5 Things You Need to Know About Fat Loss for Women
If you’re trying to lose weight, you likely want to shed pounds and excess body fat without losing any of those hard-won muscles. For women, this process can be complicated. Some workouts can guide you to hit your weight loss goals.
Not only are there certain biological factors that you may be working against, but you might also be surrounded by confusing products, diet plans, and exercise recommendations that aren’t necessarily the healthiest approach.
These experts explain how to best navigate fat loss in a sustainable, smart way, so that you can reach your fitness goals.
What’s a healthy body fat percentage ratio or range for most women?
According to Dr. Thanu Jey, clinic director of Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic, a healthy range for body fat percentage for the average woman is anywhere between 25-31 percent. Of course, that can range depending on many factors, such as whether you’re a casual exerciser or more of an athlete. The American Council on Exercise recommends a similar range of 21-31 percent body fat for women, says Registered Dietitian Ysabel Montemayor, with athletes aiming for 14-20 percent body fat.
How long does it take to lose body fat?
“Everyone is different,” explains Eric Bowling, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles. “Nobody is going to change at the same speed. It can fluctuate massively depending on hormones, genetics, and general body shape. Since most people can’t accurately assess body fat levels, women should expect 0.5-1 percent body weight loss per week as a sustainable, achievable goal.”
Hormones play a large role in using stored fat for fuel, adds Dr. Jey, so your body may find it more difficult to initiate fat burning at the early stages of your training routine. However, he says to stick to it, as your body will eventually adapt. Certified Personal Trainer Rob Jackson often reminds his female clients that fat loss doesn’t occur at a steady, linear pace. Ups and downs are normal, he says, especially at different times of the month. That’s why he suggests using photos and measurements, rather than weight or body fat analysis, as a more accurate way to track your progress.
“Bodyweight is often a poor measure of progress for women,” Bowling agrees. “Weight can massively fluctuate day-to-day or week-to-week on a host of factors from water intake, food consumption, dietary habits, and hormones. If you are going to weigh yourself, the best way to gauge this is to weigh yourself every day and compare the average weight with the previous week versus weighing yourself daily and freaking out about daily fluctuations.”
Are there differences between men and women, when it comes to losing body fat?
To some degree, yes, says Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert Carol Michaels. She notes that men often lose weight faster than women due to testosterone and more muscle mass, but age, genetics, and medical conditions can also present certain challenges.
“Ultimately, it comes down to exercise, activity, and creating a calorie deficit,” says Bowling. “However, the hormonal changes women go through when they are on their menstrual cycle mean water retention can increase, leading to bloating and temporary weight gains. Cravings also increase during this time period, making adherence to dieting harder. Usually allowing for a small increase in starchy, lower glycemic carbs can help mitigate falling off track.”
Which types of workouts are ideal for fat loss, for most women?
“Where fat loss is concerned, following a progressive, well-structured, and challenging weight training program is one of the most effective ways to affect fast and dramatic body composition changes for women,” says Bowling. “Performing compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups are an incredibly effective way of building muscle mass and burning more calories. Women may need to perform slightly higher rep ranges because they can’t output as much power per rep. They tend to benefit more from slightly higher-rep work (12-15) to increase energy output.”
And, unless you’re training for a specific sporting event, says Jackson, it’s best to explore all different types of exercise for a solid mix of strength, toning, and fitness for optimal fat loss results. This can include:
What do you wish more women knew about body fat loss?
“Fat loss for women is not about starving yourself, depriving yourself, or treating yourself poorly,” says Bowling. “It’s not about weighing yourself and everything you eat constantly. It’s about treating yourself kindly, eating enough of the right foods to perform and feel at your best, and wanting to do it not because you feel you have to. Many women think it’s not possible for them based on their age or how their hormones have changed. The process of losing fat is the same for everyone. Even if age and hormones plays a role in the fat loss process, it’s a very small percentage compared to being in a caloric deficit. As long as you stick to plan and track accurately, you will lose weight. The X factor is time and how long you can adhere to the program.”
Don’t forget strength training!
Michaels wishes more women knew about the importance of strength or resistance training with bodyweight, too. “This increases the size and strength of the muscle fibers, and strengthens the tendons, ligaments, and bones,” she says. “It is necessary to strength train because we lose muscle mass as we age. The good news is that you can reverse this muscle loss at any age. Muscles are metabolically active. They burn calories at rest and during exercise. Strength training helps to increase our muscle mass. Since muscle is metabolically active, more muscle mass means a faster metabolism. Therefore, strength training can help you keep your weight under control and help with fat loss.”
“Each body works differently and losing fat doesn’t necessarily mean better health,” concludes Montemayor. “Another person’s results will differ to some extent from yours, even if you follow the same exercise or diet regimen. Fat loss is gradual and takes time. Don’t let that discourage you from working towards a healthier lifestyle—and don’t overwork yourself.”
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