Is it just me or can men get away with eating what they want and never have to think about jumping on a scale? I have noticed with my male friends and husband, that they never count calories, eat all the food they want but also never seem to put on weight. Why is this?
Well, firstly, I am probably mistaken. Most of my guy friends are often in the gym or doing sports, it's just taken for granted that men are more active and so I haven't really taken time to notice this before.
Secondly, I am told that men do struggle with weight issues too, but the weight gain is less noticed simply because men do not weigh themselves obsessively! One moment they are holding their weight steady and then after a long gap between weigh-ins the kebabs, curries and pints come back to haunt them and they've gained several stones! (A true case of fat creep, if ever I saw one).
In several scientific studies (1,2) the energy expenditure of men at baseline is higher than in women. Although this effect is small it still can be used as a reason why the observation that men find it easier to lose weight than women is true.
Also, bear in mind that men are just bigger than women, as a general rule, so seeing a big guy may not make as big an impact as a similar sized woman. This is definitely not fair, but I am sure we are subconsciously primed to take less notice of a bigger man than a bigger woman.
When it comes to weight loss though men may just be lucky, because they naturally have a higher lean body mass - or more muscle - than women. This is genetically determined and also has a lot to do with hormone make-up. Men have more testosterone and less oestrogen than women which is one reason they have more muscle and less fat.
Hormones act on the brain also, and there is evidence that men are less at the mercy of their hormones than are women when it comes to resisting food, or making food choices. This may explain why men can control their weight better - if they are less fixated on eating during a conscious effort to lose weight, then the calorie intake will be more controlled and weight loss may be faster and easier.
Importantly, research (3) indicates that after training hard - in the research paper it was for 5 months in preparation for a marathon - men maintain a higher energy expenditure compared to women. The researchers conclude it has as much to do with hormonal factors as well as behavioural factors; men can make long term changes to diet patterns after the endurance training has ended which women don't maintain, as well as their increased muscle mass being more metabolically active after the endurance training was over.
How can females make an impact on this? I would recommend that doing regular resistance exercises such as lifting weights can help. In fact, government advice (4) is to do at least 2 sessions a week of such muscle-strengthening activities (for example lifting weights, or doing press-ups or yoga) no matter who you are or what your level of fitness.
1. Morio B et al. Gender differences in energy expended during activities and in daily energy expenditure
of elderly people. Am J Physiol 1997; 273: E321–E327.
2. Carpenter WH, et al. Total daily energy expenditure in free-living older African–Americans and Caucasians. Am J Physiol 1998; 274: E96–E101
3. Meijer GA et al. The effect of a 5-month endurance-training programme on physical activity: evidence for a sex-difference in the metabolic response to exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1991; 62: 11–17.
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