We all know well that women and men are different… dah! With that in mind, weight loss for women should be approached differently too, but is it so?! It so happens that women are not studies enough when it comes to diet and exercise – it’s not easy to study women: they have hormonal changes on weekly if not daily basis, they’ve got water retention, appetite swings and cravings associated with those changes, and their metabolic rate goes up or down, depending on those changes. Therefore women are often misunderstood and prescribed weight loss methods that are inappropriate and ineffective, if not damaging.
In this article I will draw some light onto women’s cycle and how it effects weight loss and how to tweak the diet/exercise routine to achieve long-lasting success in weight loss and maintenance.
Women’s cycle is roughly 28 days, plus/minus a few. The first half is called Follicular phase and starts with the first day of menstruation and lasts till the ovulation, about 2 weeks. During this phase the estrogen is higher and progesterone is lower, which helps with diminished appetite, controlled cravings, stable mood and improved insulin sensitivity. These 2 weeks are great for higher intensity training, you should look into increasing your weight in resistance training if that’s a goal; you can play with your diet to increase carbs up to 40-45% of daily caloric consumption. This time is perfect for reducing intake by as much as 20% from your maintenance level since your body is in it’s prime for fat burning.
The 2nd phase is called Luteal, it starts right after the ovulation and includes the yucky PMS, leading up to the menstruation. During this period estrogen dips and progesterone picks up, leading to water retention, increased appetite and mood swings. Even though metabolism picks up slightly (women burn 100-300 calories more a day during most of the 2nd week of luteal phase), it does not justify unusual increase in intake. It is important to be mindful of your eating, I recommend having a food journal or using an app like MyFitnessPal or Loseit to track your eating pattern – this will help to map out what your cravings usually are and how you can deal with them; being prepared and equipped is the best you can do to stay calm and reasonable, even if you are about to devour a whole chocolate bar! If you let it be without panicking, the body will adjust itself by reducing your appetite or increasing your metabolism in consecutive days. One day of moderate pigging-out will not make your gain fat, though water weight might be driving you crazy, so don’t bother stepping on a scale, wait till it’s at least the 2nd day of your period.
A common mistake most of us do is weighing our selves too often and comparing non-comparable results – what you weigh in the 1st week of your cycle will be different from the 2nd, 3rd and of course 4th due to weight (not fat!) flactuations – Read Water Retention! Instead, weigh yourself weekly and document in accordance with your cycle and only then compare to your weight on the same cycle weeks, this is way more accurate. You might “gain” 5 lbs on the 4th week compared to the 1st, but if you look at your next 1st week’s weight compared to the 1st week’s weight of last month – you might be down a pound.
During luteal phase do not expect personal records in the weight room or higher pace on your run, allow yourself to slow down and relax, do some yoga or walk, make sure to eat balanced meals for adequate amounts of fats and proteins, to avoid unstable blood sugar and hunger pangs.
As you can see, with all those changes and curves taking place, it is undeniably impossible to follow a rigid diet plan with the same meals, calories and macronutrient distributions throughout the month. Delicate and complex creatures that we are, we need a sophisticated and high-maintenance approach to weight loss, to make it lasting and merely effortless.