I have written in the past about the differences in the fat cells between women and men. That is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences in our genetic makeup. This post and its subsequent posts will talk about the hormonal phases that women go through in their lifetime from their teens to beyond menopause. Each post will talk about what’s going on during each phase, the health challenges, and possible solutions. This first post will focus on your teens through your early-20s.
The guys will probably start exiting at this stage. But it might to be your own best interest to keep reading. You do not want to end up asking your wife or girlfriend the most deadly question. Let me tell you a secret – approximately every 15 years our bodies move through a phase, both biological and our emotional state. We have to constantly learn to adapt to the chaos thrown at us from our hormones. That is why the sweet wife you married in your early 20s might seem like another woman in your late 30s.
What is happening our hormones in our 20s?
Before puberty, the female’s body composition is not that much different from a boy’s. Though we are born with more fat cells than the males, it is not yet activated; hence most of us look like broomsticks. But once puberty hits, the estrogen level raises, flooding our bodies with the female sex hormones that will become the start our lifelong battle with body image and self acceptance.
The fat that we gain at this stage is essential for our fertility, depositing itself at the hips, thighs, butts, and breasts. At a minimum, the female body must maintain 12% – 15% body fat in order to perform its most basic function of being able to bear children (yes, we are more than baby making machines, but reproduction is one of the most basic functions to the survival of our race). Getting below this minimum percentage, our bodies will stop menstruating because we do not have enough fat to support a baby.
At this stage, we are also most vulnerable to destructive behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and eating disorders. We need to stop connecting our looks with our self-worth. This is the stage when recreational dieters could turn into full-blown eating disorders. A recreational dieter is like a friend of mine who announced at the first Monday of every month that she going on a (fill in the blank) diet. We can still develop an eating disorder later on in our lives. If you need more help with eating disorders, you might want to check the blog at Change Therapy. They focus on resolving the emotional issues around eating disorders.
Our body composition is at its peak with the right amount of body fat and lean muscle mass (if we were not overweight when we hit puberty). Our activity level is higher, so deciding to control our weight with exercise will release more fat than those of a woman over 40. Starving ourselves will only make it harder to control our weight at later phases in our lives.
Our health challenges in your 20s
1. Our lack of an exercise habit
How many of you were active in high school or college, but stopped once you got a real job? Am I the only one with my hand raised?
2. Our lack of a nutritional diet
I am using the word “diet” the way it is used in my nutritional class in college – as a selection of food habitually eaten, not the negative “diet” associated with Atkins or South Beach. Even teens can have plaque buildup in their arteries. This is result of a diet consisting of french fries, doughnuts, sugary cereals, pastries, chips, and pizzas (the typical college diet). Maybe I should stop giving my two college sisters McDonald BOGO coupons.
3. Our lack of self acceptance.
We learn to pass judgment on ourselves from the women in our lives, especially our moms. If we had moms with a healthy relationship with her food and body, chances are we will have a healthy relationship too. If you cannot find the motivation for a healthy lifestyle, please do it for your daughters. Break the cycle. The media only re-enforces the lesson we learn from our parents about self-acceptance and body image.
4. Our lack of knowledge about our bone mass
After 35, we stop adding to our bone density (sometimes even as early as 25, depending on when we first started menstruating). By the time we are 18, we accumulated 80-90% of the bone density we will ever have. After 35, the calcium we ingest will only maintain our existing bone density. Health is about our physical independence as we age, but there are young women in their 20s with the bone density of an 80 year old woman. Chronic dieting, eating disorder, and lack of physical activity lead to weight gain, but they also lead to a depletion of our bone mass.
Possible solutions to our health challenges in our 20s
1. Now is the time to establish a healthy outlook at exercise.
If we do not use it, we will loose it. So start moving! Exercise can be incorporated into our everyday activities. There is a real disadvantage in being a sedentary woman at this stage in your life. My friends hated when it is my turn to drive for lunch because I always park at the furthest spot in a parking lot. A couple times I even dropped them up front because I get tired of hearing them whine about it, but I am not going to change my healthy habits because it is inconvenient for other people.
2. Learn to eat healthier.
Americans drink 1.4 billion gallons of soda each year. That is 54 gallons each person. Stop drinking soda! Would we feed ourselves a few hundred pounds of candy each year? Then why are we feeding ourselves this much liquid candy?
Limit happy hour. Cheap alcohol plus buffalo wings equals excess weight gained.
Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. The National Weight Control Registry found that 80% those who successfully maintained weight loss always eat breakfast. I have a problem with this one, especially during the weekends, but I am working on it.
3. Nip eating disorders in the bud.
If you purge, binge, starve, yourself, or exercise compulsively, you are headed for trouble. Get help RIGHT NOW.
4. Start adding to your bone density.
Drink calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice or eat calcium rich food such as broccoli, kale, spinach, oranges, tofu, peanuts, peas, black beans, salmon, sardines, Chinese mustard greens, and Chinese cabbage. Google “calcium food source” for more options.
Start strength training. The stress on our bones from strength training will add to our bone density.
It is easier to change your habits when you are young. Make the effort now and change the rest of your life. Check back soon for the follow up post on the next phase in our lives from our late 20s to our 40s.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.
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