Is This Hormone Imbalance Slowing Your Fat Loss? – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

by Tasha Stevens

Why Your Low-Calorie Diet is Backfiring

Are you hanging onto fat despite meticulous calorie counting and consistent cardio? You’re not alone, ladies. Let’s fix that.

You’re eating well, lifting weights, and tracking macros, yet the scale won’t budge. Your results have come to a screeching halt. Before you throw in the towel, let’s dig deeper.

Hormones control every aspect of your metabolic function. Any imbalances and disruptions can make it nearly impossible to move the needle on your fat-loss results. This is especially true for one overlooked hormone: testosterone.

Women have always been told that testosterone is a man’s hormone; it’ll make us “bulky.” However, low testosterone influences every other key hormone and metabolic function. Low levels are often the culprit for stubborn belly fat, low energy, depression, unhealing injuries, and lack of results in the gym.

Why T is So Important for Females

Testosterone is critical to regulating ovulation and menses in women. A regular cycle is the fifth vital sign of health for women (1). Testosterone spikes right before ovulation to trigger the release of luteinizing hormone (LH). That surge then releases the egg from the follicle to start successful ovulation.

So, you can think of testosterone as your “hot and heavy” hormone. It’s what drives libido and sex drive around ovulation. It ramps up metabolic function during that time and improves strength capacity and the ability of your body to build lean mass and burn fat (2).

In menstruating women, 25% of testosterone is made in the ovaries, but an overwhelming 50% of testosterone is made in the adrenals via DHEA conversion (3). This means your adrenal health and stress levels directly influence your body’s ability to have healthy T levels.

Let’s face it, most women are stressed out. Stress is unrelenting in society and it’s heightened from misconceptions about what you should be doing to get results. Most women are under-eating, over-exercising, and missing key nutrients to fuel optimal function. All these features sound the alarm for your stress response and put a halt to testosterone production.

Signs of Low Testosterone in Women

So how do you know this is an issue in your body? Here are some telltale signs:

  • Thinning Hair and Nails
  • Low Libido and Sex Drive
  • Infertility
  • Lack of Menses or Irregular Cycles
  • Stubborn Belly Fat
  • Inability to Lose Weight
  • Muscle Weakness and Fatigue
  • Low Energy and Chronic Fatigue
  • Anxiety and Depression

The Low-T Culprit

Stress, plain and simple. As a woman, over 50% of usable testosterone is made in your adrenal glands, which means if your body is overburdened and running in overdrive, production and conversion of this hormone can come to a halt.

When chasing results, most of us revert to what we’ve been told to do: eat less food and do more cardio. It’s basically the idea that lowering our calories-in and raising our calories-out will lead to the lean, defined aesthetic most women want.

But the method is flawed. Chronic under-eating triggers a stress response that puts a biological halt on non-essential functions like ovulation, fat burning, and lean mass. You can think of this as a sort of “famine response” since the same type of thing happens if you don’t have access to enough food to support these bodily functions.

Since testosterone is critical in controlling these three functions, it’s one of the first things that’s suppressed. Chronic stress increases fat conservation and storage as a protective measure to ensure that your body has enough energy to survive the perceived famine. As your body accumulates more fat cells, they start to store and create their own estrogens. The estrogen that’s stored in fat cells then creates an enzyme called aromatase, which takes and converts any active testosterone into estrogen for further storage (4).

It’s a vicious cycle that can’t be broken with traditional diets and workout programs. That’s exactly why you’ve been eating less, cutting carbs, and adding in fasted cardio with nothing much to show for it. You need to turn this alarm off so your body can regulate testosterone production and get into a space where it feels safe to resume all “non-essential” functions.

Three Steps to Boosting T and Burning Fat

Turning this alarm off means your body needs to feel it’s getting enough nutrients to support optimal hormone production, which means moving through a hormone-synced reverse diet.

Gradually increasing total energy consumption and adapting the type of nutrients and energy distribution to support regular ovulation and menstruation ramps up testosterone production. Yes, the key to getting better results is eating more food.

The critical factor to success? Make sure you understand your current metabolic threshold (CMT) and compare it to your basal metabolic rate (BMR). If you’ve been chronically under-eating for years, you cannot rapidly increase consumption. Your body will still be in a “fight and flight” mode and store all excess nutrients as fat rather than allocating them to hormone production.

Additionally, your metabolic capacities are heavily influenced by hormone production across the month, so you need to time the type of nutrients needed along with how much energy you’re consuming to reduce adrenal fatigue and increase testosterone production.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Track your current dietary intake for a week. Your current intake level is considered your CMT. Factor in how your energy/calories are consumed and the distribution of your fat, carbs, and protein. Most importantly, take note if you’re stuck in a weight gain pattern or resistance to fat loss. This can indicate the level of perceived stress and threat in the body.
  2. Calculate your BMR. (Just Google “BMR calculator.”) This is an estimated intake level based on your age, weight, height, and activity levels. While this calculation isn’t perfect (it often fails to factor in lean mass influences) it can give an idea of how far off the mark you are. A deficit of over 500 calories is typically indicative of high stress and metabolic disruption.
  3. Use cycle-synced metabolic progressions. This is when you start to map out your dietary intake increases in reference to your hormone cycle.

During your follicular and ovulatory phases, metabolic demand is lower and fat-burning capabilities are higher. That means your total energy needs are lower (calorie consumption) but your body’s ability to burn fat is higher. Focus on a moderate increase of overall energy and having higher protein and carbohydrate percentages.

During your luteal phase and menstrual phase, metabolic demand is higher and fat-burning capabilities are lower. This means your total energy needs are higher due to stress response and your body’s ability to burn fat is lower. Focus on a high increase in total energy consumption with higher protein and fat percentages of your daily breakdown.

Kick Testosterone Production (and Results) into High Gear

The cherry on top to improve testosterone levels is the right training program. Strength training is the single best method to improve circulating testosterone levels, regulate cortisol levels, and improve insulin resistance in women.

Adapting your training program to align with your hormonal cycle, known as cyclical strength training, incorporates key progressive overloads timed to optimize the strength of your hormones. This is how your body can 10x the results in half the time because the progressive overloads don’t burn out your hormones, but instead support their function.

Key Takeaway

Healthy testosterone levels are critical to your results. Testosterone is going to help you burn more fat, feel confident, and have more energy. But you’re not doing your testosterone levels any favors with restrictive diets. It’s going to take fueling your results and hormone production with a cycle-synced reverse diet. So goodbye diet advice of the 70s and hello to fueling success.



  1. Menstrual Cycles as a Fifth Vital Sign | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 2021, September 13. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  2. Davis SR, Wahlin-Jacobsen S. Testosterone in women–the clinical significance. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015 Dec;3(12):980-92. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00284-3. Epub 2015 Sep 7. PMID: 26358173.
  3. Abdel, M. Y., & Lucidi, R. S. (2022, February 7). Androgen Excess: Practice Essentials, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology. Medscape Reference. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  4. Chan HJ, Petrossian K, Chen S. Structural and functional characterization of aromatase, estrogen receptor, and their genes in endocrine-responsive and -resistant breast cancer cells. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2016 Jul;161:73-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2015.07.018. Epub 2015 Aug 13. PMID: 26277097; PMCID: PMC4752924.

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