Why some women who want to lose weight end up gaining fat.
This is a very touchy and complicated topic. I think it is best to approach it by looking at cultural reasons and biological reasons.
1. It wasn’t that long ago when women weren’t allowed to play sports. When they were, they were different, less physical versions of the guy sports.
There are valid reasons why it is harder for women to lose weight than men.
- Fat storage
Despite your obsession with thinness, somehow your body has not connected to your mind and each Monday as you creep on the scale you become more desperate. Do you look at your body in the mirror and wonder how fat seems to be growing in places its never been? If this sounds familiar, don’t despair! I’ll share with you some hidden secrets that can help you understand why you may be getting fatter rather than fitter and why fat loss is a greater challenge for women than men!
Father Time – Beginning in our mid-20s, women lose approximately 7 pounds of muscle mass and gain 15 pounds of fat every decade. (Men lose about 5 pounds of muscle a decade) So, by our mid-40s, we will have lost almost 15 pounds of metabolically active muscle and replaced it with 30 pounds of sluggish fat (if you are not exercising). While the scale tells us that we are only 15 pounds heavier, our metabolism has been dramatically reduced and body composition has changed in unfavorable proportions. The good news is that these changes are, in large part, the result of inactivity and can be reversed with exercise.
Unfortunately it gets worse for women. After menopause, the rate of muscle loss doubles going from 7 pounds a decade to 14 pounds. By the time a woman is in her 60’s she can have as little as 20 – 30 pounds of muscle left so not only is she displeased with her figure, but she is more prone to falls and breaking bones.
Also with age, the skin begins to lose its elasticity, sag and lose its ability to contain fat giving a rippled appearance often referred to as cellulite. The dimpled effect is caused by the fibers of connective tissue losing elasticity and allowing the fat to seep through like yogurt through cheesecloth. Yuck!
Muscle is what drives your metabolism. For every pound of muscle on your body you need 35 – 50 calories per day to sustain it. For every pound of fat on your body, you need a modest 2 calories per day. Hint: begin strength training today!
Female Fat is Different from Male Fat
Men and women do not live in an equal world when it comes to our bodies and specifically body fat. Men are taller with larger muscles and bones and a faster metabolism. At puberty, girls put on fat and boys put on muscle. From fertilization to breastfeeding, women have different physical experiences than men. Although the odds may appear to be stacked against women they can overcome these obstacles and make improvements to their shape and health.
Women are both blessed and cursed with the ability to store excess body fat. Fat serves an important biological purpose by helping to insulate the body, pad the internal organs and provide energy. And nature has also cleverly designed women’s bodies to carry almost double the amount of body fat as men because we bear and nourish babies. Fat is the primary energy source our bodies use to support fetal development. Therefore, to keep it available for the developing fetus, our bodies tend to store extra fat in the abs, hips, butt and thighs. Grrrreat!
Unfortunately, we don’t have control over where our fat cells decide to swell and shrink, but we can make great strides in helping the cells release fat by exercising.
In order for fat to be metabolized, it must be released from the fat cell and be transported by the bloodstream, where it is shunted to the liver and other active tissues to be used as fuel. Unfortunately, blood flow to fatty tissues is poor compared to the circulation in muscles and organs. So, fat regions tend to remain fat partially due to poor blood circulation.
The less circulation-stimulating exercise we perform, the more our bodies are inclined to accumulate fat, although more blame tends to lie with greater food intake.
Estrogen is a hormone responsible for secondary female sex characteristics and can influence the body’s enzymes to store fat in the lower body, while suppressing the storage of fat in the upper body. Women may have noticed that when they diet, the first place they see lost inches is in your bust area. Drats!
During pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, hormones encourage the fat cells to retain water. The water retention slows down circulation and makes it more difficult to mobilize fat. The good news is that exercise can help to regulate hormone responses and ultimately become fat releasing machines.
