Fat loss for women is about more than just exercising more and eating less. Approaching fat loss with the old theory of thermodynamics (calories in, calories out) is somewhat outdated. That's because it doesn't consider hormone levels, stress levels, sleep quality and quantity, genetics, or factors that affect our decisions around food and lifestyle. All of this stuff is important for health, happiness, and confidence.
In the vast majority of diets, weight comes back within two years of dieting. Cutting out a particular food group (like fat or carbohydrates) doesn't work. Diet plans with severe calorie deficits don't tend to work. Diets where you starve yourself for half the day don't tend to work. Diets where you replace a meal or two a day with some microwaveable powder stuff that turns into a weird brownie thing don't tend to work either.
That's because none of these approaches are typically sustainable in the long term. So how do you lose body fat? What does healthy fat loss for women look like? And how can you make these choices last?
A Note on Cultural Perceptions of Body Fat
Before we go further in helping you learn about healthy fat loss for women, remember that not all body fat is bad. So, you don’t need to get rid of all of it. Body fat is normal, and it's normal for women to have more visible (subcutaneous) fat than men. There are a few biological reasons for that, including that women bear children and require a different hormonal makeup to do so. (Hint: Estrogen and body fat are linked.)
Our culture is overly concerned with numbers on the scale and achieving the look of women in magazines. However, the truth is, those women are either heavily airbrushed or have the time and means to get a LOT of outside help from trainers and nutritionists.
You're beautiful just the way you are. Plus, if this last year and a half has taught us anything, it's that there are more important things to worry about than a few vanity pounds. But if you feel uncomfortable in your skin, if the clothes you love to wear no longer fit, and if you're unable to do the things you used to do for fun, then it might be time to make some lifestyle changes.
Four Steps to Healthy Fat Loss for Women
When considering a holistic approach to fat loss for women, it's important to think about all the factors involved. Everyone has different goals, abilities, and internal and external factors that affect their body composition.
The goal (again) is to improve your relationship with your body and the ways you like to use it. When you get these four key things in sync with your own natural inclinations, you'll be most likely to see results.
1. Build Muscle Mass
If you’re focused on weight loss, this advice might send your scale in the opposite direction — at least at first. But we'd like to encourage you to think about a larger end goal than body weight. If you want to feel good in your clothes, trim up, and do what you love comfortably and confidently, strength building can help.
Muscle is an active tissue. It requires more calories to make and maintain muscle than it does fat. Muscle promotes insulin sensitivity, may change your metabolic rate and how your hunger signals talk to your brain. Because of this, muscle helps you more easily maintain blood sugar levels between meals and throughout the day, giving you sustained energy, longer periods of satiety, and no sudden crashes that lead to sugar cravings and overeating.
Resistance training is a great place to start, even if you use bodyweight exercise or light resistance bands. Building muscle doesn't have to mean lifting heavy weights at the gym — although if you like the idea of weight training and enjoy being at the gym, #getitgirl. By building muscle, you'll get more efficient at fat burning.
Pick the weight-bearing exercises you're most likely to stick to. If you're new to this type of activity, start with this resistance band workout to get you used to the movements. If you're experienced at strength training in the gym and just need to get back into a routine, you can also start with bands or try more targeted workouts for the lower body, core, and/or upper body.
2. Do Smart Cardio
You've heard the whole "work smarter, not harder" thing, right? Well, we're all about that idea. Your time is precious, just like you are! There's really no reason to spend hours running on a treadmill unless you're training for a distance run or some sort of endurance competition — or unless you truly, genuinely enjoy running for its own sake. Not only is standard cardio efficient. It's also not the fastest way to burn excess body fat.
The most efficient aerobic exercise is to try a metabolic workout. HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training) are not only almost always shorter than a long run or bike ride that keeps a consistent pace. They also help your body continue to burn fat after you've completed the exercises. That means that your body burns fat while you're showering after your workout sesh, drinking your post-workout smoothie, and driving home from the gym. Pretty cool, right?
