Men stop having alcohol for a month, start carrying lunch, lift a few dumbbells — and voila! That belly starts melting.
Women, on the other hand, diligent as they are, cut sugar, skip dinner, give up that one glass of wine they used to have, and look the other way lest that cupcake call out to them with it’s evil, gooey, chocolate-filled centre. And yet, those handles refuse to budge.
Has that been your experience with weight-loss? Does fat, like the rest of the world, also have a gender bias? Should women just give up and resign to being short-changed in the metabolic game too?
Or is there more to this imbalance than meets the eye? What if it’s really the men who need to be worried? In whose favor is the die really loaded?
Who knew the gender debate would spill over into the fitness world too! But now that it has, FITSHIT can’t watch from the sidelines — can it!
So let’s dive right in.
Before we move ahead, know this. Women, biologically, carry more fat than men. 7–9% more body fat, to be precise. So a woman with 25% body fat is as fit as a guy with 16%. And more fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. It’s just the way evolution made women. And with good reason.
Unlike men, women need to nurture a fetus and then nourish it once it comes out as a baby, all from their own energy reserves. So their bodies are tuned to storing more fat (because fat is fuel) in anticipation of pregnancies.
And this extra fat can get stored in various places. While most men around the world, gain fat first around their abdomen, female fat storage varies vastly. From the buttocks (Africans), to the hips (Mediterraneans), to around the navel (Asians) — women in hot climates tend to store fat in different ‘pockets’. While those living in colder climates (like Scandinavian women) store fat evenly all over. (A ‘heat coat’ all over the body would’ve been unbearable during tropical summers. So, evolution came up with this ‘localised storage’ model for women living in such areas.)
(It’s amazing how the female body changes its fat regulation mechanism to enable this. And how this mechanism varies at different life stages like puberty, and pregnancy. Fascinated? Give this a read. And this.)
The point I’m trying to make here, is that ladies — Fat ain’t Bad!
None of these natural fat stores (hips, buttocks, thighs etc) have been proven to have any health repercussions. The only fat store that has a direct linkage to increased risk of coronary disease is the one around the abdomen. And guess which gender stores all their pizza and their beer there!
So, just to be clear — Women start with more fat. That 8–9% more fat ain’t unhealthy. Infact it’s necessary for child-bearing and has no known health risk. At all.
With that fact sorted, let’s ask the question we started with:
Do men lose weight faster than women?
Yes. But only at first.
Some studies that put both men and women on the same caloric deficit diet found that men lost almost twice the weight women did in the first 2 months. But after 6 months, the losses evened out. So in the long-term, it doesn’t seem like the odds are stacked against women. But here is the catch.
In the absence of short-term results, many women lose motivation and give-up. Who wouldn’t, if they saw someone reaping twice the results for the same effort? Hence it’s important to understand why this happens, so that women can keep going in those initial few months, even in the absence of results.
Men have more muscle
If you’ve been reading FITSHIT, you know how much importance I lay on building muscle. Because muscle = metabolism (remember BMR?). And men, genetically (again because they were built to go hunt for food while women took care of the kids), have more muscle. So cut the same number of calories from a man’s diet, and he will see far greater results because he was already burning more than a women. Hence men start faster off the block.
Men have testosterone
And women have estrogen. While testosterone helps build and retain muscle, estrogen helps prepare the body for child-birth. And it does so by programming the body to store more fat as a fuel reserve.
Women eat with their hearts (and hormones)
It’s scientifically proven that women are more emotional about food. As they are about almost everything else. And that isn’t a bad thing. It’s just not a ‘man’ thing.
From a weight-loss perspective though, this emotional eating has some downsides. It leaves women more prone to binging, especially when they are under stress. Which can worsen their weight-loss results and demotivate them further.
An aside for the ladies: It’s also proven that your menstrual cycle can trigger stress eating. It’s not your fault. It’s the high progesterone levels. So don’t stress about it. Just acknowledge it so you can see it coming and work around it.
Men lose abdominal fat first
The pot-belly, which has become the image of ‘fat-ness’ in general, is what we check when we’re looking for fat-loss proof. And since men store most of their fat there, that’s also where they lose it from first. And everyone goes — ‘Wow! Look how fast that one got thin” (a perfect case of men looking at the world in their image).
A woman, on the other hand, might’ve lost the same kilos but from other areas. But since it isn’t as visible, she doesn’t get the complements. Which demotivates her further.
So the die is loaded?
Hormonally speaking, women got a bad deal. Not, I repeat, because they start off with more (completely harmless) fat. But because their hormones (which are still operating as if they live in a food-deprived, hunter-gatherer world) go completely crazy in the presence of decadent cakes and during periods and in the latter half of pregnancy — pushing them towards gaining a lot more than they need to.
And then, once a woman decides to right this wrong, she sees the men get much faster results. Which is a pretty shitty deal, you’ve got to admit. But ladies, this is precisely the time you need to keep going. Get past the first few months, and research proves that the losses even out.
Infact, remember estrogen — the hormone that makes you store fat. It also makes you more adept at burning fat for fuel. So get past the initial phase and chances are that you’ll lose more fat for the same amount of weight-loss as a guy. And that’s a much, much better outcome. Because fat-loss >> weight-loss .
Oh and thank your stars that even when you do gain fat, you don’t tend to get that pot-belly. Because not only is it the worst form of fat that leads to all sorts of heart diseases and diabetes, it also is the leading cause for all back problems. So that joke, in many ways is on the men.
Can women even the playing field?
Yes. Ofcourse. Now that you know the cause of the un-even-ness, it’s easy to see the fix
I can’t over-state the importance for women to gain muscle. It boosts your metabolism, burns fat even when you’re not exercising, and drastically lowers the chances of age-related muscle and bone disorders. So don’t just spend all your time trying to shed a few extra kilos on the treadmill or the cross-trainer. Even 20-minutes spent strength-training will reap you much better long term results. Not to mention, those hot, toned triceps.
I spoke about it at length in last week’s post. So, I won’t belabor the point. Just, please, ensure that you get in your daily protein requirement. Other-wise all the time spent in the gym will go to waste.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself
Nature has wired you to hold on to those curves. It also wired you to eat that cheesecake in the week before your periods. Now, suddenly, you won’t be able to completely reverse your biology. So, go easy on yourself. But at the same time, take baby steps. Have half the cheesecake. Once it makes you feel better, skip carbs for dinner. Acknowledge what’s happening and then slowly start training your mind to resist. Believe me, you’ll get there.
Remember. You’re genetically wired to be different from men. And I don’t need to convince you that that’s a good thing.
PS: For all the men reading this. Guys, we really don’t have any excuse to not get fit. And we pay a much heavier price if we become unfit. So please, you too hit the gym. And protein. And calorie counting.