6 Weight Loss Challenges and Tips for Women

Find out how to overcome common weight management hurdles.

Three friends running together, smiling, and listening to music in the park.

Medically reviewed in October 2022

Updated on October 17, 2022

Whether you're trying to lose five pounds or 50, losing weight can have its ups and downs. While emotions and mood can play a role in how effective a weight-management plan is, underlying biology can contribute to challenges, as well. Here are six weight-loss obstacles many women may experience, along with tips that can help you lose those pesky pounds.

Obstacle 1: Do you feel stressed?
Almost everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives. But research shows that stress levels are higher in people who identify as women.

Traditional gender roles may leave you feeling like you have to juggle all the demands of daily life yourself. Work commitments, home life, social ties, and other responsibilities can add up, sending stress levels soaring.

The kicker? High levels of a stress hormone called cortisol can lead to overeating and can cause you to store more fat. That’s because cortisol can increase appetite and may increase cravings for “comfort” foods that are typically high in calories, salt, fat, and sugar, all of which may contribute to weight gain.

Tip: To help keep stress from sabotaging your weight loss plans, work on developing a daily stress reduction habit. Just a few minutes can make a difference. Here are some simple strategies:

  • Walk for 10 minutes. If you can, walk outside. Seeing nature—even if it’s a tree-lined street—can relax your mind and body.
  • Breathe deeply 10 times.
  • Tense and then relax each muscle group. Start at your toes and move up. This is a practice known as progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Find a quiet place to meditate for a few minutes.

Obstacle 2: Are you getting enough sleep?
Most people don't get enough sleep. But as a woman you may be more likely to have sleep struggles. In fact, fewer than two-thirds of women get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Even if you are getting what seems like an adequate total number of hours of sleep, the quality of your sleep could be off. Having trouble falling and staying asleep and spending less time in restorative, deep sleep are common issues among women. And, if your nighttime sleep is off, you may be more likely to take naps during the day, which can further affect your sleep in a vicious cycle.

Factors that frequently affect sleep quality may include problems at work, family stress, and caregiving duties. 

Biology may also play a role. Monthly hormone fluctuations, as well as the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy and menopause, can interfere with getting quality rest. Women are also more likely to have medical problems that can affect sleep, such as restless legs syndrome (an irresistible urge to move your legs while resting, which can be relieved by walking), and fibromyalgia.

A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep may in turn affect levels of appetite hormones, which can stimulate overeating and make it more challenging to lose weight.

Tip: Establish a sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Follow a nightly routine that helps you wind down, starting about 30 minutes before bedtime. Put blue-light sources (like your phone, tablet, or laptop) away 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. It can also help to make your bedroom into an oasis that is cool, dark, and quiet. Remove clutter and electronics and invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow if you can. Avoid daytime naps, limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and try to make regular exercise a part of your routine, as it may help foster better rest. Talk with a healthcare provider (HCP) if occasional insomnia becomes constant or if you find yourself feeling sluggish and drowsy most days of the week.      

Obstacle 3: Feeling sluggish?
A sluggish thyroid—also known as an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism—is much more likely to develop in women. About 20 million people in the United States have a thyroid disorder, and women are five to eight times more likely to develop one. In addition to contributing to fatigue and sluggishness, an underactive thyroid can also lead to weight gain.

Tip: Talk to an HCP about whether you have signs of a thyroid disorder, and if you may need to have your thyroid levels checked. An autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease is the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism, and it's more common in women between the ages of 30 and 50.

If you’ve gone through menopause or past it, your likelihood of having a thyroid disorder may be higher. Pregnancy is another underlying cause of hypothyroidism. 

Obstacle 4: How much muscle do you have?
One’s body chemistry and composition may also affect the ease or difficulty with which one gains or loses weight.

The hormone estrogen tends to increase fat storage, especially around the hips and thighs. As women age, estrogen levels drop and metabolism slows down. As a result, women tend to lose muscle and gain fat, especially around the abdomen.

Women may also have lower muscle mass, which can contribute to a slower metabolism. That’s because resting metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns while you’re resting) depends mostly on the amount of muscle you have. People with more body fat and less muscle generally burn fewer calories at a baseline level and during exercise.

