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Weight loss and women

Weight loss and women

What is the best way for women to lose weight? Every woman is different, but recent research suggests that women may lose weight differently than men.

What is the best way for me to lose weight?

Most women will need to eat and drink fewer calories and get the right amount of healthy foods to lose weight. Increasing exercise or physical activity may help with weight loss, but choosing healthy foods (lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits) is what works best for many people to achieve a healthy weight.1 Combining healthy eating with increased physical activity is best. Talk to your doctor or nurse before starting any weight-loss program. He or she can work with you to find the best way for you to lose weight.

Your environment and other parts of your life may make weight loss more difficult. You may be able to take other steps, such as talking to your doctor about any medicines you take that may lead to weight gain, getting more sleep, or dealing with stress, that can also help you lose weight.

How many calories should I eat and drink to lose weight safely?

Everyone is different. How quickly you burn calories when you are not physically active can be very different from other people based on your specific genes, biology, and past. While scientists know that there are 3,500 calories in one pound, simply eating 500 fewer calories every day for a week (or 3,500 fewer calories in a week) does not always end in losing exactly one pound.

If you have overweight or obesity, counting calories may help you lose weight. Weight loss also happens when you focus on eating healthy foods. Getting calories mostly from lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables may help you lose weight safely.

No diet for an adult woman should be less than 800 calories per day. If you decide to limit the amount of calories you get each day to lose weight, talk to your doctor or nurse first. Your doctor or nurse can help you figure out a healthy and safe amount of calories for your body while trying to lose weight.

The exact calorie number to aim for depends on your age, your height and weight, and how active you are. Use the MyPlate Plan tool to find out how many calories you need.

Do women lose weight differently than men?

Yes and no. Men often lose weight more quickly than women. But, over time, weight loss usually evens out between women and men.

Men may lose weight more quickly because men usually have more muscle, while women may have more fat. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, men may be able to burn more calories at rest than women.

Because men are larger than women on average and have more muscle to support, men can usually eat more calories while still losing weight, compared to women. Portion control may be especially important for women. In one study, women who ate smaller portions of food (and less food overall) had lower BMIs than women who limited or avoided a certain type of food.2 This approach seems to work better for women than men.3

How does the menstrual cycle affect weight loss?

The menstrual cycle itself doesn’t seem to affect weight gain or loss. But having a period may affect your weight in other ways. Many women get premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS can cause you to crave and eat more sweet or salty foods than normal.4 Those extra calories can lead to weight gain. And salt makes the body hold on to more water, which raises body weight (but not fat).

Also, while your menstrual cycle may not affect weight gain or loss, losing or gaining weight can affect your menstrual cycle. Women who lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly may stop having a period, or have irregular periods. Women who have obesity may also have irregular periods. A regular period is a sign of good health. Reaching a healthy weight can help women who have irregular periods to have cycles that are more regular. Learn more in our Menstrual Cycle section.

How does menopause affect weight loss?

It can be harder to lose weight after menopause. In fact, many women gain an average of 5 pounds after menopause.5 Lower estrogen levels may play a role in weight gain after menopause. But weight gain may be caused by your metabolism slowing down as you age, less-healthful eating habits, and being less active. You also lose muscle mass as you age, so you use fewer calories.

Staying active and eating healthy foods can help you stay on track with your weight-loss goals.

How can I avoid gaining weight as I get older?

Women usually need fewer calories than men, especially as they age. That's because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller than men. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. As you age, you need to take in fewer calories to maintain the same weight. You can also keep your weight healthy by increasing how much physical activity you get.

Find out how many calories you need based on your age and level of activity. You can also talk to your doctor or nurse about ways to eat healthy and get enough physical activity.

Will weight-loss medicines help me lose weight?

Maybe. Your doctor or nurse may recommend weight-loss medicine if:6

  • You have obesity (BMI of 30 or more)


  • You have overweight (BMI of 27 or more) and you have health problems related to extra weight, such as:
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood cholesterol
    • Diabetes


  • You have been counting calories and getting plenty of physical activity for at least 6 months, but you are losing less than a pound a week on average

The Food and Drug Administration approved several weight-loss medicines for the treatment of obesity.7,8 Most are not recommended for women who could get pregnant, because the medicines could cause serious birth defects in a baby.

