Feeling frustrated because weight-loss seems impossible? Maybe you’re doing all the “right” things but your clothes aren’t loosening and the scale never budges? If this has been your experience, you’re not alone. It can be so disheartening when you put in the effort, but never see results. Weight loss for women is not always a simplistic picture. There are a number of reasons why it’s harder for women than men.
Start by understanding the reasons why you struggle to lose weight as a woman. Then, make a few tweaks to what you’re doing, and watch all of that change.
How to lose weight fast for women
Just a quick note before we get into the main reasons that women struggle with weight loss. It’s always tempting to choose an approach that will help you lose weight fast. Women who lose weight fast certainly experience some instant gratification; however, it’s not generally recommended as a sustainable or enjoyable long-term approach.
With that in mind, here are some of the red flags to watch out for if you’re struggling to lose weight. We’ll share them alongside our best weight loss tips for women.
You’re going overboard with portions
It’s generally a “one size fits all” approach to portion sizes in restaurants. Similarly, it’s likely that you and your partner eat exactly the same portions for dinner each night. Does that ring true? Sadly, different people require different calories. This largely depends on body size and activity levels. For example, a moderately active 125lb woman requires around 2000 calories per day, and a 175lb man with similar activity levels requires about 2800 calories[i].
This should transfer over to a difference in serving sizes. However, when it comes to eating habits in a household, it often doesn’t. How regularly do you eat exactly the same as your male counterpart? It’s also worth mentioning that macronutrient requirements, especially protein and fats, differ between men and women.
Taking a more specific look, the levels of lean body (muscle) mass and fat mass per person, further affects their basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories burned, irrespective of activity levels[ii]. Men often have naturally higher levels of muscle mass and lower levels of fat mass. This again increases their overall calorie requirement compared to women.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #1
Adjust your portion sizes based on your body size, activity levels, and how much muscle and fat you currently have. For more guidance on how to personalize your needs, visit the 131 Method.
Too much emphasis on long slow cardio
Are you a steady state “cardio queen” who’s not seeing weight loss results? All forms of exercise have merit. And some contribute towards weight loss when done appropriately, however, check that you’re not overdoing the long slow cardio. High intensity interval training (HIIT) repeatedly shows favorable results when it comes to weight loss[iii] [iv]. There are a few considerations concerning safety, so if you’re new to exercise, or you have an injury or medical concern, seek professional advice around whether it’s right for you. If you’re going through menopause it’s also worth seeking advice. Due to the raft of hormonal changes occurring, gentler forms of activity might be recommended during this time.
However, if you’ve been exercising regularly for a while and you simply jump on your favorite piece of cardio equipment at a steady level, it might be time to change things up and add some hill and/or sprint intervals. Some studies have found the results of continuous training to be similar to HIIT when it comes to fat loss[v]. Even in the face of results like this, HIIT is well worth considering if you have a busy schedule (as many of us women do!). It’s simply more time efficient so you can achieve the same level of results in a shorter amount of time.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #2
Include HIIT training into your cardio routine if it’s appropriate and safe for you to do so.
Lack of resistance training
Aside from the type of cardio you perform, have you neglected resistance training? Some women fear they will bulk up by doing resistance-based exercise. The reality is that it’s often little more than social conditioning that creates these beliefs. Resistance training is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Two of the big ones are that it helps build bone density, as well as muscle mass. We’ve already discussed that muscle mass can increase your BMR and help you to burn more calories, even at rest. So by building muscle you’re assisting your body’s ability to burn fat.
Age related muscle decline makes it harder to lose weight as you get older, so regular resistance training counters this. If you’re getting older (aren’t we all!) plus you’re only doing steady state cardio, you could be exacerbating the decline in muscle mass. Add in some regular resistance training to preserve (or even build) muscle mass. The effect will be more favorable for your BMR and overall calorie burning potential.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #3
Include regular resistance training to preserve or build muscle mass as part of your overall exercise plan.
You need to get better quality sleep
Lack of sleep negatively impacts your ability to lose weight[vi]. When it comes to how to lose weight for women, good quality sleep is so important. Sleep is crucial for both hormone regulation and insulin sensitivity[vii]. Miss out on too many of the “z’s” and you’ll find that hormones such as leptin and ghrelin (appetite regulators) aren’t functioning as they should. What’s the result? You’ll be highly likely to reach for “quick fix” solutions the next day. These usually come in the form of highly processed sugar, salt and fat laden solutions, perhaps with a double dose of caffeine on the side. Choices like these will further affect your hormone balance.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #4
Aim to get 6-9 hours of good quality sleep each night, depending on your own personal needs.
Your hormones rule you
Women have more hormone fluctuations to deal with than men. Quite simply, when your hormones are out of balance it’s easy to feel like you’re “all over the place.” Women go through hormone fluctuations over the course of a menstrual cycle[viii], during pregnancy and breast feeding, and during menopause.
