Women, health and fitness: why most diets don’t work – Part 2

For women, health and fitness is very different than for men.

Our biology and bodies are intrinsically different and so they have a different response to diets.

As we explored in the previous part of this series, the most common mistake women make when trying to lose weight is to eat very little. They try to go about their days on salads and baby carrots.

This is the fast lane towards zero weight loss

And here’s why.

Women seeking health and fitness usually start their diets with unsustainable restriction of foods.

It is not uncommon for them to go into say, 800 calories per day diets or even less(!)

With this shortage of calories, of course they lose weight, but only for a while

Woman jogging in a park at sundown.Exercising requires energy, if you're on a low-calorie diet, you should take into account this extra expenditure of energy you are requiring from your body.

Living life on only 800 calories a day is difficult to follow on the long term and most importantly, their bodies will catch up with them and complain.


By getting into “starvation mode.”

Your body has evolved for thousands of years and has experienced times of food shortage for millennia. Your body knows how to protect you in times of famine (or ridiculous diets):

  • It efficiently stores fat when there’s a surplus of food
  • It decreases its expenditure of energy in times of food scarcity

Let’s say you started a diet consisting of  800 calories per day.

You will lose quite a bit of weight in the first 2-3 weeks. After that you’ll see your weight loss begin to stall…

This is because your body has understood that it’s in food shortage and so it balances out all its functions in such a way to use the least energy possible.

Your body is trying to let you know:

“Hey, there’s not much food going around so I’ll run on less energy to keep you alive while you find food”

When you body feels deprived of essential nutrients and calories it immediately gets into “starvation mode” in order to sustain you.

The danger of getting into starvation mode is that you’ll stop losing weight

Even worse, in starvation mode, your body protects your fat reserves and starts using muscle mass as a source of energy.

Because you take in too few calories to support your body it adapts by reducing the overall amount of energy it needs to conserve fat stores.

This adaptation causes your BMR to slow down. This in turn causes you to burn fewer calories even though you’re performing the same tasks – your body is clever and resilient!

According to Live Strong, the gradual loss of muscle mass reduces your body’s ability to burn calories because it uses more calories to maintain lean body mass than fat.

Eating better not less is the answer to sustained, easy weight loss

Salad bowlA balanced meal of whole greens, seeds, nuts, protein and a savory vinaigrette.

Women’s health and fitness needs are even more sensitive to the dreaded starvation response due to our hormonal, cyclical nature.

So, in essence, it’s important to understand that eating very little in order to lose weight is not the way to go.

Another important aspect to health and fitness is how much fat and muscle you have, this is called body composition.

So, what does fitness and women’s health have to do with body composition? And why is it important?

When you step on a regular scale, something you could start thinking about is: how much of that weight is body fat and how much is muscle mass?

Regardless of your current weight, your body composition is, as the name implies, the distribution of your lean body mass and fat reserves.

Women’s health and fitness is not usually equated with fitness but primarily with beauty.

Women’s health is linked to body shape and their fitness to how skinny they are.

Even though we can all agree that overweight people are not the epitome of health we can also agree that skinny fat is not healthy either.

Aspiring Victoria’s Secret models might look skinny but their body composition may well be little muscle, little fat. Whereas a fitness model might also look skinny but her body composition may be little fat, more muscle.

In addition, women’s bodies naturally tend to cling onto fat, this is a hormonal effect and it is directly linked to fertility. Men’s bodies tend to be more lean, also a hormonal effect, giving them power and strength.

Women’s health and fitness gets better if they purposefully aim to lose fat and increase muscle

Woman stretching in track field.Keep your muscles supple and flexible with stretching exercises after your workout.

This means changing their body composition in order to lose fat and gain muscle.

At first, your diet should help you lose weight by losing fat and as you get closer to your goal then focus on increasing muscle.

According to Health Line, if you started exercising you may gain muscle mass while losing some fat.

Because muscle mass is denser than fat – weighs more - you may become discouraged or frustrated because the number on the scale is not moving. Your gains in muscle mass and loss of fat even themselves out.

This is an example of why understanding body composition is a better approach than just focusing on weight loss

Trying to lose fat while increasing muscle mass is extremely difficult.

I suggest you tackle losing fat first, and you’ll measure this with your overall body weight and body measurements. How to kick start this process is dealt with in Part 4.

But before you dive in, let’s quickly discover different techniques to chart our progress.

The next part will bring together what you have learnt about your BMR and body composition.

Women’s health and fitness has its own set of rules to make our life easier.

Lose more weight and make sure your body fat is decreasing with no cravings. Learn how in the next part.

Part 3 – Lose more weight without crunching numbers

Back to Move

Back to Home Page

Live Strong, Weight Loss & Starvation Mode, www.livestrong.com

Oxygen Magazine, The fit woman’s guide to body fat, www.oxygenmag.com

Health Line, How to improve body composition, www.healthline.com

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