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In this article, we’ll be going over all the basics on how to lose weight for women. We’ll talk about weight loss from a nutritional standpoint with a focus on how things like your calorie and macronutrient intakes affect your ability to lose weight.
We’ll also explore how exercise ties into the picture with a brief breakdown of why both cardio and weight training can be effective tools when it comes to weight loss. But before we get into any of that, let’s first address some common questions many women seem to have about losing weight.
Is Weight Loss Different For Women?
The question “Is weight loss different for women than men?” is one we get here at Dioxyme all the time and the simplest answer we can come up with is…kind of. From a purely nutritional standpoint weight loss is pretty simple; it happens when you take in fewer calories than your body needs, no matter whether you’re a woman or a man.
However, as many of you are probably aware, losing excess body fat doesn’t always seem to be that simple. Ultimately, there may be some additional challenges some women face when it comes to weight loss.
On average, women naturally have less lean muscle mass and more body fat in comparison to men. (1) Your body requires more calories to maintain muscle mass compared to fat, which means that at rest, men’s bodies naturally burn more calories than women’s.
Because men naturally tend to have more muscle mass, which requires a higher caloric intake, they also have more calories to play with when it comes to restricting their diets. That ultimately means that compared to women, men can usually maintain a higher caloric intake and still lose weight. It also means that men may be able to lose weight more rapidly compared to women.
For instance, if you’re a woman eating 1,800 calories a day and need to drop down to 1,300 in order to lose weight, that’s going to be a considerably more difficult task compared to a man dropping from 3,000 calories to 2,500 or even 2,000.
Is Weight Loss Affected By The Menstrual Cycle?
This is another question we hear a lot and the answer is also a tentative no but with a caveat. The menstrual cycle and having your period in and of themselves don’t affect your ability to lose weight but women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may face some additional challenges when it comes to weight loss.
For some women, PMS can cause additional hunger and food cravings which can obviously affect your eating habits. Loading up on salty snacks, in particular, can cause your body to hold more water weight which can further complicate the weight loss process. (2)
Some women are also naturally plagued by water retention with their cycle. Remember water weighs much more than fat. So this may further compound how weight loss is perceived.
Does Menopause Affect Weight Loss?
The other question we get somewhat frequently is “Does menopause make it more difficult to lose weight?” and just like with the other questions, the answer is not entirely straight forward. While hormonal changes that result from menopause may cause you to gain some weight, especially around your waist, reductions in things like your estrogen levels don’t in and of themselves make it more difficult to lose weight.
Instead, losing weight when you get older becomes more difficult largely due to the aging process itself. After somewhere around 30, most sedentary people naturally begin to lose muscle mass.(3)(4) When you lose muscle mass, it lowers your metabolism because it requires more calories to maintain lean muscle mass compared to fat.
Because women generally have less muscle mass, to begin with, losing additional lean mass later in life can further reduce your body’s caloric needs, making it easier to gain body fat and more difficult to lose it, even with a modest calorie intake.
Also, your body fat distribution — i.e. where the fat lies on your body — changes as you age. Women typically tend to add more fat in their hips which may have the visual effect of “squaring” your shape.
How To Lose Weight For Women
Now that you know what some of the potential obstacles are, let’s talk about how to get around them. The key to any successful weight loss program is a calorie deficit, which results when you take in fewer calories than your body needs. The amount of calories your body actually burns off in a day is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
To calculate your TDEE you start off with your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is basically an estimate of how many calories it takes to keep your body up and running. But your BMR doesn’t take into account the calories that you burn through physical activity. Even the smallest physical tasks like opening a jar of pickles or walking up a flight of stairs require calories. Over the course of the day, these small tasks add up, meaning that most people are going to need substantially more calories than just their BMR.
TDEE also takes into account your level of physical activity in order to more accurately assess your caloric needs. While there are equations you can use to estimate your TDEE by hand, one of the easiest ways to do it is with an online TDEE calculator.
Most calculators will give you a rough estimate of your TDEE based on a few different variables — usually your sex, age, height, weight, and activity level. It’s important to point out that no matter what formula or calculator you use, you’re going to get an estimate.
The issue is that everyone’s body is a little different. So, even if you and another person arrive at the exact same TDEE estimate, in reality, you’ll likely find that each of you has slightly different calorie needs. Long story short, you may have to adjust your TDEE estimate in one direction or the other to meet your own personal needs. Most of the time your adjustments shouldn’t be too drastic as long as you’re accurately judging your activity level.
