaments, tendons and
muscles being stretched. They really grow longer over

Check with your physician before undertaking any type
of exercise, including stretching.

Here is some good instructional material on stretching:

Dave Snape

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