What is hormone imbalance and how do you know if your hormones are imbalanced?
As fitness specialists for women, hormone imbalance is something we see fairly often and the scary part is: most women don’t even realize that there is anything off about their hormone levels.
So many women struggle with Estrogen Dominance, Adrenal Fatigue or medical conditions such as PCOS without suspecting anything might be amiss!
This is so unfortunate because the women who don’t know that they might be suffering from hormone imbalance usually become completely demoralized by their inability to lose fat or build muscle.
They tend to feel helpless and out of control of their body, and all of their efforts towards their fitness goals have yielded either no result or a negative result.
That is one of the things that inspired us to be trainers who are specially educated on female health and fitness!
Having female-focused education allows us to help you learn about your own body, understand why your body is responding the way that it is, implement and practice lifestyle habits that encourage health and prevent you from putting your health and fitness efforts in the wrong place!
Let’s start with the definition of hormone imbalance:
“Hormone Imbalance” is when you have some form of Endocrine dysfunction that causes too little, or too much of one or more hormones to be produced or stored, which affects the way your body naturally operates.
You have a ton of hormones in the body: they all have different functions; they can all be imbalanced in their own way and an imbalance in one hormone can cause or contribute to an imbalance in any of the other hormones.
While hormone imbalance is not always related to the sex hormones, it is usually in the sex hormones that we notice an imbalance in women. In addition to this, fitness professionals may notice a potential imbalance in hormones related to exercise, diet and lifestyle (such as cortisol, growth hormone, and melatonin) which is what we will be referring to in this article.
So how do we identify a hormone imbalance?
Well first off, everything needs to tested and verified by your doctor or specialist.
Blood work and lab tests are necessary to know exactly what is going with which hormones. That being said, there are some symptoms we may notice working with women, that cause us to request a visit to the doctor to have the hormones tested.
Here are some symptoms of hormone imbalance that will cause us to ask you to see your doctor:
Inability to sleep
Being unable to sleep can be caused by any number of things to be truthful-a lot of people can easily improve the quality of their sleep by simply stretching before bed. (Click here to get a complimentary 4 week stretching program).
If stretching and nutrition does not help and sleep deprivation becomes chronic or disruptive to our fitness training (through your inability to rest and heal) we will request you see a doctor.
We have, on occasion, observed client who experiences an unusual spike of cortisol in the middle of the night, causing regular disruption of the sleep.
Uncontrollable food cravings
Food cravings are completely normal-especially when you’re in the process of changing your diet. This is doubly true when considering women’s health where we have specific parts of our monthly cycle in which we crave more carbs or iron-rich foods…all very normal! What is not normal is to feel that you cannot deny a craving, to suddenly find yourself with food in your hand, or to catch yourself eating in your sleep. These are definitely situations in which would ask you to get your hormones checked, and see a therapist to help with a potential eating disorder.
Irregular or Absent Menstruation
Irregular or absent menstruation should be important to your Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach or Fitness Specialist for 2 main reasons…The first being: if you have a history of regular menstruation, and you stop menstruating regularly during a workout/ nutrition program, it could be that you’re overtraining or undereating. The second reason being that irregular menstruation is one of the first symptoms for ailments such as PCOS, Endometriosis and potential infertility. If your menstruation is irregular or nonexistent, we want you at the doctor yesterday!
Chronic fatigue can happen whether you get 4 or 10 hours of sleep, and it can be the result of anything. As Fitness Professionals we find Chronic Fatigue is usually relative to one of 5 things:
1) Undereating or Eating Irregularly
2) Not Moving Enough
3) An Issue with Blood Sugar or Insulin
4) A Disruption in Thyroid Hormone Production
5) A Disruption in the Balance of Another Hormone Affecting the Rest of the Body
For #3-5 (which we cannot address as fitness professionals), we ask you see a doctor to get tested that determine if you are struggling from Endocrine Dysfunction.