If you have imbalanced hormones, you may feel more emotional, which potentially places you at a higher risk for emotional or “comfort” eating. Imbalanced hormones domino into many systems of the body. This might cause your body to work less efficiently than it should be in order for weight loss to occur easily.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #5
If you suspect your hormones are ruling you, visit your health practitioner for a few tests. Find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies or a thyroid problem that could be making weight loss more difficult for you. For more information on hormones, visit the 131 Method.
Too much stress in your lifestyle
Are you guilty of taking too much on in your life? Do you “say yes” all the time and struggle to please everyone? Are you “busy being busy” all the time with little space for relaxation or doing the things you love doing? If you spend your life rushing around and trying to be “superwoman,” you may be limiting your ability to burn body fat effectively.
Even if you tend to thrive on “being busy” it’s a fine line between moving from an optimum level of stress (“eustress”) into overwhelm and helplessness. Too much stress might cause you to eat “mindlessly” and consume far more calories than you actually need. Have you ever put your hand in a packet of food, intending to have “just a little” and then been surprised when you suddenly found yourself at the bottom of the packet? This is a classic case of mindless eating, and if you’ve got a million and one things on your mind it’s easy to fall into this trap.
Stress and sleep also share a very close relationship[ix]. If you’re highly stressed you may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, and as you know, lack of sleep can bring with it a multitude of knock on effects. Furthermore, lack of sleep acts as a stressor for your body, so the two areas are interwoven and inseparable.
Studies have shown that high fat and sugar consumption in chronically stressed women can have a more pronounced effect on weight gain. This is especially so for weight gain around the stomach[x].
Weight loss for women takeaway point #6
Take a look at your overall lifestyle and figure out what you can release, in order to reduce your stress levels. You may also need to add in one or two actions that will enhance your well-being. Examples include regular time to yourself, or the inclusion of mind-body exercise such as yoga or tai chi.
Medications that hamper your efforts
Certain medications have the potential to stall your weight loss efforts. Anti-psychotics and antidepressants are common culprits[xi]. Coupled with unhealthy behaviors like a SAD diet, a sedentary lifestyle and smoking, the implications for weight gain are even worse[xii].
Birth control pills are often highlighted for their potential to add to weight gain. It’s possible that you might gain weight from your birth control pills, although it’s more likely from fluid retention rather than fat gain[xiii].
Weight loss for women takeaway point #7
If you suspect that your birth control pills might be causing you to gain weight, explore your options in terms of different pills or alternative birth control methods. Speak with your health care provider about alternatives to medications that you suspect are hampering your ability to lose weight.
You might be drinking too much
There are low calorie options when it comes to alcohol. However, it’s important to remember that calories from alcohol still get added to your overall energy intake. So it’s worth considering whether that extra glass of wine is worth it, or whether you’d prefer to get those calories from some nutrient rich food. Furthermore, alcohol can stimulate further eating, and also lead to abandonment of restraint when it comes to food choices[xiv].
There is also evidence that women metabolize alcohol differently than men[xv]. Although regular light-moderate drinking patterns don’t guarantee that you’re going to gain weight[xvi], it’s worth taking a holistic look at your consumption and consider how it affects you personally.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #8
Be real about your alcohol consumption and how it affects you. Then take action accordingly.
It’s possible your food choices are just not right for you
It’s easy to jump on board with a diet because it worked for someone else. The keto diet for example can produce great results for weight loss in some people. Maybe the man in your life is losing weight quickly by adopting the principles of a ketogenic diet, yet you seem to be gaining weight? By now hopefully you’re realizing that men and women have the potential to fetch quite different results from doing the same thing. Similarly, your body is unique in many ways and could respond differently than your BFF responds.
So learn to listen to your body’s signals and make the food choices that work well for you. Part of this involves addressing any potential food allergies or intolerances that may be slowing your weight loss results.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #9
Start looking at your nutritional intake as a unique, personal thing that fits in perfectly with your body type and lifestyle. This is as opposed to a “one size fits all” approach. Consider getting yourself tested for any food allergies and intolerances that might be slowing down your results. Get help individualizing your plan with the 131 Method.
Great marketing might have brainwashed you
Weight loss fads, diets and detoxes are most commonly marketed to women. Society also seems to place more pressure on women to look a certain way.
Over and over marketing campaigns play on our insecurities and try to convince us that their approach is the best one. It’s easy to get pulled in and become disheartened when we don’t achieve the results we set out to. Similarly discouraging is when we regain the lost weight (and more) as soon as the fad or weight loss meal plan is finished.
A number of hormonal changes can occur as a result of repeat dieting, which then make it harder for us to lose weight down the road. It’s easy to feel dispirited when the weight loss and gain cycle is repeated often enough. Sometimes you might even feel like you want to give up on it because no one has offered a long-term solution.
Weight loss for women takeaway point #10
Try to step away from the “noise” and recognize when a marketing campaign seems too good to be true or when you suspect the actions and results are not going to be sustainable. Consider a different approach such as the 131 method, which will help get you away from the diet mentality for good.