Is It Harder for Women to Lose Weight?

How to overcome weight loss challenges

A woman and her husband go on a diet together. Are they both motivated? Yes. Do they each faithfully count calories? Yes. Nevertheless, the man is more likely to shed unwanted pounds earlier in this process than his wife.

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Why? Blame it on your genes, some experts say.

“We hear this all the time, and it can be frustrating for women,” says endocrinologist Ula Abed Alwahab, MD. “But unfortunately for women, their genetic makeup can make losing weight a little more challenging.”

So what factors are at work here?

1. Metabolism blues. Women typically have more body fat and less muscle than men. And that affects basic metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns while at rest.

“Metabolic rate is really driven by your muscle mass, and women have less muscle and more fat cells,” says registered dietitian Dawn Noe.

2. Pregnancy effects. When a woman gets pregnant, she gains weight and more body fat. In addition, it’s often difficult for a new mother to find the time to exercise and sleep. And she’ll need both to shed those extra pounds.

However, breast feeding does help with burning calories and weight loss at this stage of life.

3. Menopause. Women also gain weight in their abdomen during menopause due to a loss of hormones and a slower metabolism. Some women even have a name for their new pot belly — meno-pot.

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4. PCOS struggles. Between 5 and 10 percent of women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a condition characterized by a hormonal imbalance that makes weight loss more difficult and causes menstrual irregularity.

Despite these challenges, there are plenty of ways to fight off weight gain and prevail.

Include resistance and weight training

Building muscle mass helps both women and men boost their metabolism. Having more muscle mass helps you burn off calories, even when you’re sitting or at rest.

You can maintain muscle by doing resistance training at least twice a week, for 20 to 30 minutes per session. This is especially important as you grow older. (Your metabolism naturally slows down and you lose muscle as you age.)

There are several ways to approach resistance training:

  • Use machines at a gym or at home.
  • Use free weights or resistance bands.
  • Participate in a group fitness class, such as Pilates.
  • Use your body for resistance by doing push-ups, squats and lunges.

“Women are sometimes hesitant to do weight training because they are afraid they will start to look manly,” Ms. Noe says. “But that is a misconception, as women lack the amount of testosterone that men have.”

She encourages women to get comfortable with weights. “Women should be weight training to gain the benefits of building muscle such as increased metabolic rate and prevention of osteoporosis,” she says.

Weight bearing exercise isn’t only healthy because it’s a workout. As it helps you grow in muscle mass, you burn more calories, which decreases insulin resistance significantly and helps prevent diabetes.

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Don’t be fooled by fad diets

If a man and woman go on a diet together, in general, he can eat 1,500 calories a day to lose one pound a week, but she can only eat 1,200 calories, Ms. Noe says.

Of course, if you are both exercising, too, those calories may shift slightly higher. For women, maintaining your weight loss may mean eating less than men in the long term as well.

Ms. Noe often recommends a healthy, balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. “Research of weight loss does not bear out one fad diet over another,” she says.

Focus on the long haul

It’s important to be patient. 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 aren’t seeing results, you may need to try a different plan that will fit your lifestyle better,” she says.

Whether you follow a diet low in fat, low in carbohydrates or some other diet, make sure meals are balanced and nutritious.

Include lean proteins, healthy fats, limited simple carbs (sugar, white bread, sweetened drinks) and lots of vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies.

Other nutrition recommendations for women over age 50 including cutting back on salt and maintaining adequate calcium and Vitamin D, either from foods or supplements.

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