For all the women reading this, you might have noticed over the years both you and fellow members of the fairer sex find it more difficult to lose fat over a sustained period of time than your male counterparts. Annoying, isn’t it?
Luckily, there is an extent of reliable information as to why this is the case and plenty of countermeasures to make up for the inherent fat loss setbacks of being a woman.
Women, in general, are smaller humans than men. This is due to a combination of things like average height, skeletal structure, hormonal potential for lean mass, and fat distribution. And in most situations you might not mind. But think of it this way: A car with a smaller engine uses less fuel, uses and puts out less energy, and let’s off less cumulative heat in the process. The same applies for people. Let’s examine three inherent roadblocks women face when trying to lose fat:
- Smaller Total Body Size. Since women are generally smaller, they are usually forced to diet on extremely low calories to reach their body fat goals. While seemingly unfair, it makes sense. You wouldn’t expect a 6’2’’ 200lb man to eat the same as a 5’1’’ 110lb woman who both want to achieve a visible set of abs, right? This smaller engine gives off a hell of a lot less heat than a bigger one. For some women, this means the ‘thermic effect of food’ (i.e., the energy you take to digest and use the food you eat) is also less in women than on average.
- Intramuscular Versus Subcutaneous Fat Loss. Women tend to store a higher proportion of fat in the intramuscular compartment than men. So when it comes to your fat-loss progress, you might not see the type of visual effects you would expect or hope.
- High Metabolic/Hormonal Adaptability (leptin, ghrelin, thyroid, etc.). Women are shown to have a higher rate of metabolic adaptiveness when compared to men. At first, this sounds like a pretty good thing, right? Meh, not so much. As you get deeper into your diet your hormones, which regulate your hunger, fat storage, water balance, and a host of other factors, will adapt much faster to the reduced intake, causing you to hit plateaus both faster and more often. In addition, female sex hormones, progesterone in particular, can wreak havoc on things like water retention and fat deposition throughout the course of the monthly menstrual cycle.
The information presented so far has seemed like nothing but a doom and gloom about the female metabolism. But there is a silver lining. Many of the things making women less optimized for high-degrees of fat loss are also what makes their metabolism ‘healthier’ than male counterparts. When you consider that getting super lean may not completely healthy thing for everyone, especially if you are already within a healthy body fat range, it starts to make sense.
Give yourself time to achieve your fat-loss goals.
The followoing strategies can help you tackle your fat-loss efforts while taking into account the specific roadblocks faced by women:
- More frequent re-feed days. Re-feed days are when after a period of being in a calorie deficit, you raise your calories, usually up to around maintenance. Re-feed days are not cheat days; they are a controlled part of your diet where you manipulate your macronutrient intake to reserve the down-regulation of certain fat loss enabling hormones during a long diet. For most people, it’s best to incorporate them when you hit your first weight loss plateau on a once-per-week basis. Some things to keep in mind when implementing re-feed days are to try and get the bulk of your ‘extra’ calories from carbohydrates, and limit your fat intake to less than 50g.
- Longer re-feed days or “diet breaks.” Like a re-feed, a diet break is a more prolonged period of time, usually up to a couple of weeks, where you ‘take a break’ from being in a constant calorie deficit, and take your calories up to maintenance. This has an amplified effect of the metabolic ‘reset’ of a re-feed helps. This is not an opportunity for you to binge for a couple of weeks and come back to your diet like nothing happened. It’s simply a strategic move on your part to make the process easier on yourself in the long run.
- More LISS (Lower Intensity Steady State) cardio. The lower you take your calories, the more hormonal and metabolic down-regulation you’ll experience. An easy way to combat this is good ol’ lower intensity steady state cardio. Yes, I know this has no functional place in your training. And yes, I know it’s boring as heck. But it helps you stay in a calorie deficit without lowering your calories to dangerously low levels. And I’m all for that.
- More training volume. Another one-up that women have over men when it comes to training is an increased specific work capacity and volume tolerance. Women are usually capable of performing more sets and reps in a given intensity range than men. And that’s exactly what you should do. Unless you have a coach construct a program just for you, chances are your current program was designed for a male athlete. So go ahead and add in a few more working sets here and there. This will both help you retain more strength and muscle as you cut, and contribute to your calorie deficit to help you continue to lose fat.
- Stay active. This one is more psychological and physiological. Plain and simple…dieting sucks. You get tired. You get lethargic. And all you can think about is your next meal. This is a slippery slope that can put you on the fast track to obsessive behavior about food, along with a non-existent social and family life. So during your diet, make time to get out of the house and do things you enjoy. This will not only increase your general activity level (combating the metabolic slow-down that comes with a long diet), but also give you a proper mental break.
- Track weight progress daily and average the weekly results. Remember those nasty progesterone-induced fluctuations in water weight I mentioned earlier? Well, they can stress you out if you only track your weight on random days across the month. Weighing yourself daily and tracking progress based on your weekly averages takes a psychological load off of getting freaked out not knowing why even though you look leaner in the mirror, you weigh five pounds more than you did last week.
Give Yourself Time
While these tips make your diet easier to stick to, more effective, and more sustainable, most of them actually have the potential to add time to how long you need to diet. And this is not inherently a bad thing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when adjusting eating habits is to not give themselves enough time to diet down, which leads to the application of some less-than-sustainable diet practices. And while this might get you lean for a few days, the rebound won’t be pretty. Give yourself enough time to reach your goal, whatever it is, and don’t get too worked up about it in the first place. It is just a diet after all.
Think you’re too busy to workout? Think again: