As a Holistic Nutritionist and Women’s Health and Nutrition Coach, I get a lot of complaints from women dealing with stubborn fat that won’t budge- especially in the hips, thighs, and on the back in the bra strap area. They try to eat healthfully and spend time at the gym to no avail.
Maybe this is you as well, and you’re wondering if there is any solution to this stubborn problem.
I myself tend to carry weight in my hips and thighs, although never on the back. In my clinical experience, there is one major hormonal imbalance preventing the loss of fat in these areas- and it may even be causing your PMS!
Why Do I Have Excess Hip, Thigh and Under-the-Bra Back Fat?
The major hormone involved in keeping fat on these areas is estrogen. Estrogen often gets a bad name as it’s been linked to things like estrogen-responsive cancers, cysts, fibroids, and blood clot risk. However, estrogen isn’t “bad” at all, but rather a really important hormone for women (and men, to a lesser extent).
There are several different estrogens, including those below. Note that I’m mostly referring to Estradiol in this article:
- Estriol (the pregnancy estrogen)
- Estrone (the menopause estrogen)
In women, estrogen is responsible for:
- Being highest during the first half of your menstrual cycle (menstrual flow to ovulation)
- Breast growth and development
- Maturing follicles (aka immature eggs) for one to be released at ovulation
- Increasing metabolism slightly
- Keeping us lubricated- in our joints, muscles and vagina
- Increasing libido
- Increasing confidence
- Uplifting mood
- Bone growth and protection
- Improving skin by increasing collagen and blood supply
So if estrogen is so good, how could it be causing all this fat on your body?
The answer is estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance doesn’t necessarily mean having too much estrogen, but rather that the estrogen to progesterone ratio is off in the body. These two hormones (like all hormones) communicate with each other and have a very delicate balance.
If your estrogen levels are high (or low) and your progesterone is way too low, estrogen dominance results. Besides layering fat on your hips, thighs and under-the-bra, estrogen dominance is implicated in:
- Thyroid nodules and cancer
- Ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers
- Uterine Fibroids
- Ovarian Cysts
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Breast tenderness and swelling
- Bloating, water retention
- Depression and anxiety
- Hair Loss
- Painful and/or heavy menstrual flow
The specific mechanism that leads to the extra fat deposition has to do with estrogen receptors. Your legs happen to have a lot of these receptors, so estrogen will deposit here. If your liver isn’t metabolizing and detoxifying estrogen optimally, loads of estrogen can be recirculated and deposited on your hips and thighs.
As this continues to happen over time, fat cells can begin to produce their own estrogen- no ovaries needed- adding to the estrogen dominance situation and the storage of fat on your body.
Rectifying estrogen dominance is one of the best ways to slim these areas down and generally feel a whole lot better.
Wondering if estrogen dominance or other hormonal imbalances are contributing to your symptoms? Check out my Hormone Imbalance Quiz to find out!
5 Natural Ways to Reduce Hip, Thigh and Under-the-Bra Back Fat
#1 Cruciferous Veggies
Cruciferous vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition- superfoods easily accessible in any grocery store. These vegetables contain sulphur, an important mineral which is needed for healthy skin. The DIM and sulphur contained in these vegetables helps the body to detoxify excess estrogen, which can cause fat storage and contribute to other hormonal issues like the ones mentioned previously.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain high levels of fibre- creating amazing poops which allow you to excrete built up hormones like estrogen, as well as move your bowels to reduce the weight of a GI system full of stool. The fibre in these vegetables also balances insulin and blood sugar- something that is 100% KEY to releasing excess weight and managing estrogen dominance- keeping you full longer and not running to the vending machine.
Here are some examples of cruciferous vegetables:
- bok choy
- collard greens
- brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- napa cabbage
- daikon radish
My recommendation is to get 2 to 4 cups of these vegetables daily to balance estrogen levels, and mostly cooked so they don’t interfere with iodine absorption.
#2 Liver Detoxification
Your liver is a major detoxification organ in your body. Everything that comes into your body must be detoxified through your liver before it can be excreted, and estrogen is no exception. If you liver isn’t working optimally, due to the lifestyle factors listed above or due to hormonal birth control use, estrogen isn’t going to be detoxified well. Some of it may end up being recirculated in the body, possibly being deposited in fat cells in the hips, thighs and back.
Optimizing liver function takes time and patience, but the results are totally worth it. There are many ways to detoxify the liver, and chances are you don’t need 20 supplements a day to do so- a few supportive herbs along with a liver cleansing diet can do wonders for estrogen dominance, fat storage, mood and more.
