Weight loss and gender: yes, gender does play a role. A contrast in the way men and women deal with diets, lose weight and practice sports does exist. Some differences come down to biology, others are mostly behavioural. In this article I will highlight the seven major reasons that can put a crimp in your weight loss goals (that is, if you are a woman), as well as suggest seven strategies to help you reach your ideal weight.
Men normally have more muscles than women. Muscle mass burns more energy (=calories) than fat mass, even at rest. So, the metabolic rate (the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest) in men is automatically higher, on average it is about seven percent higher than in women.
At the gym women tend to lift lighter weights and concentrate on cardio fitness, whereas men usually try to lift heavier weights, thus boosting both muscle growth and metabolism.
Scientific evidence proves that male and female brains differ in their response to food. The findings of the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in 2009 reveal some interesting observations. According to this research, women’s brains become active when they see, smell and taste the food even if they are not hungry. During the research products such as pizza, cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake were used. Brain scanning revealed its activation in the regions which regulate the urge to eat. This brain activation was not found in men.
After a workout, women show a higher level of ghrelin, the so-called “hunger hormone”, while their level of leptin, the hormone responsible for the feeling of satiety, drops dramatically. Such drastic fluctuations have not been found in men. Women tend to exaggerate with their post-workout meals, which may increase the risk of excessive weight gain. According to scientists, this may trace back to Darwin’s theory. In other words, it is just a female body’s natural way of fighting the energy deficit in order to stay fertile.
Then, there is another curious fact: many women gain weight when they start living with a man. The reason is easy to explain: they just tend to copy their partner’s food habits, eating as much and as often as the males do, which is normally significantly more than women need.
Women are more likely than men to eat for emotional reasons. In their striving for comfort, emotional eaters tend to crave certain foods which affect the pleasure centre in the brain. These are usually sweet, greasy and salty products which may cause weight gain.
Approach to dieting
Both men and women have a tendency to follow the “all-or-nothing” weight loss approach, but women are more likely to run to extremes to get back on the “straight and narrow”. They often use tactics such as juice cleansing, meal skipping or extreme dieting. These are definitely not the steadiest weight-loss methods. The majority of men would just come back to the initial plan or opt for an extra workout in the gym.
Now, what to do with this information (especially if you happen to be a woman?)
- First, set up realistic weight management goals and move ahead in small steps. Losing two kg of weight per month is a realistic goal (even if you eventually want to lose 30). Losing 10 kg in a month’s time is definitely not realistic.
- Start a weight training routine. Muscles burn more calories than fat, even at rest. Train at the gym at least two times a week.
- Do not overeat after training sessions, even if you feel very hungry. Keep the portions as they were. If necessary, increase the amount of vegetables but not the amount of foods rich in calories.
- Don’t keep “dangerous” foods at home or at work.
- If you are an emotional eater, deal with this: consult a therapist or a specialized dietitian.
- Plan your meals ahead and never do grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
- Do not compare yourself with you partner (male or female), with your siblings or anybody else (“he eats SO much and never gains a gram of fat”). If you don’t know what and how much is good for you, consult a dietitian in your area.