Modern Life at Odds With Women’s Health
Virtually every aspect of modern life is at odds with a woman’s biology.
The food, the lifestyle, the stress, the human reward systems, and the relationships are at odds with the way women (and Men) have evolved to live. It is one of the main reasons why we have seen such an increase in obesity, degenerative, autoimmune and cognitive disease with women.
The sad state of health has really really hit home for me in recent years. Many of the women in my life have dealt with serious health issues, including a close friend who was experiencing some debilitating multiple sclerosis symptoms.
I really sympathize with women as they have been the target of marketers, media, the fitness industry, magazines, etc. I would personally like to see this end, and I will do my best to educate the women in my sphere of influence to stop this trend.
It is for this reason that I decided to write this post.
While I can spend days talking about the minutia of women’s health (seriously just look at some of my answers below), I believe if we take care of the fundamentals; we can create optimal health for most women. Taking care of these fundamentals will most of the time lead to a dramatic decrease in bodyfat, weight loss and an improvement in overall health. Anytime you feel lost and don’t know what to think, return to the fundamentals to figure out where you went wrong.
The 4 fundamentals Of Female health (and weight loss):
- A Low Stress lifestyle
- Nutrient Dense Food and High Quality Water
- Smart Exercise
- Fulfilling Relationships
It is these fundamentals where I draw most of my answers from. Anytime you are at odds with these foundational pieces of the puzzle, you are putting yourself at risk to gain weight, get sick and be unhappy.
Ultimate Female Weight Loss Q and A
So before we begin, I should add that if you are not drinking enough water and not sleeping, you will be wasting your time.
Nothing destroys your health and stops weight loss faster than crappy food, stress and dehydration.
- Drink at least a glass of water every hour and if you are exercising drink even more. First thing in the morning, drink a large glass of room temp water and get hydrated early in the morning and keep it up throughout the day. Go for spring water, reverse osmosis or tap water (in that order). Green tea and high quality coffee are also good, assuming that your adrenals are not completely burned out.
- Try to Sleep 8+ hours in cold dark room. Think blackout curtains with the AC cranked. Sleeping enough will help lower your bodies stress responses during the day and will help your body partition nutrients to your muscles instead of your fat cells. Crappy sleep has the opposite effect (fat gain). Sleep becomes even more important if you are exercising.
- Live a low stress lifestyle with fulfilling and healthy relationships. If you have a negative or bitchy girlfriend who sucks the life out of you. Move on. If it is a relative who you can’t dump, do not be an emotional punching bag. A Gratitude Journal would also be a good idea.
OK…. Finally here is the Q and A:
These are all very real questions that I have received over the years. Some questions are combined with others, where some are highly individual.
Always ask yourself “Is this right for me?”
Exercise For Female Weight Loss
Q: Why is weight loss so much harder for a woman???
A: Women hold onto muscle glycogen much more than men, they are much more susceptible to hormone changes, they naturally carry more body fat , they need more body fat and Women’s fat cells function different than men.
How’s that for an answer?
When men exercise, they blow through glycogen (stored sugar in muscle). When women start exercising they tend to use fat first.
High intensity exercises, such as CrossFit are not that bad for women due to the fact that they hold onto glycogen more. Women have an amazing ability to regulate blood glucose levels during exercise. In other words, women’s training needs to be intense, in order for them to give up their glycogen stores.
Also women have been lied to about cardio. For already out of shape women, cardio is likely to make them even fatter (no bueno).
Reasons Women can get fat from too much cardio:
- When women do too much aerobic or endurance training makes thyroid hormone (T3) hormone plummet.
- Makes cortisol skyrocket chronically.
- Causes GLUT4 levels to decrease.
- Women hold onto glucose more than men. Therefor if they eat higher carb diets and do too much steady state cardio their body will more likely store the carbs as fat.
Q: What is the most common mistake women make with exercise?
A: Easy… Way too much steady state cardio.
I see this all the time. Women have unfortunately been victimized by the fitness, girl mag and marketing industry to think that weight loss is simply a matter of calories vs. calories out.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If you don’t believe me, read all 640 pages of Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories.
The calories in vs. calories out theory completely forgets to mention any hormonal processes and your bodies efficiencies/inefficiencies. It also assumes that your body is a close system operating in a vacuum. I can assure you, this is not how things work in the real world.
