The weight loss debate: Do men really shed pounds faster than women?

April 14, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Who loses weight more easily? Men, or women?
Kevin G. Gilbert /

You've been working hard to lose weight — following your diet to the letter, battling through food temptations and putting in extra time each day on the treadmill.

But your husband, who is following the same routine, is shedding the pounds more quickly, even when he occasionally indulges in dessert.

Is there a double standard when it comes to weight loss?

Do men have an easier time of burning calories, increasing their metabolism and winning the war against fat?

Ask most seasoned female dieters those questions and the answer will be a resounding "yes."

But what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the great divide of losing weight?

Obesity, in general, doesn't discriminate, said Dr. Rafai Bukhari, family medicine physician with Potomac Family Medicine, a physician practice of Meritus Health.

"There are many factors that lead to obesity, including food consumption, exercise, genetics and socioeconomics," he said. "So, the prevalence of obesity among men and women is about the same."

But when it comes to getting rid of those unwanted pounds, women are at a bit of a disadvantage.

"You do see men drop weight a little bit faster," he said. "They have more muscle and testosterone, which causes more metabolism. If you compare everything evenly, men do have more muscle mass, so they can burn calories a bit faster."

But if a woman exercises and follows a nutritional diet, he added, "she is going to lose weight faster than a man who is not eating right and exercising."

Fair or not, it comes down to the fact that men and women are simply made differently — and those differences have an impact on weight loss.

Here's what's at play.

First, said Bukhari, men and women usually burn calories at a different rate.

"It's because men are burning more due to the testosterone and muscle mass," he explained. "Women are burning calories but sometimes they don't need to use as much energy as men. It's the way energy is used and stored."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every pound of lean body mass you have burns about 14 calories a day. So, the more muscle you carry, the greater your daily calorie burn. Not only are men's bodies bigger, they tend to carry more muscle than women do, too.

Next, "women store fat more than men do," Bukhari said. "Women who go through pregnancy also sometimes hold on to extra fat that occurs during pregnancy. Women don't have as much testosterone as men do."

Women do have more estrogen than men, though, says the CDCP, and estrogen increases storage of body fat.

Because most men have a greater muscle mass, their bodies respond more quickly to exercise.

The person who has more muscle mass will burn more calories during exercise than someone who doesn't have the same muscle mass, Bukhari said.

Can certain foods affect men and women differently?

"Not that I know of," Bukhari said. "Food should be looked at as calories and energy and how you can use it for your body."

Male or female, Bukhari said genes also play a role in obesity.

"There is still a lot of research being done in this area," he said.  "If you are eating a lot of carbs, fast food and fatty foods in excessive amounts and not exerting that energy, the excess will get stores.  If you're consuming more than what your body uses, you are storing more. Hispanics have a higher prevalence of obesity but it's unclear if it's due strictly to genetics."

If you are embarking on a weight-loss program, Bukhari offered a few guidelines.

"Portion sizes, processed foods, fast foods — these factors are affecting people," he said. "People get used to eating these things and their body actually responds to eating more and you get hungrier faster.  Start understanding what you are eating and putting in your body and eat in moderation.  We overdo our eating habits. If you learn how to be satisfied when you are no longer hungry, your body will start to adjust."

Bukhari noted that even though men might burn calories faster, obesity is an equal-gender offender.

"Learn what a carbohydrate is, what a fat is, etc.," he said.  "And understand what your active metabolism and resting metabolism are. Your resting metabolism is the calories you burn when you aren't exercising, when your body is at rest. Don't give up food, but learn how to eat in moderation.  Decrease carbs and fat and increase protein."

Burhari said 2,500 calories a day is typically what a person burns.  "If you eat 2,700 calories per day, for example, you would have an extra 200 calories per day.  If you did this every day, you would have an extra 1,400 by the end of the week.  It starts to add up quickly."

There was a time, Bukhari said, when people walked more and drove less.

"Now, we don't even have to get up off the couch to change the channels on the TV," he noted. "We are living more sedentary lives and we have to understand what we are ingesting and what we are burning."

"Improving your diet will give you the best results," he added, "even over exercise. And you'll start feeling better, too."

Burhari said the health impacts from obesity "are tremendous — joint pain, acid reflux, heart disease.  The list goes on and on.  It can't be ignored. It's become more socially acceptable to be overweight or obese but that doesn't mean it's healthy.  Review your own lifestyle.  Do you drink enough water? Do you exercise? Are you eating too many fatty foods? Most people realize that they are doing things that are leading to their obesity.

"It's easy to gain weight," Bukhari said.  "Losing it is the hard part.  But it can be done. A good place to start is to read nutrition labels and understand what you are putting in your body."

The CDCP offered these tips for women:

  • Weight train and perform aerobic exercise. This will help to build or preserve muscle mass and speed your metabolism.
  • Keep a food record. Because a woman's caloric needs tend to be less than most men, every little bite you eat counts. A food record will help you keep track of what you're eating.
  • Make taking care of yourself a priority. Get adequate sleep, find the time to exercise, plan healthful meals and snacks and don't go too long without eating.
  • Don't become frustrated on your path to losing weight. Keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race.

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