If I live forever I will not begin to grasp how god-fucking-awful weight loss for women must be. The list of struggles they face is so long it’s impossible to narrow it down to just a few things. 

And yet I did. I came up with five reasons why it’s harder for women to lose weight. Not only that but I will also tell you what to do about them to make weight loss easier. 

So here we go, ladies.

1. Women carry less muscle and total mass thus burn fewer calories

As a woman, you carry less muscle and total mass than men which means you burn fewer calories both at rest and during exercise. This is why you don’t get to eat as much as, say, I get. 

I am 6’4 and weigh around 200 pounds. I move a lot too. My maintenance calorie intake is 3,000-3,300 calories per day because of that.

When I’m cutting, I can comfortably sit around 2,600 calories and lose weight. I still get to eat a mountain of carbs. Fitting “fun” foods into my diet isn’t an issue too. Sun is playing, pandas are shining. It’s all good in the hood when I’m dieting.

Most women will have to cut calories well below 2,000 calories to see weight loss. This means your “budget” to fit in “fun” foods such as Snickers into your diet is smaller. Hunger control can be more challenging too. And you don’t get to drink and eat out as often because, too many calories, you know.

I know, I know… This is some major fucking bullshit. So…

What can you do about it?

Volume eating is the first thing. Eat more voluminous food to increase the feeling of fullness:

40g of chocolate - 218 kcal but 200g of strawberries, 10g chocolate, and 12 almonds are 206 kcal.

By eating mostly whole, voluminous foods, you will be able to keep calories in check and even allocate some of them for “fun” foods (practice flexible eating to keep deprivation at bay!):

the 80/20 rule

Next, start lifting weights to gain some muscle because muscle is metabolically active tissue — more muscle means higher energy expenditure. 

Alan Aragon, a nutrition researcher, did some number-crunching (which must have involved significant amounts of caffeine or even some cocaine too) in his research review where he looked at the impact of gaining 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of muscle. 

He found that having 10 lbs of extra muscle mass would increase your energy expenditure by 206.2 kcal per day. Not a lot. But that’s 1443.4 kcal per week that you can play with. That’s something. 

Weight lifting is one of the best things you can do for your body and health. So do it. And don’t fret — unless you start lowering steroids into your mouth whole like a competitive eater, you will not get bulky (here’s how to create your own training plan).

Another thing you can do is bump up NEAT. It stands for calories burned outside of “formal” exercise such as standing, walking, taking stairs, fidgeting, etc. In human language, get the goddamn steps in. 

Energy burned to exist (basal metabolic rate), digest food (thermic effect of food), and exercise (exercise activity thermogenesis) is predisposed for the most part.

But consciously striving to increase your NEAT can have a massive impact on calorie expenditure. In sedentary people, NEAT may make up as little as 15% of daily energy expenditure but it can go as high as 32% or more in active people:

how we burn calories

So take the stairs, park your car in the furthest corner from the supermarket, go for a walk, etc. Get your NEAT up. That’s what lean people do — they move a lot.

2. Hormones in women can change dramatically

I don’t have a great deal of IQ floating around my head when it comes to female physiology of the menstrual cycle so I will save us both the time and keep it short — the length may vary from woman to woman but usually, a normal cycle lasts for about 28 days. 

The whole menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases — the first two weeks are known as the follicular phase and the last two weeks — the luteal phase. Hormones change drastically depending on the phase of the cycle:

hormonal fluctuations

During different stages of the menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations affect gym performance, appetite, calorie intake, food cravings, etc. which is why women tend to suffer from depression, binge eating, and emotional eating throughout the cycle:

carvings are highest during the premenstrual phase

What can you do about it?

Every woman’s cycle is unique and therefore, you will have to apply these recommendations based on your personal experience: 

  • Consider tracking things like body temperature, training capacity, mental state, cravings, and appetite for a few months to get an idea of how your body acts during different phases of the cycle.

  • Once you have some data, in periods when you feel higher hunger levels, eat slightly more food. Maybe even take a diet break. Be more flexible nutrition-wise — eat a moderate amount of the craved food. This might help control binge eating and thus guilt and shame that often come with it.

  • During the follicular phase, many women tend to be able to train harder and hit PRs in the gym.

  • During the luteal phase, you might want to relax a bit and train less intensely. Lots of walking also helps. 

Again, some of you might find that the opposite of what I just said works better for you. Track your menstrual cycles. Get some data. Then do what works for you and helps adhere to diet and training better.

3. Menstrual cycle messes up with scale weight (and weight fluctuations can be annoying)

Many women have an increase in weight about the week before or the week of their monthly menstrual cycles. Weight fluctuations of 2% are normal at that time. The number can even go up to about 4%. I had a client who had an increase in weight by about 7 lbs in a matter of a few days. 

Keep in mind that these fluctuations are due to water weight. They have nothing to do with fat gain. Google it.

What can you do about it?

Don’t get discouraged and start doing stupid things with your diet and training. Instead, use data-driven decisions — weigh yourself daily. Then take a weekly average. Compare weekly averages instead of the individual daily scale readings as this will smooth out daily fluctuations:

weight fluctuations smoothed out after taking a weekly average

If you’re one of those women who experience massive fluctuations during PMS, it’s probably best to throw away your scale. Wait until PMS passes.

4. Women have the same access to the hyper-palatable, high-calorie food

Remember when I said that women carry less muscle and total mass thus burn fewer calories? Well, as if that wasn’t enough, you get to eat the same hyper-palatable, high-calorie foods of the same portions as men get. Which makes it easier to go over your calorie “budget.”

Aaaaand as if that wasn’t enough… food portions have ballooned in size by 50% in the last 20 years:

Portion sizes: French fries used to be 2.4 oz and now it's 6.7 oz; Hamburger went from 3.9 oz to 12 oz and soda - from 7 oz to 42 oz

Meals that you order at a restaurant and food that you buy might be fine for us, men, but for you, there’s no clearer example of “you are consuming too many damn calories.”

What can you do about it?

You can rely on thoughts and prayers because an increase in portion sizes will continue. Or you can take control — study nutritional labels, consider tracking calories, and most importantly, create a supportive food environment

If your house is filled with high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods, the situation will pan out as it usually does — you’re going to eat them. So ensure you don’t have these…

high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods

…at your house.

5. Men are dicks

If you have a good memory, you may recall that the menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases. Surprisingly, men have one phase too and it lasts an entire life. It’s called being a shitty dick. 

James Fell, a sweary historian (as he calls himself), has put it nicely: 

“See, women used to stay home and do the grocery shopping and prepare the meals. Then, in the latter half of the 20th century, they entered the workforce in droves and men didn’t pick up the slack on the home front. After a day of work, it was still somehow the woman’s job to take care of housework and meal preparation. With men not doing their share, women looked for a way to ease the burden, and capitalism came to the “rescue.” You know, TV dinners, pizza delivery, drive-through windows open 24 hours a day…”

So when someone says “everyone has the same 24 hours in the day, you probably don’t want to get in shape bad enough” please, don’t get angry at him (it’s always “he”) because when the time comes, he will burn a long fucking time in the worst parts of the deepest and hottest pits of hell.

What can you do about it?

Find a man who prepares most of his meals and helps you with housework. I’m taken. So good luck with that. Try searching in some other solar system.

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Originally published by me on Medium on January 6, 2022

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