Carrying excess body fat is linked to some of our greatest health threats, namely heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can also elevate blood pres- sure and add stress to the body. Obesity is linked to gall bladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, sexual dysfunction, osteoarthritis, and stroke. The emotional consequences of obesity can be just as serious: low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
It is important to note that if you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can improve your health. Studies have shown that losing 10 to 15 percent of excess weight can help reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. It is important to get your body fat percentage checked. This can be done at a medical centre or health club. The recommended range of body fat for women is 15 to 25 percent.
Apples versus Pears – Where’s Your Fat?
Just as the degree of obesity is important in determining health risk, so is the location of the fat. The “apple” shaped body, carrying fat around the mid-section is associated with greater health risks, in particular type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, and early mortality. The reason for this is that researchers have discovered that visceral (belly) fat actually produces hormones and chemicals that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance, and these factors are associated with chronic disease.
While we tend to think of men as having the apple-shaped body and women having the pear-shaped body, body fat distribution in women changes with age. Below age 30 women tend to carry their fat predominantly around their hips and thighs, as cellulite. This fat is associated with the higher estrogen levels women have during the childbearing years and it can be worsened by inactivity, poor circulation and dietary factors. Nobody likes cellulite, but this fat does not carry the same risk as that gained around the mid-section. As women age they have a greater tendency to gain fat around their belly. This change in body fat distribution is also tied to hormonal changes that occur with aging, along with a number of lifestyle and genetic factors.
To see whether your belly is putting you at risk, get out a tape measure and place it around your waist (at the navel). For women, a waist more than 80 cm (32 inches) is associated with increased health risk and a waist of more than 88 cm (35 inches) is associated with substantially increased risk.
If you fall into one of these risk categories, don’t despair. In order to lose weight, women can turn to safe and effective ways to trim their midsection. Getting regular physical activity, eating a healthful diet, not smoking, controlling blood sugar levels, and balancing your hormones are key to improving your body shape and composition and optimizing your health.
Factors Affecting Weight Loss for Women
In the past it was thought that diet and activity level were the only factors affecting body weight. We now know that this is not the case. Some people can exercise regularly and reduce caloric intake and still not lose weight. And, of course, we all know women who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound.
Weight gain and obesity are complex conditions, dependent upon various lifestyle, hormonal, biochemical, metabolic, and genetic factors. Some of the most important factors include:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The rate at which your body burns calories at rest is called your BMR. Your BMR is dependent on several of the factors listed below, such as activity level and thyroid function.
Caloric intake: Overeating and consuming more calories than your body uses for energy can result in weight gain—regardless of whether those calories come from fat, carbohydrates, or protein.
Physical Activity Your activity level is the major player in weight balance. Inactivity causes loss of muscle mass, a reduced metabolic rate and increased body fat. Conversely, regular exercise can improve muscle mass and boost metabolism. As we exercise, our muscles utilize calories for energy and generate heat, which promotes the burning of fat.
Stress: Chronic stress can cause weight gain, particularly around the mid-section. Stress increases the production and release of cortisol, a hormone that increases body fat storage. Stress has become a common concern for women today as more women are juggling family, career, and household responsibilities.
Human growth hormone (HGH): HGH is an important hormone for regulating Weight Loss for Women. Low levels can cause a loss of lean muscle mass and an increase in body fat storage. Levels decline with age, particularly after age 50, causing a shift in our body composition.
Lack of sleep: Research has found that lack of sleep (less than six hours per night) can raise levels of hormones that increase appetite and decrease levels of HGH.
Thyroid function: The thyroid gland plays a vital role in controlling metabolism. If your thyroid is low and not functioning optimally, this can reduce your metabolic rate and cause weight gain. Low thyroid is very common in women between the ages of 30 and 50. Symptoms include cold hands and feet, dry skin, hair loss, low libido, constipation, and depression.
Insulin: When insulin levels are high the body stores more fat and is not able to use fat as a source of energy.
Genetics: Genetics play a role in determining body type and weight. However, lifestyle factors are more important determinants.
Estrogen High estrogen levels are associated with female weight gain. Yet, many women find that they gain weight during menopause while their estrogen levels are lower. This happens because as estrogen levels decline in menopause, as a compensatory mechanism, the fat cells and the adrenal glands take over the production of estrogen. In order to meet the growing demand during menopause, the fat cells increase in size and number.
Testosterone Testosterone helps the body maintain lean muscle mass and burn fat. A deficiency of this hormone can cause the loss of muscle mass and fat gain. This is a significant contributor to fat and female weight gain in post-menopausal women.
Leptin Satiety is also regulated by leptin, a hormone produced by body fat. Researchers have found that some people become resistant to their own leptin. To compensate for this the body produces more and more of the hormone, but the “satisfied” message is not property received by the brain.
Serotonin: A chemical messenger in the brain, serotonin regulates satiety (fullness) and appetite. When levels are low we feel hungry, and when they are high we feel satisfied.
Dietary Strategies and Weight Loss for Women
Following a healthy diet is very important for those trying to lose weight. Skipping meals or following a fad diet is not the way to go. In particular, keep the following principles in mind:
- Eat four to five small meals/snacks daily to keep your metabolism and energy level optimized.
- Watch your portion sizes.
- Avoid processed, refined, and fast foods as they are high in calories and low in nutritional value.
- Ensure adequate protein intake. Protein is essential for building and maintaining lean muscle mass, and the more muscle you have the more calories you burn.
- Fill up on fibre. Fibre is digested slowly so it keeps you feeling more full and also helps balance blood sugar levels.
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily. Water works with fibre to keep you feeling full. It also helps with the removal of toxins and waste.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol floods the body with empty calories.
Fitness and Weight Loss for Women
Regular physical activity is essential to achieving a healthy body weight. Aim for one hour of moderately intense activity daily. If you are currently not active, start slowly and gradually increase your duration and intensity.
Other Lifestyle Strategies
- Reduce your stress. Stress can trigger appetite and food cravings and increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that promotes fat storage around the abdomen.
- Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
- If you find that your eating habits are tied to your emotions, consider counseling or a support group.
In the past, the first law of thermodynamics was often used to explain the control of body weight. Simply put, if energy intake (food) exceeds energy expenditures (exercise/activity), then weight gain occurs. Conversely, reducing intake and increasing expenditures was believed to be the key to weight loss. For years, doctors and researchers believed this simple theory to be the answer. While energy balance is important there are numerous other factors involved in regulating body weight. Some women can exercise religiously, reduce food intake and still not lose weight. And, of course, we all know women who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound.
Female weight gain and obesity are complex conditions, dependent upon various lifestyle, hormonal, biochemical, metabolic and genetic factors.
If you have decided to lose weight, set reasonable goals and make small, gradual changes to your lifestyle. Be consistent with your exercise program, eat healthily, and make sure you get adequate sleep. Most importantly, be patient. It takes time to lose weight, but the rewards are worthwhile.