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A Weighty Conundrum

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

It’s the same every year. Come January we are all schlepping back to the gym, dusting off our running shoes or trying out the newest, most Insta-fabulous ways to lose the pounds that we gained during the holidays!

And every year, we hear the same cry “it’s not fair, I’m the one on the diet and he’s the one that loses weight……”

You may have observed this phenomenon for yourself and you are not imagining it! Studies have shown that men are consistently “better” at losing weight than women following the same diet.

And you’re right, if you are a woman reading this, it isn’t fair and if you are a man, well it’s not all good news for you either!

So enjoy this 5 minute read and find out why, in the Women vs. Men weight loss arena, not all things are created equal.

Body Talk

First of all, let’s talk body composition. Nature determines how much body fat men and women should typically carry and how it is distributed – women should typically have between 18-20% of their body weight as fat and it sits mainly around the hips and buttocks. This is biologically relevant as it represents a “store” of energy in preparation for pregnancy. In men however, fat represents between 10-15% of body weight and tends to accumulate mostly as belly fat.

Men also have more natural muscle mass which is metabolically more “expensive” to maintain, meaning that it uses up more energy than fat even when it is at rest which makes the male metabolism up to 10% faster than the female one. No surprise then that men tend to lose weight more rapidly than a woman on the same diet.

And then there’s menopause…….fluctuating hormones and increasing resistance to insulin (the fat storage hormone) can increase the amount of fat that a woman stores around her middle – belly fat can account for up to 20% of body weight in a post-menopausal woman compared to up to 8% in a woman who is not transitioning through menopause.

Now here’s the thing, and men, this is where you need to listen up too! Abdominal fat is metabolically active and could be described as an organ or a gland in its own right! Quite a thought that your belly is taking on a life of its own! And it’s important to know that this type of fat has been shown to promote inflammation and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

Ironically, although overweight men are at a greater risk SOONER than overweight women due to their increased tendency to produce abdominal fat, doctors tend to advise overweight women to lose weight much sooner than men, waiting instead until a male patient has off the scale blood pressure and cholesterol levels[i].

Love the way you move....

Now let’s think about the way in which we exercise. For men, exercise is often central to weight loss. Men often succeed by motivating themselves with challenges and they don’t mind lifting weights at the gym.

Women, on the other hand, tend to worry about accumulating too much bulk and opt for cardio-type exercise instead. While that’s great for stamina, heart health and mood, it’s not an ideal way to exercise for weight loss. Muscle growth really is key here, and if you want to change the way in which your body responds metabolically, resistance exercise is crucial.

And there’s more… According to a 2009 study[ii], the “hunger hormone” ghrelin spikes after a workout in women, while leptin, which tells the brain that you’re full, plummets. Not so in men. So post-workout, women tend to eat more and although researchers are not sure why that is, they speculate that it’s the female body’s way to avoid energy deficits to preserve fertility and perpetuate the species.

Mind Games!

But physiology is not the whole story. There are also mental elements that vary between men and women. Of course, there are some generalisations here, and there are always exceptions to the rule, but these are the findings of research papers looking into eating behaviours. Men are more likely to overeat than women.[ii] They are less likely to cook, whether that’s due to time constraints or a lack of skill or interest. Unless home-cooked meals are provided for them, many men reach for junk foods. They are not just convenient but also highly palatable and easy to overeat – in fact, they are designed for us to overconsume them!

Women who eat too much tend to go for those foods as well, but for different reasons. In stressful situations, they reach for food that will activate the reward centre in the brain particularly well and fast. That means foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar.

In the short term, such foods provide satisfaction, but in the long run, they increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and dementia. It’s a kind of self-medication of the brain in an attempt to briefly dampen the constant firing of stress hormones.

Again, hormonal fluctuations play a significant role. You might beat yourself up about lacking willpower, but body chemistry is near impossible to beat. It always wins!

So, if you have had the suspicion that men are having an easier time of weight loss than women, you are absolutely right. Is it fair? No. Can you win the weight loss war? That’s up to you.

If you would like to talk to us about how you can tip the scales in your favour, book your complimentary Health & Lifestyle Review and let’s see how we can work together towards bringing balance back to your life.

[i] Boswella, RB, White MA (2015): Gender differences in weight bias internalisation and eating pathology in overweight individuals. Adv Eat Disord. 2015; 3(3): 259–268. [ii] Striegel RH, Rosselli F, Perrin N, et al (2009): Gender Difference in the Prevalence of Eating Disorder Symptoms. Int J Eat Disord. 2009 Jul; 42(5): 471–474.

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