Build Muscle

Love Your Legs In Six Easy Steps

Lately my newsfeed keeps me telling to “Get Lean Legs!” and offering the promise of super slim thighs in six weeks. Can I be honest? It all makes me sigh a little. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually quite a fan of the ‘bro-science’ and articles out there about reducing lower body fat. Particularly because a lot of the information is based upon supporting optimal hormone balance and detoxification, which can only be a good thing no matter what you’re health goal is. However, they’re often lacking a little feminine perspective for my liking!

On behalf of women everywhere I’d just like to point out:

  • We know we store fat in our legs
  • We are aware we have cellulite
  • We just want get Topshop jeans past our knees

And you know what? Most of us are ultimately  bored of stressing about it!!

Keris Marsden Photographing NatureReally we’d just like to LOVE our legs a little bit more. After years of having a hate hate relationship with my own legs we’re finally making peace. I wouldn’t say we’re best friends, but we’re on better terms and I’m hanging out most days in denim cut offs. Something I wouldn’t have done in the years gone by.

I’d like to share how I got to this place with you all. It’s a result of balancing hormones, supporting detoxification and just looking after my legs more so they look better and I feel better about them. Before I start I’d like to add I’ve attended Poliquin’s Biosignature (now BioPrint) course about fat distribution, studied the science and practicised with clients as a nutritional therapist and trainer for years. I’m well versed in all the “how to get LEAN legs” theories but there’s some other advice I’d like to offer regarding body acceptance and learning to love your curvy bits a little more.

1. Accept female body fat as a blessing

Keris Marsden Love Your LegsLet me share something anecdotally with you – men who clean up their nutrition and lift weights a couple of times a week can strip body fat at a lightening rate. Surprise, surprise, the situation is a little more complicated for us women.

We typically carry more bodyfat than men and are predisposed to storing fat generally. It’s very natural and healthy for a woman to have more body fat. Female bodies favour “gluteofemoral fat” around the hips, bum and thighs (or fighs as Matt calls them). Men on the other hand, accumulate fat more in their intra-abdominal fat cells and this is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes (sorry guys!).

So here is the cool thing the science tells us about curves:

“The proportion of abdominal to gluteofemoral body fat correlates with obesity-associated diseases and mortality.”

In simple terms: fat around our hips, bum and thighs is more protective from a disease perspective than central, abdominal fat. Furthermore, when women gain weight in either the lower or upper body the female body tends to lay down subcutaneous fat (just below the skin) rather than the visceral fat around our organs that’s associated with disease, so for many women it doesn’t carry the same risk factors.

Women also burn fat differently to men and favour using upper body fat first. Think back – ever noticed how you can drop a bra size easier than jean size? However, here’s another lovely fact about our fat, it’s believed the female body stores a large number of long chain, omega 3 fats DHA in lower body fat. During pregnancy and breastfeeding this DHA is essential to support optimal fetal/infant brain and eye development, thus the body will burn lower body fat stores more readily to support the growth and development of the baby. Knowing there’s such a wonderful purpose to your feminine shape makes it much easier to embrace and appreciate it.

Finally, our curves are part of our physical appeal to the opposite sex, they symbolise fertility and femininity. Men LOVE hips, ‘fighs’ and are memorised by our bouncing bums. If I ever start to lose my curves Matt nags me to gain them back and openly states he prefers me with them. Countless studies have observed the signals the feminine physique attracts primal desires in men. Most guys just wish we loved our bodies as much as they do and often comment how a confident, curvy women is even sexier than one who keeps asking if he’s observed her cottage cheese thighs lately.

2. Stop screwing up your hormones

Although feminine fat has positive attributes, it is possible to change your hormone profile to one that encourages higher levels of estrogen in relation to other hormones, most notably testosterone and progesterone – this is known as estrogen dominance. At its worst estrogen dominance can increase your risk of diseases, including hormone related cancers and other endocrine issues (PMS, endometriosis ,PCOS and fibrocystic breasts). It also tends to decentralise fat storage, redistributing fat towards the lower body.

If we are chronically stressed our body will also do something known as pregnenolone steal. Pregnenolone is the precursor hormone used to make both stress and reproductive hormones. In times of stress, the body diverts more pregnenolone toward stress hormones at the expense of sex hormone production, particularly progesterone. This can exacerbate estrogen dominance by resulting in higher ratios of estrogen to progesterone and may lead to weight gain in the lower body. Progesterone is an antagonist to estrogen and also our diuretic hormone so lower levels may result in water retention, making our legs appear puffy, swollen with uber attractive sock marks.

Here’s a couple of things that might cause estrogen dominance and pregnenolone steal:

  1. Over exercising (too much cortisol)
  2. More than 2 servings of alcohol (it elevates estrogen)
  3. Excess caffeine (more than 2 cups of coffee and you’re pushing it)
  4. Contraceptive pill (more estrogen)
  5. Chronic stress and adrenal dysfunction (low progesterone)
  6. Xenoestrogens (factors in our environment like pesticides and fertilisers in our food, parabens in skincare and BPA in plastics can act as hormone disruptors increasing the estrogen load.)