The other main hormone women produce is progesterone. Progesterone affects appetite and mood. It makes you hungrier during the second half of your menstrual cycle and is responsible for your ravenous appetite during pregnancy. Progesterone can also make you feel sluggish, sleepy and therefore less inclined to exercise. Women who take birth control pills gain on average 3 to 5 pounds as a side effect.
Throughout pregnancy, fat cells not only expand, but they can multiply in number. When pregnancy is over, those fat cells remain and are always ready to expand in size whenever your intake of calories surpasses the energy you use. (Take that donut out of your mouth right now!) With each pregnancy, the weight loss dilemma is compounded further. The thyroid gland, which also drives the metabolism, notoriously becomes sluggish during pregnancy in order to help the body hold on to fat.
The average age of natural menopause for women in the United States is 51. During peri-menopause (the 10 years prior to menopause), we begin producing less estrogen, which is a protective hormone. We also tend to sleep less and our appetite becomes stimulated. Before we reach that pre-menopausal stage, women typically deposit fat on the hips and thighs. But, as peri-menopause begins, we begin to deposit more fat around the waist and chest.
Many generations ago, lean people tended to die younger, so natural selection favored those who were fatter. Over the centuries, a genetic predisposition for fat has been built into our genes. If you take a look at your mother, mother’s sisters and female cousins, you may notice a strong resemblance in body types. Some families seem more predisposed to “cellulite” than others.
Unfortunately we cannot change our genetics, but we can choose to express the positive genes. Some women are gifted to naturally look like athletes or models and others can do all of the dieting and training in the world and still have trouble spots.
While genetics does influence where we store body fat, non-genetic influences such as lifestyle, environmental and cultural factors are shown to be more important. You can overcome any weaknesses and trouble spots to a certain degree with balanced strength, cardiovascular and flexibility training – along with making nutritious food choices. You have the ability to transform your body regardless of your inherited traits. Focus on being the best you can be.
Why Men Have It Easier
Compared to women, men are generally quicker to lose weight as a result of regular exercise. They tend to carry their fat in the upper body, and those cells are more prone to release fat than the fat cells in the lower body, where women tend to store extra weight. Women are also more likely to increase their total fat cell count, both at puberty and during pregnancy, which men don’t have to deal with.
One of the reasons for this difference between the sexes is that testosterone, the male hormone, stimulates bone and muscle growth. Men don’t lose testosterone at the rate that women lose estrogen. As a result, men retain more muscle and more bone minerals as they age, giving them higher metabolisms and making them less likely to develop osteoporosis.
A woman is not engineered to develop huge bulging muscles like men. Women have low levels of testosterone in their bodies, about one tenth of what men have, and testosterone is the primary stimulus for muscular growth. So, even when women strength train, they will not be able to raise their metabolisms to the rate of a man’s.
Just two years after marriage, women start gaining 2 – 5 pounds of fat a year. The reason is that they begin to pick up the habits of their husbands who naturally eat 35% more than them to maintain their speedy metabolisms. Women also traditionally do the cooking and tend to eat as they cook, during the meal and during the clean up.
Phew! I am not sharing this information because I want you to get a divorce or not have children. I am committed to helping your understand why fat loss may feel like an uphill battle for you. The great news is that with the right fitness program and healthful eating plan, a lean, feminine, firm and fit body can be yours. Exercise is the very best fountain of youth and even better, the results are guaranteed!
Kelli Calabrese – MS, CSCS, 2004 Personal Trainer of the Year. Kelli is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and 20 year fitness industry leader. She is the author of Feminine, Firm & Fit – Building A Lean Strong Body in 12 Weeks. She has 23 fitness, nutrition and lifestyle related certifications and is available for personal training, online training, iPod workouts, phone coaching, grocery shopping tours, seminarsmedia appearances. Kelli’s personal mission is to provide individuals with the tools to make health, fitness and wellness a permanent part of their lives. For more information, go to www.KelliCalabrese.com
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