How Big of a Calorie Deficit Do You Need?
Once you know you’re TDEE you’re ready to subtract some calories from your diet to create a deficit. Generally speaking, a reduction of between 250 – 500 calories is enough to see gradual weight loss for most people.
While you might be tempted to severely restrict your calories, it can be extremely difficult to maintain those kinds of eating habits, and worse yet, it can be detrimental to your health. For the best results, start out at the lower end of the recommended range and work your way up until you see somewhere around 1 pound of weight loss per week.
Counting Macros for Flexible Dieting
One of the most important aspects of reaching your weight loss goal is consistency. A pretty easy way to stay consistent with your diet is through counting macronutrients (macros). One of the reasons many women are unable to lose weight is simply because they aren’t able to find a diet that they can stick to.
That’s because many weight loss diets tend to place all kinds of restrictions on the types of food you can eat. But ultimately, if you’re not eating things that you enjoy from time to time, it’ll be next to impossible to keep up your diet for an extended period of time. This is precisely why many women have turned to counting macros for weight loss.
With counting macros, as long as you are hitting your calorie and macro goals, you can eat a whole variety of different foods and you can lose weight. Your daily calorie goal will be what we just went over: you’ll be going for between 250 – 500 calories less than TDEE.
Your macros goals are going to determine how you distribute all of your daily calories amongst your 3 macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates, and fat. There isn’t one ideal macro split that’s going to work for everybody; however, organizations like the USDA have come up with the following set of recommended macronutrient ranges for healthy adults. You’ll probably need to experiment a little until you find a distribution that meets your energy needs and keeps your hunger in check, however, any macro goals you set should stay within these ranges:
|Macronutrient||Percent (%) of total daily calories|
|Protein||10 – 35%|
|Carbohydrates||45 – 65%|
|Fat||20 – 35%|
So for example, you could start out with a 20/50/30 split — meaning 20% of all your calories are coming from protein sources, 50% from carbs and 30% from fats — and then make slight adjustments until you find what works best for you.
Protein Intake And Weight Loss
The fact of the matter is that many women don’t get enough protein in their daily diets, especially when they’re trying to lose weight. While reducing your calories is important for weight loss, you don’t want those reductions to come from your protein intake. Instead, focus on reducing your carbs and fats to achieve your deficit.
Protein is the building block of muscle and without enough of it, your lean body mass becomes increasingly vulnerable during weight loss. Studies have found, however, that increasing the proportion of protein to carbohydrate in the diet of adult women during weight loss has positive effects on everything from body composition and hunger to blood lipids and glucose homeostasis. (5)(6)
The USDA recommends that between 10 – 35% of an adult woman’s total calories should come from healthy protein sources. For weight loss especially, a number of studies suggest that somewhere in the range of 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight seems to be the ideal range for maximal fat loss during a calorie restricted diet — so if you weight 145 pounds, that’d be 145 grams of protein per day. (7)(8) This target will fall nicely within the USDA’s recommended range for most women.
Exercise and Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, proper nutrition really is the most important piece to the puzzle. In fact, you technically don’t have to do anything else, including exercise, in order to lose weight. With that being said though, there are multiple benefits to be gained from adding regular exercise into your weight loss routine.
Cardiovascular exercise is undoubtedly the most popular form of exercise when it comes to weight loss. Again, because women naturally tend to have lower calorie requirements, cutting calories for weight loss can be more challenging.
But adding cardio into the mix helps to increase your daily caloric needs, which in turn usually means that you can eat a little more and still achieve a calorie deficit…Oh, yeah, and it also helps to decrease body fat and increase your cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, especially in premenopausal women.(9)
When many women think of cardio, they tend to think of steady-state exercises like jogging on a treadmill or elliptical for half of an hour. While this kind of approach can be effective for increasing your body’s daily calorie needs, research shows that it may not be all that effective at actually burning body fat.
Instead, high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) has been found more effective when it comes to fat loss. (10) Compared to steady-state, HIIE is comprised of sprints or other similar exercises performed at or near maximal intensity. The sprint itself can last for as little as 6 seconds, followed by a brief rest period.
You’ll be performing as little as 3 minutes of actual training during a single HIIE training session but you’ll be working at a much higher intensity level. Dr. Schneider, who’s an expert on fat loss and a co-founder here at Dioxyme, generally recommends for his patients a training session consisting of between 4-6 sprints. Each sprint should last for 30 seconds, followed by 2 minutes of rest.