Psst.. we are running a free Women’s Health, Hormone and Happiness webinar on Tuesday 14 July at 8pm BST where we’ll be covering this in a little more detail. Jump on the registration list here.

3. Support digestion and detoxification

Keris Marsden HeadstandOptimal digestion and detoxification can improve body composition on a number of different levels generally, however, the way it supports estrogen metabolism and excretion can particularly influence fat storage in the lower body.

Estrogen is cleared from the body via detoxification pathways in the liver and then excreted via the bowel so it makes sense to support these. Some of the main toxins that over burden our systems (that we can easily control our exposure to) are alcohol, caffeine, medications, chemicals in processed foods and those found in our skin care and household cleaning products.

There are some ways you can support oestrogen metabolism too. DIM (or Diidolylmethane) a compound found in cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower) supports the metabolism of estrogen to its more protective form. Green tea, B vitamins (especially B6, folate and B12) and zinc also support the estrogen detoxification pathways.

Sauna’s, dry skin brushing, massage and yoga also help by stimulating the lymphatic system and encouraging the mobilisation and metabolism of toxins.

Probiotics and prebiotics are also important by helping to establish a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Less desirable bacteria may increase the action of an enzyme known as beta glucuronidase which can lead to higher levels of estrogen. In order to be excreted, estrogen undergoes a process known as conjugation. During this process the estrogen is packed into a water soluble compound ready to be transported out of the body in the digestive system. However, this beta glucoronidase enzyme can break this bond freeing up the estrogen and allowing it to be recycled back into the body. More gut dysbiosis (bad bacteria rather than good) usually leads to higher levels of this enzyme.

Fibre also binds to estrogen and keeps the bowel moving daily to carry out the trash including toxins and excess hormones. Many women comment that following a very low carb (and subsequently low fibre) diet leaves them constipated and although they lose upper body fat they feel they often gain weight in their lower body, which could be due to estrogen excess.

4. Strong legs are sexy legs

Keris Marsden Leg StretchOf course it makes sense to train our legs and build muscle to give them a leaner appearance. However, the issue with us ladies is we like to give everything 110%. If I told you 100 bodyweight squats a day would get you the perfect legs most women I know would do a 150 just to be safe!

Our legs benefit from muscle stimulation, lymphatic activation, circulation and exercise will mobilise our fat stores. Increasingly though I see women perhaps just doing a little too much of it and tipping into the situations described in point 2. They observe an increase in lower body fat so train more reinforcing the situation.

All of these things are dose dependent but you could try:

  • Walk and stand more
  • Train legs 1-2 times week – hit your posterial chain with squats, lunges, step ups, deadlifts (single leg deadlifts are my favourite for getting a bubble bum)
  • Interval train 1-2 times a week – Great for mobilising fat stores whilst retaining lean body mass
  • Run and spin less – This is fine a couple of times a week (in short distances) but excessive cardio and endurance will increase the toxic burden on the body, compromise digestion (more toxins!) plus any loss of muscle mass won’t help the fight against the cellulite.
  • Yoga 2-3 times a week – Not only will yoga pose a different challenge mentally and physically, many of the postures are designed to encourage hormonal balance with deep breathing, gland squeezing and detox support.

5. Look after your legs

One thing I encourage you to do is be kinder to your legs and give them with the respect they deserve. Invest a little TLC in them and you’ll soon start to see your legs in a different light. Treat them to the following on a regular basis and you’ll soon feel like showing them off:

  • Exfoliate with some sea salt or bicarbonate of soda mixed in a carrier oil such as olive oil or almond oil
  • Wax or shave regularly (so they look and feel smooth enough to touch, enough said!)
  • Moisturise daily with coconut oil or shea butter
  • Relax your legs with some Better You Magnesium Oil, Better You Magnesium Body Lotion or an Epsom salts bath, all can help ease tight muscles and heavy legs
  • Bronze em! Add a spot of natural fake tan. Check out the a great natural range on Love Lula

6. Wear them loud and proud

Caroline Young bonkers leggingsA fellow nutritionist and pal, Caroline Young of Natural Nourishing Notes, recently sent me this great photo and said “check out my bonkers leggings” that’s not the brand by the way, just how she referred to them. Cool aren’t they?!

For years I tried to hide my legs with A-line skirts and wide leg trousers. I would never dare to bare, yet now I’m all for bonkers leggings, short shorts or bright jeggings. I love them because they make a statement that you’re proud of your pins and want the world to know it. If you haven’t done so already, grab yourself some “I Love My Legs” wardrobe items and let twitter, instagram and Facebook know you have thighs that rock 🙂

More Info…

We’re running a webinar tomorrow evening on Women’s Health, Hormones and Happiness offering more advice on taking control of your health and have some spots remaining for you to jump onboard.

If you’re struggling to lose excess body fat, feeling bloated and tired all the time or suffering from low moods these are all likely signs your hormones are out of sync. I’ll be talking about addressing these symptoms and implementing effective nutrition and lifestyle strategies to rebalance your hormones, regain control of your health and feel your happy self again. Register here!

FF Women's Health Webinar 14 July 2015