How to Lose Weight When You’re Short (5’4” and Under) [Podcast Episode #009]

Have you ever felt like it was so unfair that your friends could eat or drink whatever they want and never seem to gain a pound yet you have to watch what you eat like a hawk and yet still seem to gain weight?

I hear this all the time from women who are 5’4” and under.

Shorter women do have more challenges when it comes to weight loss for many reasons but most fail to recognize that their height puts them at a disadvantage. I had one client, I’ll call her Sally, who found great relief in knowing this because it finally stopped her from feeling like a failure.

She had tried so hard to lose weight following all sorts of cookie cutter diet programs but none of them worked. What was more frustrating was some of her friends had had great (temporary) success with a few of these programs and she was at a loss as to why they didn’t work for her.

If you’re a woman who’s more on the petite side when it comes to height, this is one episode you’re going to want to listen to – it’s 24 minutes. I’m going to explain exactly what Sally needed to know as a shorter woman to see weight loss happen for her.

In this episode, you will…

  • Understand what “metabolism” really means and what truly influences whether or not you have a good one
  • Hear the biggest myth around how to “boost” your metabolism!
  • Learn why being short puts you at a weight loss disadvantage AND how to get on the winning side of the weight loss battle
  • Realize that the food culture we live in also puts women at a disadvantage for weight loss and 3 strategies to deal with that
  • Understand how weight loss is based on body science and if you follow some simple physiological principles you can lose weight AND keep it off forever
  • Learn that being short means you absolutely HAVE to be aware of 3 critical things if you want to lose weight

Episode Resources: 

How to Lose Weight When You’re Short [Full Text]

Jen: This is the Energy to Thrive Podcast, Episode 009. Thank you for tuning in. I’m super excited to dive into a content area that I find fascinating and that hopefully you’re going to find useful.

I’ve had a number of clients over the past five years or so who have been 5’4” and under, so a little more on the petite side, who for the first time ever have finally understood why losing weight has been so challenging for them and conversely why it was so easy for them to gain weight in the first place. Let me tell you, if you’re a woman who is 5’4” or under and you’ve had that same struggle as well, you are totally in the right place.

What I’m going to be doing is explaining why this happens, what you can do about it, what you need to be aware of, and hopefully some tips and tricks to get you going on your weight loss journey.

By the way, if you’re a woman who is over 5’4” and you’re listening to this, you’re still going to find the content really useful. It’s all relevant, our bodies work in the same way. The thing that I going to be different is if you’re a taller person you get away with a bit more. I’m going to explain why in just a second.

Let’s talk about one of my clients. I met her at an event. She must have been about 5’2” and she was talking to me about this two decades worth struggle with constant dieting. She had tried what she felt like was everything under the sun and just felt her body must not work properly, obviously her body hangs onto fat, doesn’t want to lose weight, something must be wrong with her metabolism. I sat listening to her very patiently, because as an exercise physiologist I know so much about what she was saying, there was some myth combined with some fact in there and that’s where it becomes really confusing.

Here’s the deal. Here’s what you need to know. I need to explain a couple of things. You might understand this, but bear with me here because I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page when we’re talking about words like metabolism and basal metabolic rate , and how weight loss is actually achieved in a healthy way versus doing it with a diet or in a quick fix kind of way.

We have to understand the concept of metabolism. When you understand the science behind healthy weight loss and even how fat cell metabolism works and how you get fat off your body it takes the pressure off, because all of a sudden you’re not personalizing this or making this an emotional thing. You can now base your success on fact, on science. I think that provides a lot of relief.

What do I mean? Metabolism is just a word to describe a collection of the chemical reactions that are constantly taking place in our body’s cells. Metabolism is converting the fuel and the food that we eat. We eat because we need energy. That energy needs to provide our body with the power to do everything that we do, from thinking to walking to running to sitting and typing at a desk.

Everything that we are doing requires energy. Even when you’re sleeping you are expending energy, because your lungs are expanding and contracting, your heart is beating, all of your systems are working, your digestive system, reproductive system, circulatory system, so your body does need energy.

Your basal metabolic rate  is the estimated number of calories that your body uses in a 24 hour period when you’re at rest.

Here is the critical part. Your metabolism is influenced, first of all, by your height, by your gender, and by your body composition. The taller and the bigger and more muscular you are, the bigger your metabolism is going to be, because a bigger person requires more energy.

The way that I like to explain this is to think about a kitty cat and a lion. You have this perfectly functioning house cat, it’s a perfect specimen. You’re going to compare that house cat to a lion. Even in your mind, I know you can picture the two different animals in your head. You can see that the cat is smaller and the lion is bigger.

