Women and Weight Loss – 7 Factors That Influence Your Metabolism

Women and Weight Loss – 7 Factors That Influence Your Metabolism

Do you exercise, eat properly and yet still struggle to lose your stubborn body fat? If so, you’re not alone and here’s why. Perhaps the most important variable governing your weight loss success is your metabolic rate (metabolism). This is the rate at which your body uses food energy to support normal function throughout the body.  Metabolism varies greatly and is also influenced by gender. If you read my last post, you’ll recall that women face many challenges when it comes to physical transformation.  Some challenges are physiological, while others are rooted in faulty belief systems that prevent women from receiving the full benefits of an exercise program.

So how does a woman’s metabolism affect her chances of achieving a lean and healthy body? Simply put, a high metabolic rate requires more calories to sustain body weight. On the other hand, a sluggish metabolism can make losing weight seem impossible, even with diet and exercise . Everyone agrees that increasing  metabolic rate is the way to go, but as a woman how can you accomplish this and what factors are you up against?

8 Metabolic Limiters

 

GENETICS

Everyone loves to blame their genes, and, as it turns out, for good reason.  If both of your parents are obese, you have an 80-90% likelihood (genetically) of becoming obese. If only one parent is obese, your chances drop to about 40-50%. Even if both parents are lean, you still have a 15-20% chance of developing weight problems. So right out of the gate, you could find yourself in this higher percentile – thanks Mom and Dad!

Your body type is determined at birth and also has a huge influence on your weight distribution.

3 female body types

 

Endormorphs: Softer & rounder, typical pear shaped with a high fat to muscle ratio.

Mesomorphs: Medium bone structure, shorter limbs in relation to the trunk and & high muscle to fat ratio

Ectomorphs: Have the highest metabolic rate & longer limbs in relation to their trunk.

Your genes also influence your fat cell number and distribution.  Fat tissue is made up of  fat cells, of which the average female has about 27 billion. Obese women may have as many as 75 billion fat cells. Fat cells contain two types of receptors that regulate fat cell metabolism and control blood flow in and out of the cell. They are called alpha and beta receptors. Alpha receptors tend to inhibit blood flow to the cell, are more resistant to giving up their fat stores and found primarily in females (especially in the lower body).  This is one reason why women who tend to carry weight in their thighs seem to have the hardest time losing body fat.

Fat cells generally do not generate after puberty — as your body stores more fat, the number of fat cells remains the same. However, each fat cell simply gets bigger!

Women get fat cell storage surges at three times in their life: the last trimester in the womb, the first year of life and during puberty.  So while the men are getting stronger and leaner (via testosterone surges) during their developmental years, women are simply getting fatter (for building boobs n’ butts).  This is also one reason women are at higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome than men. It’s just not fair is it ladies?

AGE

Studies have shown that women can expect an average weight gain of around 25 lbs between the ages of 30-60. Even if all the calories you ingest during this 30 year period are burned, age related factors can still set this weight gain in motion. Why is this? Because as we age we start to slow down. We simply can’t do the things we used to do and this causes inactivity as we age.

FAT FREE MASS

Fat free mass (muscle, bone, connective tissue etc.) declines by as much as 40% between the ages of 40-70 in women. Why does this matter? Because 1lb of lean tissue burns 35-50 cal/day. A loss of even 1/2 lb of muscle can result in 3 lbs of weight gain in 1 year. This could extend to 25 lbs in 10 years, 50 lbs in 20 years and 75 lbs in 30 years. I’m sure you get the picture. This natural process can be influenced tremendously by incorporating some resistance training into your routine.

2 women at 15% body fat

Both are 15% body fat. Can you guess which one lifts weights?

SURFACE AREA

If I have a small house, it will take very little energy to heat it. Conversely  if I have a large home it will take substantially more energy to keep it warm. Your body operates under the same principle. Women who are more short and compact require less energy (calories) to regulate their body.  Taller females have more skin and vascular area to be maintained and therefore require more caloric energy.

BODY TEMPERATURE

Global (whole) body temperature can also influence metabolic rate.  Just about every “fat burning” supplement out there tries to accomplish this. And it works. Why? Because as your body temperature increases so does the amount of calories you burn.  Your body is always trying to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. It dilates blood vessels when you’re too hot (sweating) and constricts them when you’re cold (shivering).  During the post-ovulation phase, women can burn up to 200-300 cal/day more than usual simply because of the increased body temperature that this phase brings.

Local body temperature is another issue. To illustrate, simply touch yourself where you tend to lose fat more easily. It should feel warm. Now to your hips, butt and thighs  Stone cold isn’t it? Some studies point out that lower body fat can have up to 67% less blood flow than in other areas of the body. This can result is less fat being mobilized and burned in these areas.

CALORIE RESTRICTION

Diets never work do they? Why? Because when you reduce calories below your energy needs you set off a survival mechanism that can slow your metabolism by an average of 15%. From there your body will resort to consuming its own lean tissue to survive. Eat more, weigh less. It seems counter-intuitive but I don’t know anyone who is in fantastic shape and doesn’t eat all day long. Never restrict calories beyond your basic needs. Forget the fad diets, use exercise to burn more. If you’re fit and active you’ll process food more efficiently and enjoy being lean even while eating more.

HORMONES

Hormones play an enormous role in weight management. Woman produce a lot estrogen. Estrogen is a fat cell storage hormone that will drive fat to the breasts, hips, thighs and buttocks. This is a normal process for women that peaks during puberty and pregnancy. Estrogens (estrogen) and progestins (progesterone) are the most important hormones for women and they need to balance each other out. Hormone balance is usually not a problem for healthy women but if this delicate balance is lost, you’re in big trouble. Your body can respond in very unpredictable and undesirable ways. Hormonal fluctuations can interfere with sleep patterns, body temperature, as well as fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

Estrogen makes women much more sensitive to insulin, particularly during the post ovulation phase. This increased sensitivity lowers blood sugar and initiates the craving for sweets that women experience in the premenstrual phase.

pretty young woman eating chocolate

High estrogen and insulin levels are also associated with fluid retention, bloating and cramps. Regulating these and other fat storage hormones ( epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucagon) is critical to your weight management.

 

I hope this helps illustrate how many factors can influence the outcome of a weight loss plan for women. I also hope it helps you to set more realistic expectations of what you might expect from your results. Yes, you might be eating well and exercising regularly, but does that guarantee success? Of course not. The factors listed here and many others can individually or collectively conspire to cause you to have problems managing your weight. Factor them into your plan, change the ones you can and accept the ones you can’t.  At the end of the day, we can’t all be physique models – that’s just not what the female body was designed for.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.

 

Craig Simms
Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 11 years and has amassed over 15,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
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2 Comments

  1. Lee November 12, 2012

    Hey Craig! Love this article. Very informative indeed. A lot of it makes sense, it’s so simple, but I never would’ve thought of it. Thanks!

    reply
    • Craig November 12, 2012

      Thanks Lee, I’m glad you found it helpful. I’ve seen the frustration women deal with everyday when it comes to losing weight. I really wanted to show that there are some things that are simply out of your control and can make the journey an uphill one.

      That’s not to say you can’t reach your goals, but it’s going to take some patience, persistence and establishing realistic expectations from the start.

      reply

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