- Cruciferous vegetables: As you’ve just learned, cruciferous veg are fantastic for helping with liver and estrogen detoxification. Aim for 2 to 4 cups daily.
- Medicinal herbs for the liver: Herbs such as dandelion root, burdock root, yellow dock, turmeric, milk thistle and artichoke all support the liver to detoxify and regenerate. Choosing a capsule, tincture or tea formula like my Detox Tea will make it easy to get these herbs. Follow supplement bottle directions or aim for 2-4 cups of Detox Tea daily.
- Green Tea: This unfermented tea contains incredible amounts of antioxidants and compounds including EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate. Antioxidants are needed in large amounts to optimize both Phase I and Phase II liver detoxification. Green tea helps the liver to detoxify by improving general liver function, and increasing those antioxidants. It’s possible (although not really studied in detail) that green tea could interfere with fat absorption, and block fat synthesis in the liver. Aim for 2 to 4 cups green tea or 1 cup matcha green tea daily, or use a supplement as directed on the bottle.
#3 Increase Progesterone
As you’ve discovered, estrogen dominance generally means low or inadequate progesterone levels as well.
- Like estrogen, progesterone has really important functions in our female bodies:
- Being highest during the second half of your menstrual cycle (ovulation to menstrual flow)
- Reducing anxiety
- Aiding good quality sleep
- Having a successful pregnancy (it’s the pregnancy hormone!)
- Thickening the uterine lining for potential implantation of a fertilized egg
- Regulating water and sodium balance to reduce swelling, water retention, sore breasts, etc
Increasing progesterone levels can be tricky when you’re chronically stressed, as your body will ‘steal’ the hormone building blocks to make cortisol rather than progesterone, so check out #5 Manage Stress below for more info on that.
There are a few easy ways to begin increasing progesterone production (in addition to managing stress as outlined below):
- Increase Vitamin C: Vitamin C has been shown in studies to increase progesterone, especially in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Research suggests a daily dose of between 400mg to 750mg over a period of several months could help with progesterone levels, length of luteal phase and fertility.
- Use Cinnamon: I have written and spoken a lot about cinnamon for women’s health. Research suggests using about 1.5g daily of cassia cinnamon can help to regulate menstrual cycles by increasing progesterone. As a bonus, it also helps to balance blood sugar, a major underlying contributor to many hormonal imbalances (including estrogen dominance) and fat storage.
#4 Xenoestrogens/Environmental Toxins
Toxins like xenoestrogens (man-made estrogen-like chemicals) found in plastics, BPA, household and personal care products (that includes your makeup too!) are a major contributor to estrogen dominance in our wasteful society. It even causes men to have high levels of estrogen, leading to infertility and other problems (like excess body fat) in both sexes.
This is an important component in regulating estrogen that is often overlooked! I recommend starting by looking at the Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guides to see what to watch out for, and which products are safe.
#5 Manage Stress
Stress messes with your hormones. I experience this as one of the major disturbances to my own menstrual cycle- if I’m stressed, I’m likely to ovulate later and experience more PMS symptoms before Aunt Flo arrives. Maybe this is you as well!
When we’re stressed chronically, our bodies put out loads of the stress hormone cortisol to help keep us going. When cortisol needs to be high a lot of the time due to stress, our bodies will take the cortisol building blocks from other hormones- usually progesterone. It’s sometimes referred to as the progesterone steal or the pregnenolone steal.
You’re left with high cortisol levels, and low progesterone- a recipe for estrogen dominance and hip, thigh and back fat.
Beyond this, stress messes with blood sugar balance, and elevated insulin can contribute to estrogen dominance and weight gain as well.
There’s infinite ways to manage stress, and the important thing to take away here is that it’s necessary to manage your stress like it’s your job. Techniques and activities must be done daily to see cortisol and progesterone levels even out, so that you can reduce estrogen dominance and hip, thigh and back fat.
My recommendation is to try a whole bunch of stuff if you’re not sure yet what helps you become more resilient to stress (because we can’t get rid of stress entirely), and settle on a few things that can be done regularly.
For example, I meditate, do yoga, walk and limit screen time daily for my stress.
Your might look different, and that’s okay.
Try any or all of the following suggestions:
- Meditation and/or Deep Breathing
- Spending time in nature
- Reading a good book
- Watching a funny TV show or movie
- Having a hot bath
- Giving yourself a face mask or body scrub
- Having a quick 20 minute nap
- Implement a laptop curfew
- Adult colouring books
- Take time for yourself- no screens, no kids, no work, etc
- Get to bed earlier
- Use some essential oils and/or medicinal herbs like this Stress Tea