Can over-the-counter or herbal weight-loss drugs help me lose weight?

Maybe,9 but you should always talk to your doctor or nurse before taking any herbal or dietary supplement. Find the main ingredient in your supplement on this fact sheet to see if it is safe and works.

There is no guarantee that “herbal” or “natural” weight-loss products are safe for everyone. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. Supplements often have side effects and can interfere with medicine you are taking. Learn more about dietary supplements.

What surgical options are used to treat obesity?

Weight-loss surgeries — also called bariatric surgeries — can help treat obesity. A doctor may suggest surgical treatment for weight loss if you:6

  • Have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
  • Have a BMI of 35 or higher and weight-related health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes

Bariatric surgery is not a “quick fix.” It is major surgery. Learn more about weight-loss surgery.

Is liposuction a treatment for obesity?

Liposuction is not a treatment for obesity. In this surgery, fat is removed from under the skin. Liposuction can be used to reshape parts of your body. But if you gain weight following the surgery, fat may return to the places where you had surgery or develop in other places. Learn more about liposuction.

I carry extra weight, but I’m fit. Do I still need to lose weight?

It’s great that you are active and taking steps to improve your health! Sometimes your body mass index (BMI) may show that you are overweight even though you are fit. And some people may argue that how physically active you are is more important than how much extra weight you are carrying.

But this is only partly true. Being physically active can reduce your heart disease risk even if you do not lose weight.10 But your risk may be higher than that of someone who exercises and has a healthy weight. In other words, being active does not cancel out the dangers of having overweight.

Talk to your doctor or nurse to find out what a healthy weight is for you.

How fast should I try to lose weight?

It can be tempting to follow a “crash” diet and drop many pounds right away. But women who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep it off. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your goals. Your doctor or nurse can help you develop a healthy eating and physical activity plan.

I’ve lost weight but have hit a plateau. How do I continue losing weight?

After losing weight for about six months at the rate of up to 1 pound per week, most people hit a plateau, or a weight that doesn’t continue to go down. Once you lose weight, your resting metabolism (how many calories you burn at rest) goes down. At a lower weight, your body needs fewer calories to sustain itself.

Many people can lose about 10% of their original body weight in about six months. If you want to continue losing weight, you may need to adjust the amount of calories you eat and drink every day and your level of physical activity.

However, if you are eating healthy foods and getting regular physical activity but are still struggling with weight, you may want to talk to a doctor who specializes in obesity or weight management. It can also be challenging to keep off weight that you have lost.

Did we answer your question about weight loss?

For more information about weight loss, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2016). Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  2. Rideout, C.A., Barr, S.I. (2009). “Restrained Eating” vs “Trying to Lose Weight”: How Are They Associated with Body Weight and Tendency to Overeat among Postmenopausal Women? Journal of the American Dietetic Association; 109(5): 890-893.
  3. Jastreboff, A.M., Gaiser, E.C., Gu, P., Sinha, R. (2014). Sex differences in the association between dietary restraint, insulin resistance, and obesity. Eating Behaviors; 15(2): 286-290.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015). FAQs: Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
  5. Polotsky, H.N., Polotsky, A.J. (2010). Metabolic implications of menopause. Semin Reprod Med. 2010 Sep;28(5):426-34. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1262902.
  6. Expert Panel Members, Jensen, M. D., Ryan, D. H., Donato, K. A., Apovian, C. M., Ard, J. D., Comuzzie, A. G., et al. (2014). Executive summary: Guidelines (2013) for the management of overweight and obesity in adults. Obesity; 22(Supplement 2): S5–S39.
  7. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Weight-loss medicines.
  8. Food and Drug Administration. (2012). Medications Target Long-Term Weight Control.
  9. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2017). Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss: A Fact Sheet for Consumers. 
  10. Klein, S., Burke, L.E., Bray, G.A., Blair, S., Allison, D.B., Pi-Sunyer, X., et al. (2004). Clinical Implications of Obesity With Specific Focus on Cardiovascular Disease: A Statement for Professionals From the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism: Endorsed by the American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation; 110(18): 2952-2967.