Runner's World

August 2003, "Thinning On The Top"

Thinning On The Top

Like many women, I'm pear shaped: bigger on the bottom, smaller on the top. Even worse, whenever I lose a few pounds, the weight disappears from my chest, arms and face, not my thighs or buttocks. Since I don't have much "up top" to begin with, this all seems like a cruel joke. What's going on?
- C.H., Richmond, VA.

Just about any woman who has ever tried to lose weight shares your frustration. And if you want to assign blame, look no further than your hormones.

Hormones influence both your total amount of body fat and its regional distribution. When a young girl reaches puberty, estrogen encourages body fat to accumulate in the "gluteal-femoral" region (a.k.a. the hips and thighs). It's thought that fat stored in this area served the evolutionary purpose of protecting a pregnant woman (and her fetus) against starvation in prehistoric times.

The fat stored in a woman's hips and thighs is also much more resistant to breakdown than fat stored in other parts of the body. This, too, is thanks to estrogen and some "fight-or-flight" hormones called catecholamines. Taken together then, it is very common for the hip and thigh region to be the first place a woman gains weight and the last place she loses it.

While we can't change the fact that our hormones influence our body shape, we can use this information to tailor our fitness goals. For instance: Get Real. Knowing that we're apt to be slightly larger on the bottom, it's unrealistic to try to hold ourselves to the idealized 36-26-36 standard that dictates identical top and bottom measurements. Focus on realistic (and healthy) weigh-loss and body-image goals.

Keep on running. Since running is one of the most efficient fat-burning exercises you can do, keep at it.

Pump up top. Adding some upper body resistance training to your workout regime can help you define and accentuate the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and chest to give you a toned and balanced look.

- Jana Klauer, M.D., research fellow at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, and weight-reduction and nutrition expert in New York City

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