How Being a Woman Affects Weight Gain

If you’re a woman, even if you diet, you gain weight more easily than a man for several inherent reasons. Menopause, pregnancy, and the age you are when you reach puberty all impact your weight.

  • Early puberty: The earlier a girl reaches menarche (her first period), the heavier she’s apt to be as an adult. Research indicates that if you had your first period at age 11 or younger, by age 30 you’ll weigh between 9 and 11 pounds more than a woman who started after age 14. The study also found that more than 26 percent of early maturers were obese by age 30, compared to only 15 percent of girls who started their periods later in life.

  • Menopause: By the time women hit their 50s, two-thirds of them are overweight. That coincides with menopause, but research can’t explain why. It may be the reduction in estrogen at midlife.

    The manufacturing of estrogen requires fat. As estrogen drops, fat stores may rise to cushion the fall. But women who’ve taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT) experience similar weight gain. The difference is where the weight goes on. Natural menopause turns women into apples with the bulk of their weight around their waists. Women on HRT stay pears (carrying their weight around their hips) longer.

  • Pregnancy: Many women hold on to 5 pounds or more following pregnancy, which they often never lose. That’s especially true if you gain more than 35 pounds. However, this disheartening piece of news doesn’t mean that pregnant women should severely limit their weight gain during pregnancy. (The optimum maternal weight gain for a healthy 6 1/2- to 8-pound baby is between 25 and 35 pounds.) Rather, pregnant women should try to control the rate at which they gain weight.

    If you gain most of your pregnancy weight early on (during the first 20 weeks or about the first trimester) rather than during the last part of your pregnancy, you may have more trouble getting back to pre-pregnancy size. In the first trimester, the fetus needs little energy, so any large weight gain — in excess of 5 to 7 pounds — goes to the mother’s fat stores, not to the infant.

    During the first three months of pregnancy, you can expect a weight gain of 2 to 4 pounds. After that, the gain should be about 1 pound per week. Recommendations are different if you begin your pregnancy at an unhealthy weight. For some obese women, the 1-pound-per-week rule is too much.

    Many women lose about 10 pounds immediately following delivery and another 5 pounds in the first month or two. The rest of the weight usually continues to drop slowly over the next 6 to 12 months. How quickly you shed the weight depends upon several factors, including your calorie intake, your activity level, and whether you’re breast-feeding.

    A strict weight-loss plan isn’t recommended while you’re nursing, because your body needs extra calories to produce milk. Losing 2 to 4 pounds a month won’t affect your ability to nurse, but a loss of more than 4 or 5 pounds after the first month isn’t recommended until you stop nursing.

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