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 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 ages 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.
Fortunately, losing weight does not require an hour-long workout at the gym every day.
“You need to be active, even if in small bits,” said Paula Pacini group exercise coordinator at the JCC of Syracuse. “When you go to the grocery store, park far away. Go outside to walk bundled up. Do some videos at home. A lot of places offer Zoom classes like we do. The kids may want to do classes with their mom.”
For those that want to try a gym membership, Pacini said it’s a great time to do so as many have special deals in January to reach people who set New Year’s resolutions.
“We have $1 and a Dream in January to help people burn some of those holiday calories,” Pacini said. “You can try all the classes for $1 each for the month.”
Many women realize the benefits of moving more for cardiovascular health, such as spinning, jogging, and elliptical machine workouts, but neglect resistance exercise. Resistance training can include performing bodyweight exercises like squats, calf raises, planks and push-ups. Fitness bands, free weights, and kettlebells can also help for home resistance training workouts.
“A lot of times women feel that weight training will get them big and bulky. However, because of the hormones base we have and lack of testosterone compared to men, genetically we would not be able get big and bulky like men do when they weight train,” said Jill Murphy, personal trainer and co-owner of Mission Fitness in Syracuse.
She added that carrying more muscle helps speed up the metabolism and maintain connective tissues.
Julie Mellen, certified diabetes care and education specialist and registered dietitian at Upstate Medical University encourages people to “take 5- to 10-minute breaks” for exercise throughout the day if that works better for them.
It may seem like a series of short workouts would not help as much as one long workout of 45 to 60 minutes. However, 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 the workout instead of putting forth less exertion as they begin to feel fatigued.
During times of rest, the body recovers from workouts, including becoming stronger.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep and stress management,” Mellen said. “Commit to a sleep schedule and find activities to help unwind and manage stress that do not involve food or drink.”
Of course, the diet plays a big role in weight loss. Yo-yo dieting has been shown to contribute to weight gain. There’s no need to buy only expensive diet foods or premade entrees. Many of these are full of added salt, sugar and preservatives. Instead, Mellen encourages women to “shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Limit sweet drinks and alcoholic drinks, drink more water or seltzer. Read labels, check serving sizes and be calorie aware.”
She likes the USDA’s My Plate plan, which states that half the plate should hold fruits and non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter should have a lean source of protein and one-quarter should have a carbohydrate source. Three servings of dairy per day, such as yogurt and milk, can ensure adequate calcium and provide more protein.
“Reduce the refined grains—white bread, white flour, white rice, added sugars—and transition to more whole grains,” Mellen said. “Snack on fiber rich fruits and vegetables. Strive for five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Increase lean protein and incorporate a little protein with each meal and snack.”
A healthful diet includes mostly whole foods such as whole fruit, raw vegetables and whole grains instead of numerous examples processed foods with added sugar, salt and fat. Unhealthful sources of fat are solid at room temperature, such as butter, margarine, shortening and lard.
Plant-based sources of fat in moderation are more healthful, including canola oil and olive oil.
Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian, nutritionist and educator for Carlson Laboratories in Canastota, likes to start the day with a breakfast rich in healthful fat, protein and vegetables, such as an omelet with veggies, a piece of fruit and coffee or tea.
“A protein drink or bar, a small handful of almonds, or a hardboiled egg, or fruit would be some wonderful options,” Sterling said.
Controlling caloric intake relies upon paying attention to the body’s need for nutrients, what Sterling calls “our hunger and satiety cues” with which many people have become out of touch.
“Mindless eating is commonplace now, but can be changed,” she said. “Be in the moment when you are eating, along with enjoying the great company and wonderful atmosphere. Remember to eat slowly, savor each bite and put your fork down occasionally. This way you will eat less.”