Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Fat Loss for Women

Why fat loss for women?

Because 99.99% of women will engage a personal trainer to lose weight (not a real stat!).

Because men and women’s bodies are different.

I don’t mean “different” in a condescending way, with an eye roll and a sigh as we say “hormones”. I mean it as we have different physiology… Fat loss for women is a gimmick in the fitness industry, but we are not full across how to achieve it for women… YET. The research on many “fad” diets is disproportionately performed on men, and many of them will mess with a female’s hormones. Most of the content for this month has come from Dr Stacey Simms and Dr Lisa Mosconi, leading researchers in female physiology.

In this article, we are going to bust some myths and get you on track for a healthy bodyfat percentage. At no point will we be advocating extreme fat loss. In fact, healthy body fat for women is double what it is for men, as our fat resources are imperative for healthy hormone function.

That is just reason number one why women find it harder to lose wright than men. Other reasons include:

  1. Smaller bodies, smaller muscle mass = slower base metabolic rate.
  2. Pregnancy and Post Natal period sleep deprivation = fluctuating blood sugar, fluctuating insulin, and associating sugar and carb cravings.
  3. Hormone imbalances, such as those associated with PCOS, hypothyroidism, and chronic stress, will all impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight or lose body fat.

Here we are going to give you THREE life-changing tips to accelerate your fat loss (to a healthy zone), or help you maintain a healthy zone easier.

Let’s start this week with a shift in mindset

You do not EVER have to have your ‘pre-baby’ body back. In fact, your body will never be the same, and that is OK!

Effortless healthy is the goal, not stressful restrictive eating, being tired all the time (even if you’re skinny), and feeling like you’re missing out.

It’s a lifestyle. This is a long term game, of long term change, of which you’ll do forever. In the absence of any medical conditions, your current “normal” is reflected in your physiology. If you diet, then go back to “normal” your body will change to reflect that change. Instead, focus on these habits as the “new normal”.

Start with this:

  • 1 minute max HR
  • Get your pelvic floor checked first
  • More is not better

Watch more on this:

Lift heavy stuff

Lifting heavy weights has more benefits, specifically for women, including fat loss, than cardio alone. Things that concern a disproportionate number of women, particularly around menopause include:

  • Loss of muscle mass (slowing her metabolism, and BMR)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Depression and anxiety

Lifting heavy weights addresses ALL of these.

  • If you maintain or even build muscle mass, you’ll burn more energy at rest. This means you can eat more without gaining weight. In fact, you SHOULD eat more, but in the form of whole foods (animal and vegetable proteins, starchy veggies, fibrous veggies, and fruit). Eating enough to cover your energy costs will make your body more comfortable with fat loss.
  • Lifting heavy weights, in any form, will reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Performing heavy strength training can boost our growth hormone and anabolic signalling and help stimulate myosin to keep our muscle’s ability to contract strong.
  • Just 6 months of heavy resistance training improves bone mineral density.
  • Resistance training build resilience and decreases depressive symptoms, just 10 weeks of strength training can improve mood, and the longer you keep doing it, the better you’ll feel!
  • Strength training improves grip strength – which is an indicator fior longevity. The stronger your grip, the longer you’re indicated to live…

All these with one important caveat… the pelvic floor. You must have it checked before embarking on a lifting program

Second condition for heavy lifting… start light!

  • The terms “heavy” and ‘light” are relative – neither meaning “hard” or “easy”! In fact, whether the weight is “light” or “heavy” it should always be “hard” to get a training effect from your muscles, bones, and hormones.
  • The term “light” means you can physically lift it more than 15 times.
  • The term “heavy” means you can physically lift it 6 or less times.
  • “Moderate” is in between, 7-15 reps.

So when I recommend starting light, I mean pick a heavy weight that you can lift more than 15 times, lift it 15 more times, have a rest, then do it again. When you’re comfortable with that movement, you can make it harder by moving off centre, or choosing a heavier weight, lifting it 10-12 times, having a rest, then doing it again. Over time, you’ll either keep the weight the same and do a more complex lift, or increase the weight gain and do less reps, until you’re lifting 3 sets of 6, in about 2-3 different movements, 2-3 times a week!

