When women and men go on a weight loss challenge together, almost nine times out of ten, the man will lose more weight and quicker than his female counterpart. Is it lack of motivation, not trying hard enough, or being unable to avoid temptation for certain foods that women struggle with? No, no, and no.
All of us can have roadblocks that get in our way of losing unwanted pounds. But for women, it’s especially frustrating for several reasons. The biggest reason – their genetic makeup. Women face special challenges that men will never have to. Men already have an advantage over women when it comes to weight loss. Men are larger and have more muscle than women due to the hormone testosterone. They are also genetically designed to have a higher percentage of muscle and less fat which works in favor of keeping them fit and allowing them to eat more calories. The more muscle a person has, the more calories they burn, even at rest, so it stands to reason that men will lose weight faster simply because they have more metabolically active muscle.
So what are other factors making it harder for women to lose weight than men?
- The effect of pregnancy
Naturally, when a woman becomes pregnant, she gains weight and more body fat. Her body is preparing her for nurturing the baby with breastmilk so having a higher percent body fat helps ensure she is able to produce enough to feed her baby. Add in the fact that during the first few months after birth, a new mother may have difficulty finding time to exercise and get adequate sleep – both necessary for shedding extra pounds.
However, if a new mom does decide to breastfeed, this can be a good way to burn extra calories triggering a significant loss of weight as long as she is choosing healthy foods.
Women who retain a few excess pounds after each birth may also find it harder to lose the “baby fat” later down the road.
- Slower metabolic rate
Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men necessary for childbearing and estrogen production. They also have less muscle mass than men. Metabolic rate is driven by the amount of muscle mass. With the combination of a higher percent body fat and less muscle mass, women are destined to have a metabolic rate that often is not up to speed like a man’s is. This in turn, affects her metabolic rate or how many calories a person burns while at rest.
- Menopause menace
Menopause is another time in a woman’s life making it difficult but not impossible for getting fit. Declining estrogen levels associated with approaching menopause is one of the major factors leading to what women have nicknamed “menopot” belly. Instead of depositing fat to the hips and thighs, there is a shift towards the midriff. The fat accumulating in her middle is known as visceral fat which lies deep down, padding the space between abdominal organs. However, high levels of visceral fat is associated with metabolic disturbances and raises her risk for type 2 diabetes and breast cancer or even dementia. High stress brings about elevated levels of cortisol which in turn triggers abdominal fat.
- PCOS struggles
Between 5 and 10 percent of women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a combination characterized by a hormonal imbalance making weight loss more difficult and causes menstrual irregularity.
How women can overcome weight loss challenges
Despite the struggles women may face when attempting weight loss, there are still plenty of ways to fight off weight gain and prevail:
Have a physical
The first step is for women to get a yearly physical. Weight gain can be related to metabolic disorders such as thyroid issues or diabetes. The only way a woman will know for sure is to have routine blood work checking for conditions such as these. If any such issue is found, this may explain part of the reason for weight gain and appropriate medical intervention can begin controlling the condition
Include weight training
One of the best ways to boost weight loss success is to lift weights. This will help build muscle mass helping to burn more calories. Resistance training should occur at least twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes per session. This is especially important as a woman grows older since metabolism naturally slows down and everyone will lose muscle as they age.
Stay away from fad diets
Any diet promising quick results (such as losing 20 pounds in two weeks), eliminating food groups (like allowing no dairy or grains), or saying exercise is not necessary, is considered a fad diet. Instead, women (and men) should follow a well-balanced meal plan such as the Mediterranean diet. Fad diets are not meant to follow long-term so once a person goes off of it, they have learned very little, and will go back to their old way of eating with the weight they may have lost eventually gained back.
Choose a sustained weight loss plan
The best weight loss plan not only helps a person lose some weight but prevents them from gaining it back. Studies show that most weight loss plans should result in a 5 to 10 percent weight loss within a year if you stick with it. If you are not seeing results, then it’s time to try a different plan that fits your lifestyle.
Consider working with a Registered Dietitian who can tailor a meal plan that is balanced and nutritious. Healthy weight loss meal plans should include lean proteins, healthy fats, limited simple carbs (sugar, white bread, sweetened drinks) and lots of vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables.