London - Bingo wings? Thunder thighs? Shift your fat hotspots with the hormone diet.
How many times have you embarked on a diet and carefully cut back on the calories only to find that the one place where you really wanted to beat the bulge has remained stubbornly immune to your efforts?
It's enough to drive a woman to eat her body weight in Dairy Milk. Conventional wisdom has persistently advanced the view that if you burn off more calories than you eat, you'll lose weight.
However, emerging research suggests another reason for that stubborn spare tyre or pair of bingo wings: your hormones.
It's thought that lifestyle habits such as what we eat, how stressed we are and even how we sleep can wreak havoc with our hormones and set up persistent fat spots that no calorie-cutting can conquer.
Max Tomlinson, a London-based naturopath and author of Target Your Fat Spots, has found that by looking at hormone levels in his patients and their natural body shape, he could see patterns emerging that suggested how one influenced the other.
“Over the years I have treated thousands of patients based on their hormone levels. It became clear to me that by looking at the different shapes of my patients and cross referencing this with their hormone levels, certain patterns were forming.
“So, for example, women with high levels of oestrogen also seemed to carry more fat round their thighs and bottom.”
“Hormones do influence body fat distribution - and often that is simply part of the ageing process,” says John Monson, emeritus professor of endocrinology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“For women, that can be particularly challenging because female hormones such as oestrogen make it easier to convert food into fat, which is why those on the Pill need to decrease their calorie intake to maintain the same weight.”
The good news is this means it may be possible to target these persistent fat spots by redressing your hormonal imbalances. So, could the hormone diet work for you?
BULGING BACK AND BRA FLAB
CAUSE: Too little thyroxine
Those fat pockets on your back that can make your bra feel tight can be caused by a sluggish thyroid gland - a condition known as hypothyroidism, which affects one in 13 women. The gland then doesn't produce enough of the hormone thyroxine, which controls the rate you burn calories.
“I've seen this bulging back fat among countless women with low levels of thyroid hormone,” says Max Tomlinson. “One thought is that in people with low thryoxine, fat builds up in areas where there is poor circulation in the body. So maybe wearing a tight bra may have something to do with this.”
Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include feeling the cold, tiredness and poor concentration.
WHAT TO DO: See your GP for a blood test - if you do have low levels of thyroid hormones you may be prescribed thyroxin tablets. You can also give your thyroid a boost by having foods rich in iodine, which is a vital component of thyroxin, says independent nutrition scientist Dr Sam Christie. These include shellfish, seafood and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
“But don't have more than one portion of cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, a day as they contain compounds that may suppress thyroid production,” she adds.
CAUSE: Too much insulin
The fat that bulges over the top of your jeans may be down to insulin resistance - in which the body's cells don't react properly to the sugar-regulating hormone.
The body starts producing extra insulin to compensate for the excess sugar and, over a prolonged period, the body's own sensitivity to the hormone is reduced. The condition is a precursor to type 2 diabetes and is related to being overweight.
Women can develop insulin resistance simply by having too many sugary snacks, leading to an excess in the body. But it's also been connected to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - a condition that affects one in five women and which causes cysts on the ovaries and possible infertility.
WHAT TO DO: Reduce your intake of sugar and ditch white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrains, which are better at maintaining sugar levels.
Eating regular meals with additional fibre to stabilise blood sugar can help, says Dr Sohere Roken, a holistic GP in London's Wimpole Street. “Make your three main meals smaller, then have snacks such as carrot with hummus or a handful of nuts in between.”
Cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin function and it has blood sugar-lowering properties because of its chromium content. Researchers from Cambridge University have linked chromium deficiency with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
CAUSE: Not enough testosterone
They are often cited as the body part women hate most, and surprisingly, the culprit thought to be behind fat on the back of the arms is low levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone, which women produce, too.
One reason for this, says Max Tomlinson, is that testosterone is needed to build up lean muscle mass.
“Though we're not sure why low levels specifically affect the arms, it seems that a lack of testosterone triggers excess fat in the upper arms causing the so-called bingo wings.”
WHAT TO DO: Women's testosterone levels naturally drop with age, but certain foods have been found to help redress the balance, says Tomlinson.
You should eat plenty of the 'good' fats found in salmon, avocado and seeds, while avoiding saturated fat, which is found in red meat and full-fat dairy produce.
Flavonoids help, too - these can be found in flax seeds, apples, berries, onions, soya products and green tea.
Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, has also been found to help. However, don't crash-diet as long-term calorie restriction can further lower levels of this important hormone, says Tomlinson.
A lack of exercise suppresses testosterone levels, so take regular brisk walks. And sex helps, too, since it encourages the body to produce even more testosterone.
CAUSE: Too much oestrogen
It may look good on Beyonce, but fat on the buttocks and thighs can be a sign of raised levels of oestrogen as well as poor oestrogen metabolism, says Max Tomlinson.
“The bottom and thighs are an efficient place to store fat without impacting on the body's general function or stability,” he says. “The body needs to store a certain amount of fat in order to be able to have children. And since oestrogen is associated with fertility, it may be that as the body produces more, it accumulates safely around the lower half to ensure a woman is sturdy enough to carry a baby.”
WHAT TO DO: Taking the Pill or HRT can raise oestrogen levels, so speak to your GP about changing medication if you are concerned about this kind of weight gain in your bottom and thighs.
Stock up on cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, says nutritionist Dr Sam Christie, as these contain micronutrients that help to regulate liver enzymes that metabolise oestrogen. Other nutrients that are good for regulating oestrogen levels are found in soy products and flax seeds. Cut down on alcohol, painkillers, processed meat and coffee. Eating live yoghurt can help your gut in removing oestrogen.
CAUSE: Too much cortisol
A flabby stomach can be a sign of over-production of the stress hormone cortisol.
This hormone is known as the 'fight or flight' hormone as it's produced when the body is under stress and helps to prepare you for action, says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville.
“Cortisol increases levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream to prepare you for fight or flight.
“But unless you do something physical - as your body is expecting you to - all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go. So, it must be re-deposited as fat.
“That's why people under constant stress quite often feel hungry all the time.”
A recent study by Yale University in the U.S. found that even slim women are more likely to have excess abdominal fat if they feel stressed regularly. That's because abdominal fat has more cortisol receptors than fat elsewhere in your body.
WHAT TO DO: Address the cause of your stress, but also try to balance out the hormonal reaction it causes. Dr Glenville suggests eating little and often to control blood sugar fluctuations - this will control releases of cortisol. Choose oats and pulses - these release carbohydrate slowly to maintain energy and sugar levels.
Take time over meals, too. A recent study found concentrating on food without distractions was linked to reduced cortisol levels and a decrease in belly fat.
There is good news: don't over-exercise. Another study found that exercising for longer than 45 minutes could increase fat around the stomach as it's thought that the body releases cortisol in response to the stress of running. Combine running with yoga for a less stressful workout.
CAUSE: Not enough growth hormone
Fitness expert Charles Poliquin developed the Biosignature Modulation Method, which works on the understanding that fat accumulates in specific body areas because hormones are too high or too low.
His research shows excess fat on the calves is linked to low levels of growth hormone, which is produced during sleep at night.
WHAT TO DO: Since growth hormone is secreted only during deep sleep you need to remove the distractions that could interfere with getting a good night’s rest. Only use your bedroom as a place for sleep or sex. Make sure you remove stressful distractions such as computers and switch off your mobile. The light from your phones interferes with the body’s natural rhythm. Always get up at the same time to regulate your body clock. - Daily Mail