Most of us have seen or experienced some version of this scenario: a husband and wife decide to work together to lose weight. They start exercising together and start eating healthier foods. Before long, the husband is looking slimmer and more muscular, but the wife is still struggling to drop the pounds.
It’s not your imagination: weight loss really is harder for women. For any woman trying to slim down — whether with a partner or on her own — it’s important to understand the physical and psychological obstacles that make weight-loss difficult, so you can lessen any frustration around them and develop a plan to work around these common setbacks.
Following are 5 factors that make it more difficult for women to lose weight:
- Women naturally have less muscle mass than men. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, and men naturally have more muscle mass, they also naturally have a faster metabolism. What’s more, men tend to gravitate toward heavy lifting, while women tend to focus more on cardiovascular fitness, which means men’s workouts tend to boost muscle composition and metabolic rate even more. To boost your metabolism, make sure your workout includes strength training along with your cardio.
- Women have more of an emotional attachment to food. This makes women more likely to eat even when they aren’t hungry. Emotional eaters are often more likely to reach for foods that stimulate the reward center of the brain, which are often sugary, fatty foods that lead to weight gain. To combat emotional eating, ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or if you’re reaching for the cookies and ice cream for another reason. If you’re eating because you’re feeling stressed or depressed, do something else to keep your stress under control — like exercising, talking to a friend, or engaging in a creative project.
- Women experience surges in post-workout hunger hormones. In women, ghrelin — the hormone that triggers hunger — spikes after physical activity, while leptin — the hormone that signals a feeling of fullness — tends to drop. This makes post-workout hunger more common in women than in men, who don’t experience the same hormonal fluctuations. To satisfy your hunger without derailing your weight-loss goals, keep protein bars in your gym bag or satisfy your hunger with a post-workout smoothie.
- Women are more likely to prefer fattening foods. Not only are women more prone to emotional eating and post-workout eating, they’re also more likely to choose foods high in fat and sugar in general. In a 2009 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even when women said they weren’t hungry, the scent of pizza, chocolate cake, and cinnamon buns triggered activity in regions of the brain that control the drive to eat. Brain activity in men, however, did not respond the same way. Keep fattening foods out of the house so you’re less likely to fall victim to these types of cravings.
- Female hormones can cause weight fluctuations. Depending on where you are in your cycle, your weight can vary. Many women experience PMS water retention, which can cause a weight difference of as much as ten pounds. To keep an accurate record of your weight-loss progress, track your body fat percentage rather than focusing on the number on the scale. Watch your sodium intake during the week before your period to combat fluid retention. If you’re experiencing weight gain due to menopause, hormone replacement therapy can also help combat these symptoms.
One area where women have an edge: Whereas men tend to go it alone, women are more apt to draw encouragement from support systems, whether that means friends, a health coach, or a weight-loss group. If you’re in need of a little extra support, Garcia Weight Loss offers personalized weight-loss programs with trained medical staff who provide the encouragement, education, and inspiring care you need to reach your goals. Contact us today for your no-cost consultation!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on March 6, 2017