Men are just losers. At least they are better losers that women - in the weight-loss category, that is. Any woman who has worked on losing weight at the same time as a man can tell you this is not a myth. She'll have to diet and work out for weeks to see progress, while her male counterpart just cuts back on his portions a little and the numbers on the scale drop almost immediately.
It may not be fair, but the male sex does have an advantage when it comes to losing weight, according Tressie Baras, Exercise Specialist with Dynamic Dimensions of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital (WCCH). "Men are genetically designed to have a higher percentage of muscle and less fat than women. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories your body burns, which is what gives men a weight-loss boost. Women, on the over hand, not only have less muscle mass than men, but also have a genetic tendency to retain fat more efficiently, since adequate stores of fat are vital during pregnancy. This obviously represents a challenge for women focused on decreasing body fat."
But, Baras stresses, this is not a challenge that can't be overcome. "This is the time to adopt the 'if you can't beat them, join them' mindset. By taking a closer look at how most men are able to lose weight more efficiently, women can gain some important weight loss lessons."
Cravings are the downfall of many female dieters. Men have cravings too, but they tend to crave healthier foods that aren't as detrimental to achieving weight loss goals. Leslie Petross, registered dietitian with WCCH, says while a woman's comfort food is more likely to be something sweet, men are more likely to have a crave a thick juicy steak. "The advantage of his choice is that it's protein, which will help fill him up far better than your carbohydrate-loaded donut or bag of M&Ms."
In fact, a study published last year found that the secret weight loss weapon of successful dieters is protein, because it promotes satiety, the scientific term for fullness, which curbs overeating. Protein also helps build muscle, and is not stored as body fat. Petross says if cravings are your downfall, you have a choice of tactics. "When a craving hits, try substituting a protein snack instead of a carb. Low-fat string cheese, low-fat yogurt or a turkey and cheese roll-up are quick options that should derail your craving. If you just can't fight the chocolate craving, try a chocolate coated or flavored, high protein energy bar instead. There are many varieties to choose from in most grocery stores. Just check the ingredients to make sure the fat, carbohydrate and calorie content is low, and the protein is high."
Develop a More Manly Workout
Strength-training has become more popular with women in recent years, but Baras says this is one area where women can benefit from taking a more "manly" approach. "A man is more likely to focus on strength training as a central part of his workout. They'll use heavier weights and do more repetitions. More women, on the other hand, approach weight training much more casually. They work with weights as an afterthought and consider it the least important part of their workout routine." By approaching strength training this way, Baras says women are losing out on a key weight loss strategy. "Strength training will build muscle mass that is critical for burning more calories and decreasing stored fat. To build more muscle and get your engine revving, pick up some weights and start pumping at least twice a week. There are also group fitness classes that incorporate weight training for added benefit."
So how much should a woman lift to reap the rewards of strength training? Baras says if you're doing two sets of 12 or 15 repetitions easily, your weights are probably too light. She recommends increasing to a higher poundage that makes you strain to do 8 to 10, then once your body is used to 10, increase the weight until you're only able to do 3 to 5 reps. This way you'll be gradually increasing your strength.
Think Like a Man
Okay, you blew it. You had a fight with your spouse, your boss was on your back all day, and your kids have been fighting all evening. So what do you do? If you're a woman, you dig into the ice cream carton with a big spoon. Then you tell yourself what a bad person you are and reach for the family size bag of cheese puffs. After which you wallow in self-loathing for hours or even days, before comforting yourself with more gluttony. What would a guy do? He'd reward himself for the bad day with a steak dinner and maybe a beer. And he'd be okay with that, climb back on the weight-loss wagon without a second thought.
Experts agree that men and women have different attitudes about food and weight loss. Women are much more likely to substitute food for a therapist; to use food as a source of comfort. Men are more likely to see food as just that - food. A recent study at the University of Minnesota found that women are twice as likely as men to binge because they're depressed. And, researchers said because women are twice as likely as men to be depressed, this makes for a lot of emotional eating.
Experts also say males may be less vulnerable to emotional eating because they tend not to dwell on things. Women, on the other hand, can spend hours turning one small negative thought around in their minds, adding a few others, and whipping it all into critical mass, says Yale University researcher Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD.
Another big mental difference is the "all or nothing approach," that most women take." "Most guys avoid anything that even smacks of perfectionism," and that applies to dieting, too, says Pamela Peeke, MD, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "When guys go on a diet, they don't give up their Doritos or beer. They make a deal with themselves and negotiate a compromise," says Petross. "Men are more likely to approach weight loss in moderation. They'll still eat some chips, but only a handful instead of a whole bag. Women, on the other hand, approach dieting like with a single-minded focus on perfection and deprivation of any forbidden foods. Naturally, no one can live up to these standards, and when you don't, you feel like a failure. It's a vicious cycle that many women inflict upon themselves. Focus on nutritional moderation and allow yourself to eat some of the foods you enjoy. Don't use food as a reward or punishment."
Women also need to give themselves a break, not just from beating themselves up over their weight, but from the stress of juggling the many demands in their lives. "Men are much more likely to take a break, shoot some hoops, go for a run or relieve stress in active ways," says Baras. "Women are much less likely to give themselves that hour or so of time to unwind. Many women fell lucky if they can grab a few quiet minutes to themselves at night after the kids go to bed. And during this time, they are more likely to unwind with a favorite snack in front of the television. Give yourself permission to take time out several times a week. Give yourself something non-food-related to look forward to, whether it's an afternoon shopping, a manicure or a workout. Break the connection between food and relaxation."
Petross says the bottom line is that losing weight is a very individual undertaking, whether you or a man or a woman. And while men may have some genetic advantages, women are just as capable of finding a healthy strategy that will work for them. Remember, weight loss is as much about attitude as it is about fitness level. By adopting more of a male mind-set, at least when focusing on weight loss, women can become more successful in reaching their weight loss goals."