Women And Metabolism

There are several factors that affect women’s resting metabolism rate (RMR; see the section “What is metabolism” for detail). One is genetics. This is the most important factor. As I mentioned before, if both your parents are obese, the chance that you are also obese is quite high. However, this does not mean that you are doomed. There are a couple of factors you can control and many people with these genes overcome the obesity problem. Before talking about that, let’s mention a couple of other factors that affect women.


The first one is age. Many people observe that as they age their metabolism seems to get lower. One study shows that, on average, women gain 20 pounds between 25 and 55 years old. Does this mean that we need to give up losing weight as we get older? Not really. Yes, many women’s metabolic rate slows down as they age, however, it is not the age that matters, but the loss of lean body mass (muscles and bone weight.) If you compare young and old women of the same body composition, there is almost no difference in RMR. Therefore, if you keep working out, you can eliminate the “age” effect on RMR.

Senior Couple Running

Although genetic and age affect on women’s metabolism, you can still maintain healthy weight.

Hormones — Progesterone and Estrogen

The second one is hormones. Although there are many types of hormones, women need to pay attention to three types of hormones in relation to weight control; estrogen (actually there are three types, but we don’t need to go into the details), progesterone and cortisol. The first two are known to be “female” hormones and the third one is the stress hormone. The estrogen is related to fat storage; when it gets active at puberty, estrogen changes a girl into a woman. Progesterone is another female hormone which is created only when ovulating. This hormone counter balances estrogen and slows down the fat deposition in the body, and in fact stimulates body fat usage. RMR is higher during ovulation, as much as 300 calories a day because of progesterone. After menopause, many women start gaining weight because they cannot create progesterone in their body anymore and this gives estrogen a free hand. Since the body fat creates estrogen, if you have more body fat, you create more estrogen, and you get fatter. Yes, it can be a very nasty vicious cycle for a woman! The excess of estrogen also slows down the function of the thyroid and further slows down the RMR. This is why menopause is listed as a major cause of weight gain among older women.

However, estrogen can also stimulate the body’s fat usage if you work out regularly – so you can avoid menopause weight gain. It seems that the life style change that happens around the menopause has a larger impact on your weight than the hormonal change itself. If you keep yourself active, the weight gain after the menopause is avoidable.

Hormones — cortisol

The last hormone, cortisol is a stress hormone. It is called so because it is created when you are under stress. As the level of this hormone increases, insulin level also increases and that leads to increased hunger. This mechanism was very helpful for survival back in the Stone Age, but it is not so anymore. That is why stressed people tend to over-eat and gain weight. People who work out regularly have a higher tolerance to stress and food addiction is usually not a problem. On the other hand, people who are low in stress tolerance tend to rely on food to release the stress and, at worst, get addicted to food (and possibly other substances or activities). Once one starts gaining weight, gaining weight itself becomes a stress (physical, mental, and emotional) and your body creates more cortisol, and you eat more and you gain more weight. Yes, it can be another vicious weight gain cycle.

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