Colette's Blog

January 24, 2011

Have you ever decided to lose weight with your mate? Sometimes that approach can be a wonderful, mutually supportive experience. But it doesn’t always work that way. All too often, the guy loses faster while eating more than the woman. That’s not a problem if both understand that different bodies respond to diet and exercise differently. But when one party feels inadequate or discouraged because she—and yes, it’s almost always the woman—isn’t keeping up with the other, it can be discouraging. Losing weight isn’t a competitive sport.

Given their choice, most women wouldn’t opt to have been born male, but there’s one area in which the guys have it all over us gals. Men don’t gain weight as easily as women do, tend to carry a few extra pounds better and can slim down more quickly and easily than their wives and sisters. What ever happened to equal rights? Let’s look first at the reasons for these differences and then what women can do to level the playing field.

Muscle Men vs. Potential Moms

The first key difference is that men’s and women’s bodies are different from the get-go, regardless of whether either one is carrying some extra weight, thanks to our sex hormones.(Just to be clear, both men and women have the same sex hormones, but the amount of each differs significantly from men to women.) From puberty on, men’s high levels of testosterone mean that they have a greater percentage of muscle to fat than women do. As a result, whether they’re working out or at rest, men burn more calories than a woman of the same weight. And their muscles also make guys less insulin resistant—the less fat, the less of that fat-storage hormone in the system. That heavy dose of testosterone also makes it easier for guys to lose weight.

What about those of us with two X chromosomes? Thanks to estrogen and progesterone, women are genetically predisposed to retain and store fat, particularly in their breasts, hips, thighs and buttocks. Body fat plays in important role in childbearing—women athletes with minimal body fat often stop menstruating and can’t conceive. What is still not fully understood is whether estrogen stimulates fat production itself or whether it stimulates insulin production, which in turn stimulates the appetite for high-carb foods that pile on the pounds. And why do most women put on weight after menopause, when estrogen levels decline? There is much research still to be done in this area.

The Role of Exercise

We now know that exercise plays little role in weight loss—although it does appear to help some people maintain weight—but even so there are differences among individuals and in particular, gender differences. Men tend to be more active, but that’s not just the result of greater muscle mass; lung capacity also plays a role. Women’s smaller lungs mean less oxygen is delivered to the muscles, which means less endurance. Men generally seem to respond faster to sustained physical activity in terms of weight management. Women, on the other hand, tend to experience a metabolic slow-down when working out at the same level, which causes their bodies to retain fat. They also tend to be less active.

All this means that on average, a man’s metabolism is higher than a woman of the same height and weight. How much higher? Research shows that on average, a guy’s metabolism is 5 to 10 percent higher than a woman’s. As a result, on average, women burn about 15 percentfewer calories each day than men do.

The Female Advantage

Women do have several advantages over men in other critical areas of weight management. Men tend to store fat in the middle of their body, while women tend to store it below the waist (unless they have already developed insulin resistance). This distribution of weight puts men more at risk for metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Women also tend to be more aware of what’s going on with their weight. They notice a gain of a few pounds more quickly and get to work on dealing with it faster. Women are also more likely to be aware of the link between their emotions and overeating or eating the wrong foods. And as the person who is more apt to be responsible for purchasing and preparing food, they’re often in a better position to change how the family eats.

Make It a Win-Win Situation

Of course, being a man isn’t a free pass to eat all you want, gorge on junk foods and sodas and lounge around all day. If you’re a guy, thank your testosterone for giving you a leg up; then follow the Atkins lifestyle to stay in control of your weight and enhance your health.

If you’re a woman, understand that your results on Atkins may take a bit longer to achieve, but are nonetheless perfectly doable. Eating a low-carb whole-foods diet is the best way to reduce blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces insulin levels. And that, in turn will help you mobilize fat in your fat tissues for energy needs, meaning you burn fat rather than store it. In effect, doing Atkins can allow a woman to compensate for lower levels of testosterone, particularly when combined with a regular fitness program that includes muscle-building exercise. And if you’re looking for an Atkins buddy, you may want to find a person whose age, gender and weight-loss goals are more like your own—meaning another gal!

Although there are undeniably differences in how easy it is for men and women to control their weight, following a low-carb lifestyle with plenty of low-glycemic vegetables will do the trick for both of you. And remember, it’s not who loses more or loses faster that counts; instead, the goal is to achieve a healthy weight for your frame and age and then remain there. That way, you’ll both have the energy and motivation to get out there and do things together.

Whether you’re a guy or a gal, please share your experiences on Atkins relative to your significant other. I think we could all benefit from hearing from as many of you as possible.

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