By Dr. Mercola
The gender gap is a phrase usually used to describe disparities in income between men and women, but it may very well apply to weight loss as well.
In a Time article, fitness trainer Bob Harper, who appears on the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser, explains that 60% of the winners on the show – those who were able to lose the most amount of weight in a defined period of time – were men.
Anecdotally as well, many women express exasperation at being unable to lose weight despite making significant dietary changes and exercising, whereas their male counterparts appear to drop pounds just by making minimal lifestyle tweaks here and there.
Could it be that the cards are somehow stacked against women, and men really do have an easier time losing weight?
Several Factors Make Weight Loss for Men Easier
As Harper pointed out, one of the biggest factors men have in their favor is body composition. Men tend to have more muscle than women, who in turn have about 10 percent more of their body weight in the form of fat.
Muscle tissue burns three to five times more energy than fat tissues, so as you gain muscle, your metabolic rate increases, which allows you to burn more calories, even when you're sleeping or physically inactive. Perhaps because of their greater muscle mass, a man's resting metabolic rate can be up to 10 percent higher than a woman's (of the same age and weight),1 giving them a weight-loss advantage right out of the gate.
Then, men and women vary in the type of fat their bodies are made up of. Men tend to have more visceral fat while women tend to have more subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is found just under your skin, and is the type that causes dimpling and cellulite. Visceral fat, on the other hand, shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles.
Visceral fat is the one that is linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among many other chronic diseases. So from a health standpoint, having more visceral fat is not a "benefit." However, from a strictly weight-loss point of view, visceral fat is metabolized faster, making it easier to lose than subcutaneous fat2 – another biological hurdle for women to jump over.
Next Harper explains another important issue, which is that women may be more inclined toward emotional eating than men – reaching for food (typically junk food) in response to stress, sadness, loneliness, and more – and this can be a very tough habit to break. Research even shows that women may have a reduced ability to stave off hunger and resist food cravings than men!3
However, women should not feel disheartened, as weight loss is certainly attainable no matter what your gender. Below I've included several weight loss secrets that many people aren't aware of, which can help to tip the scales back in your favor – literally! As Harper said:
"With all these factors working against them, it seems that women are at a weight-loss disadvantage, but body composition isn't destiny – it's just a minor roadblock."
The Go-To Weight Loss Trick that Works for Both Men and Women
Once you review the research, it's clear that if you are serious about losing weight, you have got to strictly limit the amount of fructose in your diet, as evidence is mounting that excess sugar, and fructose in particular, is the primary factor in the obesity epidemic. So cutting soda from your diet is essential. However many fail to appreciate the importance of cutting out other sources of fructose, including those found in processed foods, fruit juice, excessive fruit and so-called "healthy" sweeteners like agave.
Ideally you should keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day and this includes fruits. This is especially true if you have insulin resistance and are overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes or high or dysregulated cholesterol levels.
For the majority of people, severely restricting carbohydrates such as sugars, fructose, and grains in your diet will be the key to weight loss. Refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.
As you cut these dietary villains from your meals, you need to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables and healthy fats (including natural saturated fats!). Your body prefers the carbohydrates in vegetables rather than grains and sugars because it slows the conversion to simple sugars, and improves insulin resistance.
When you cut grains and sugar from your meals, you typically will need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat, as well as make sure you are also consuming protein and healthy fats regularly. This includes saturated fats like coconut oil, which research shows can help trim your waistline.4 I've detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight.
This Efficient Exercise Can Help You Burn More Fat
Once you've addressed your diet, exercise can truly begin to work its magic on your physique, and help boost fat loss even further. The trick to achieving flat abs is to incorporate the correct types of exercises.
High-intensity interval exercises are at the core of my Peak Fitness routine. This short intense training protocol improves muscle energy utilization and expenditure due to its positive effects on increasing muscle mass and improving muscle fiber quality. Further, several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session.
In fact, you can actually lose more weight by reducing the amount of time you spend on exercise, because when doing high-intensity interval training you only need 20 minutes, two to three times a week. Any more and you'll overdo it! You can get the details on how to properly perform these exercises in the video below.
Help for Emotional Eaters
Many adults turn to food in times of boredom, stress and loneliness. And for those who are eating due to stress, the comfort food of choice tends to be greasy, salty or sweet. Not surprisingly, such "stress-driven" eaters, particularly women, tend to weigh more on average. And women who feel a lack of emotional support in their lives have a greater tendency to eat to cope with stress.
So your emotional health, whether you're eating as a distraction, a reward or to help fill a missing void in your life, must be dealt with in order to successfully resist cravings for unhealthy foods.
For this I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which helps eliminate your food cravings naturally.
When your body's energy system is disrupted, you are more likely to experience distractions and discomforts related to food, and more likely to engage in emotional eating. Instead, if you engage your body's subtle energy system with EFT, the distracting discomforts like food cravings and hunger pangs often subside.
How to Even the Playing Field...
The three strategies noted above will greatly help most anyone lose weight, but women can help to close the "gender gap" for weight loss by:
- Eliminating or strictly limiting fructose in your diet
- Engaging in high-intensity Peak Fitness exercise to burn fat and increase muscle mass (another fat burner)
- Addressing the emotional component of eating
But there is one more "trick" that can really push your weight loss to the next level. Ladies, if you want you can keep this one as "your little secret," but if you're so inclined, the men in your life could benefit from it too...
It's called intermittent fasting.
By cutting down your calorie intake strategically, you can greatly boost your body's fat-burning potential, and if you do it right you probably won't even miss the extra meals. This is because you can fast simply by skipping breakfast, or even delaying it until later in the day. You can try fasting on alternate days or simply restricting the time you eat for a six- to eight-hour period during the day so you have a lengthy period of fasting (most of which will occur while you sleep, for instance if you eat your last meal of the day by 6 or 7 pm).
Our ancestors rarely had access to food 24/7 like we do, so our genes are optimized for feeding schedules like intermittent fasting.
It takes about six to eight hours for your body to metabolize your glycogen stores and after that you actually start to shift to burning fat. However, if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours, you make it far more difficult for your body to use your fat stores as fuel.
Research suggests fasting actually triggers a variety of health-promoting hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those that occur when you exercise. The research on this is very strong; here are three studies from recent years investigating fasting for weight loss, all of which showed positive results:
- Non-obese patients lost an average of four percent of their total fat with alternate-day fasting for 22 days. Their fasting insulin also decreased.5
- Alternate-day fasting was also effective for obese patients in a 2009 study. On fasting days, participants consumed 25 percent of their daily calorie needs. On average, they lost just over 5.5 pounds in eight weeks, and about three percent of their total body fat. Total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol decreased, while HDL ("good") cholesterol remained unchanged. Systolic blood pressure also decreased.6
- In young, overweight women, alternate-day fasting was just as effective as calorie restriction for promoting weight loss and improving metabolic markers.7
If you decide to give fasting a try, start out gradually by ending your meals earlier in the evening or late afternoon and fasting overnight while you sleep. Or try skipping breakfast or delaying it and see how you feel. Let your body be your guide; fasting appropriately should leave you feeling energized and raring to go – if it makes you feel tired, queasy or irritable, you've likely taken it too far.