Studies show that compared to steady-state cardio, HIIE significantly increases your capacity for fat oxidation during a workout.(11) In simple terms, that means you’re going to be able to target and burn more fat with high-intensity cardiovascular exercises that you are with steady-state cardio.
On the other side of the exercise spectrum, weight training can also have numerous benefits for women trying to lose weight. Studies show that lifting weights not only helps to preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss, but it also helps to increase fat oxidation throughout your body, especially in postmenopausal and obese women.(12)(13)
Weight training stimulates something know as muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which in combinations with an adequate supply of dietary protein, helps your body to repair and maintain lean muscle mass. On top of that, you also burn fatty acids during weight training. Lifting weights depletes your muscles’ energy. When energy is running low during your workout, your muscles turn to burning fat to meet their energy needs.
A healthy balance of both cardio and weight training in your weekly exercise routine will certainly help you to start looking and feeling your best. But if you are going to include both styles of training in your weight loss regimen, make sure to do them at different times, ideally on different days. Studies show that the effects of both types of training are likely to be muddled when aerobic and anaerobic exercises are performed in short succession of one another, especially when they engage the same muscle groups.
Particularly because women naturally tend to have less lean muscle mass in comparison to men, they may face some unique challenges during the weight loss process. Aging is also a factor that can complicate matters. However, with the right tools, anyone is capable of losing weight.
The most crucial component of any successful weight loss program is a calorie deficit. If you’re talking in fewer calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. The second important piece to the puzzle is your protein intake. I high protein intake is essential for
Exercise is also an important component of many weight loss programs. Both cardio and resistance training can be effective tools for losing weight. Cardio can help to increase your daily calorie needs, making your weight loss diet more manageable. HIIE, in particular, can help you to burn fat during your workout as well. Weight training is an effective means of attenuating muscle loss during a weight cut and will also help you to burn fat while you’re exercising.
- “Skeletal muscle mass and distribution in 468 men and women aged 18–88 yr” Janssen, I., Heymsfield, S.B., Wang, Z., Ross, R. Journal of Applied Physiology. Jul. 2000.
- “Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)” Women’s Health Care physicians. American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists. May. 2015.
- “Preserve your muscle mass: Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but that does not mean you are helpless to stop it.” Havard Men’s Health Watch. Harvard Health Publishing. Feb. 2016.
- “Long-term strength and balance training in prevention of decline in muscle strength and mobility in older adults.” Aartolahi, E., Lonnroos, E., Hartikainen, S., Hakkinen, A. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research. Mar. 2019.
- “A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women” Layman, D.K., Boileau, R.A., Erickson, D.J., Painter, J.E., Shiue, H., Sather, C., Christou, D.D. The Journal of Nutrition. Feb. 2003.
- “Increased Consumption of Dairy Foods and Protein during Diet- and Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Promotes Fat Mass Loss and Lean Mass Gain in Overweight and Obese Premenopausal Women” Josse, A.R., Atkinson, S.A., Tarnopolsky, M.A., Phillips, S.M. The Journal of Nutrition. Sep. 2011.
- “A Critical Examination of Dietary Protein Requirements, Benefits, and Excesses in Athletes” Phillips, S.M., Moore, D.R., Tang, J.E. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolsim. Aug. 2007.
- “Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance.” Hector, A.J., Phillips, M.S. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolsim. Feb. 2018.
- “Loss of abdominal fat and metabolic response to exercise training in obese women” Despres, J.P., Pouliot, M.C., Moorjani, S., Nadeau, A., Tremblay, A., Lupien, P.J., Theriault, G., Bouchard, C. American Journal of Physiology. Aug. 1991.
- “High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fatt Loss” Boutcher. S.H. Journal of Obesity. Oct. 2010.
- “Two Weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training Increases the Capacity for Fat Oxidation During Exercise in Women.” Talanian, J.L, Galloway, S.D., Heigenhauser, G.J., Bonen, A., Spriet, L.L. Journal of Applied Physiology. Apr. 2007.
- “Resistive training increases fat-free mass and maintains RMR despite weight loss in postmenopausal women” Ryan, A.S., Pratley, R.E., Elahi, D., Goldberg, A.P. Journal of Applied Physiology. Sep. 1995.
- “Effect of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss during calorie restriction in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: a randomized, controlled trial” Nicklas, B.J., Wang, X., You, T., Lyles, M.F., Demons, J., Easter, L., Berry, M.J., Lenchik, L., Carr, J.J. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Apr. 2009.