Three Important Tools for Women Struggling with Weight Gain
Obesity continues to be a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States. While it strikes both men and women at roughly equal rates, there are medical, physical and social issues unique to women that may make their struggle with obesity more difficult.
Currently, 64 percent of American women are overweight or obese. Extreme obesity, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, affects eight percent of women. Obesity has far-reaching health effects that can reduce your quality of life, or even shorten your lifespan.
“Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardio vascular disease,” said Eileen Sturner, Manager of The Diabetes and Nutrition Centers at Abington - Jefferson Health.
1. Unique Challenges for Women: Pregnancy and Menopause
“Experiences unique to women, like pregnancy and menopause, can make weight management challenging,” said Sturner. “It can be hard to get back to pre-pregnancy weight, especially when your focus is on nurturing your family.”
After giving birth, the stress and time involved with taking care of a newborn can make weight loss very difficult. While most women lose up to half the weight they gained during pregnancy in the six weeks after giving birth, it may take up to 12 months or longer to return to pre-pregnancy weight. In some cases, you may never lose all the weight you gained, but healthy eating and exercise are still important.
Additionally, perimenopause and menopause can result in weight gain. As a woman ages and her hormones change, her body composition changes as well. This can result in a loss of muscle mass and an increase in fat storage.
2. Three Strategies to Help Reduce Your Weight
Every woman is unique and many different factors can cause weight gain and obesity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will help every woman lose weight in the same way.
“It’s important to look at each woman as an individual and tailor a plan for her specific needs,” said Sturner.
When creating a weight-loss plan, there are three general areas of focus: sleep, nutrition and activity level. If any one of these components is out of balance, weight loss may be difficult or nearly impossible.
Sleep is essential to maintaining healthy weight. Women should target seven to nine hours per night. Less than seven hours can negatively affect the balance of hormones leptin and ghrelin, which control food cravings and appetite.
Healthy eating is the second important part of the equation. Focusing on calories consumed versus calories burned on a daily basis is a good place to start. Keep in mind that there is no ideal ratio of carbohydrates, fat and protein in the diet that works for every woman. Again, it’s about understanding your specific needs and what works best for you.
Activity level is the final and perhaps most challenging key to weight loss. After receiving medical clearance from a doctor, a woman’s long-term activity goal should be 150 minutes per week. In the short-term, anything a woman does to increase her activity is beneficial.
“If you’re sitting in an office or in front of a screen all day, take frequent breaks to get up and move around,” said Sturner. “Even doing a minute or two more of activity makes a difference over time.”
3. How to Get Started
If you are struggling with weight gain or obesity, your primary doctor is the best place to start. Your doctor can serve as your knowledge hub and direct you to the other weight loss resources and providers you’ll need. This may include nutritionists, weight loss specialists and psychologists.
The road to weight loss may be long and winding, but there are milestones of success along the way. “No change is too small,” said Sturner. “Even seemingly insignificant changes to your diet and minor increases in your activity level will have a positive effect.”