It's not your imagination.
The female fat loss struggle is REAL.
If you're anything like me, you've had at least one experience of spending an inordinate amount of time recruiting a male accountability partner (“hey let's do this diet together…please…please”) – only to end up frustrated when he finally agrees, and seems to get ALL the results.
Sure you start off strong, and have WAY more willpower, but eventually you hit a plateau and he…doesn't. Of course this is an oversimplification of gender (not all men lose fat super easily), but men definitely have a few advantages over us.
In this episode, we discuss the 5 reasons why fat loss is harder for women:
(alternatively, you can read the two part series on the female fat loss struggle here).
PS. I'd love to chat with you!! Wanna interact with me LIVE next time to ask your questions? Make sure you’re following EM2WL over on Facebook to get notifications the second a new broadcast is scheduled!
When dieters first discover Eat More 2 Weigh Less, it's usually after years of caloric restriction that has hindered fat loss efforts. It can take a little bit of research and trust, but eventually reality sets in that perpetually eating less is NOT the answer. They buckle in, and after a full metabolism reset, re-enter the fat loss ring with renewed mental and physical strength. This is not an overnight breakthrough, however. Fat loss with EM2WL often occurs in at least five stages, or “a-ha moments,” being uncovered as the journey progresses. Some will go through the stages randomly, while most tend to handle them in order that follows. In the end, if does not matter which order they are taken in, but rather that they are all learned.
The first stage for fat loss is almost always finding out you need to eat more. Generally anyone coming from a 1200 calories diet plan, or 21 day fixes or anything that restricts the amount of energy you take in, will quickly realize that you were duped into thinking “Eat Less, Move More.” It is simply not true.
Our bodies are like an engine and they require energy in order to function correctly. Without the right amount of energy, the engine begins to wear down. So when we starve on 1200 calorie diets, it is not getting enough fuel to function properly and fat loss is hindered.
The realization that more food = more energy comes quick to most. For others, its a longer process to accept that yes, we need more food. When the connection has been made, almost immediately the outward signs of under eating start to dissipate. Nails start to grow, hair stops falling out, sleep is better quality, moods change for the better and general energy levels increase ten fold.
Eating more consistently
Right after the realization that we need more calories in our day, most of us will begin to place a focus on eating more calories consistently. This stage can tend to take a bit longer to uncover. It means hitting whatever target number you are supposed to be hitting, more than 80% of the time.
If calories change as little as 100-300, it can make a huge impact on our body's ability to function correctly. Eating more can have an impact on things like sleep, hair and moods. But it can still be hindering inward changes if the amount is not high enough. It can be the difference in eating 400 calories more than you used to, but not eating at your maintenance (TDEE) level.
Paying attention to macros
Once it becomes easier to consistently hit that calorie number, the next focus shifts to hitting your macros. Macronutrients such as protein, fat and carbohydrates are the main three your focus should be on. Fiber is also a consideration especially when it comes to your carbs. In the beginning, your focus is just getting your calories up to your proper amount. But eventually the shift needs to change to focus on hitting these macros in order to get the right balance of nutrients needed to sustain fat loss.
It is easier to focus on hitting these numbers when your calorie level is high, making it easier to keep hitting them when you cut your calories.
In the beginning, it is easy to just workout with whatever program or cardio class you enjoy doing. Going from couch to 4 days a week will certainly help you to see fat loss happen, but soon the results slow down or stop all together. This is when the realization that lifting weights is now needed in order to continue seeing that fat loss happen. It might be something you had heard about earlier in your journey, but this blind spot tends to hide until you are ready to fully commit to a strength training program.
Lift heavier weights
The final stage to fat loss is understanding that lifting weights is not just lifting a certain amount and stopping. It is constantly and consistently working on increasing the amount you lift. As you adjust to the weight level you lift, this becomes normal to your body. Therefore the benefits stall out and you plateau. By consistently challenging your muscles with heavier weights, it will always be working overtime to benefit from these levels.
