Are women more susceptible to weight gain?
The question every woman in the world wants answered – and what we can do about it.
You’ve tried every diet under the sun – cabbage, paleo, keto, “clean food”, raw food, no sugar, no carbs – you name it. But still the scales refuse to budge quickly.
Meanwhile, your hubby, partner, brother or male friends seem to drop kilos far more easily. Sound familiar?
ABS stats reveal that 42 per cent of men compared are actually overweight, compared with 29.6 per cent of women.
But obesity expert Dr Nick Fuller says while losing weight is hard for anyone, there are several factors that make it extra challenging for women.
“While both men and women evolved to store fat during times of deprivation, women go through significant life events such as pregnancy and menopause, which makes it even harder to manage their weight or achieve their weight loss goals,” says Dr Fuller, author of Interval Weight Loss For Women.
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Factors that make weight loss harder for women
PMS and menstruation
For many women, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a dreaded part of the “monthly cycle”, bringing with it bloating, food cravings and, yes, weight gain.
A US study of 259 healthy women with regular menstrual cycles showed “significant increases” in appetite, protein intake and total cravings (including those for chocolate, sweet and salty flavours) during the PMS phase.
“The menstrual cycle can have an effect on your exercise program and food habits so it is important to tailor your training accordingly and to surround yourself with nature’s treats to prevent the temptation of reaching for processed and packaged foods,” Dr Fuller says.
“And remember, any increase in weight will be temporary, due to water retention, so it is important to not get caught up in the number on the scales.”
Weight gain during pregnancy and menopause are two of the biggest challenges women will face in their lifetimes.
Growing a new human inside of you isn’t easy and changes in a woman’s body will vary from person to person, but science shows that excess weight gain can lead to a host of health problems for mum and baby.
And University of Queensland researchers found that women who gained too much weight during pregnancy packed on an average of 20kg over the next 21 years, while those who gained relatively little stood to be just 9kg heavier over the same time.
“It’s important to keep up the exercise during pregnancy and by eating regular, nutritious meals you will prevent the likely situation where you binge due to excessive hunger,” says Dr Fuller.
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Many women gain weight during menopause and while fluctuating hormones and decreasing levels of progesterone and oestrogen all play a part, Dr Fuller says weight gain around this time is also a by-product of age.
“This is when women need to work hardest at their health,” he says. “When your muscle mass decreases, your body starts to burn fewer calories at rest, making it more challenging to maintain your weight.”
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What can women do to boost weight loss?
Dr Fuller advocates an interval weight loss approach for women, which he says tricks the body into believing it is at a new (lower) set body weight.
It works particularly well for the fairer sex, he says, because they tend to turn to diets that do not work.
“Studies have shown that women are significantly more likely to consider themselves overweight than men and are more likely to do something about it, which is good,” he says. “The problem is they turn to diets, which I have learnt from extensive research have serious consequences – none of them good!”
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What is interval weight loss?
Dr Fuller’s interval weight loss method involves losing weight in short four-week intervals, with rest periods between.
“Rather than activating the body’s fight or flight response, the body is gently challenged to redefine its baseline weight until the final goal is achieved,” he argues.
“You prevent the body’s usual response to weight loss, which only sees you regain the kilos you lose.
“Your metabolism won’t decrease and your appetite hormones will not change telling you to eat more. People find it fun and easy to stick to. Most importantly they keep the weight off long term and don’t have to omit food groups!”
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Written by Liz McGrath.