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Why weight loss is harder for women

Main Line Health July 8, 2016 Women's Health

Anyone who has tried to lose weight understands that it can be a difficult task, regardless of your age, gender, health, or weight loss goal. But for women especially, weight loss can seem like an uphill battle. “Although each person’s weight loss journey is different, women overall do have a unique set of behavioral and biological hurdles that make it more difficult for them to lose weight,” says Richard Ing, MD, bariatric surgeon and medical director of the Bariatric Center at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Of course, this isn’t news to women, some of whom have watched their male counterparts shed weight with seemingly less effort and smaller changes to their diet and exercise routines. Below, Dr. Ing offers a closer look at some of the factors that can make weight loss a more difficult task for women.

A focus on cardiovascular exercise

Walk into any gym or fitness center, and you’ll most likely notice the weight room is dominated by men, while women tend to gravitate toward the treadmill or elliptical. The division makes sense; women tend to pursue thinner bodies while men prefer to bulk up. But this state of mind could actually be hindering women’s weight loss efforts, not helping them.

“Men tend to have more muscle than women, and muscle burns calories faster than fat. Although cardiovascular exercise is important, focusing on building muscle mass can help women burn more calories during and after their workouts,” explains Dr. Ing.

To reap the calorie-burning benefits of strength training, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder. Start small, carving some time out of you workout twice a week for a strength training routine with a pair of five or 10-pound dumbbells. Read more tips for beginning a strength training routine.

Emotional eating

Whether it’s too much cake at a birthday party or an extra bowl of ice cream after a hard day, nearly everyone has experienced emotional eating. But, according to 2013 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women tend to give into their cravings more often than men.

This isn’t a surprise to most women. Between a busy career, social calendar, and caring for their partner, parents, and children, it’s easy to turn to comfort food.

While it’s difficult to swear off emotional eating entirely, find other ways to distract yourself when you’re tempted to binge. Determine what’s bothering you, and outline a list of ways to address it without food, or call a friend or family member to help you work through the issue. Check out more advice for dealing with emotional eating.

Having control over the kitchen

In many households, women continue to be responsible for grocery shopping, making meals, and packing lunches for their partners and children. Naturally, being surrounded by food at so many points during the day and week makes it easier to snack. A handful of chips here and there or a few sample snacks at the grocery store may not seem like much by themselves, but these calories quickly add up.

To avoid taking in extra calories during times like these, ask for help. Rather than let your plates sit in front of you after dinner with leftover food, clear them immediately to avoid mindless snacking. At the grocery store, create a list and stick to it, avoiding the center aisles where tempting foods like chips and cookies are sold. Instead of buying a large bag of chips to divide up into school lunches, look for individual packs of snacks to avoid reaching into the bag yourself.

An all-or-nothing mentality

Fall victim to emotional eating? Don’t let it derail your weight loss journey. While men and women are both susceptible to the occasional binge, women tend to blame themselves more often, perpetuating negative thoughts about their weight and weight loss.

“Many people make the mistake of having an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality with weight loss,” says Dr. Ing. “They eat too much or go without exercise and figure that it’s pointless or too difficult to get back on the wagon.”

Instead of counting yourself out after too much to eat or a week away from the gym, admit you had a slip-up and move on with your routine. Turning to drastic cleanses, diets, or workouts can confuse your body. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

Despite these factors, it is still possible for women to lose weight. If you have questions about your weight loss journey, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a routine that’s right for you, and help you overcome any genetic or environmental barriers to success.

Struggling to lose weight despite dieting and exercise? Join us for one of our upcoming bariatric surgery information sessions at our health centers in Broomall, Exton and Newtown Square to determine whether or not weight loss surgery is right for you. Visit events and classes for a full list of dates and locations, and to register.