HIIT workouts do this by continually changing your heart rate during the workout, which leads to the production of excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the reason your body keeps burning calories even after you're done training (it's called afterburn). In fact, this type of workout helps increase insulin sensitivity just like having more lean muscle does. So it's a win-win.
3. Sleep and Stress
You might not realize it, but poor sleep and high stress can have a direct result on your body composition, food intake, and even belly fat.
Have you ever noticed that you crave carbs and sugar all day after a poor night's sleep? You're not alone. In fact, research supports it's a measurable phenomenon. While the scientists in this study don't seem to make any guesses as to why this is the case, it's clear that poor sleep isn't gonna help you lose fat. Cira’s Beauty Sleep can help. It features melatonin, magnesium, and l-theanine for relaxation and deep sleep, as well as 5-HTP, EGCG, and ayurvedic herbs for an improved sense of well-being.
Stress won’t help either. Plus, we find strict diets can be stressful. If you can take a step back and recognize that self-care is more important than the number of calories in your turkey wrap, you might be surprised to find that trimming up your waistline will come more easily.
Build a healthy sleep hygiene routine by turning the lights down after sunset, avoiding screens a few hours before bed, and winding down at roughly the same time every night. You might find this simple change will reduce cravings between meals, cause you to eat fewer calories throughout the day, and help you with your weight loss goals.
As for mitigating stress, those tactics can be pretty individual, based on what’s stressing you out, for how long, and the time you have to deal with the stressors that come your way. If you have a friend or partner who can talk things through with you, grab them when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You might also try Symmetry or Flare, two Cira supplements geared toward the busy woman looking to boost mood, energy, and sense of well-being while dropping water weight and smoothing hormonal flare-ups in her cycle.
In an acute moment of stress, it’s important to remember to breathe through your feelings and emotions, allow yourself to feel them, and then take a step back to get some perspective. Meditation can help with the practice of breathing and stepping back so that when you’re actually in the moment, you have the tools. Other stress relief/prevention techniques include a short, brisk walk, a cold towel on the back of your neck (especially if you’re angry), or sitting down on the ground outside and breathing some fresh air for a few minutes before diving back into your list of tasks.
4. Let's Talk About Food
We saved food for last because we spent so much time talking about how diets don't work. Changing the way you eat is hard, no matter what your favorite keto blogger says. Placing restrictions on whole foods groups (like keto) or eliminating a meal or two (like with intermittent fasting) might be popular fads right now, but they're not necessarily sustainable (or advisable) for a long-term lifestyle change.
What's important is that you eat high-quality foods that make you feel good (and full!). And to take it a step further, don't beat yourself up when you choose to indulge in something outside of your ideal meal plan.
Life is about so much more than fat percentages and jeans sizes. If a weight loss program is so strict that you can't enjoy a meal with your friends, if you're so regimented that you feel guilty when you eat an occasional dessert, you're really setting yourself up for failure (and even eating disorders). In fact, there's a growing movement around intuitive eating that's aims to "re-establish a healthier relationship with food." The idea is to get more in touch with your body's needs and less focused on macros and calorie intake.
A recent podcast episode with Dr. Joshua Wolrich on Jameela Jamil's IWeigh sums up some important concerns around diet culture, obesity, and mental health. Dr. Wolrich debunks some fad diets (and even links them to heart disease), discusses why the BMI (body mass index) is an irrelevant metric, and uncovers why a balanced approach to health and wellbeing is the right way to go.
Nothing we're recommending reflects any sort of value judgment on a woman's life or how much fat she has on her body. They're simply suggestions to help you feel strong, powerful, confident, and fantastic.
By approaching fat loss for women holistically — the way you exercise, your sleep quality, your stress levels, and noticing the way your body feels after eating certain foods — you're a lot more likely to see gradual, sustainable changes in your energy levels and the way your clothes fit.Let go of what society tells you is the "right" way to look. Just try to love and accept yourself in the body you're in, and appreciate what your body can do for you. The rest will come with time. Try starting your journey with one of our workouts, like this leg workout for women.