Tip: To lose weight, you’ll need to burn more calories than you take in. Usually, this requires a combination of diet and exercise.

Unless recommended by your HCP, avoid very low-calorie or crash diets that may not provide all the nutrients you need, as they can make your metabolism slow down and make your body burn fewer calories. You may lose weight right away on such eating plans, but you could be more likely to regain it later on.

A healthy diet should be low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and salt, and include whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean proteins. Eating breakfast and smaller meals or small, healthy snacks throughout the day may help you practice portion control. It can help to use smaller plates or bowls and avoid eating snacks straight from the package.     

Exercise may also up your metabolism by building muscle or helping you keep what you have. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (like brisk walking) and do muscle-strengthening activities (like push-ups or sit-ups) on two or more days each week.

Obstacle 5: Got a craving for cookies?
Studies suggest that women may experience more frequent food cravings and may be more likely to crave high-sugar foods, both of which may undermine weight loss efforts. If you menstruate, fluctuating hormones throughout your cycle may play a role as well. Some research suggests that cravings may be strongest right before and during your period. One study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Health Education, found that women may also be more likely to experience food cravings triggered by emotions and stress.  

Tip: If you find yourself reaching for comfort food, try these strategies to stay on track:

  • Learn to recognize your patterns and triggers. Do you reward yourself with chocolate after a rough day? Eat ice cream to cheer yourself up? Keeping a food diary can help.
  • Distract yourself when you feel a craving—it may only take five minutes to shift gears. Put on some music and dance, go outside, take some deep breaths. You can also try mindfulness meditation, in which you actually spend time acknowledging the craving. By recognizing, experiencing, and feeling the craving in a non-judgmental way, you may be more likely to resist it than if you'd tried to suppress or ignore it.
  • Keep healthy snacks close at hand and diet-busting foods out of reach (or out of your house entirely). It can help you resist temptation.
  • If you’re having trouble controlling your eating on your own, talk to an HCP and ask if a therapist may help

Obstacle 6: Feeling down about yourself?
Media images of unrealistic thinness can lower your self-esteem and make you feel down about yourself and your body. It can also contribute to weight stigma or “sizeism,” which can undermine diet and exercise goals. 

One 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when women who perceived themselves as overweight (regardless of whether they were actually overweight) read a weight-stigmatizing news article, they were more likely to eat more calories and feel less able to control their eating.   

Tip: Limit your exposure to magazines, TV, social media, and other sources that promote an ideal of unhealthy body composition. Research shows that exposure to body positive media may improve self-esteem and mood.  If you have an occasional treat, be kind to yourself. Slips are bound to happen occasionally. Remind yourself that you can get back on track, and that it takes time to see results. If it took three years to put those extra pounds on, it's not unreasonable to give yourself enough time to get them off.

Article sources open article sources

World Economic Forum. Global Gender Gap Report 2022. July 13, 2022.
US Department of Health & Human Services. Stress and your health. Last updated February 17, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. How stress can make you eat more—or not at all. July 1, 2020.
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Sleep Foundation. Women and sleep. May 6, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Adults. Last reviewed August 24, 2022.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. Last reviewed July 25, 2022.
Sleep Foundation. Weight Loss and Sleep. Updated September 19, 2022.
American Thyroid Association. General Information. Accessed September 20, 2022.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). Last reviewed March 2021.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hashimoto’s Disease. Accessed September 20, 2022.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hashimoto’s Disease. Last reviewed June 2021.
Uygur MM, Yoldemir T, Yavuz DG. Thyroid disease in the perimenopause and postmenopause period. Climacteric. 2018 Dec;21(6):542-548.
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McMurray RG, Soares J, Caspersen CJ, McCurdy T. Examining variations of resting metabolic rate of adults: a public health perspective. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jul;46(7):1352-8.
Harvard Health. Does metabolism matter in weight loss? October 6, 2021.
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Hallam J, Boswell RG, DeVito EE, Kober H. Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Yale J Biol Med. 2016 Jun 27;89(2):161-73.
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