What you need to know about weight loss if you're vertically challenged.
Photo: Ian Spanier / Getty Images
Losing weight is hard. But it's harder for some people more so than others due to a variety of factors: age, activity level, hormones, starting weight, sleep patterns, and yes—height. (FYI, here's why sleep is the number-one most important thing for a better body.)
You've probably heard that it's more difficult for people who are shorter to lose weight. And if you're on the shorter side, maybe you've even experienced this firsthand. But is it really harder or does it just seem that way because again, losing weight ISN'T easy? And if so, why?! We talked to weight-loss experts to investigate.
Fact or Fiction: It's Harder for Shorter Women to Lose Weight
So, let's get this out of the way: "Sorry to say it, but it's true that shorter women have to consume fewer calories to lose weight than taller friends if all other factors are equal," says Luiza Petre, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist who specializes in weight loss. In other words, the harsh reality is that even if you have the same activity level and the same level of overall health, your taller friend is going to be able to eat more and still lose more weight than you, a shorter person, can. And because you have to eat fewer calories to see weight-loss results (or to maintain your weight), it can feel ~a lot~ harder, she says.
The reason this is true is actually pretty simple: "The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism works. Taller people have more muscle mass because they are born with it simply because of their height," explains Shari Portnoy, a registered dietitian. Your lean muscle mass has an impact on your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which determines how many calories your body burns at rest. The more lean muscle you have, the higher your BMR will be, and the more you can eat. Of course, activity level plays a role here, too, but the higher your BMR is, the less work you have to do to account for extra calories eaten.
Portnoy says that in her experience, shorter people do tend to have a harder time losing weight in general. "The less weight you start with, the harder it is to lose. It will be easier for a 200-pound person to lose weight than a 100-pound person." This is the same reason that it takes longer to lose those last 5 pounds than it does to lose 5 pounds at the start of a weight-loss journey.
Plus, "shorter women trying to maintain their weight often find themselves with mismatched meal partners," notes Dr. Petre. For example, if you're 5'3" and your 5'9" best friend wants to share a piece of cheesecake for dessert, those extra calories could prevent you from maintaining the calorie deficit you need to lose weight, while not affecting your friend's weight-loss goals. Womp womp.
But Wait, It's Not That Simple!
So yes—shorter people have to eat less than taller people to lose weight in general. But height isn't the only factor that determines how many calories you burn per day. Sleep habits, genetics, hormonal health, exercise, dieting history, and exercise also play roles here, says Dr. Petre.
"It is not as easy as saying that tall is always better than short when it comes to weight loss," says Rachel Daniels, a registered dietitian and senior director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners. "There may be a time when a shorter person does not need to eat less than a taller person to lose weight—since height is only one factor in the equation," she says. For example, if the shorter person has a higher percentage of lean body mass, then they can probably consume the same number of calories as a person who is taller with less muscle mass and lose weight at a similar rate, she explains.
One of the primary ways you can increase your metabolism is by exercising, and this is one area where shorter people may have an advantage. "A smaller person has a lower calorie requirement, but they can also burn more than a taller person faster doing the same exercise," points out Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, in-house registered dietitian at Betches Media. "For example, if a shorter person is walking a mile, they have to put in more work and more steps to get through that mile, whereas a taller person takes fewer steps and won't have to work as hard."
Weight-Loss Tips for Short People
On the shorter side and not seeing the weight-loss results you're after? Here's what to try to troubleshoot.
Lift weights. "Being shorter, it would help to do strength training and develop as much muscle mass as you can, which in return burns more calories," says Dr. Petre. (Not sure how to get started? Here's a 30-minute weightlifting workout that maximizes your rest time.)
Tune in to hunger cues. "Although someone shorter should not be eating as much as someone taller, they also shouldn't be as hungry," says Beckerman—although activity level does play a role in appetite. "Your body knows what it needs, so trust it!" (Making mindful eating a regular part of your diet can be a huge help when it comes to getting in touch with your hunger cues.)
Ballpark your calorie needs. Calculate your calorie needs with an online calculator where you can enter your height, weight, and activity level, suggests Beckerman. Of course, you don't have to stick to the *exact* calorie goal the calculator spits out, but it can help you get a decent idea of approximately how much you should eat if you want to lose weight or maintain your weight. (More on how to do that here: Exactly How to Cut Calories to Lose Weight Safely)
Chat with an expert. "Speak to a registered dietitian or a health expert before comparing yourself to your leggy friend who seems to be able to take off those 5 pounds in a snap," Daniels suggests. Not only will they be able to help put things in perspective, but they're also likely to have some suggestions about how you can make the most of your BMR.