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How your hormones could be ruining your figure… and the simple tricks to shift the weight

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Do you have a body bugbear — an area with which you’re never happy, no matter how toned you are otherwise? Well, experts say there may be a scientific reason behind it — be it a muffin top, chunky ankles, or bingo wings. For research shows excess weight may gather in certain areas, regardless of how much you diet or exercise, as a result of hormone imbalances.

‘Our metabolism is complex. There are lots of reasons people are different shapes, but hormones are key,’ explains Saffron Whitehead, a professor of physiology at St George’s Hospital in London

‘Lifestyle, diet and genetics play a part,’ adds Max Tomlinson, a nutritionist and the author of Target Your Fat Spots. ‘The good news is, there’s lots you can do to redress the balance by changing hormone levels.’ Here, experts reveal the surprising causes of carrying a bit extra — and how to lose it. 

Experts revealed the small changes that can correct hormone imbalances linked to excess weight gain (file image)

Experts revealed the small changes that can correct hormone imbalances linked to excess weight gain (file image)

JELLY BELLY 

THE CULPRIT: Cortisol 

Our bodies evolved to react to danger by producing the stress hormone cortisol, to trigger the release of energy for the ‘fight or flight’ response. ‘We are constantly under stress,’ says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist specialising in women’s health. ‘Our excess cortisol sparks the release of energy in the form of fat and glucose. ‘This is redeposited as fat round your middle, near the liver. We think this is so it can quickly change back into energy if needed.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

‘Reduce stress — for example, with meditation or by listening to relaxing music,’ says Dr Glenville. ‘Eat little and often to keep blood sugar levels stable, as fluctuations can trigger cortisol release.’ Eat foods with a low glycemic load, such as apples, wholegrain bread or cashews, which slowly release energy. And avoid running for 45 minutes or more — this can, in fact,trigger cortisol production.

BIG BOTTOM AND CHUNKY THIGHS 

THE CULPRIT: Oestrogen

Too much oestrogen can cause fat to build in the bottom and thighs. Those fat cells manufacture more oestrogen, and, in turn, more fat is stored. Drinking too much alcohol means the liver can’t clear oestrogen from the blood.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Soya supplements may reduce oestrogen production, as they mimic oestrogen, stopping the real thing binding with cells. But ‘as we know so little about this’, Professor Whitehead warns against taking large amounts. ‘Nutrients in cruciferous veg such as broccoli regulate liver enzymes,’ says Dr Glenville. Limit processed meat and coffee, too, as these stress the liver.

Nutrionist Max Tomlinson advised eating foods rich in vitamin E to reduce bulging calves (file image)

Nutrionist Max Tomlinson advised eating a diet rich in vitamin E to boost progesterone which can reduce bulging calves (file image)

CANKLES AND CALVES

THE CULPRIT: Progesterone 

Dr Glenville says fat ankles are often the result of fluid retention, which can be caused by a lack of progesterone. Progesterone acts as a diuretic, flushing excess liquid from the body. Bulging calves may be made worse by low levels of human growth hormone, which seems to prompt fat storage in the legs.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Nutrionist Max Tomlinson says: ‘Foods rich in vitamin E may boost progesterone. These include sunflower seeds and peanut butter.’ Also reduce your intake of sodium, as this is key in regulating blood pressure and fluid levels, which can help with water retention in the legs and ankles. Avoid processed food such as ready meals. And to boost human growth hormone, get plenty of sleep — HGH is only released at night in adults.

CHUBBY FACE 

THE CULPRIT: Thyroxine 

A chubby face, as well as a flabby neck, could be down to too little thyroxine, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland. An underactive thyroid slows the metabolism, which may cause bloating. ‘Another symptom is a swollen neck, called goitre, where the thyroid gland becomes a visible bump,’ says Professor Whitehead.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Max Tomlinson suggests taking a supplement with selenium, which helps your body use thyroxine more efficiently. ‘People who get neck fat often work at a desk,’ says Max. ‘Use ergonomics to make sure you sit upright, and take breaks.’ If you suspect you have low thyroxine, see a GP. If diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you can get drugs to replace the hormone.

Dr Marilyn Glenville advised having regular sex to keep testosterone levels up in correlation with upper arms fat (file image)

Dr Marilyn Glenville advised having regular sex to keep testosterone levels up in correlation with upper arms fat (file image)

BINGO WINGS

CULPRIT: Testosterone

‘We produce a hormone called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which is converted into testosterone — DHEA helps build lean muscle mass,’ says Professor Whitehead. ‘When testosterone levels drop too low, muscle mass can be replaced with fat.’ This is most noticeable on the upper arms, which have large muscles.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Women’s testosterone levels drop with age, peaking in their 20s, then halving by menopause, but certain foods do help. ‘Consume more protein, such as fish, eggs, tofu and nuts,’ says Dr Glenville. Zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 also promote testosterone production. Meanwhile, research shows regular sex with your partner helps to keep testosterone levels up.

BEASTLY BACK FAT 

THE CULPRIT: Human growth hormone

The rolls that hang over the back of your bra could be because of low levels of human growth hormone (HGH). During the night, women’s pituitary glands release human growth hormone, which stimulates fat cells to release energy to repair the body’s tissues. Too little HGH and fat cells don’t receive the message to convert fat into energy. Studies show adults who lack HGH often have a high level of body fat around the trunk, especially the back.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

Research published in the journal ClinicalEndocrinology suggests melatonin-rich foods, such as raspberries, can increase HGH secretion by up to 157 per cent. Melatonin triggers the release of hormones that tell your body it’s time for sleep. Another study found foods high in the amino acid glutamine, such as yoghurt, can raise HGH production.

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