Let me ask you, which one do you think needs to eat more food? I’m sure you’ve just said the lion, and you’re right. But, why? Because it’s bigger. It has to consume more energy to support its bigger size.

What would happen if that little kitty cat ate the same amount as the lion? It would put on weight. Not because there is something wrong with its metabolism, not because it was emotionally eating. It would put on that weight because its body simply could not handle the amount of extra energy coming in.

This is very much what happens to women. I say that we are little kitty cats living in a lion sized world sometimes. Your basal metabolic rate  is the estimated number of calories that your body uses in a day, but we’re not typically just sitting most of the day. If you have an office job you might spend a whole bunch of time sitting there and maybe when you get home you do some stuff, and then maybe you relax at night or whatever and sit a bit more. We’re also usually up and around, and if you exercise there’s extra energy being expended for those additional requirements.

I like to compare this to (this is sort of a horrible example) the reason people who are in the hospital and if they can’t eat and need to go on a feeding tube it’s because their body needs energy, their body still has to get energy in. They don’t need as much energy as if they were walking around, running, or weight training, or just doing daily active living kind of stuff, but they still need to get that energy in.

Here’s what happens. The height, gender, body composition thing, let’s go back to that. Those are the three things that influence metabolism. Let’s actually compare this to my client, I’m going to call her Sally.

Sally was 5’2” and she weighed about 170 pounds. She did not like that, she wanted to weigh less than that. She would constantly talk about how her friends could eat and drink whatever they wanted and not gain a pound, in fact many of them could often lose weight eating way more than she did. She felt like it was really unfair.

Except it wasn’t. It’s based on science. She had a friend who was 5’10”. Her friend has that bigger metabolism, which means she has a bigger body, she requires eating more food than somebody who is 5’2”.

How do you start to get around this? What do you do? First of all, you have to be aware. Right now the average basal metabolic rate  for a woman in North America is about 1,500 calories. If we factor in some movement during the day, not heavy exercise; just say you’re normal working mom or an executive out there, you’re busy, you might exercise two or three times a week but otherwise just moving your body getting to and from whatever you need to do, maybe you might be spending 2,000 calories. That is the average person.

But, if you are smaller than 5’5”, which is the average height of the average woman in North America, then you are burning less. So not only do you need to eat less, when you are doing stuff you burn fewer calories than somebody who is bigger than you.

This is where it gets confusing. Let’s just say that you eat out two or three times a week. What I just read is that North Americans have just tipped over to spending more on takeout and eating out at restaurants than we do on groceries. This is going to be a problem, because what happens is when we rely on restaurant food – just think about the last time you were at a restaurant. Think about how much food you were served. Little kitty cat women are being fed lion sized, 6’6” man sized portions of food.

What happens psychologically is complex. We go out to a restaurant for a treat, for a break, or because we’re tired and don’t feel like cooking, or we’re not organized, we order dinner and there can be a few things at play here. One, it can taste really good, so you simply keep eating whatever is in front of you because it tastes good. Two, you might have value thing around it where if you’ve paid for it then you need to eat it all up. That can be a huge thing that often comes from childhood when your parents took you out for dinner. It can just be social, when you’re out with friends and sharing appetizers, grabbing an entrée, maybe sharing dessert or maybe everybody gets their own.

Before you know it, you’ve had so much food, so far beyond what your little kitty cat body can handle. In your mind you think, “I only went out for dinner once.” The average meal at a restaurant, like Moxie’s or Earl’s (those are a few restaurants in Canada), pretty much any typical North American restaurant, the average restaurant meal is anywhere between 1,200 – 1,500 calories for an entrée, one meal. The problem with that is we’re usually not just having that one meal, we’re also having drinks and we’re eating other food throughout our day.

If your metabolism is on that smaller size because you’re a smaller person, it’s really easy to overeat. And to constantly overeat. You could be overeating on every single meal and not know, because either you’re so used to serving up big portions for your partner or for your kids. Check in on that, look at how much food you dish up compared to your partner, especially if your partner is a man who is bigger than you. Are you eating the same amount?

One of the things that I say is if you like to share things when you go out to dinner with your husband or your boyfriend, the sharing is really one-third and two-thirds. One-third for you, two-thirds for him. Same with drinks; one-third of a bottle of wine for you, two-thirds for him. I can tell you that I’ve heard over and over again, “I don’t know what it is, we share everything but my husband loses weight and I seem to gain the weight that he lost.” Of course, because you’re smaller and you’re eating the same amount, your body does not have the chance to burn off that extra energy and because your body is so smart it will store that excess as fat.

