So, now that we have identified why we have it hard in today’s society with fitting the ‘perfect figure mold’ (read Why Women Have It Harder Part 1). It’s time to identify the second and more legitimate reason we have it harder: FACT It’s harder for women to lose weight then for men.
The Hormone Estrogen
From the moment of birth, females generally have more body fat than males – why? because of Estrogen.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. Another fact about Estrogen, it loves fat.. and that’s never going to change.
In fact, it shouldn’t change, because estrogen – and the extra pounds that come with it – promotes life itself, by nurturing fertility. The survival of our entire species depends upon women being able to gain weight easily, and to keep that weight on. Fat equals fertility. Not overly excessive fat like a 300 pound women, but the type of fat that you might see in your hips, butt and back.
As women we need body fat in order to perform our female function, to be fertile. Did you know that female athletes that are overly active and are very lean, as well as women with eating disorders often do not get their periods? Yep- why? because their body fat is too low. In the body, low-fat equals low-fertility.
The average percentage of body fat among women is 29%. But when a female’s percentage of body fat falls to even 20% — which is still a relatively high level for a male – fertility can be endangered and impaired. Some female athletes walk around at 12% to 15% body fat at that percentage fertility ceases. Can you gain it back? Yes of course, often when not in season, or not actively competitive female athletes will regain some body fat percent and therefore regain fertility, it is actually quite common. A bit more alarming is that some women starve themselves to maintain a body fat of 12-15%, and especially with out muscle to fortify the body, this is not natural and very dangerous.
A primary reason that fat is necessary for fertility is that fat increases the production of estrogen, the hormone most responsible for fertility. Therefore, every woman faces an very natural, self-reinforcing phenomenon: fat increases estrogen, and then estrogen increases fat. And the body needs fat.
In the body fat storage is a form of a survival mechanism. Fat protects women and their babies from food shortages. It does the same for men, but male bodies naturally need less fat.
FACT Girl babies have about 15% more fat than boy babies.
Then, when a girl hits puberty, her amount of body fat typically increases by up to 50%. When boys reach puberty the opposite happens. As testosterone surges in a pubescent boys bodies, he begins to burn fat more efficiently, and starts to gain muscle, which burns more calories than fat tissue (body fat). Like it or not adult males have a tendency to burn 10% to 20% more calories at rest than females.
Estrogen also influences the way in which women store fat. Estrogen contributes lower body fat storage – the hips, thighs, and butt. Testosterone (a male sex hormone) causes him to store most of his fat in his belly. Only approximately 5-10% of a man’s fat is stored in his lower body, compared to about 20% in a women’s body. Additionally and unfortunately for women lower-body fat processes insulin less efficiently than belly fat, making weight loss in the lower body more difficult and a longer process.
Men and women can work out equally side by side and simultaneously cut calories through diet, but the women will still have a far more difficult time getting rid of their lower-body weight.
Good news? Belly fat is more responsive to exercise and dieting then lower body fat. Does this mean you should lose all hopes of ridding yourself of large hips? Absolutely not! Its important to be AWARE of the facts above so that we can be more patient and understanding with our bodies. You can still lose and build beautiful lean legs, but they wont be the legs of a super skinny super model, or the same legs your brother has. They will be your legs, strong and capable.
How can we defeat this problem?
Personally I do not think that its a ‘problem’. The biggest problem I see is that our bodies are compared to male bodies. We all have our assets,strengths, weaknesses. But males and females are different. We have different hormones governing our bodies. Fundamentally the genders themselves have different goals. therefore it is unfair to think we can have as smooth a skin on the back of our legs as males. It is unfair to think we can develop the same six packs. This post is NOT made to limit your vision of who you can become, and who you are working to be. This post is to give you facts. Facts that we can use to understand ourselves. To pass on and teach the correct ethics to our friends, kids an family. To recognize and love the individuality that women process. To embrace it, not to be stubbed by it in our quest for a six pack, be super lean and have smooth legs (all of which we can have, but in out own way).
I think we must understand this so that we understand what we need to expect from our bodies:
Health Body Composition
All of the things listed above are completely fine to work towards, and expect from yourself and your body. However living your life in hopes of sporting a six pack or 10% body fat might not be a healthy ideal for every women. You might never have the same type of elasticity in your thighs as a man, or a female that has taken a testosterone steroid.
The magazine industry has created two ideal- a child like figure of a breast-less, ass-less, gap between the legs model who is either very young, or just happens to have the genetics for this type of look. Or a six pack, lean to the bone, not a cellulite smudge in sight body. I have seen figure models up close, they are beautiful and amazing and strong- but guys… they have a few bumps in the thighs. More so I have seen a women with a six pack, and one with just a good health body and guess what- that six pack does not mean that the girl sporting it can do a push up or a chin up, run a marathon or kick. It doesn’t even mean she’s healthier. It just means she has the genetics that, with hard work can get her that look. Other women can work just as hard and look amazing, but never has a six pack.
What can we have? A healthy, curvy, sexy, mobile, strong, lean (‘healthy lean’ means a good body composition in the correct healthy weight range) body.
So how do you battle the stereotypes? You Know the FACTS and you REMEMBER why it is you train: