By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Dividing their time among work, childcare and household management leaves little time for many women to take care of their own health, including maintaining a healthy weight.
According to a 2019 Gallup poll, women are more likely than their men to take care of parental duties and housekeeping including laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and dishwashing.
Women are also more often the primary caregiver of other family members such as one who is disabled or a senior parent, and usually manage the family’s social schedule and health appointments.
Homemakers account for some of that division of labor. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 57% of women aged 25-64 were employed, compared with 74.4% of men. But especially for women who work full time, managing their weight often becomes a low priority.
In addition to having many things vying for their time, women’s experiences such as childbirth and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome can also contribute to weight gain. Between 5% and 10% of women have PCOS. Women also receive a barrage of mixed—and often incorrect—messages about weight gain, as they try to live up to the cultural ideal of a svelte figure.
“I think it is important for women to talk with the primary care provider to discuss any health goals or changes before making them,” said Justine Hays, registered dietitian and senior Snap-Ed nutritionist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Niagara County in Lockport.
Of course, the diet plays a big role in weight loss. Yo-yo dieting has been shown to contribute to weight gain. Hays recommends a diet rich in nutrient-dense, low-calorie fruits and vegetables.
“Women may also need to increase protein, paired with fiber, to help stay feeling fuller longer,” Hays said. “Lean protein, such as chicken and fish are good options. As people increase physical activity, it is normal to feel hungrier. Choosing higher protein foods, paired with vegetables and fruit or whole grains for fiber, can help a person feel more satisfied and fuel their body for all they wish to accomplish.”
Eating “diet” entrees or foods is not as healthful as eating simple, whole foods. Consistently eating a reduced calorie diet of balanced foods can yield significant results. Unhealthful sources of fat are solid at room temperature, such as butter, margarine, shortening and lard. Plant-based sources of fat in moderation is more healthful, including canola oil and olive oil.
Many women diet in the extreme, “eating too little to stimulate energy—fat—expenditure and weight loss,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and nutritionist in private practice in Williamsville. This can lead to overeating later.
Parker also noted that hormones, emotions and other underlying factors all affect the results of weight loss attempts. No one weight loss plan works for everyone.
“It’s more complicated than one might expect, especially if a person is trying to get healthier at the same time, which is what my practice is all about,” Parker said.
Instead of only calorie cutting, eating sufficient nutrition along with cutting calories can help with weight loss as it ensures the body’s needs are met.
Kara Massotti, dietitian with Buffalo VA Medical Center, noted that cutting processed and high-sugar foods is vital.
“People feel there’s a magic trick and there’s not,” she said.
Many times, when craving salty or sweet snacks, it is thirst, not hunger. Massotti advises patients to try drinking water instead of eating between meals. Hydration is also important for maintaining good health. Massotti advises drinking water instead of sports drinks or other sweetened beverages.
In general, weight loss comes down to creating a calorie deficit through eating less and moving more. Massotti noted that physical activity also improves stress level and sleep quality.
“Improving those two can help us achieve and manage a healthy weight,” she said. “All those work hand in hand in what we call a whole health approach: sleep, stress, nutrition and exercise. They’re all connected, along with spirituality and mental health. It’s a whole cycle. Each thing loops the next one together to be your best and healthiest self.”
She encourages women to take their children walking, go for walks at lunchtime or after dinner and play outside with the kids.
“Any little bit is better than nothing at all,” Massotti said.
Fitting in workouts can be tough for moms. Kerri Howell, online personal trainer, nutrition coach and owner of Rochester-based fitprmomlife.com, likes to keep weight control simple and, for those time-strapped, efficient.
“You only need 15 minutes a day of resistance training to make a difference,” Howell said. “Sometimes that works better than trying to fit in three one-hour training sessions, especially for busy working parents. That, coupled with walking as much as possible will achieve the fitness activity needed to lose weight.”
Resistance training can include performing bodyweight exercises like squats, calf raises, planks and push-ups. Fitness bands, free weights and kettle bells can also help for home resistance training workouts.
To save time on home workouts, Austyn Affronti, president of Affronti Fitness in Rochester, recommends high intensity interval training. It may seem like a series of short workouts would not help as much as one long workout of 45 to 60 minutes. However, Affronti said that for some people, breaking up the exercise sessions is not only more convenient, but it can also help them workout at their highest level throughout each minute instead of putting forth less exertion as they begin to feel fatigued.
“With shorter workouts, you’re putting in maximum effort,” he said.