This is where we really need to pay attention. Weight loss is not personal, it’s science. When you have extra fat on your body, like I used to, that is just simply stored energy. It’s energy that if those little fat cells are given the right signals they will go to work for you and it will burn off your body, but not if there is chronic overeating happening. What happens is a lot of people try to swing so far in the other direction and diet like crazy, they try to live on 1,000 or 900 calorie diets, which is ridiculous, you can’t survive that way.

I just did a talk to the other day and I mentioned an interesting statistic, which is that 1% of the calories people get in North America come from vegetables. What’s happening, too, is right now in our culture we are so busy, so stressed, have so much on our plates, that our ability to plan meals, grocery shop, and cook meals at home, we’re losing it. We’re too tired and we’re not teaching our children how to cook. We have this in between zone where we know we should be eating better, cooking more, but we don’t know how, so we end up relying on takeout or restaurant food.

If you’re eating out more than two or three times a week, I guarantee that you will have a very hard time losing weight. Your body simply cannot handle all of that food that comes in with restaurant portions or the caloric density that comes in from fast food. I think we can all agree that fast food is probably high calorie and not good quality, but sometimes it tastes so darn good, especially if you’re on road trips or summer vacation or you have friends and family it can be the quick and easy thing. That’s okay if it’s just sometimes. My kids and I have gone out for dinner to a local burger place in town, but here’s what we do. We all get a burger and then the three of us will share one order of small fries.

What I want to say is you can still go out and enjoy yourself, but you have to start paying attention to how much you’re putting into your body. At the end of the day, if you’re somebody who is under 5’4” and you’ve been struggling to see weight loss happen for you, I always hear things like, “Maybe it’s hormones,” or maybe it’s because I’m approaching menopause, or post-menopause, or maybe it’s my thyroid, or maybe it’s all these medications that I’m on, I’ve heard so many possible about what it could be, but the number one reason with all of my clients once we get really clear on what they’re putting in their body and how much, the common denominator for all of them has been a consistent basis of chronic overeating without their awareness. They’re little kitty cats living in this lion sized portion world and they had no idea.

The minute that you start to understand, you cannot change what you’re not aware of, but the minute that you get that awareness and go, “Oh my gosh, yes.” What happens is we also develop habits, we will get in the habit of eating that much, of serving ourselves the same portions, of taking the same amount of food as other bigger or taller people in our family, we will drink the same number of glasses of wine or have the same number of drinks as our girlfriends who are possibly six or eight inches taller than us.

Chances are you may have some habits that do need to get switched up. That’s okay. In fact, you’re going to have to, because the habits that have got you to this point are not going to allow you to see the change that you so want.

Again, when you take the emotion out of this weight loss journey, when you realize that you can count on science to explain so much of what is going on within your body, that’s freedom. When you know how much you need to nourish your body, when you understand how much protein and how much healthy fats and good sources of carbohydrate, that’s when you can actually start to play again and feel like you have freedom with food.

The problem is a lot of us like the salty, crunchy, sweet snack stuff. This is the thing, if you’re a tinier woman and you’re having your main meals but you’re also snacking throughout the day, you need to cut back on the quantity of everything that you’re consuming across the board, because your little body just doesn’t need that much energy and it’s showing you that by you not seeing weight loss happen.

When you move in the direction of gentle weight loss, which I realize that is usually not the thing that people want, but if you’ve been down this road a couple of times or maybe even a dozen or two dozen, and you’re tired of struggling, then you really need to listen. Healthy slow weight loss is the kind of weight loss that is permanent.

I know that every woman who has talked to me says she can lose weight but she gains it right back. It’s the ability to keep it forever that so many women are seeking. I know it’s possible, because I’ve lived it. Since I lost weight six years ago I haven’t ever regained it. I don’t have to be insane about my food, I just simply needed to stop overeating and over-drinking. No radical dieting was necessary.

Tips. First of all, you have to check in. If you’re 5’4” and under, you need to start looking at how much food you’re plating and compare it to the bigger people that you’re hang out with. If you’re taking the same amount, put some back. You have to start getting your portions to be smaller.

One of the ways that I’m able to eat whatever I want is I tell myself I can have whatever I want, just have a little bit and not very often. I have a rule. Ice cream? Sure, I’ll eat ice cream, but once a week or once every two weeks. I’ll have a glass of wine, but no more than two glasses. Yes, some of those rules do get broken, but only every now and then. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to maintain, I wouldn’t be able to have weight maintenance.

When you’re starting to explore this you have to recognize that your height could be the number one thing holding you back from success. You might be blaming it on a broken body, broken metabolism, all sorts of things. Truly, I have never seen that actually happen. I’ve worked at a metabolic clinic measuring people’s metabolisms and, honestly, I’ve never seen a bad metabolism. By bad I mean really slow or something totally inappropriate for the size of the person I was testing. I’ve seen perfectly normal healthy metabolisms for the gender, height, and body composition of somebody that I was measuring.