Instead of focusing on total calories burned, women should try to up-regulate the hormones that will mobilize adipose tissue (stored body fat) and lead to a slimmer midsection. This means that cortisol (catabolic hormone) needs to be elevated in the early part of the day and insulin (storage hormone) needs to stay low in order for your body to mobilize fat.
Good examples of exercise which can mobilize fat (not burn calories) include lifting weights, sprinting, high intensity intervals, and circuits with explosive movements.
You will never win with focusing on calories in vs. calories out. Think of all of the people you know who have yo-yo dieted their entire life.
Q: I have been using the elliptical for an hour about 5 times a week. At first it was working, now it is not, what is going on???
A: This is your body’s natural adaptive mechanisms at work and an increase in stress hormones. Switch to 1 steady state cardio sessions a week and 2 high intensity (short duration <20min). The high intensity sessions should be all out efforts that leave you panting and wishing you stayed at home.
Instead of trying to “burn” the weight off focus on mobilizing stored adipose tissue by eating a low carb breakfast (high protein and fat) and using more intense exercise when it is appropriate.
You should also replace the time spent with steady state cardio with relaxing type activities. Yoga, walking, and Tai Chi are great here as well.
Q: Here is my workout schedule for the week. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing and then you can tell me how it’s wrong.
Sunday-went to yoga
Monday-Ran 3 miles on the treadmill
Wedneday-Went to the class “Insanity” at my gym
Today-I’m going to walk
A: This is a really expansive area and there are an unlimited number of options. So let’s keep it simple.
- The yoga and walking are good. Keep it up. Yoga + walking = lowered stress hormones
- I don’t know anything about the classes, so I can’t comment.
- Add some weight training to your schedule. You want to perform heavy compound movements that use a lot of muscle groups (no more pink dumbbell curls). Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, pushups, lunges, are all good places to start. Sore muscles = good.
- Try to avoid too much steady state cardio. This can really sabotage fat loss. Too much of this type of cardio down regulates thyroid hormone and skyrockets your stress hormones (muscle loss, fat gain, bad sleep, depression/anxiety). Aim for 1 steady state cardio session a week and keep your other cardio sessions short and intense.
- Train like a sprinter, not a distance runner.
Q: I figured you were going to add strength training in there somewhere. So even though they say if girls want to tone they should do lightweights and lots of reps…does that fall under the category of the wrongful information I’ve been force fed by girl mags??
A: There is nothing wrong with light weight and high reps. In fact many male body builders use high reps to increase the size of their muscle bellies. Arnold was a huge fan of “the pump”.
The main issue is that the body adapts to high reps very quickly. So you get a ton of progress immediately, then your body adapts and it is no longer a stimulus for your muscles. In order to keep progressing you need to increase the intensity or the amount of volume you are using.
All of the rep ranges are good and they each have their own unique benefit and detriment. The point I am trying to make is that there is no such thing as a rep range for women and men.
Women can train just as hard (if not harder) than men.
Here are some girls at California Strength doing some pretty crazy lifts.
Q: Why do I need to lift weights?
Heavy muscle contractions (resistance training) will do several things:
- Increase nutrient partitioning to your muscles. So when you eat you are literally feeding your muscles not fat.
- Increase growth hormone. Awesome fat burning and muscle repair hormone.
- Increase glucose translocation. When you eat carbs, they are more likely to go to building new muscle as opposed to increasing fat cell size.
Q: Will i get bulky if I lift weights?
Short answer… NO. Women do not have the hormonal system to build a lot of muscle. I have been trying my damnedest for the last 15 years to gain muscle and I’m still not that big.
Many female bodybuilders (the bulky ones) choose to supplement their endocrine system with male hormones in order to grow more muscle.
Unless you are using testosterone, I would not worry about.
Q: The “Insanity” class at my gym is SUPER high intense cardio. Lots of burpees, jumping jacks, ab work, etc. My muscles hurt MORE today than they did yesterday from that hour. I’d like to keep that because I felt like it was a total fat blaster, but maybe to avoid too much cardio I will keep Monday to a warm up walk on the treadmill and then just focus on cross fit type activities, sound like a good idea?
