Of course, both men and women can struggle with achieving weight and health goals, but is weight loss sometimes harder for women?
There are some issues that play a big role for women. For a sustainable lifestyle change and weight loss, it is important for women to keep these in mind and have an action plan on how to combat against them!
Let’s take a look at 5 issues specific to women and the actions you can take.
- Effect of hormones: When we talk about hormones, often people think about the reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These definitely influence women during monthly cycles, lead to cravings and water retention, along with mood changes for many! If your menstrual cycles are off, you are noticing new facial hair growth or struggle with infertility, you might have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It is important to seek medical evaluation to diagnose this condition. It predisposes women to insulin resistance, weight gain and other health issues. Read more about PCOS HERE.
Are there other hormones to consider? Cortisol is one such hormone, which comes from the pituitary gland, and is released in response to stress. Men have stress too of course; but often, women deal with the juggling act of work, domestic chores, and raising kids, leading to a disproportionate burden of stress. With constant stress, there is an ongoing elevation in cortisol levels, which in turn leads to an increase in other hormones like insulin (increased fat storage), increased hunger hormones (grehlin) and decreased satiety hormones. This combination of hormone signals can make weight loss for women more challenging.
- Work on reducing stress- recognize you can’t change all the stressors, but you can change your response.
- Work to build more control and mindfulness in your life. As women, we are often trying to please everyone, but remember you cannot pour from an empty cup!
- Learning to say “no” by drawing boundaries, meditation, active stress reduction and making time for your own well-being is a start!
- Make time for self-care daily- can you take 10 mins daily to make yourself a priority?
- Emotional eating: Anyone else done this? We eat when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are anxious… breaking the food reward cycle and it’s link to our emotions is essential if this is playing a role in your food decisions. It’s not that chocolate cake is “bad” in and of itself once in a while, but if we turn to high sugar, high fat foods to feel better often, this cycle can lead a “food addiction”, excess weight gain, and a vicious cycle! What can you do?
- Work towards finding alternative ways to show yourself love and comfort.
- In the moment of stress or high emotions, pause and recognize the feeling, and before you reach for that treat that will give you transient relief, consider a substitution.
- A walk, a call with a friend, some deep breaths, a nice bath or just some “me time” can be great options. Can you think of something that brings you joy that is not food related?
- Menopause:Oh, we are back to hormones! In peri-menopause and post-menopause, reproductive hormones are changing again! Menopause itself does not lead to weight gain, but there is a re-distribution of weight to the belly area, which many notice! Also, with age, metabolism slows down and there is loss of muscle mass- more on that below. With progressive weight gain and age, often women (and men) develop insulin resistance, which leads to a harder time losing weight and increased risk for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The changes in hormones also affect sleep, which is an important factor in our metabolism. As these changes occur, the nutrition, exercise and other methods that were working before, start being less effective. That can be super frustrating!
- Try something different! It is not impossible to lose weight during this time, but it does take recognizing that with a decrease in metabolism, you will need to change a few things.
- While portion sizes need to be cut down, you might feel hungry! Eating more protein and fiber can help with hunger.
- Often intermittent fasting can be a helpful tool to create a calorie restriction.
- Exercise, aerobic as well as muscle resistance training, can help not only burn calories, but also help to maintain your muscle mass.
- Changes in Metabolism: With age and loss of muscle mass, our metabolism slows down! As above, what worked before stops working. So, is it futile? No.
SOLUTION:Few things to help your metabolism:
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep
- Work to decrease stress
- Fasting can help to maintain metabolic rate while weight loss occurs
- Eat your fiber: 35 g/day! Prebiotic foods (high fiber foods) get converted into substances by our gut bacteria that help prevent insulin resistance
- Accepting nothing less than perfection: I am sure there are men who deal with this too, but women in my experience, often feel like they need to be perfect. We have to be okay with understanding that our wellness journey will have deviations and we cannot let those “off the course times” derail our efforts to get to the destination we seek.
When you are driving on the highway and you take a wrong exit, do you keep going in the wrong direction or do you get back on the highway? Of course, you get back on, right?
Accept that your journey will be full of wrong exits, pit stops and you might stop and enjoy some sights along the way- but get back on with intention towards the health goals you seek!
Weight loss for women can be a challenge, but if we keep in mind that the end goal is our metabolic health, then making small, sustainable changes that lead to choosing YOU can make all the difference!
As always, please note this is not medical advice. Please discuss specific health concerns and lifestyle changes with your personal physician.