October 12, 2020
It seems like a cultural obsession for us to try to move our fat around or remove it all together. For most people, feeling content with the places our bodies naturally store fat is a very illusive state of mind.
Social media is full of “butt workouts” or “ab blasters” that promise to fix all of the spots on our body that we want to remodel. Then there’s invasive surgeries that take fat from our hips and boost it into our breasts or remove it from the gut and inject it into the butt. The underlying problem is that it’s our hormones that determine where we naturally store our fat and this level of biology can be very hard to change.
What I mean is that the places where our bodies naturally store fat is largely dictated first by our sex hormones and second by the levels of those hormones in our body. Have you ever wondered why men generally gain weight in the form of a beer belly and women tends to carry extra weight on their hips and rear end? This all gets boiled down to testosterone and estrogen.
More precisely explained, levels of sex hormones that both genders have when we are in our prime, promote leanness in our physique. As teenagers our bodies bring forth a surge of hormones that generate tremendous physical changes in the shape and function of our bodies. Hormones cause women to develop breasts and fuller hips and men begin to build muscle and their voice deepens. From our teens to our 40s our hormone levels are high, and those hormones prevent the accumulation of large amounts of fat in the gender-typical locations. In these years, both men and women tend to have greater tone and firmer overall tissue structure.
But as we move through our lives, our sex hormone levels begin to decline and we begin to accumulate fat in specific areas depending on our gender. At the point where men begin to see dropping levels of testosterone, they begin to see volumes of lipids accumulating around their belly – the male turn to see what it’s like to appear pregnant. In women we see that subcutaneous fat (fat that builds just under the skin) begins to build.
This happens because adipose (fat) tissues have receptors that are hormone sensitive and when hormone levels are high, these adipose tissues remain in a lean state. When hormone levels drop, the adipose tissue receptors can’t find those hormones which causes them to begin to grow. In men, the adipose tissue in their gut can’t find sufficient testosterone and end up storing fat around the organs in the stomach (causing a dangerous fat build up around major organs). In women the subcutaneous fat in the thighs and butt has estrogen receptors. When estrogen levels drop this fat tissue starts to build. Which is why many women tend to notice an increase in the appearance of cellulite in their hips and butt as they age.
When women go through menopause, estrogen levels drop very quickly - sort of like going through puberty in reverse. Dramatically different hormone levels cause changes in our skin, hair, joints and also a shift in where adipose tissue begins to build - we tend to come out looking more like an apple in the end.
It’s an up-hill battle for most people to try and change this basic biology which is why some people turn to surgeries like liposuction or hormone therapy to alter their shape.
There’s a very wide range of “normal hormone levels” in men and women so although we have what scientists call “typical” body shapes at different stages of life, our unique hormone levels and cycles will dictate the basic shape of our body as we progress through our lives. This is why it’s so difficult to fundamentally change our body shape.
Even though we might not be able to get rid of the love handles, we can, and should do two very important things. First, we need to exercise regularly to remain healthy. Exercise improves muscle tone, overall body strength, maintains good cardiovascular health and creates mental well-being. Second, we need to accept and be happy with ourselves the way we are. Remember that we judge ourselves most harshly while the rest of the world generally accepts us just as we are. Accepting and embracing ourselves brings improved self-esteem, happiness, contentment and peace of mind. And personally, I’d choose contentment and happiness over a perfect physique any day.