Let’s talk about body composition a little bit, because that’s another thing that usually gets confusing. If you’ve been in the weight loss world and reading articles and blogs, you’ve heard, “If you want to lose weight, just put on some muscle and that will be so much easier than anything else you can do.” Except putting on muscle as a woman is challenging. You don’t just put on muscle by aerobic exercise, you put it on when you engage in very consistent strength training.

The only way you can boost your metabolism is by changing the ratio of fat mass to muscle mass. If you change your ratio of fat mass to muscle mass, yes, it is true that muscle does burn more calories than fat.

It’s a lot easier to simply eat a little bit less than what you’re currently eating than it is to find the four or five hours a week that you’d need to devote in the gym to lifting really heavy weights. That’s how true protein synthesis happens. That is how you build muscle.

When you’re thinking about the different strategies and the ways that you can go about this, here they are. One, recognize that for you weight loss is going to take a little bit longer and weight gain will happen easier.

The other thing is that when you lose five pounds, that will look and feel significant. Compared to some of my clients who are at 5’10” if they lose five pounds they can’t even tell. When you’re smaller your weight fluctuations show up more on your body, they’re more visible. That can be a good thing or a bad thing.

You want to make sure that you are taking stock of how much food you’re putting in, the quality of the food that you’re putting in, the frequency that yourself indulge in treats, and constantly keep in the back of your mind, “I’m a little kitty cat. Am I eating a kitty cat portion?” No woman that is 5’4” or under ever needs to have a cup of a rice or a cup of pasta at one time. So often those things become the main events of our meal and that’s where it gets hard, especially if food tastes good. Or especially if you get really hungry, it’s really hard to control portion if you’re hungry.

One of my tricks for eating out at restaurants is to seriously think about sharing an entrée. I share entrées all the time when I go out with my partner, with my friends, with my mom, my kids and I will share. I only ever order a size small of anything, whether that’s a treat like a milkshake or a kid’s size scoop of ice cream. I don’t need more than that.

You might think in your mind that you want more than that, or your habit may be to order the bigger portion, but now you have another reason to change. If you eat that little bit less then you will slowly allow those fat cells to go to work for you and to get off your body, to get burned as fuel. That’s ultimately what you desire if you’re looking to see permanent weight loss happen.

I hope that this has been both informative and explanatory, where you think, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea.” That’s why it’s not personal. There is nothing here about your body being broken.

I do have one exciting announcement. That is my next program, called The Weight is Over, is starting up in August. It’s an amazing program. If you’re interested in it and you feel like that might be something that speaks to you, all you need to do is get in touch with me through my website at www.JenniferPowter.com or send me a quick email jennifer@jenniferpowter.com and just say, “Curious to know more,” or something like that.

Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode. What you have to recognize if you’re 5’4” and under is that permanent weight loss will happen for you if you remember that you’re a kitty cat living in a lion sized world and you adjust your behaviors and habits accordingly. Then combine that with consistency, persistence, and patience, and you will totally win this. Absolutely you will.

Have a super day. I’ll be back in another episode soon.

By | 2017-10-30T13:28:29-07:00 July 18th, 2017|Podcast|2 Comments

About the Author:

Jennifer coaches busy, successful women with imperfect lives who want to look and feel amazing from the inside out. With her tried-and-proven weight loss method—ENERGY to Thrive™—Jennifer takes the fascinating science of physiological transformation and breaks it down into six empowering steps.

2 Comments

  1. Lesley August 20, 2018 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Thank you for this podcast. As a 5’1” petite woman, I have maintained my weight, and more importantly-inches, throughout my life based on what you explained in this podcast. My challenge now is being post-menopausal. My old portion control methods aren’t working. I have amped up my exercise since January 2018 (now August) by doing PiYo and 21-Day Fix videos consistently. I definitely have improved muscle tone, but I am still spreading in the core, Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. Crystal July 27, 2019 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    It’s definitely a little harder when one is short and already at a weight that’s considered low by numbers alone (say, 5’1″ and 110 lbs, which is still a BMI of 21 and the middle of normal), but for someone who’s 170 lbs, a weight that even someone who’s 5’10” will want to lose weight at, that 150-200 cal difference for any activity level means very little. It would probably be even easier for the obese 5’2″ person to lose, excluding any emotional eating habits or abnormal leptin and ghrelin responses, simply because the body would rather not be under that much strain. At 110 lbs, it’d certainly be harder for someone at 5’10” to lose because they’re already pretty underweight, while it’ll only take time for the 5’2″ person

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