April 18, 2024

Why It's Hard for Women to Lose Weight

The Qilo Team avatar
The Qilo Team
Dr. Bosah Chike avatar
Medically reviewed BY
Dr. Bosah Chike
Weight Loss
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Shedding pounds can feel like an uphill battle for many, but for women, weight loss can present a uniquely complex challenge. While societal pressures and unrealistic beauty standards often take the blame, science reveals a deeper truth: biology throws some significant curveballs when it comes to women and weight loss. Understanding these biological hurdles empowers women to develop effective weight management strategies that work with their bodies, not against them.

In this article we will explore the various challenges women face in their weight loss journey, including biology, science, and genetics. By understanding these factors, women can take a more informed approach towards their weight loss goals.

The Body Composition Battlefield: Muscle Mass and Metabolism

Body composition refers to the ratio of fat, muscle, and other tissues in the body. It is an important consideration when it comes to losing weight. One of the biggest factors influencing weight loss is body composition, the ratio of muscle to fat mass in your body.

Women generally have a higher body fat percentage compared to men, even at a similar body mass index (BMI). This higher proportion of body fat can make it more difficult for women to lose weight, as fat tissue is less metabolically active compared to muscle tissue. Men, on average, have a naturally higher percentage of muscle mass compared to women. This difference is largely driven by hormones. Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, promotes muscle growth, while estrogen, the dominant female sex hormone, plays a more prominent role in fat storage, particularly around the hips, thighs, and buttocks for potential childbearing purposes.

Muscle is metabolically expensive. It burns more calories at rest than fat, meaning men naturally have a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the number of calories your body burns simply to maintain its basic functions. This translates to men burning more calories throughout the day, even when they're not actively exercising. Women, with their lower muscle mass, have a lower BMR, making it slightly harder to create a calorie deficit for weight loss.

However, building muscle is a powerful tool for women. Strength training can help increase muscle mass, leading to a more efficient calorie-burning machine, even at rest. This doesn't mean women need to bulk up like bodybuilders; incorporating weight training into a fitness routine can significantly benefit weight loss efforts.

The Hormonal Rollercoaster: How Estrogen and Other Hormones Impact Weight

Estrogen isn't the enemy when it comes to weight loss, but its fluctuations throughout a woman's life cycle can certainly make things more interesting. Estrogen levels rise and fall during the menstrual cycle, affecting appetite and metabolism. Many women experience cravings for sugary or high-carbohydrate foods around their menstrual periods, which can disrupt calorie intake goals.

Beyond the menstrual cycle, other hormonal changes significantly impact women's weight management journeys. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels soar, promoting fat storage to support fetal development and milk production. Postpartum, these hormones take time to regulate, which can lead to weight retention. Additionally, women entering perimenopause and menopause experience a decline in estrogen, which can lead to weight gain around the midsection due to a shift in fat storage patterns.

Understanding how hormones influence appetite and metabolism allows women to adjust their strategies throughout their cycles and life stages. Focusing on nutrient-dense foods, incorporating healthy fats and protein to manage cravings, and being patient with their bodies during hormonal shifts are all crucial.

The Genetic Labyrinth: How Your DNA Plays a Role

The role of genetics in weight

Genetics plays a significant role in weight management for everyone, and women are no exception. Certain genes can influence factors like metabolic rate, fat storage patterns, and even our propensity to feel hunger or satiety. While you can't change your genes, understanding your genetic predispositions can be empowering. If you have a family history of obesity, for example, you might need to be more mindful of portion control and exercise adherence.

Genetic testing for weight loss is becoming increasingly popular, but it's important to approach it with caution. These tests can provide some insights, but they are not a magic bullet. A healthy lifestyle that incorporates a balanced diet and regular exercise is still essential for weight management, regardless of your genetic makeup.

Beyond Biology: Other Weight Loss Challenges for Women

While biology presents some hurdles, it's not the whole story. Several other factors can make weight loss more challenging for women:

  • Social Pressures and Body Image: Societal expectations around female beauty often emphasize thinness, leading to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy weight loss practices.
  • Stress and Emotional Eating: Women often face a higher burden of stress due to juggling work, family, and other responsibilities. Chronic stress can trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone that promotes fat storage around the midsection, and can also lead to emotional eating.
  • Time Constraints: Balancing work, family, and social commitments can leave women with little time for meal prepping, cooking healthy meals, or prioritizing exercise.
  • Lack of Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for weight management. When sleep-deprived, hormones that regulate appetite, leptin (promotes satiety), and ghrelin (stimulates hunger), become imbalanced, leading to increased cravings and difficulty managing calorie intake.

Strategies for Success: Working with Your Body, Not Against It

Despite the biological challenges, women can achieve and maintain healthy body weight goals. Here are some key strategies to consider:

  • Focus on Building Muscle: Strength training is your friend! Aim for 2-3 sessions per week to build muscle mass, which will boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories throughout the day. Don't be intimidated by weightlifting; bodyweight exercises and resistance bands are excellent ways to start.
  • Embrace a Balanced Diet: Restrictive diets are rarely sustainable. Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. This approach ensures your body gets the nutrients it needs to function optimally and can help manage cravings.
  • Mindful Eating: Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly, savor your food, and avoid distractions while eating. This mindful approach can help you feel more satisfied with less food and prevent overeating.
  • Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Regular sleep promotes healthy hormone levels, reduces cravings, and improves energy levels, all of which contribute to weight management success.
  • Stress Management: Chronic stress can sabotage weight loss efforts. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes. Use smaller plates, measure out your food, and avoid distractions while eating. This can help you stay within your calorie goals.
  • Celebrate Non-Scale Victories: Weight loss isn't just about the number on the scale. Celebrate improvements in your energy levels, strength, and overall well-being. This positive reinforcement can keep you motivated on your journey.
  • Find a Support System: Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who encourage healthy habits. Consider joining a weight loss support group or working with a registered dietitian or certified personal trainer for personalized guidance.
  • Set realistic goals: Setting achievable and realistic weight loss goals is crucial. Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and a higher likelihood of giving up. It's important for women to focus on overall health and well-being rather than solely on numbers on a scale.

Remember: Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient with yourself, celebrate your progress, and don't be discouraged by setbacks. Focus on developing healthy habits that you can maintain for life, and your body will thank you for it.

Additional Considerations

  • Addressing Underlying Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or hypothyroidism, can make weight loss more challenging. If you suspect an underlying condition is impacting your weight, consult your doctor.
  • The Importance of Body Positivity: While weight loss can have health benefits, it shouldn't come at the expense of self-esteem. Focus on developing a healthy relationship with your body and prioritize overall well-being over achieving a specific number on the scale.


While losing weight can be a challenging journey for both men and women, women face unique obstacles that can make it even harder. Biological factors, including hormonal differences, metabolic rate variation, and body composition, play a significant role in the struggle for weight loss. Additionally, genetic factors, social and cultural influences, and time constraints further compound the challenges. However, by understanding these factors and employing the right strategies, women can overcome these hurdles and work towards achieving their weight loss goals in a healthy and sustainable manner.

By focusing on building muscle, prioritizing a balanced diet, and developing healthy lifestyle habits, women can achieve and maintain a healthy weight while honoring their unique bodies. Remember, weight management is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the process, celebrate your progress, and be kind to yourself along the way.

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