Have you ever wondered why some men are able to down a whole pizza and an order of French fries, while women have to scrutinize every calorie that goes into their mouth? It seems the decks are stacked against the female species when it comes to body fat. But why is this so?
One reason men are able to eat more calories and not gain weight is that they’re larger in size, and they have a higher muscle to fat ratio than women. In fact, women have body fat percentages that are between 6 and 11% higher than men. Women need fewer calories because of their smaller body size and lower muscle mass. But that’s not the only explanation.
The Role Hormones Play in Controlling Body Fat
Women also produce more estrogen than men. According to a study published in Obesity Reviews, higher levels of estrogen may partially explain why women usually have more body fat than men. Estrogen makes it harder for women to burn body fat after a meal, so more of it ends up being stored around the hips and thighs in younger women. Older women usually accumulate fat in their tummy region rather than their hips and thighs.
This tendency for estrogen to promote fat storage has survival benefits since women need a certain amount of body fat for successful childbearing, but it definitely doesn’t make it any easier to slip into a tight pair of jeans or slip on a two-piece bathing suit.
Other Factors That Make It Harder for Women to Lose Body Fat
There’s another factor that explains why women have more trouble losing body fat. Their fat cells are larger in size, and these cells contain more fat-storing enzymes and fewer enzymes that metabolize fat.
Then there’s the issue of testosterone. Men produce ten times more testosterone than women do. Testosterone helps to inhibit fat storage and boost lean body mass. Women also experience hormonal fluctuations that trigger cravings for carbohydrates. This is probably due to changes in levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and appetite. When estrogen levels decline around the time of menstruation or menopause, declining serotonin levels can trigger carb cravings. Thus, women may consume more carb-rich snacks than men.
So what can women do to make it more equitable? Resistance training helps boost the amount of metabolically active muscle tissue a woman has, and it boosts calorie burn. Some experts also believe that estrogens in the environment and in food contribute to weight gain. They partially blame the problem on refined foods made of white flour and sugar that are so abundant in the Western diet.
Will an Anti-Estrogen Diet Help?
To counteract the effects of too much estrogen, some experts recommend eliminating sugar and processed foods and eating more anti-estrogen foods including organic fruits and veggies, particularly cruciferous vegetables. For protein, they recommend fish that’s high in omega-3s such as salmon along with whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Since non-organic dairy products contain hormones, they advocate using only organic dairy products. Whether or not this will take a bite out of obesity is unclear, but it’s an eating plan that has health benefits.
The Bottom Line?
Women do have a more difficult time shedding body fat and keeping it off. There are a variety of reasons for this, not all of which are controllable. Still, doing resistance training to build lean body mass and eating a clean diet that’s free of processed foods can certainly have an impact – and that’s a good thing for women who struggle with their weight.
The Anti-Estrogenic Diet. Ori Hofmekler. 2007.
Fitness Prescription for Women. December 2011.
Science Daily. “Why Do Women Store Fat Differently From Men?”