Weight Loss

Types of Weight Loss Medications for Women*

Key Takeaways
  • Weight loss in women is complex due to many factors, which sometimes include hormonal and metabolic concerns, but can be achieved with a holistic approach.
  • Weight loss medications can supplement lifestyle changes which may include a healthy diet and regular exercise

*Editor’s note: At Felix, we realize that not everyone with female hormones identifies as a woman.

For women, this journey can be particularly complex for a lot of reasons — things like hormonal cycles, metabolic rates, and the physiological changes that occur during childbirth.

Understanding the biology and physiology of weight loss can provide women with the tools to take care of their health in a way that feels good. Weight loss medications, known as anti-obesity medications or AOM, can help people address the biology of weight loss.

Why can it be hard for women to lose weight?

Weight loss is a complex process , especially for women due to a variety of biological factors. Some of the factors that are specific to women are hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and menopause, differences in body composition, and sometimes a lower resting metabolic rate. 

Hormonal fluctuations

The menstrual cycle involves significant hormonal changes, affecting appetite, cravings, and metabolism.

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that appetite and calorie intake can increase during the luteal phase (the week before menstruation), contributing to weight fluctuations and potential difficulty in weight loss. Another study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology found the menstrual cycle can cause fluid retention. In the case of fluid retention, weight gain isn’t associated with higher body fat.

Although hormonal fluctuations do occur, they don’t significantly contribute to overall weight gain or loss since they’re temporary and only happen during specific times of the menstrual cycle. This is more of a weight fluctuation and not  permanent weight gain. Being aware of this and continuing to focus on your weight management goals during these periods of fluctuation is a helpful way to frame things without worrying too much about temporary changes. 

In addition, the transition to menopause, known as perimenopause, also presents challenges to weight management. A study published in the Journal of Midlife Health found this phase involves a decrease in estrogen levels, which can lead to increased weight gain which frequently occurs around the abdomen. 

Moreover, the menopausal time is also frequently associated with age-related muscle loss, decreased activity as well as biologic factors that make weight loss and weight maintenance difficult. 

Metabolic rate and body composition

Metabolic rate refers to the number of calories the body burns at rest, which varies greatly between individuals. Women generally have lower resting metabolic rates, even when adjusted for body size and composition.

Body composition, particularly the ratio of muscle mass to fat mass, is a major factor influencing metabolism. Women tend to have a higher body fat percentage and less muscle mass than men.

Since muscle is more metabolically active than fat (meaning it burns more calories even at rest), having less muscle mass can contribute to a slower metabolism. Weight loss strategies should include strength training in order to try to avoid significant muscle loss .

How can a woman realistically lose weight?

Weight management and particularly weight loss can be very complicated. There are many biologic and physiologic processes that contribute to your ability to lose weight and often determines how hard or easy it is to lose or gain weight. As a result, there are no ‘one size fits all’ rules for how to lose weight. Long-term weight management is key to overall health and not short-term “quick fixes”. Here are some things that may help long term:

Regular exercise

Incorporating physical activity is very important for overall health and long-term weight stability. Strength training can help enhance muscle mass, and therefore help to minimize muscle loss during weight loss. The Canadian government recommends 2.5 hours of activity per week, plus a minimum of 10-minute cardio sessions and weight training twice a week.

Balanced diet

Eating a diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can cover your body’s nutritional needs. 

Sustainable changes

Rather than adopting drastic, short-term diets, gradual changes tend to be more effective for sustainable weight loss. Aiming to lose up to 1-2 lbs per week is a healthy and attainable goal.

In essence, a realistic weight loss approach involves a combination of many things, and often involves diet and exercise to create sustainable change. Most importantly, these changes should be made over months, not as a quick-fix solution. 

Always remember that the journey to weight loss is personal and individual, and what works for one person may not work for another. Consult with a healthcare practitioner or a registered dietitian who can provide guidance tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

Should weight loss pills replace diet or exercise?

Weight loss medications, whether as pills or other forms, while often beneficial for many, have only been shown to be helpful when used in combination with lifestyle modifications. All medications are most effective as part of a comprehensive weight management plan incorporating lifestyle changes. 

Prescription treatments are frequently useful tools for people who are struggling with weight loss while engaging in a consistent healthy lifestyle. There are a few types of medications currently available for obesity management. Each medication works differently. Some of the ways that medications work are by: 

  • Reducing appetite/increasing fullness
  • Decreasing intensity of cravings and reduce hunger

These medications are approved for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or 27 or higher if they also have health conditions that are related to overweight/obesity. Two examples of these types of health conditions are blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. 

The importance of diet and exercise

Several studies indicate that combining weight loss medications with lifestyle modifications yields better outcomes than either strategy alone. For example, a study published in The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that participants who combined a weight loss medication with lifestyle modifications had greater weight loss than those who only made lifestyle modifications.

For many people regular exercise has benefits for overall health, including helping with long-term weight maintenance, cardiovascular health, mood, and may help with reducing the risk of various chronic diseases.

What can help a woman lose weight?

While a healthy lifestyle that often includes dietary and activity changes is helpful for many on their weight loss journey, there are other things that may also be beneficial. 

Adequate sleep: Sleep is crucial for the health of the entire body. Poor sleep is associated with increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, including obesity in regulating cardiometabolic/endocrine hormones. Decreased sleep is also associated with increased risk of obesity. 

Stress management: Chronic stress is associated with future weight gain. Managing stress is not only helpful for weight management, but also for mood and overall health. There are many ways to manage chronic stress, but many people find yoga, mindfulness, and deep-breathing exercises to be helpful. 

Regular check-ups: Regular medical check-ups are important for overall health. Many find that while on a weight loss journey, medical appointments can help monitor progress, identify potential complications, or flag other medical concerns. 

Which weight loss medications are best and safest for women?

“Are weight loss pills safe?” is a very reasonable question to ask. However, there’s no concrete answer that suits everyone since it’s such a personal journey.

Choosing the best and safest weight loss medication relies heavily on your overall health, the presence of any weight-related or other medical conditions, and personal weight loss history. These decisions should always be made under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.

Regardless of the medication chosen, it's important to remember that they’re most effective as part of a comprehensive weight management plan, including a healthy lifestyle that often includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and stress management.

A healthcare practitioner can help monitor progress and adjust the treatment plan as necessary, ensuring the chosen medication is both safe and effective for the individual's unique circumstances.

Are weight loss medications right for you? 

While it can be more challenging for women due to hormonal and metabolic factors, long-term weight management is still possible for women.  

For those with a BMI of more than 30 or a BMI of 27 with a weight related medical condition, weight loss medications can serve as useful tools in addition to a lifestyle plan. Medications can aid weight loss in various ways, including by reducing appetite, enhancing feelings of fullness, decreasing intensity of food cravings, and decreasing food intake. However, these medications are not standalone solutions and work best when used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.

Remember, it's essential to consult with a licensed Canadian healthcare practitioner before beginning any new medication or weight loss program. They can provide guidance, monitor progress, and help adjust strategies to ensure your treatment is working for your unique needs and goals. To find out more, start an online visit with Felix to see if you qualify for weight loss treatment. 

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