While these stages can happen in any order to an individual, most uncover them in order – at their own pace. As a new “blindspot” is revealed to you, lean in…don't rush it, or attempt to avoid it. Truly understand what each stage means to you and spend the time needed in each one before working through the next.
Fat loss is a tricky problem for almost everyone. Of course we all want to get rid of unwanted fat on our bodies, but it is not as easy as “eat less, move more.” There is far more to it than that.
Ways to aid successful fat loss
Before you dive into the tweaks needed for this, familiarize yourself with our quick start guide. This will refresh your memory on how to begin your journey and what to expect. One of the main aspects to consider in this is a metabolism reset. This will be your biggest supporter to a successful cut phase.
When the time comes to reduce calories and begin your fat loss phase, cutting requires only a small amount of calories to be removed. We are talking 5-15% from your TDEE. The key is still to be able to eat as much as possible and still have a loss in fat. Following a 4-6 week cut phase, a jump back up to your TDEE level is necessary to remind the body of where maintenance is.
Think about it. If you cut your intake to a specific number, and do nothing more, then your body will adjust to that lower level and that becomes your new “normal.” Then when the plateau hits (which it always does) calories need to be slashed again in order to see a loss. Each step down will cause the metabolism to slow, thus making it harder and harder for fat loss to happen.
Just like your body adjusts to calories going down – it will adjust to calories going up.
By reminding your metabolism where maintenance is, the body continues to burn at the higher caloric level, giving you far more food to eat and still burn for fat loss. Every 4-6 weeks you should take one week off back at TDEE. If you choose to go 8-10 weeks, then a two or more week break is needed.
Biggest thing to remember is this is NOT a quick fix diet! Patience, Consistency and maximum caloric intake are what will help you be successful at fat loss.
One of the many problems dieters encounter in their fat loss journey, is they will not pivot and make a change if something is not working. So often a dieter will hold on to whatever worked in the past as the end all, be all to get their results.
And they will keep going back to it. Over and over again.
What got you “Here”, won't get you “There”
First of all, know that there will always be bumps in your journey. Some of them will not be clear the first time you encounter them, and some of them will require running into multiple times before it will actually apply to you. These are blindspots.
“If I am doing _____ and it is working for me, why would I do ____ instead?”
Let's back up a moment.
Let's say you have never done anything physical before. So you get off the couch and start walking. Almost immediately you see results in fat loss, so you walk further. Then you start running. Again, results start to happen for you. So you run further, faster.
For the weeks or months leading up to this, maybe you have come across HIIT workouts, or someone has suggested weight training for fat loss and muscle building. It makes complete sense to you, but you are able to push these items out of your mind because running has been getting you results.
Eventually, it all stops working.
The problem with human nature is we are all egotistical at heart. No one ever wants to be proven wrong. So in this case, because you've told yourself that running was giving you progress, you can't fathom giving it up for anything else.
Soon the blindspot is uncovered – your body has adapted completely to running, and in order to get results, resistance and weight training need to be added.
A great analogy for this is a potted plant. For a seed to grow, it needs a small pot. But eventually that seed will outgrow the pot and needs something bigger. If you don't replant the pot into the ground, then the roots get stifled and it will no longer grow.
Blindspots are your seeds trying to grow. Eventually they cannot be ignored any longer and a decision has to be made whether to proceed forward, or continue stifling the plant.
These happen around every corner of your journey. Knowing they will come is a huge part of the mentality shift. By preparing ahead of time that something will need to change, we can immediately make the right decision to propel our progress forward.
Be open to change, and be open to knowing that what worked in your past, may not work for your future.
In our previous blog post, we discussed three main reasons why many women struggle with fat loss:
– Women are more focused on “weight” loss, rather than fat loss.
– Hormones can play a big role in how fast and where the fat loss can occur.
– Women generally have a lower muscle mass than men do.
While we could have certainly ended the conversation there, (solving any one of those issues could result in a shift in fat loss for most ladies), we feel compelled to bring the topic home by pointing out the elephant in the room: The Diet Mentality. Even if most ladies understand the central theme behind developing a less stressed, “muscle-based” mindset, they still want to go about solving their fat loss issues with extreme diets and unrealistic deadlines.