For example:

  • Front squat x 15 > front squat with foot matrix or with arm matrix
  • Dumbell squat x 10 > dumbell squat with foot matrix or arm matrix
  • Barbell front squat x 6 > and so on

Watch more on this:

Hormone healthy eating

Eating for your hormones, rather than restricting calories or fasting, will be more beneficial for achieving a healthy weight.

There are some really easy ways to help balance your hormones:

  • Eat enough protein – and eat a variety of proteins (ie. Eat steak one day, legumes the next, chicken the next, etc). Protein is crucial for muscle growth and maintenance (important for metabolism) and regulating appetite (so you don’t feel like you need to eat so much). Aim for 20-30 grams per meal.
  • Take care of your gut – the trillions of microbiome contained in our gut influences our hormones. They can influence our mood, our feelings of fullness, our cravings, our weight, and our risk of developing diabetes! Eating to support gut health means fibre and fermentation. Women’s hormones and gut microbiome love fibre. However, rather than taking a supplement, aim for getting your fibre through whole foods, so you’re also consuming energy and nutrients at the same time. If you want to take a supplement, work with a naturopath or nutritionist.
  • Reduce your sugar intake – added sugar disrupts your gut microbiome, can contribute to developing insulin resistance, and also inhibits your leptin production, the hormone responsible for helping you to feel full. Sugar should be consumed from whole sources like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and go easy on the honey and maple syrup.
  • Consume healthy fats – fat has been demonised in the past, but our hormones are literally made from fat. Fat also helps us feel fuller for longer, but not all fats are the same. Generally speaking, whole food plant or fish fats are healthy (think olive oil, salmon, nuts, and avocado’s), and animal or processed fats less so (bye bye fast food!). Omega 3’s are especially beneficial for hormone health, decreasing inflammation, increasing insulin sensitivity, and mitigating cortisol levels during chronic stress.
  • Consider the Mediterranean diet – if you need to follow a meal plan, this is the one to choose for women! If your hormones are healthy, so are your blood sugar, bone and heart health, immune system, and brain function! The Mediterranean diet, that is rich in whole grains, seeds, fish, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables, helps moderate Oestrogen levels, reduces the risk of breast cancer, and increases your consumption of protective-against-disease plan compounds!
  • And, if you’re going to fast, then do it smart – intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits, but must be wielded on female bodies with care. For one, women are more vulnerable to hormone disruptions through elevated cortisol levels, and cortisol is highest in the morning, when most of us choose to fast. Having said that, there are numerous benefits to fasting, including improvements to rheumatic diseases, chronic pain syndromes, hypertension, reducing cancer growth, and reducing symptoms of PCOS. If you choose to fast, don’t just randomly choose one, seek help from a naturopath or nutritionist, or keep your periods of not-eating to 12 hours or less, preferably in the evening and overnight. It is also possible that fasting is more beneficial for you in different phases of your cycle, and phases of your life – getting expert advice is important!

More on this here:

Manage stress

So I am going to give you a bit of a fright, then I am going to help you get on top of your stress!

Chronic stress can boost your hunger as well as cause higher levels of circulating insulin (which causes your blood sugar levels to drop). The drop in blood sugar will also have you craving sugary, carby foods and “quick fixes”. So when you’re living a constantly stressful state, not only will you eat more, you’ll also eat more of the foods that contribute to weight gain and ill health.

In studies performed on teenage girls, the more stressful their life events at any one time, the higher their cortisol, the more abdominal fat they lay down.

Other studies have found that lifestyle stressors and hormonal changes as a result of these stressors made dietary restraint harder – which means it was more difficult to reach for a banana versus the mars bar, and this isn’t a lack of willpower, but rather a deep, chemical driven change.

