Putting on five pounds when you’re 5’10” is NBD—you might not even ~notice~ it. But when you’re 5’2”? It can feel like a 🚨🚨🚨 situation.
But here’s where things get really, really frustrating: Losing those same five pounds is also way harder when you’re short.
“Short women have slower metabolisms,” explains Craig Primack, M.D., president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association. “The average woman has a basal metabolic rate (BMR) of 1,400 calories per day. That means, if she lays in bed for 24 hours, she will burn 1,400 calories. But I see women who are shorter than 5 feet with BMRs of 1,200 calories, and some who are 5’10” or so at 1,750 or more per day.”
Why is life so unfair, tho?
The short (lolz) answer: The smaller your body, the less energy it needs—and the less it burns.
The longer version: Short frames naturally have less lean mass on them, Primack says. Lean mass includes your muscles, organs, bones, connective tissues—basically everything that isn’t fat or water. Lean mass is the biggest factor in how many calories you burn at rest, walking to work, or crushing it in the gym.
In fact, research published in the medical journal PLOS ONE explains that the size of people’s kidneys, brain, liver, and muscles accounts for 43 percent of differences between peoples’ basal metabolic rates. And, yes, organ size is proportional to overall body size and height, with short women having smaller vital organs than taller ladies, says nutritionist and strength coach Marie Spano, R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S.
As if that weren’t sucky enough, shorties also tend to have less muscle. After all, it takes less muscle to power a short leg than it does a long one. Spano notes that each pound of muscle burns about six calories per day at rest—before factoring in things like exercise that up the burn.
But if you’re a shawty, there are ways you can outsmart your naturally slower metabolism.
How to lose weight when you’re short
1. Eat for your needs. You know that whole “stay in your lane” saying? It totally applies to the food on your plate, too. Match your meals and snacks to your personal hunger levels and energy needs, rather than assuming you can lose weight eating the same number of calories that taller ladies can, says Betsy Opyt, R.D. So as much as you might want to, maybe don’t eat the same exact brunch and two mimosas as your super-tall bestie.
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If you really start paying attention to your hunger signals, you may automatically start eating less. After all, how starving you are is a reflection of your metabolic rate, according to one study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People with higher metabolic rates (think: tall people) are generally hungrier than those (ahem, shorter ladies) with slower metabolisms.
2. Lift heavy. Even if you can’t make yourself grow a few inches, you can still catch up to your tall friends’ metabolic rates, Opyt says. The key is building lean, metabolically active muscle. (No, you can’t change the size of your organs.)
That’s why she and Spano encourage all of their shorter clients to incorporate strength training into their workout routines. Primack votes for lifting weights at least two to three times per week, prioritizing heavy weights and moves that work several muscles over using lighter weights and only working one muscle at a time. “It is better to lift a 20-pound dumbbell once than a 1-pound dumbbell 20 times,” he says. “Exercise to muscular failure stimulates the muscles even more.”
3. Put back more protein. Protein is awesome for weight loss because it’s so satiating, putting the kibosh on blood-sugar swings and triggering the release of feel-full hormones. Obviously, when you’re trying to cut calories, that can help.
But if you’re trying to adopt the metabolism of a much taller individual, you’re also going to need protein to build muscle, says Spano. A 2018 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition shows that, to get the most muscle-building out of your workout, you should eat 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight four times per day. For a 150-pound woman, that works out to four meals of 27 to 38 grams of protein each.
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4. Pay attention to vitamins and minerals. To lose weight, you have to take in fewer calories than you burn per day. There’s just no getting around it. Unfortunately, that means, to lose weight, you might have to cut calories pretty low—sometimes to 1,200 or even less per day.
And hanger isn’t the only issue you’ll deal with if you’re cutting cals. It can also be hard to get all of the nutrients you need when you’re taking in less food, Spano says. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine if you need to take a multivitamin or a fiber, calcium, or other supplement. Primack adds that you should never go lower than 1,200 without the supervision of a bariatric or weight-loss doctor who can monitor your nutrient needs and minimize any muscle loss.
K. Aleisha Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S., is Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, training clients both in-person and online.