Decreasing Exercise Performance
This can be one of the first indications of Estrogen Dominance in some women because a surplus of estrogen can affect how much testosterone you are producing and testosterone is necessary for strength and muscle building. If we know for sure that your nutrition and recovery habits are healthy, but you’re getting less and less capable of performing your exercises, we will request you have testing done on the systems and hormones related to your healing/ recovery, nutrient absorption, and oxygen uptake.
Tendency Towards Stress or Erratic Moods
We usually see our clients for personal training sessions 2-3 times a week, and at least once a week. This affords us the opportunity to become aware of and notice changes in their moods and stress levels. Obviously, their mood changes could be relative to anything in their life outside of our sessions, so it’s not always that this is an indication of a potential hormone imbalance, but let me give an example of what is…
My client, who is usually chipper and positive, comes into our session seeming a bit rushed and irate. As we get into the workout, I notice she is getting frustrated with herself unusually quick. I stop her and let her know that I notice she seems stressed and irate today, and ask if anything is going on.
She tells me that she’s felt really stressed, rushed, and irritable all week despite that nothing has really happened. She feels her heart rate elevated all day and is admittedly a little out of control of her moods. She has already spoken with her therapist about it but the soothing exercises they talked about have not been helping her feel calm.
This would be the most common scenario in which I would request to have some hormone testing done-between the racing heart rate and the involuntary anxiety, I would suspect high levels of stress hormones and possible Adrenal Fatigue.
Inability to Change Body Composition
This is something that is very common with people suffering from hormone imbalance-it is SO HARD to lose body fat! It takes us, as fitness professionals, 3-6 months to decide if we want to send you to the doctor for testing for this, because first, we are going to try to revise and supervise your diet and exercise more. (Check out our Eating For Gut Health Blog for an example of what we look for in a good eating regimen).
If, after the 3-6 month time frame, we are certain you have adhered to a plan, but have seen no result from it, we will request you get hormone testing to determine if there is something systemic preventing your weight loss or weight gain.
Unusually Low BMR
Your BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate (not to be confused with your BMI which hold zero credibility to) which is the number of calories you burn just staying alive. This is before any movement, exercise or eating-just the calories you would burn if you laid in bed all day and did nothing. BMR is something we can calculate with a formula, or receive when we send you out for a DexaScan (certain activity trackers will also have the ability to track your BMR). Your Basal Metabolic Rate can be affected by conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue or Hypothyroidism and greatly affects your ability to lose or gain weight. If your BMR proves to be unusually low for your age and size, we will ask that you have metabolic and hormone testing done.
Increasingly High RHR
Your RHR is your Resting Heart Rate and is exactly as it sounds: your average heart rate when you’re in a resting state. Food and exercise have a massive impact on keeping your low resting heart rate, but what trumps all when it comes to the RHR: stress! When the stress is high, no amount of diet or exercise can compete-that RHR is going to go up! If you don’t feel stressed, and you’re on track with your nutrition and exercise habits, but you’re still observing your RHR going up, we definitely want to get to the doctor for both cardiac and stress hormone testing.
Again, concern for these things needs to be verified with your medical professional! This article cannot tell you if you have hormone imbalance!
The goal of this article is to help educate you on some of the potential symptoms that can be exemplary of hormone imbalance so that if you are feeling them, you know to go check in with your doctor, instead of feeling bad about your inability to lose body fat, for example-YOU DON’T DESERVE THAT!
Knowledge is power, and it’s not always the knowledge of how to fix something that is powerful, but also the knowledge of when something is caused by a problem instead of a lack of discipline!
If you are uncertain about your hormonal regularity or your ability to identify fluctuations in your normal hormone cycle, try our Cycle with Your Cycle exercise program to help you keep track of your body’s response to activity over a 90 day period.
This piece was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, founder of Adapted Fitness and Master Trainer. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at AdaptedToYou.com