Why it’s so hard for women to lose weight

Why it’s so hard for women to lose weight

Why it’s so hard for women to lose weight

Questions we get a lot are: why am I losing weight at a lower rate than my male partner, and what can I do about it? Here’s what you need to know about a woman’s unique ability to lose weight.

The Found Team
Last updated:
December 1, 2022
5 min read
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You're pumped. You're motivated. You're determined. You and your male partner have challenged each other to lose weight. It's been a few weeks and you've been doing everything you can, but are still trailing behind him. What the heck is he doing differently, you start to wonder?

 We promise, you're not alone. The truth is that women and men are built differently—from the way we lose weight, to cravings, to how our bodies respond to exercise. It's more complicated than the old adage of "calories in versus calories out." Research has shown that there are a number of unique factors that affect a woman’s ability to lose weight.

 So what are they, and what's really going on?

 Your Biology

 For starters, your body is uniquely different from a man’s. Women go through life changes like pregnancy and menopause, and your body adapts by, say, storing extra fat to allow you to have children. Women can also experience challenges that cause even more difficulty losing weight, like infertility and miscarriage. 

 As you age, there's another undeniable contrast: Your metabolism slows down due to a natural drop in estrogen. And you may gain weight in different places—like your belly—as those hormone levels decline, and find it harder to lose weight in that area. 

 Additionally, women inherently have less muscle and more body fat than men, which is a big deal when it comes to your calorie-burning ability, since muscle requires much more energy than fat. Hey, that’s biology for you! In fact, studies have shown that men have a metabolism that's three to 10 percent higher than women's. With more muscle, men burn more calories every day, even when they’re just kicking back on the couch.  

 

Psychosocial Factors

 Mental, emotional, and social environments are key elements in a woman's ability to lose weight. Let’s take the example of strength training. Even though it's been shown to have all sorts of benefits, ranging from better mental well-being and improved heart health to a boost in lean muscle mass (and the metabolic boost that comes with it!), many women shy away from strength training. A recent study showed that women tended to be more fearful of lifting weights because they mistakenly thought they would "bulk up," or were too intimidated to reach for the dumbbells at the gym because they weren’t sure how to do specific movements. 

 Eating when experiencing certain feelings is another reason women can have a tougher time losing weight. A 2008 study found that women are more likely to be emotional eaters than men, and that the foods they reach for are the sweet and fatty kind (oh hey, cheese fries!) that cause the pleasure centers of the brain to light up and go mmmmm. That's tasty, give me more! You may start to crave foods that feel comforting and rewarding, and lose control of how much you’re consuming. 

 

Genetics

Your grandma's sense of humor isn’t the only thing you may inherit. Interestingly enough, genes can influence your body weight, as well. Conditions that your parents and grandparents had, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, can make you more likely to have those same issues. 

 Your weight set point may be hereditary, as well. This is the theory that your body tries to keep your weight within a specific range. However, research suggests that weight set point can be altered by your environment—things like movement, medicines, and eating patterns. So that means whatever weight set point you got from your dad or grandma, you have the ability to alter it. 

Know what else is genetically determined? Your appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness. Crazy fact: Even how you were taken care of prenatally and in childhood hugely affects your ability to lose weight. 

But stick with us here, because despite all these challenges, there are still ways to get the weight off and feel like your most healthy self. Here's what to focus on:

  1. Strength train. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing resistance or strength training at least twice a week. Granted, you may have reservations when it comes to this type of movement, but it's important for building muscle and increasing your metabolism. With more muscles, your body will naturally burn more calories 24/7. Not sure where to start and what to do? The American Council on Exercise has a treasure trove of step-by-step exercises. There’s also another goldmine called YouTube.
  2. Follow an eating plan—and make sure you eat regularly. It can really help. So can staying in tune with your hunger cues or journaling what, when, and how you feel when you eat.
  3. Be patient. We hear you, that can be tough. But remember—it's the long term that matters. It's easy to get caught up with the numbers on the scale, but some studies show that sticking with it can lead to overall changes and better health. Focus on your ultimate goals and not a "quick fix diet" that won't last.
  4. Approach weight care comprehensively. This is about living a long, healthy life and being able to not just lose the weight, but maintain it. In addition to lifestyle and behavior modifications like coaching, an improved sleep schedule, movement, nutrition, and stress management, medications can also help. Just as you may take meds for diabetes or high blood pressure, you don't stop when you feel better—you keep going to sustain your health!

This article mentions personal coaching, which isn't available for new members right now, but will be soon (yes!).


About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
December 1, 2022
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team

Sources

  • America's Health Rankings analysis of CDC. (2019). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. United Health Foundation. https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/health-of-women-and-children/measure/Obesity_women/state/ALL
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Adult Obesity Causes. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/basics/causes.html
  • Cleveland Clinic Staff. Why it really is harder for women to lose weight and what to do. Cleveland Clinic, 14 May 2019. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-it-really-is-harder-for-women-to-lose-weight-and-what-to-do/
  • Healthwise Staff. University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, 27 Dec. 2021. https://www.upmc.com/health-library/article?hwid=ug1798&_ga=2.145789427.633271508.1644628387-1651627909.1644628387
  • Hurley, K. S., Flippin, K. J., Blom, L. C., Bolin, J. E., Hoover, D. L., & Judge, L. W. (2018). Practices, Perceived Benefits, and Barriers to Resistance Training Among Women Enrolled in College. International journal of exercise science, 11(5), 226–238. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5955292/
  • Keskitalo, K., Tuorila, H., Spector, T., Cherkas, L., Knaapila, A., Kaprio, J., Silventoinen, K., & Perola, M. (2008). The Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, body mass index, and responses to sweet and salty fatty foods: a twin study of genetic and environmental associations. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(2), 263–271. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/88/2/263/4649876?searchresult=1
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread. Mayo Clinic, 12 Mar. 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058
  • Van Ellen, J. (2014, August 12). Why it really is harder for women to lose weight. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/weight-loss-it-really-is-harder-for-women-research-shows/2014/08/12/0a95c1aa-1d9b-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html
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