Weight-Loss Wars: Men vs. Women

Are the sexes really different when it comes to losing weight

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Sometimes, it just doesn't seem fair. It seems like we women can just look at a decadent dessert and feel our hips widening, while all a man has to do is cut back his portions a little and watch the numbers on the scale drop.

Why do men lose weight faster than women? Or is that just a myth? Just for fun, we decided to take a look at sex differences -- real and perceived -- in the weight loss wars.

One big difference between the sexes lies in food preferences, according to Katherine Tallmadge, RD, the author of Diet Simple. "Men love their meat, and women are attached to carbohydrates," she says.

That doesn't mean one type of eating has the edge, however. "I individualize eating plans to allow both men and women to enjoy their preferences for carbs or protein, providing they select the healthy versions," says Tallmadge, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Another difference Tallmadge sees in her practice is that women tend to be fairly knowledgeable about food and calories, while the men don't think much about nutrition.

"As soon as the men start paying attention to healthier food choices, they tend to get quick results," says Tallmadge. Call it beginner's luck!

There are some weight loss tricks that work equally well for both sexes, she says.

Both women and men who have been skipping breakfast usually get quick results when they add a healthy breakfast into their plan, observes Tallmadge. "I also advise everyone to divide their eating plans equally so that one-third of their calories is eaten before lunch."

Let's Get Physical

The simple truth is that men are larger and have more muscle than women due to the hormone testosterone. They are genetically designed to have a higher percentage of muscle and less fat -- which works in favor of keeping them fit and allowing them to eat more calories.

But with a little work, women can even up the odds a bit. To build more muscle and get your engine revving, pick up some weights and start pumping. You'll increase your muscle mass and decrease your fat stores by doing strength training at least twice a week.

Not only will strength training build muscle mass and help you burn more calories, but it will also strengthens your bones, preventing osteoporosis -- a disease primarily of women. (And, of course, it gives you a more shapely physique.)

There is at least one area where women have the edge, weight-wise. When men deposit fat, it most often goes to their middles, while women's excess weight tends to settle below the belt and in the middle. And it turns out that the "pear-shaped" body has a health advantage over the "apple": Those who carry extra fat mostly around their middles are at higher risk of developing heart disease than those who are bottom-heavy.

Who's Minding the Kitchen?

Many women come home from work and head straight to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I'm often one of them -- and, as I imagine many men do, my husband usually enjoys the newspaper until he is called for dinner.

Even in this day and age, women are primarily responsible for family meals. Planning menus, grocery shopping, and preparing meals is a lot of work, not to mention the extra temptation to nibble, taste, and eat more calories.

Try to equalize the workload and minimize the temptations by getting your partner and/or the kids involved in preparing quick and healthy meals. They will all benefit, and so will you!

Attitude Is Everything

Chances are, when you hear someone worrying that they are "too fat" or complaining about their clothing size, it's a woman doing the talking.

As a general rule, women tend to be more vocal about their feelings and more focused on their physical forms (we can probably thank our society's emphasis on women's appearance for much of this). Many guys, on the other hand, seem oblivious about their appearance.

This is an area where women could learn a thing or two from the men. Being positive about the way we look is especially important around children -- girls in particular. Eating disorders start with dieting and obsessions over appearance. You certainly don't want to model unhealthy behaviors for your impressionable young daughters to mimic.

Whether we're male or female, we need to make peace with our bodies. It's important to see weight management as a route to better health, rather than physical perfection.

Need more inspiration? See what Elaine Magee, the Weight Loss Clinic's "Recipe Doctor," has to say about being Fit, Fabulous, and 14 (Size 14, That Is).

Keep It in Perspective

In my experience, I've noticed that many men just see the numbers on the scale creeping upward and make a decision to correct it. Plain and simple, they decide to increase their activity and decrease their food intake.

But I've seen some women beat themselves up over a few extra pounds, even though this does little more than destroy their self-worth. Berating yourself will not help motivate you to control your weight and improve your health. So the next time those negative thoughts creep into your head, recognize them for what they are and replace them with positive ones.

Both men and women sometimes get blue over disappointments, not only in weight control but other areas of their lives. Whenever you are feeling discouraged, visit our online community of members, moderators and professionals, and let us help support you through the rough spots. We are there for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The road to permanent weight control is a very personal journey. Individualized plans, tailor-made for either sex, are fundamental.

But while we are all different, we all have the same goal -- successful weight management. Whether or not you believe that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus," we can learn from one another and have some fun along the way.

Originally published Friday, August 06, 2004
Medically updated July 26, 2005.

SOURCE: Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Diet Simple.

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