Your Hormones And Body Fat Are Connected—Here’s How To Gain Weight In A Healthy Way For Healthy Hormones

Women are complex creatures, and our menstrual cycle is no exception.

By Renée Walton4 min read

Chances are, your cycle has been irregular at least once in your life. Sometimes it can seem like a total mystery why one month you’re in agonizing pain and your period comes late, but the next month your period comes right on time with no PMS to speak of. Our endocrine system is complicated, so there can be any number of reasons why our hormones are sometimes out of whack. But one thing is for sure: Having enough body fat plays a huge role in maintaining healthy and regular menstrual cycles. 

Read on to see if you have enough body fat, how to gain weight in a healthy way, and how to change your mindset so you can embrace your feminine curves. 

Fat and the Female Body

First, let’s break down why fat plays such an important role in the female body. To put it simply, sex hormones – including estrogen – are stored in the fat layers of the body. When women have a low Body Mass Index (less than 18.5), they sometimes produce less estrogen, which can result in abnormal or absent menstrual cycles

It’s no secret that the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale is sometimes considered a poor measurement of body weight because it doesn’t take into account muscle and fat distribution. This is a valid criticism, but knowing your BMI is at least a starting point for determining whether or not your weight is healthy. That said, your body can give you some clues as well. For a more accurate and personalized evaluation of your weight, consider this: 

At a healthy and manageable weight, you should:

  • have healthy menstrual cycles (i.e., strong signs of ovulation every month and regular, tolerable periods).

  • have a strong pulse and healthy body temperature.

  • maintain a generally happy and steady mood.

  • easily maintain regular sleep cycles. 

  • maintain a healthy libido, strong digestion, and steady energy levels.

If any of these aren’t clicking, that may be a sign you need more body fat. 

Whether your BMI is low because you’ve been purposely restricting your food choices or because you’re just naturally thinner, being underweight can be as harmful to your hormonal health as carrying too much weight – especially as a woman. But needing to gain weight doesn’t mean you should camp out at your local Baskin Robbins or gorge yourself on junk food. Here are some ways to gain body fat in a way that is healthy and nourishing for your body and your hormones.

Change Your Mindset

If you grew up in the early 2000s, you might be inclined to think that the only way to be healthy is to be lean. And to some extent, that mindset is understandable – especially when you consider the unhealthy obsession society had with thinness and weight loss during our impressionable preteen years (I’m looking at you, Slim Fast and Special K diet). It’s really no wonder our ideal picture of health looks more like flat bellies and toned thighs than consistent menstrual cycles and happy hormones. 

In response to the thin-obsessed culture of the early 2000s, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction in recent years. Don’t even get me started on the equally problematic “body positivity” movement. But before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: Having an optimal body weight is an issue of health, not aesthetics. Instead of trying to look a certain way, focus on nourishing your body and making sure your systems are balanced and running on all cylinders. 

Now let’s be real for a moment: Everyone wants to look good. But the thing is, a confident and nourished woman with some curves is always sexier than an underfed, calorie-restrictive woman with a perfectly flat stomach or six-pack. That’s because, generally speaking, when your hormones are balanced, you feel better both physically and mentally. And we all know that when you’re feeling good, you’re automatically way more attractive.

Eat Enough (and Eat Often)

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many “health-conscious” women aren’t eating enough to actually support their body’s natural functions. If the thought of eating more calories, more often freaks you out, then check in with your mindset – remember that food is an ally for health, not an enemy.

Obviously, you’ll need to consume more calories in order to gain weight. But the main reason it’s important to eat enough has to do with balancing your blood sugar levels. According to Laura Lyons, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner, of Wild Lyons Wellness, “Blood sugar balance is the single most important thing you can focus on for your health as a woman. It is the easiest way to support your metabolism, mental health, hormones, digestion, adrenals, and stress response. The key to blood sugar balancing is to always provide your body adequate and consistent fuel throughout the day in the form of quality carbs, protein, and fat.” 

And, of course, what you eat matters. That being said, did you know that your body has different nutritional needs depending on where you’re at in your cycle? One easy way to know what to feed yourself is by following the recommendations on the feminine wellness app 28. Just enter the date of your last period, and you’ll get access to food suggestions for your current cycle phase. 

Prioritize Protein 

Protein is vital for maintaining a healthy and stable weight. (Remember: “healthy” and “skinny” are not necessarily the same thing.) That’s because it slows the absorption of carbohydrates, which keeps your blood sugar balanced. Balanced blood sugar ensures you aren’t over-eating other macros and keeps sugar cravings at bay.  

Most health experts who focus on female nutrition recommend getting at least 100 grams of protein per day, but 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is ideal. 

If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet, try these easy ways to sneak some in: 

  • Make bone broth your new bestie – heat it up and sip on it as a snack, or use it in place of water when cooking rice or pasta. 

  • Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream in recipes or as a topping for Mexican night.

  • Don’t sleep on collagen – add a scoop to your coffee, smoothies, or soups for an instant protein boost.

  • Center all of your meals and snacks around protein. For instance, instead of having just a Caesar salad, add some chicken or shrimp. Or have a beef stick or a few slices of deli meat with your fruit when you’re feeling snacky.  

Exercise Intentionally 

It’s time to break up with intense workouts (at least for the time being, anyway). If you’ve been exercising as a way to “stay skinny” or burn calories, shift your focus to thinking of it as a way to show your body love. Find movement you enjoy – going on walks, playing tennis, stretching, pilates, bike rides. Chances are you’ll find that you’re happier doing these activities than going all out at the gym day after day. 

And even more importantly, your hormones will love the more laid-back approach to exercise. If you need another reason to ditch HIIT, spinning classes, etc., consider this: These intense workouts rely on raising your heart rate for extended periods. This creates a stress response in your body, which causes it to go into survival mode and wreak havoc on your hormones – in other words, the very thing we’re trying to avoid. 

Closing Thoughts 

It can be challenging to change your health focus from one of aesthetics to one of nourishment – especially if you’ve been chasing a “perfect” lean figure for years. But knowing how much your female body depends on fat can help. So don’t be afraid of your curves. Your hormones – and your whole body – will thank you. 

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