Many women know how frustrating it is when their bodies won’t shed weight where they want it to.
But understanding how you’re put together can translate to a healthy acceptance of your particular body type and lead to a happier—and ultimately healthier—life, says Dr. Cathy Roy, an expert on the cellular basis of obesity who has researched metabolism in both men and women.
Your shape matters in the weight-loss battle
Because men and women are built differently—women tend to be pear-shaped, carrying fat on hips, thighs and buttocks, while men tend to be apple-shaped, carrying fat in the midsection—they lose weight differently.
Fat cells in women’s hip, thigh and buttocks areas can be stubbornly resistant to exercise and healthy eating, said Roy, associate professor of exercise science at Longwood University. That’s where women tend to put on weight, and though it’s not impossible, it’s usually difficult for them to lose as much weight as they’d like in those troublesome areas.
"Women are pear- or spoon-shaped by nature and, when they lose weight, they usually lose it in the waist area, visually exaggerating the fat in the buttocks, hips and thighs. The fact is that you can’t lose weight just in your thighs or your buttocks; spot reduction is nearly impossible. It would be refreshing to see shows such as ‘The Biggest Loser’ or ‘My 300-lb life’ educate the audience about the physiology of weight loss, but that does not seem to resonate with successful reality TV."
When it’s good to be pear-shaped
But there are serious advantages to having a pear-shaped body. A little extra weight in the hips, thighs or buttocks—often problem areas for many women—will not increase the risk for several life-threatening diseases like
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary artery disease
"The good news for women who distribute their fat in a pear shape pattern is that their risk for the so-called lifestyle diseases is minimal to nonexistent, and in some studies has actually been shown to be beneficial," said Roy.
Conversely, men generally pattern excess fat in an apple shape —the waist/abdomen area—which puts them at higher risk of developing these same diseases. "The bad news for men is that abdominal fat is linked irrefutably to those diseases, so it’s dangerous if they keep putting on that ‘spare tire,’" said Roy.
Be happy with who you are
If women can shift the focus off how much weight is coming off those hips, thighs and buttocks and onto the numerous advantages of regular exercise, that healthy, happy lifestyle we’re all aiming for is easier to attain.
The benefits of exercise spread to all areas of life:
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved chance of a long life
- Lowered cholesterol
- Control over glucose levels
- Improved sleep
- Increased energy levels
- Reducing or eliminating medications, among many others
"These benefits usually far outweigh decreasing fat deposits on a woman’s hips," said Roy. "My advice to women frustrated by not losing more weight, or not losing weight in the desired area, is try not to get on the scale and try not to get wrapped up in social media. Far too much importance is placed on body fat levels when the focus really should be on incorporating fitness and proper nutrition."
In a world where pop culture promotes an unrealistic ideal of super-thin women, it’s difficult to shun outside pressure and influence. There are examples of pushback against this notion—pop star Meghan Trainor has a hit with the song "All About That Bass," which urges women to view themselves as beautiful no matter their size—but pressure still exists.
Unfortunately, said Roy, many women who unsuccessfully try to change their body shape through exercise end up thinking exercise is ineffective. "This can often lead to trying a popular fad diet, which, even if it works, is generally temporary. The focus needs to shift from the vanity aspect of losing weight to the benefits of a fit lifestyle."