May 13, 2019

Why It Really Is Harder for Women to Lose Weight and What To Do

Overcoming weight loss challenges

Woman using resistance band for training

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.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

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 in part driven by your muscle mass, and women have less muscle and more fat naturally than men,” says dietitian and certified diabetes educator Dawn Noe, RD, LD, CDE.

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, breastfeeding 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.

Advertisement

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. Here are three.

1. 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. But that is a misconception, as women lack the amount of testosterone that men have.

Noe 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.

2. Find the eating pattern that works best for you.

If a middle-aged man and woman are both interested in losing weight, the amount of calories a man needs for weight loss are about 1,500 per day (depending on height/weight/level of physical activity), but the woman’s calorie needs will be much less – typically about 1,200 calories per day, Noe says.

Advertisement

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

Noe often recommends a balanced eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet. She also tends to use lower carbohydrate and ketogenic diets, especially for women with PCOS or diabetes who may not tolerate higher carb meal plans. “Research of weight loss does not bear out one eating pattern over another,” she says, “and the eating pattern you choose needs to be individualized to your health needs and eating behaviors.”

3. Focus on the long game.

It’s important to be patient. Studies show that most weight loss plans should result in 5% to 10% weight loss within a year if you stick with it. “If you aren’t seeing results, talk with your healthcare team as you may need to try a different plan that will better fit your lifestyle,” 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 like nuts, olive oil and avocados, limited simple carbs (no sugar, white bread, sweetened drinks) and lots of vitamins and minerals from vegetables and fruit.

Other nutrition recommendations for women over age 50 include maintaining adequate calcium and Vitamin D, either from foods or supplements.

Related Articles

Doctor shaking hands with patient, with large heart and EKG line behind them
February 19, 2024
How Weight Affects Your Heart

Having underweight, having overweight and having obesity can be dangerous for your heart

Person eating healthy bowl of noodles with fitness items floating around head
January 17, 2024
How To Shed 10 Pounds — For Good!

Actively choose healthy habits not only when it comes to food and nutrition, but also physical activity and your mental health

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

clock with diet foods and water
November 14, 2023
The 10 Worst Ways To Lose Weight

Trying fad diets and skipping meals won’t do you any favors

Sad thin elderly adult looking out window.
November 7, 2023
Alzheimer’s Disease and Weight Loss: Why It Happens and What Can Be Done

Finding the causes of weight loss is key to treatment

Weight scale with arrow pointing to overweight is shown with sneakers and a water bottle in foreground.
September 10, 2023
Is It Healthy To Be ‘Fat and Fit’?

Having obesity brings long-term health risks no matter your fitness level

plate of cottage cheese, 5 saltine crackers, and a hard boiled egg
September 5, 2023
Drop and Give Me 10 Reasons To Avoid the Military Diet

Extreme calorie restriction isn’t the way to long-term weight loss

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad