Have you ever started a weight loss program only to find your partner – who only half-heartedly joined you because otherwise he wasn’t getting fed – lost more weight more quickly than you? Or maybe, you’ve felt compelled to try an old diet that worked a few years ago- however, this time, the scale didn’t budge, despite you putting in even more effort.
This may have raised the question, “is it harder for women to lose weight?” with you multiple times. And you’re right! I am here to tell you it’s not just your experience. It’s an actual phenomenon women over forty encounter when trying to lose weight.
Women have a harder time losing weight than men
The reason is that women have lower testosterone levels than men, which plays a big role in how many calories can be burned. And to make matters worse, the relationship between women, testosterone, and weight gain is way more complicated than with men.
Women tend to gain weight more easily than men because of higher estrogen levels. As women age and hit their forties, sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, begin to fluctuate. Estrogen becomes more dominant and leads to unwanted weight gain. And at the same time, excess testosterone converts to more estrogen causing even more stubborn weight in the form of fat.
When a woman’s testosterone levels decrease, it will lead to a loss of muscle mass – but not in a way that will reduce the number on the scale. Why, might you ask? Muscle mass burns more calories than fat and keeps the metabolism revved up. A decrease in muscle tissue could lead to a sluggish metabolism, leading to additional weight gain, especially around the stomach area.
Women have a harder time losing weight than women in their twenties
The reasons for middle-aged women struggling with weight loss are related to biological shifts and lifestyle choices. As mentioned above, because of fluctuating hormones and a loss of estrogen, women in their forties will experience a change in metabolic rate, typically leading upwards of 10 pounds around perimenopause. (Especially if they are following a diet and exercise program they did in their twenties).
At this phase of a woman’s life, they also tend to feel the stress of parenting and looking after their aging parents. Women tend to be less physically active because of family responsibilities leading to a decline in metabolic rate. Career demands can also cause many women to become more sedentary than when they were in their twenties, leading to more unwanted weight gain.
Reading Tip: Many women also have the habit of waiting for January before they start taking action. Do you recognize yourself in this? Read our article “4 Reasons Most Women Wait Until January To Start Their Weight Loss Goals“.
5 Reasons Why Women in Their Forties Have a Harder Time Losing Weight
From my experience as a functional nutritionist and weight loss therapist, I have recognized five main factors contributing to women having a harder time losing weight. In this article, I will share why weight loss becomes more difficult for women over forty.
1. Bloating and Digestive Discomfort Make it Hard For Women to Lose Weight
Yep, it’s an actual thing! Bloating, cramping, and digestive discomfort bring misery to women’s lives and often contribute to a lack of movement on the scale.
As women age, their body naturally produces less stomach acid and fewer digestive enzymes to help them digest their food. Partially digested food creates bloating, causing it harder for women to lose Weight.
The Solution: Balance Stomach Acidity to Lose Weight
But the good news is women can alter their gut microbiome with simple nutritional adjustments that won’t break the bank. For example, some women can increase stomach acid with apple cider vinegar, whereas others can lower stomach acid with baking soda. Correct your stomach acidity, and weight loss will be easier.
2. Aging Thyroids Cause Metabolic Rate to Decline
The thyroid is an internal motor that can lose its “elbow grease” as women age, causing a drop in hormone production and making it harder for women to lose weight. Low levels of thyroid hormones, especially during perimenopause and menopause, can cause a woman’s metabolism to slow down, leading to weight gain, constipation, and sluggish feelings.
It’s important to note that sluggish thyroid symptoms are often very similar to menopausal symptoms. Because of this, it’s not unusual for the symptoms to be incorrectly attributed to menopause. The only way to know if weight gain is due to an aging thyroid is to get a blood test for thyroid function.
But not to worry, if thyroid functioning is sluggish, most of the extra weight is due to water and salt. This can be easily rectified when the thyroid is properly supported.
The Solution: Reboot Your Thyroid
The best way to reboot a sluggish thyroid as you await further blood work is to uplevel your diet. By listening to your body’s energy levels and fluctuating mood, you can learn which foods are triggering your unwanted weight gain. Find triggers difficult to determine? Reach out to a qualified professional that is appropriately trained to offer the services they are providing. (Because there are enough thyroid coaches out there that cause more harm than good).
3. Empty-Nester Stress and Weight Gain
The connection between stress and weight loss isn’t new. But did you know that stress can cause the body to use up stores of important fat-burning vitamins? This is why stress makes it hard for women to lose weight around the tummy area.
It’s common for empty nesters to feel anxious or worried about things that never used to bother them, from minor things to the big stuff like ‘who the hell am I now?’ These negative thoughts can cause a surge in cortisol, stimulating one’s appetite for sweet, fatty, and salty foods. Now, it might make sense why it’s easier to opt for popcorn and wine than fruit and a cup of tea to feel satisfied when kids are no longer at home to make dinner for or talk to.
The Solution: Make Yourself Health a Priority
When a major change happens, it’s important to learn how to shift your mindset that keeps you stressed out, anxious, and overwhelmed to one that gives you enough time and energy to live your life more sanely. Yes, after caring for children for a few decades, it’s possible that you can find another purpose and passion that’s just as fulfilling. And when you do, you’ll be surprised at how the stress pounds drop off.
4. Lack of Sleep Causes Weight Gain in Women
Sleep and weight are intimately related. Women who fail to get enough sleep regularly, set themselves up for being hungrier, eating more, weighing more, and consequently have a harder time losing weight. Studies have shown that women who sleep fewer than five hours each night weigh more, even when they consume fewer calories than women who sleep for at least seven hours!
It’s not all in your head and not about a lack of willpower. When you are sleep deprived, your brain will go into survival mode to get energy. Your body will produce more ghrelin, also known as the ‘hunger hormone.’ At the same time, the hormone that tells your brain you’re full, leptin, get suppressed. What ends up happening? You end up being unable to control fatigue eating… and what better way to get energy than from carb-laden foods?
Also, the stress placed on the body by lack of sleep upsets your body’s sensitivity to insulin (the fat-storage hormone), which contributes to weight gain, and this, in turn, exacerbates hormonal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
The Solution: Develop Sleep Habits to Help Lose Weight
Some of the most simple habits you can implement into your sleep routine for optimal fat-burning and gradual, sustainable weight loss are to reduce caffeine intake, consume high-fiber foods, hydrate earlier on in the day, and get sunlight for at least 15 minutes per day.
5. Women do the Wrong Exercise for Weight Loss
It’s not uncommon for women to worry about becoming too bulky when lifting weights and therefore opt for cardio exercises instead. While endurance exercises like biking, walking, and running are great for stamina, heart health, and mood, they don’t do much for weight loss.
Why is this? When women endure high amounts of cardio, often paired with low-calorie diets, the body will begin to fight off starvation. The body’s response will be to pull energy from muscle tissue and less from fat. This will inevitably increase cortisol levels, which is linked to water retention. So essentially, when cortisol increases, your body holds more water weight. So, that is why most cardio enthusiasts have the “skinny fat” look, no matter how much they diet and exercise.
The Solution: Build lean muscle for weight loss
Adding strength training to a regular exercise routine will help counteract the effects of declining estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause. This is important because it will boost a women’s resting metabolic rate – meaning they can burn more calories while working out and up to 90 minutes after training. It’s recommended that women in perimenopause and menopause do strength training at least twice a week to help reduce body fat, build lean muscle mass, and burn calories more efficiently. That’s right, no 5-6 days in the gym for results! Less is more!
Conclusion: So, is it harder for women to lose weight?
We can definitely say that it is harder for women to lose weight, especially after a certain age. So, if you have had the suspicion that losing weight has become more difficult as an aging woman, you’re absolutely right. But knowing this, you can now adjust your weight loss efforts according to your needs without being fazed by the results of men and younger women around you.
If this article was helpful to you, don’t forget to read my other articles that are meant to help women who struggle with weight loss. I’ve even created a free weight loss journal that you can download immediately. If you need more guidance, do not hesitate to contact me for an online weight loss coaching session.