A: The class is probably OK for your fat loss goals, but you certainly can “overdo” it especially when you are starting out. Your body needs time to ramp up to the increased workload. Overdoing it can be really detrimental and lead to progress stalling after the first 2-3 weeks. I see this again and again with people. They start out like a bat out of hell and burn out even more quickly.
Most cross fit type activities are usually way better for women than men.This is because women tend to hold onto muscle glycogen way more than men do. Because of this Cross Fit Tends to work really well for fat loss and women. Cross Fit for men is like castration without the surgery.
Q: Oh and last question, would it be better for me to do intervals when I do run, rather than straight distance running? I wasn’t sure what you meant by “steady state cardio” is that like same speed/intensity or how long you do it for?
A: Intervals are better for fat loss than long distance running i.e. “Steady state cardio”. There is a reason why most cross country and long distance runners look famished and still carry some chub. Have you ever been to a marathon before? It is amazing that more marathon runners have not dropped dead.
Our bodies are designed to walk, sprint and lift heavy things. Stick to this formula and you’ll do fine.
Q: What is a good ratio when it comes to weights vs. cardio/yoga/etc.?
A: It highly depends on the person. Sorry for the vanilla answer :(
All of the exercises have their own benefit and drawbacks. A good place to start is do the one that you have been putting off the longest. That one will have the greatest benefit for you.
Try to avoid too much steady state cardio ( a common problem for women). This can really sabotage fat loss. Too much of this type of cardio down regulates thyroid hormone and skyrockets your stress hormones (muscle loss, fat gain, bad sleep, depression/anxiety).
If you are not sleeping or your digestion is suffering, it is probably a symptom of too much cardio. Think parasympathetic stress.
Weights have a ton of benefit but can be easily overdone. So ease into resistance training.
Yoga/walks-can pretty much be done as often as you would like. These exercises have a ton of benefit for lowering stress.
Q: Is there an optimal time to work out? Morning vs. night?
A: The nighttime is the best time for working out. This is because of your bodies hormonal cycles through during the day. Cortisol and growth hormone tend to be high during the AM, also fat tissue is more sensitive to insulin earlier in the day. Assuming you eat a low carb breakfast, this will allow you to burn more fat during the day and build lean sexy muscles at night. The hormonal benefits of working out will usually last 24-72 hrs after you finish.
Early morning is the next best.
During mid-day is the third best. There is really no hormonal benefit to working out during the mid-day.
If you can’t work out at the optimal time, don’t sweat it. You will still get awesome results just from being consistent.
Food For Female Weight Loss
Q: What is the most common mistakes women make with diets and food?
A: Way too many carbs and eating carbs at the wrong time. Toast and jam, and cereal with a banana is not a good breakfast for anyone, especially someone looking to maintain their figure.
If you are a world class athlete or a genetic freak, you can pretty much get away with eating just about anything. The rest of us are forced to abide by the rules of biology.
Q:What should I eat for Breakfast?
A: Assuming that your goal is to be lean and look good in a bikini, the key here is low glycemic and low insuligenic. Keeping blood sugar and insulin levels low during the day will allow you to mobilize stored body fat as fuel for the rest of the day.
What this means is that the typical American breakfast of cereal is probably the worst possible thing you can eat as a breakfast. Stick with high quality proteins and fats. 2-3 Eggs and a couple of slices of bacon should do for most women. Aim for 25-35 grams of protein and eat until you are satiated.
The caveat here is if you are a top level athlete, women’s physique athlete or a weekend warrior. Then you have to properly fuel to support your athletic activity.
NOTE on intermittent fasting: Fasting has taken off in the paleo/low carb community and it absolutely has its merits. I do not recommend it for someone starting out, but it can be used effectively once someone who is already lean and healthy. Also women tend to be more susceptible to hormone and mood swings when food is not available. This is one of the reasons I think women do better with a good whack of protein in the morning.
Q: How come all of the celebs are skinny and eat lots of fruit and most of them are vegans?
A: Most celebs and professional athletes are genetic freaks. They can pretty much eat, live and exercise as they please. The 99% of the rest of us do not have this luxury.
I good friend of mine who I played college ball with was a genetic freak. While the rest of us were working our asses off in the gym, eating lots of good food, sleeping and taking care of ourselves, he was eating pizza rolls, drinking beer and terrorizing the female population at our college.
At the end of the off-season guess who was stronger, more athletic, more ripped and bigger??
I will give you a hint, I wasn’t me.
Anytime you see an add for a celebrity weight loss pill, exercise or diet, run as fast as you can in the other direction. This is the equivalent of Shaquille O’neal writing a manual about how to be tall.
Q: How many apples should I eat every day in order to lose weight?
A: If you want to eat fruit, you are much better off with lower fructose fruits that have not been bastardized by the food industry. Apples have been selectively bred to increase sweetness (fructose AKA Sugar) for the last 50 years. What you are eating is no longer an apple but a modified version of the original fruit. Eat apples when they are in season from your local farmers market.
Q: What are your thoughts on protein shakes for girls? I don’t know how to feel about them. Is there a good organic option out there that doesn’t taste like garbage?
I’ll do my best to answer it without getting too crazy. Protein shakes are hard because there are so many really bad ones out there. I could literally talk for hours about how to best use whey protein.
If we are talking specifically about whey protein there are a couple of things to consider.
- Rapidly spikes the growth factors that are used to repair muscle tissue
- Increases the body’s natural production of glutathione, which is a master anti-oxidant for your body. It is like vitamin C on steroids.
- can be incredibly inflammatory for people with dairy allergies
- raises blood sugar levels and insulin. Not a good thing for most people trying to lose weight/fat.
Best Time to take it:
- immediately post workout. This will give you all of the benefits of whey, with little downsides. Taking it post workout will also keep your blood sugar levels low.
Highest Quality Option:
- Look for grass-fed unpasteurized or low temperature pasteurized whey.
- These are some of the highest quality whey proteins you can find, by people who have really done their homework. The downside is that they are expensive. The cows that make the whey protein live better lives than most people.
(No these are not affiliate links)
- Any of the ones you see on the store shelves. They are pretty much all the same, just with different labels. If you see one with a pretty label that is reasonable, the quality is probably not any different than the one next to it.
- If you get bloated, break out, moody or have bad reaction to the whey protein, stop using it.
Summing it Up
- You absolutely do not need to take a protein shake, but they can be helpful. Most proteins are not going to taste the best so you’ll just have to chug it. They work equally well with men and women.
Q: Juicing? (I recently started doing this and I love it– just curious what your thoughts are)
A: Folks who are really unhealthy benefit a great deal from juicing. It gets them to eat foods they would normally not eat and helps them live a healthier lifestyle. (It is way better than Cheetos and Donuts).
I think juicing a few times a week can be a really healthy and helpful thing.
However, There is also a major dark side to juicing that no one really talks about. This is due to the anti-nutrient and oxalic acid load of the green leafy veggies. Too much oxalic acid leads to “not so fun” activities such as passing kidney stones.
This happens when people eat way too many raw leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. Juicing activists and vegans claim that juicing is “natural”. There is nothing natural about blending 5 lbs of raw kale and sucking it down through a straw.
It is hard to eat too many leafy green veggies, when you are chewing them. It is really easy to eat to much when you are blending 10 lbs of raw veggies.
Just and FYI: You wont experience any of the downsides to juicing, unless you start going really crazy with and eating 3 stalks of raw kale every day.
Dave Asprey wrote an Awesome Post About Kale Shakes. Read it here.
Q: What do you think about high fat foods for women?
For some reason the girl mags have permeated the minds of pretty much all women, turning dietary fat into the devil. While some fats are actually the devil (margarine, corn oil, soybean oil) more natural fats from animal and plant sources are necessary for proper hormone function.
If you want nice skin, healthy hair, and a slim body, than you need good high quality fats in your diet. Some of my favorites sources of fat are from Grass Fed Beef/Lamb/Bison/Deer/Elk, wild game, fish, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter/cream, ghee, cacao, and raw almonds.
Need more proof? Check out the steroid hormone synthesis pathway. Guess what all of those wonderful hormones need as a starter material?………. Cholesterol.