When we choose to diet in a way to lose “weight,” (remember reason #1!) we typically select very extreme methods to do so. (*cough* 1200 calorie diets!)
Whenever you embark on a low calorie diet your body is forced to make less food spread farther, so it often has to make budget cuts to survive (literally). Because muscle requires more calories to maintain, extreme “budget cuts” can put those precious muscles you're striving so hard to hold on to, in jeopardy. When the body is faced with a low calorie (especially low protein) diet – it has to break down muscles in order to “find” the protein it needs to survive (essentially getting rid of those dang “expensive” muscles, so that the budget can spread further!).
Most women (whether on a diet or not) prefer a high carb, high fat diet with very low protein incorporated. When coupled with little to no resistance training, and repeated bouts of super low calories, many women are living in a perpetual “muscle wasting” lifestyle. Rejecting the 1200 calorie insanity, and increasing the protein is a great starting point for most ladies seeking fat loss. Protein not only keeps you fuller longer, it helps to keep the metabolism from burning up the proteins in our muscles, thus making our workouts more effective, and allows the muscles to build up instead of break down. Once weight lifting is sprinkled in, it's icing on the cake! (Note: I didn't say anything about getting rid of cake…)
Because many of the diets that we tried in the past helped us to lose weight “fast,” it's honestly tough to NOT lack patience. Thanks to our microwave society, we tend to want alllllllll. the. things. RIGHT. NOW. We can’t understand why men can lose weight so quickly, or why younger women are dropping pounds faster than us. The media knows this, and makes sure to taunt/target/tempt us regularly with quick fixes (and we just keep taking the bait- even when we know better). We want things that happen as fast for us as they did in the past – to have the losses we did when we went on our first diet.
We say we're willing to do “whatever it takes” — but never for “as long as it takes.”
Having patience is about being willing to build/maintain muscle mass and actually stop stressing about it. It means focusing less on weight loss, more on fat loss. It's about finally settling in and doing things right by your body. It's about reaching your goals in a no-nonsense way that does not backfire in the long run: eating enough food, eating enough protein, getting enough fiber, lifting and doing workouts in a way that are built to maintain the muscle mass you already have, and maybe even encourage more muscle growth along the way.
So there you have it. The five biggest reasons why women tend to struggle with fat loss. So remember this on your journey to a better and healthier you. Dieting will lead you down a path of never ending gain/lose cycles, constantly frustrated with the lack of progress. The goal of the Diet Mentality is to make you stop enjoying your life to its fullest. A change in your diet focus, throwing the scale away, and taking the time to build your muscle mass back up while living your life now, will all put you down the path to success. The path just winds along the rose gardens, rather than plows right through them.
One of the biggest misconceptions about muscle and fat is that they are interchangeable. It is not uncommon to hear women talking about how they are afraid to lift weights because they fear of their level of fat will just instantly change into solid muscle. In fact, many think they should hold off lifting any weights until they have a lower level of fat on their body for just this reason. On the other side, many older generations will wonder why you bother to lift weights at all because as you get older, your muscle will just turn into fat.
Cannot physically happen.
You cannot turn fat into muscle or muscle into fat!
No matter what you read, fat and muscle cannot be replaced by each other. However you DO need muscle in order to lose fat. Muscle helps keep your metabolism burning high, so the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be. This is important because it means your metabolism burns more energy and thus increases your TDEE (more food!!) On the flip side, the higher your metabolism is, the higher your caloric intake will be in a cut phase which will allow you to lose fat.
If you are coming from a restrictive dieting background, be aware that you need a muscle building phase FIRST before you can tackle a fat loss phase. Most dieters are coming from a muscle deficit, which means there is not enough muscle to accomplish the very goal you're chasing. Muscle building and fat loss are two very different phases and cannot be done together. The process of doing either goal, are complete opposites of each other. Muscle requires more calories (TDEE or higher) whereas fat loss requires less calories (TDEE – 5-15%).
You cannot turn fat into muscle, but you do need muscle in order to lose fat.