women

It's the Sod's Law of weight loss: fat comes off the places you don't want but not the places you do. Thankfully, new science means that could all be about to change

If you've ever been on a diet then you will know this story well. Woman restricts calories. She trains like an Olympic athlete. She applies lotions promising `slimmer thighs and a tighter behind' while submitting her body to massages and machines that profess to blast fat and target tricky bumps and lumps. And yet. After all that effort. All that pain. All that money. The one place she wanted to drop a few kilos (thighs/bum/ insert appropriate body part here) she can't.

We have all been told how fat works. Essentially, if the number of calories in beats calories out, you put on weight. But an increasing number of academics and those on the forefront of weight loss research are beginning to agree that hormones may play a greater part than was once thought when it comes to how and where we store fat. Well, what does that mean for us and virtually every other woman on the planet who has subscribed to the multi-billion pound diet industry at some point? It means this: that at last, we may be able to wage a direct weight-loss assault on the areas we want.

Essentially, if the number of calories in beats calories out, you put on weight.

Essentially, if the number of calories in beats calories out, you put on weight.

But let's rewind a bit first. A 2008 paper in the British Journal of Nutrition suggested that women generally have a larger proportion of body mass as fat, and are more likely to deposit fat subcutaneously (that's a fancy way of saying under the skin) and on their lower half, than men. So we have always accepted that men will have bellies while women will always be saddled with, well, saddlebags and thighs. However, it turns out that it may be possible to target excessive fat in particular areas by making lifestyle choices that help to realign hormonal imbalances, says nutritionist Max Tomlinson and author of Target Your Fat Spots, who insists that "hormones exert a powerful influence on body fat distribution in humans."

We've known for a long time that there's a relationship between hormones and body shape. "Remember your teenage years?" asks Richard Ross, endocrinology lecturer at Sheffield University. "You can't really tell much difference between boys and girls, in terms of body composition, before puberty. At puberty, boys' testosterone switches on and they grow taller and get bigger muscles whereas girls' ovaries switch on, releasing estrogen and they get breasts and buttocks." Not to mention spots, PMS and inexplicable crushes on their geography teachers

The body's signature

Charles Poliquin is a Canadian strength coach, who over the last few years has caused quite a storm with his Biosignature Modulation Method. He believes you can take an individual's hormonal blueprint (their "Biosignature") by taking fat measurements in 12 specific sites on the body using calipers. The data is then used to investigate where hormones are out of whack. Then, believes Poliquin, you can use nutrition, supplements and strength training to realign hormonal imbalances and target individual "fat spots".

you can use nutrition, supplements and strength training to realign hormonal imbalances and target individual

you can use nutrition, supplements and strength training to realign hormonal imbalances and target individual "fat spots".

If it sounds radical, well, it is. And Poliquin is not without his critics. While Olympic athletes and even Hollywood stars are said to have adopted his revolutionary approach to training and weight loss, (Superman Henry Cavill's arms were said to be targeted with Poliquin's program and have you seen them lately?) there are others who are understandably skeptical.

Skin scientist Peter Roberts, who has previously worked as a national commercial business manager for GlaxoSmithKlein and now runs SkinMed, has done extensive academic research into the concept of Biosignature. Yet he remains unconvinced: "There's very little clinical evidence, although there is lots of anecdotal evidence [to suggest Poliquin's method works]. I don't really believe hormones determine whether you lose fat from your bottom or anywhere else. In fact, I'd say if you ran some hormone tests on these people you'd probably find the hormone balance is perfectly normal.'

Poliquin begs to differ. High triceps fat levels, he insists, indicate low testosterone levels. This matches findings from researchers in California, who saw a loss in fat in the upper arm when elevating testosterone to above normal levels in healthy young men.

In fact, I'd say if you ran some hormone tests on these people you'd probably find the hormone balance is perfectly normal.

In fact, I'd say if you ran some hormone tests on these people you'd probably find the hormone balance is perfectly normal.

And before you go thinking, "Well, that's all about men, but what about me?", then hold on there. "Testosterone is produced by both sexes," says Tomlinson. "That means if you have excessive fat on your triceps you may have low levels of testosterone.”

Richard Ross agrees: “Androgens [male hormones like testosterone] do burn off body fat both intra-abdominal and subcutaneous areas. If you have an increase in intra-abdominal fat (ie, a big tummy) that could be indicative of cortisol excess, growth hormone deficiency and in men it may be associated with testosterone deficiency.”

He also clarifies the link between the thyroid hormone thyroxin and fat gain: “Essentially thyroxin is important for your metabolic rate. So if you have a deficiency in thyroid hormones, you tend to put on fat and find it difficult to lose. And if you have excessive thyroid hormones you burn off fats and muscle.”

But Poliquin’s analysis takes it a step further and suggests thyroid hormone imbalance is related to upper back fat. Tomlinson, agrees. “Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) can cause fat deposits around the bra area as well as overall weight gain. No to mention fatigue, depression, low body temperature, constipation, decreased memory and poor concentration.” Fun times.

And if you have excessive thyroid hormones you burn off fats and muscle.

And if you have excessive thyroid hormones you burn off fats and muscle.

Fat around the stomach area, he also suggests, has a direct correlation with an increase in stress hormones. “Stomach fat is a clear sign of an adrenal problem and, more specifically, of the over-production of the stress hormone cortisol. Medium to long-term stress elevates cortisol levels, which leads to raised blood sugars and the eventual deposition of blood sugars on the abdomen as stubborn fat.” So you can blame your boss for that pot belly.

Recent science backs this up: a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine charted the results when 59 healthy, premenopausal women were exposed to three laboratory stress sessions and one rest session over the course of four days. The 29 of those women who had a high waist to hip ratio (ie held more fat in that area) regarded the challenges as more threatening, performed worse and lo and behold secreted significantly more cortisol than the 30 (leaner) women with a low waist to hip ratio. The study’s conclusion? Central fat distribution is related to greater psychological vulnerability to stress and cortisol reactivity.

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