Lifestyle For Female Weight Loss
Q: I’ve got the sleep thing down, for the most part. I sleep in a cold, dark room and usually get 8+ hours in every night. But lately, I’ve been waking up between 2-3am for no reason. And then I can’t fall back asleep… hence my question. It’s like my brain wakes me up so it can think about nonsense. And by the time I calm my mind down, it’s almost time to wake up. Frustrating. Have any tips?
Great question! Waking up at 2-3am is not fun.
The 2-3am wake up call could be a number of things. The most likely answer is that you have a stressed parasympathetic nervous system. Your PS nervous system is responsible for your bodies processes that you don’t actively have to think about such as sleeping and digesting food.
Your PS nervous system will get out of whack when you are dealing with too much chronic stress. For women this usual happens when you are dealing with constant stress at work, home, or personal life. The other main reason this can happen is when you are doing too much exercise, especially cardio or doing to many sets/reps with weights.
I have dealt with the same issue a bunch of times in my life.
The fix has always been the same as well.
Step 1: Back off the chronic exercise. Do more relaxing exercise, such as taking a walk or yoga.
Step 2. Practice meditation or heart rate variability training. This will teach you to turn off the stress response. Check out the Heartmath Institute for more information.
Step 3. Make sure that you are eating enough food, especially high quality fats and proteins. Also add more sea salt to your diet (helps adrenal function). Personally, I like Pink Himalayan Sea Salt or Maldon Sea Salt.
Q: Gotcha on the water and the sleep! I have been getting to bed earlier and I think it’s because I’m so out of shape I’m exhausted from the gym. Why does sleep matter so much?
A: Get your ass to bed and don’t overdo it, especially when you are starting exercising after extended time off. Your body views fat as a necessary fuel source in case of a famine. You want to create a low stress environment where you are giving your body the water, food, sleep and exercise it needs.
Only once these requirements have been met, your body will start to mobilize stored body fat and lead to the bikini body.
Q: I have been experiencing auto immune symptoms lately. My doctor thinks it is MS. Is there anything I can do right now?
A: I can’t give advice specific to MS. I will let Dr. Terry Wahls do the talking.
A quick summary (for those who don’t want to watch the video): Dr. Terry Wahls uses a ketogentic diet to treat her MS patients. A ketogentic diet is a diet with zero/little carbs, high in healthy fats. Coconut oil, MCT oil, butter, bacon, cod liver oil, fish oil, avocados, fatty fish, fatty beef are good examples. Eating a high fat diet will also benefit the nerve endings and myelin sheath surrounding the nerves.
For more MS related items Check out Dr. Wahls site: www.terrywahls.com
What I can do is talk about the linkage between MS and auto-immunity.
MS is an auto-immune disease, and there is a strong linkage in between Leaky Gut Syndrome and Auto-immunity.
So…. What the hell is leaky gut?
Some of the foods we eat and drugs we take on a regular basis cause our gut lining to weaken. This allows food that would normally be digested and assimilated to spill out and our immune system reacts. This causes an immune response by the body.
We can improve this by healing the gut.
Read more about leaky gut here:
Here is a protocol I used on myself to heal my gut:
- Remove grains (especially wheat and corn) from your diet. Replace these foods with easy to digest and breakdown foods. Soups, stews, crockpot meals are good examples.
- Eliminate NSAIDS (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, aspirin). These are some of biggest contributors to a weakened gut lining
- Take 30 grams of l-glutamine 3-4 times a day. L-glutamine is an amino acid that gets used preferentially by the gut lining. Hospitals use it on patients who have had gut surgery to heal faster.
- Take a massive dose of probiotics. Probiotics 400-900 billions CFUs split into two dosages. One in the morning and one at night. Use Probiotics that have 12-15 non overlapping strands.
- Use digestive enzymes when you do eat food.
- Practice heart rate variability training to lower your stress response. Doing so will lead to a dramatic increase in your bodies ability to break down and assimilate food.
Wrapping it Up
Hopefully everything I wrote down makes sense. Nutrition, exercise and lifestyle are really individual so it is hard to give concrete or black and white answers. I presented information that works for most women (not all cases), assuming their goals are look good naked and be healthy.
My goal here is to explain the concepts well enough so that you can decide whether or not it is right for you. As always test things out, when they stop working tweak things and retest.
Post them below!
Alanis Morisette with You Oughta Know, which is my favorite Girl Power song.