Weight loss for women – Why It Takes Forever and What to Do


Have you ever noticed that when a couple starts a diet, the man loses a lot more weight and fat quicker, compared to the woman.  Why is this so?

Well, it's very true, men can lose a lot more weight and much faster than a women.  Women have a lot of trouble losing weight and fat than men and below I have outlined the reasons why.

Women have a tougher time losing weight for these four reasons:

Muscle Mass

Women have less overall muscle mass, especially in the upperbody and therefore have a much harder time burning off a ton of excess calories.  We recently did a little test in the Strength Lab on the rower for caloric burn.

We had all the female members perform the rowing exercise with the goal of 20 kcals and then measured the time it took them to burn off those 20 kcals.  Now the numbers may not be super accurate, but from overall output you could get an approximate time frame for burning 20 kcals.  Then we had the men perform the same rowing exercise for 20 kcals total caloric burn.

The results were very simple.  For the women it took them almost double the time for them to burn off 20 kcals in comparison to the men.  Now this is a simple real world experiment, but you don't need to be a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to figure if it takes double the time for a woman to row till she hits a standard goal of 20 kcals than the men, you've got to think that the men are able to effectively double the work load and caloric burn.

So men can burn off calories much faster than the women, simply because they have more muscle mass and can produce more mechanical work per unit of time.  Now this wasn't standardized for weight, which was a slight flaw in my personal experiment, but I'd favor an educated guess that if body weights were equalized the women would still be burning far lower calories.  Unless we accounted for overall Fat Free Mass, which would come close to about the same level of caloric burn pound for pound.


Fuel Utilization

Women and men store and utilize fuel types differently.  Men are more apt to burn off carbohydrates during exercise versus women are more likely to burn off more fat.  Sounds great right?  Women burn more fat during exercise, true, however they also store fat more readily so that which isn't used is going to go right back into their fat stores.

Additionally, women are less sensitive to insulin in response to hunger than men.  Men get a much more pronounced effect from insulin, which tends to curb their appetites more after a meal, whereas women don't get as much of a hunger blunting response from a meal.

Women are much more responsive to leptin, which operates similar to a reserve tank fuel gauge for subcutaneous fat (under the skin fat).  It senses how much fat a person has in storage and release hormones to control suppress or stimulate appetite.  When this sensor system gets confused and is barraged with too much leptin, a resistance develops where the body doesn't know how much fuel is in storage and so hunger responses are elevated.

Women are very responsive to leptin changes that can fall as much as 61% from a week of regular exercise, which stimulates elevated food intake.  This can play havoc with a womans nutritional patterns as she will always be hungry, even after eating an adequate meals since these levels are stimulating an intake of more food to preserve overall fat storage.

The issue gets even more complicated when considering hormonal influences.


The female hormones estrogen and progesterone are a double edge sword.  Estrogen acts as a great protector of muscle damage and helps increase muscle mass in exercising females, although it also helps promote fat storage in the hips and glutes to a greater degree.  On another good point though it helps out with insulin sensitivity and controlling hunger responses during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.  So having a descent amount of estrogen production is good.  This is generally totally fine during a woman's younger years, but when she starts approaching menopause this shifts downward causing unwanted side effects...weight gain.

Progesterone on the other hand tends to cause another problem with women losing weight during the luteal phase of a woman's cycle, by increasing overall fat storage and stimulating greater hunger responses (cravings) making it difficult for a woman to curb her appetite at this junction in her cycle.  It also stimulates a bloating response due to interfering with the mechanisms controlling water regulations, so this adds to the constant up and down in weight that a woman will experience over her cycle.

Once menopause starts, this hormone has also been reduced to a very minimal level causing havoc with weight control regulation.  At times it can shift a woman into a more male pattern of fat disposition due to an increased level of testosterone that now has a better foothold to control cells with estrogen and progesterone effectively kicked out of the way.  This results in more belly fat and love handle fat patterning.

Another hormonal issue can result from dysfunctional hormone cycle or a lack of a cycle after menopause has set in also causes severe problems in maintaining weight, as the lack of hormones or too much at the wrong time period can increase both hunger and fat storage in different areas of the body (ie. like the abdominals and love handle region, which is a typical male fat deposition).  It's all in the hormones and balance for optimal weight regulation for women.


As with everything the human race was designed to survive just like any other creature on Earth, so it makes total sense that women would hold the leverage when it comes to surviving longer without food for substantial periods in case of famine.  This evolutionary stance is why women carry more overall body fat in order to survive longer without food or sustenance to maintain reproductive health and carry a child to term.

This is natural selection at its best, since the male only has to contribute sperm to an egg and then the mother does all the rest of the work.  But in order to complete the work of giving birth and providing food for a newborn baby a woman must be able to sustain milk production and survive for a longer period of time without food.

Nature, fascinating.  Not so great when we're in a populace surrounded by tasty foods stuffs at all times without a real shortage of food in sight.


Correcting these Issues is not as daunting as it may seem.  We'll just bullet point these for sake of brevity and leave it at that.

  1.  Women should be lifting weights in order to boost up their metabolism and increase muscle mass.  Adding active tissue that can be used to burn more calories per unit of time is a good thing and will allow you to eat more, while still losing weight.
  2. Create a caloric balance in order to lose fat correctly.  Monitor your calories and eat underneath your caloric
  3. Check your hormone levels checked.  If your hormones are out of whack you're going to struggle losing weight.  If you're into your menopause years, perhaps looking into hormone replacement in order to stimulate that fat loss back up.
  4. Control stress.  Stress causes havoc with all of the bodies system, especially the hormone levels.  If these are out of balance, well you're not going to lose weight.  So figure out ways to destress and lose weight gradually.


There you go ladies!  Weight loss sucks, but it's not a death sentence.  Just follow the four principles listed and realize it's going to take a bit longer than your boyfriend or husband who is busy sucking down a milkshake with cheesy fries.  Slap him on the head and tell him not to eat that crap in front of you.




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Jess Howland

Jesse "Captain Smash" Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold's Gym. He's a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.