So without scaring the crap out of you, stress management is priority number 1 if you want to lose weight and maintain a health weight. To achieve this:

  • Low to moderate exercise. Prolonged high-intensity or endurance training can contribute to high-stress hormones, take the pressure off when you’re stressed to calm your body, and make it easier for it to feel “safe” and okay to drop some body fat. Moderate exercise is walking, aerobics, enjoyable activities, stuff that gets you breathless but not gasping, for around 30 minutes everyday. Exercise is still important, but should take the form of socialising and movement, rather than performance.
  • Include down training. The more stressful your lifestyle is, the higher your heart rate is on a daily basis (for women, anyway). This means you’re already exercising, and if you’ve only got time for one thing, then yoga, meditation, tai chi, getting a massage, or reading a book might be a better use of that time!
  • Weights are as effective as cardio for fat loss. Weights are also easier to do at a slower place, great for having a chat and some social interaction, and tick many boxes all at once for general, overall health. Furthermore, regular strength training can teach you tools to improve your resilience and keep the weight off long term.
  • Your thoughts are as stressful as your life events. Re-framing your stress, or choosing not to worry about it, can have an impact. When I have clients who want to lose weight, the first thing I teach them is not to worry about their weight!
  • Eat regularly. High protein, whole food, low glycemic foods will help mitigate the blood sugar changes from the outside. Have good quality snacks ready to go and eat every 2-3 hours to manage your blood sugar.

This is why you love your Power Plate – because you can do low to moderate exercise, meditate, strength train, and thin positively all in one session!

If you’re going to achieve an effortless healthy weight, you must achieve a lifestyle balance. This means:

  • Balancing work and play
  • Balancing sleep and awake time
  • Balancing sport and rest
  • Balancing your social life with being alone
  • Balancing high intensity with low intensity
  • Balancing parenting with being you
  • and so on…

More on managing stress for fat loss:

How fat loss goals are affected across your cycle and during menopause

Diets are usually tested predominately on men is because the hormone fluctuation affects the outcome and results. However, even amongst men, reactions and results from a particular diet vary dramatically. There is no one size fits all solution for fat loss, whether you’re male or female. However, there is some limited research on how our fluctuating hormones affect us throughout our cycle, in turn affecting our ability to lose weight.

In the luteal phase (that is, after ovulation) women are generally less sensitive to insulin. What this means is we need higher blood sugar levels before our insulin kicks in to bring it down again. This is the mechanism behind sugar and cake cravings. In addition, your metabolism is higher in the Luteal phase. If you’re wearing an activity tracker you’ll notice a higher core temperature and higher resting heart rate. This means you’ll need more calories to cover your regular energy costs in this phase compared to your follicular phase.

Both of these changes in the luteal phase mean it’s harder to diet, and you actually need more calories to cover your base energy costs. This doesn’t mean go nuts on the cake and cookies, it is a very small rise, and means that having highly nutritious snacks on hand is more important – yes, more snacks for losing weight – preferably with FIBRE and PROTEIN!

If you stop menstruating in your fat loss journey, this is a huge red flag that this diet is not working for you. It is very dangerous for women, and can contribute to premature heart disease, osteoporosis, and more. Please stop exercising and dieting and go and see a doctor.

In one study, premenopausal women were given a tailored exercise and diet plan that fluctuated with their cycle, and they lost more body fat than those who were on a simple calorie restriction diet.

More on this:

In summary, the best time to diet is in your follicular phase, and calorie intake should be increased in the luteal phase, with a focus on healthy, highly nutritious foods. 1-2 extra snacks in this phase should be sufficient for a woman who is exercising regularly 30-60 minutes per day (not seven extra meals!). In post-menopausal women, maintaining a healthy weight is more important because of the increased risks of CVD, hypertension, and diabetes, however, this time of life is associated with significant weight gain. Oestrogen is also involved in satiety, which means post-menopausal women may over-eat, especially considering their metabolism is slower than in the pre-menopausal period.

For fat loss, or maintaining an effortless, healthy weight in the post-menopausal period, it’s all about lifting weights and eating protein (especially from nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish). Grains should be whole, and complex, for example wild rice, quinoa, and barley. Processes foods, added sugars, and salts, and alcohol are even more potent for women who have transitioned and should be avoided. In summary, if you’re a woman and you want to achieve a healthy weight, it is a LIFESTYLE change.

There is no “perfect” diet and exercise plan, and there is no returning to “normal” once you’ve achieved your fat loss goal. You must change your habits, and preferably work with a health professional, to achieve your fat loss goals, and to maintain them for life.