You may have heard (or realized first hand!), that it’s more difficult for women to lose fat than men.
Differences in male and female hormones are certainly involved – both in the fat loss process as well as in the patterns of fat storage on the body. But the biggest obstacle is NOT hormonal issues, it’s one little fat loss relativity factor that almost all women overlook…
That factor is the simple fact that women are usually smaller and lighter than men, yet they err by setting their goals and designing their nutrition plans like men or larger women.
This especially applies to short and petite women who still have body fat to lose.
Case in point: Last week I received an email from a female reader who told me she was doing 3 weight training and 6 cardio sessions per week and the cardio was 45 minutes at a clip.
She said she weighed 111 lbs at 4 feet 11 inches tall, but even though she was petite, she had “several pounds of flab” she wanted to lose and just felt kind of “mushy.”
She had been really inspired by the success stories on the Burn the Fat websites, especially the finalists in our Burn the Fat transformation challenge.
But she said she was starting to get discouraged because she was losing so much slower than everyone else, it seemed.
First I asked her if she knew her body fat percentage. It may seem odd, but it’s possible to be a so-called “ideal” body weight and have high body fat and low lean body mass. That’s called “normal weight obesity” or in the popular vernacular, “skinny fat”).
With the prevalence of body image disorders today, (and lets face it, the mirror plays tricks on us all), it’s especially important to understand and objectively measure body composition.
Having confirmed that she did actually have body fat to lose, even though she wasn’t overweight, here’s what I told her:
When you have a smaller body, you have lower calorie needs. When you have lower calorie needs, your relative deficit (20%, 30% etc) gives you a smaller absolute deficit and therefore you lose fat more slowly than someone who is larger and can create a larger deficit more easily.
Here’s an example for a man
Me: I’m male, 5’ 8”, a lean 192 lbs and very active:
- Daily calorie maintenance level: 3300 calories a day
- 20% calorie deficit = cut out 660 calories
- Optimal calorie intake for fat loss: 2640 calories a day
- On paper predicted fat loss: 1.3 lbs of wt loss per week
At 2640 calories per day, I’d drop fat rather painlessly. If I bumped up my calorie burn or decreased my intake by another 340 a day, that would be enough to give me 2 lbs per week wt loss. Either way, that’s hardly a starvation diet (Ah, the joys of being a man).
For smaller women, the math equation is very different.
At only 4 foot 11 inches tall and 111 lbs, a female’s numbers would look like this:
- Daily maintenance level 1930 calories (even at a moderately active exercise level).
- 20% deficit would = 386 calories
- Optimal intake for fat loss 1544 calories a day
- On paper predicted fat loss only 8/10th of a lb of fat loss/wk.
If you took a more aggressive calorie deficit of 30%, that’s a 579 calorie deficit which would now drop the calorie intake to 1351 calories/day.
That’s pretty low in calories. However, you would still have a fairly small calorie deficit. In fact, I would get to eat twice as many calories (2600 vs 1300 per day) and I’d still get almost twice the weekly rate of fat loss!
I know, this isn’t “fair,” but it doesn’t mean women can’t get as lean as they want to be. It means that on average, women will drop fat slower than men. It also means women with small bodies will lose fat more slowly than larger women.
What to do about it?
5 TIPS FOR FEMALE FAT LOSS
#1 Set a goal that’s realistic relative to your gender, body size and weight. ONE POUND a week of fat loss is much more in line with a realistic goal for a small-framed female. Overweight people can lose it faster. Men can drop it faster.
#2: Weigh and measure all your food any time you feel you’re stuck at a plateau, just to be sure. When your calorie expenditure is on the low side, you don’t have much margin for error. One extra pastry, muffin or handful of cookies and ZAP, your little 20% calorie deficit is GONE!
#3: Remember that body fat and body weight are NOT the same thing. Judge your progress on body composition. (I teach how to measure your body fat and lean body mass in the privacy of your own home as part of my Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Program).
#4: Keep a weekly progress chart for weight, body fat percentage, pounds of fat and pounds of lean body mass. Water weight and lean body mass gains can mask fat loss so it’s possible to make progress even though the scale isn’t moving. Pay special attention to the progress trend over time.
#5: Burn more calories from the time you already spend in the gym. Suggestions: Make 2 or 3 of your long cardio sessions higher in intensity so you burn more calories in the same or even less time. Set up your weight training with big compound exercise and brief rest intervals so you burn more calories from strength training as well.
When I first shared this information with my readers, some women told me that all this did was get them depressed or prompt them to reply, “it’s not fair!” Well, no it’s not fair. But “Better the hard truth than a comforting fantasy,” as Carl Sagan once said.
Look at it this way: This information should not be depressing – it should be encouraging and empowering to you because this “hard truth” helps shorter/ smaller women understand how to set realistic goals and know exactly what to to do to reach them: You have to stay very active, train hard, BURN a lot of calories instead of just dieting, and you will reach any goal. It just takes a little patience.
Dropping only ONE pound per week (or less) may seem excruciatingly slow, but even if you get a HALF a pound a week fat loss, that’s still progress. Celebrate it. Keep that up over time, and you will reach your goal. Persistence pays.
Your friend and coach,
Fat Loss Coach