Do I hear a collective gnashing of teeth when studies show that men lose weight more easily than women?! I know I’m not the only one who finds it frustrating that a man simply has to decide to lose weight and it drops off (or so it appears), whereas a woman seems to struggle for ages to lose a few pounds, only to watch it go back on.
A study that compared male and female participants following a variety of diets (Atkin’s, SlimFast, Rosemary Conley and Weight-Watchers) showed that men beat the women hands-down for weight loss. At 2 months, men had lost twice as much weight as women – however, their weight loss slowed over the following months.
A recent review of 49 studies on the subject found only a small difference in weight loss between the sexes – but it was in favour of the men.
So why do men lose weight more easily than women?
It’s not just one reason. In the same way that weight-gain is due to many factors, weight-loss is influenced by many different factors too and these may affect men and women differently…
- Men are bigger to start with
Men, on the whole, are bigger than women – and the bigger you are, the more energy you burn just by moving around or, even just by sitting on the sofa, doing nothing much more than existing! Their basal metabolic rate is greater, and as basal metabolic rate accounts for about 70% of the energy we burn every day, you can see why they may have a headstart. All they need to do is cut down their intake a bit, and their greater energy-burning capacity means quick results
- Men have more muscle
Men tend to have more muscle (fat-free mass) than women – and bodies with higher muscle composition burn more energy. What’s more, as we get older our muscle mass reduces (by about 8% per decade over the age of 40) – a condition known as sarcopenia, which may help explain why our ability to lose weight is affected by our age as well as our sex. When we think of exercising to lose weight, we often think of aerobic exercise – pounding the treadmill, brisk walking, swimming. Studies show, however, that people who engage in mixed forms of exercise, adding resistance training to aerobic, tend to lose more weight… especially around the waist where it is associated with more health problems. It’s time for women to fight the men for the dumbbells and build a bit of muscle!
- Men are less involved in food preparation
A sweeping generalisation, of course, and I know many men who do all the cooking at home (not mine, sadly!), however, the fact is, it is often the women who prepare and serve out the food to children and partner, giving more time and opportunity to pick. Those ‘forgotten’ calories soon add up.
- Women are at home more
Women spend less time at work than men. Although over 2/3rds of women are now wage-earners, around half of those work part-time due to family and other commitments. We all know that there is plenty of work to do running a home and family, however, it does also leave women more susceptible to snacking during that home time. In contrast, when busy at work with no easy access to the fridge, those hunger pangs may go unnoticed.
- Women are more likely to be emotional eaters
Another generalisation, I know, but my years of sitting in clinic back up research that shows that women are more likely to comfort eat, snack out of boredom or frustration or eat for many reasons other than hunger. Many men, in contrast, seem to just over-indulge in pints and portions! It can be easier to address simple habits than the underlying stresses and emotions that may drive over-eating – and most diets fail to do anything other than restrict food intake.
So, what can women do?
As women, we can’t fight our XX chromosomes but we CAN make some changes to ensure our sex doesn’t dictate our weight! Our basal metabolic rate may account for 70% of our energy expenditure but that leaves 30% in our control – and that comes down to activity. Keep on-the-go, taking every opportunity to move, and the energy burnt will soon clock up. Add in some muscle-building exercise too (don’t worry, you won’t look like Miss Universe, just more toned) and you will not only look slimmer, but burn more calories – even whilst you put your feet up afterwards!
Finally, look at the ‘when’ and ‘why’ you are eating as well as ‘what’. Is it unhappiness, boredom, frustration or just slipping into bad habits of picking when preparing food or catching up on housework? Is it guilt-eating or stress from trying to juggle a job and family – and failing to do both as well as you think you should? Take steps to address those underlying issues as well as ensuring you have covered the basics of portion control and eating real non-processed food, and you will leave the men standing!
Millward DJ, Truby H, Fox KR, Livingstone MB, Macdonald IA, Tothill P. Sex differences in the composition of weight gain and loss in overweight and obese adults. Br J Nutr. 2014 Mar. Williams RL, Wood LG, Collins CE, Callister R. Effectiveness of weight loss interventions – is there a difference between men and women: a systematic review. Obes Rev. 2015 Feb