Double Standard: Women Must Work Harder to Lose Weight

It's not a myth: women really are at a disadvantage when it comes to shedding pounds

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Trae Patton / NBC

Jeremy Britt shows off his weight loss during the season finale of "The Biggest Loser" on NBC

On The Biggest Loser, more than 60% of the winners have been men. Outside of the show, I’ve heard a lot of women complain that even when they aren’t really “trying,” men seem to have an easier time losing weight. Why?

The answer lies in body composition. Even when obese, men tend to have more muscle mass than women. Women carry approximately 10% more of their body weight in fat. Furthermore, several studies have shown that a man’s metabolism is anywhere from 3% to 10% higher than a woman’s of the same weight and age. That brings us to a physiological truth: the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be and the more calories you will burn, even when resting.

(MORE: Let’s Stop Being Passive About Fighting Obesity)

The type of extra weight you’re carrying matters too. Men tend to have more visceral fat, the kind that accumulates deep in the body, mostly around the organs in their midsections. It may not jiggle around, but it can give a guy some added girth or a big gut. Women have more subcutaneous fat, which sits just under the skin (most often in your hips and thighs). This type of fat tends to jiggle and move, and you might even (unhappily) be able to grab hold of it.

While visceral fat is the more dangerous of the two and has been linked to a long list of health issues, a 2009 study at Cairo University showed that it gets metabolized faster than subcutaneous fat. This means that subcutaneous fat is harder to lose, which is just another hurdle for women who are looking to lose weight.

(MORE: How Faith and Health Go Hand in Hand)

And then there’s the harder-to-pin-down issue of emotional eating, and a woman’s greater propensity for it. I can vouch for this from what I’ve seen on The Biggest Loser. On the show, most of the male contestants have become obese because of their off-the-charts portion sizes (and terrifically bad food choices on those big plates), while the women have found themselves in trouble because they steadily snack or binge to cope with stress, sadness or exhaustion. Could it be that women find it more difficult to curb their cravings and exhibit self-control than men? Perhaps, especially when it comes to food. According to a 2008 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, men are better able to handle self-control over food cravings than women are.

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. Women need to think smartly about how to make their bodies work for them, for example, by taking advantage of the connection between muscle mass and metabolism, or making note of the triggers for emotional eating and reversing them. These changes — while not always easy — can make a real impact on weight loss over the short and long term and help make the gender gap disappear.

MORE: Forget Dieting, Try Intermittent Fasting

58 comments
Amitavo Mitra
Amitavo Mitra

yes, please lets just blame evolution/god (depending upon our personal preferences) on this double standard.  OR NOT

Diana Maras
Diana Maras

This title is stupid. There is no double standard here. It's common knowledge - more muscle mass equals faster metabolism; faster metabolism equals faster weight loss. What's the point of this article?

Mary Jane Long
Mary Jane Long

It's not a double standard:  women are biologically made to store fat in order to produce and nurture babies.  Your title is a bit misleading.

Susanne Ponte
Susanne Ponte

So based on all we women already know it's not all equal (between men and women) in weight loss. The playing field is not level. Then why doesn't the Biggest Loser have the

Biggest Female Loser and the Biggest Male Loser?! 

Merydith Willoughby
Merydith Willoughby

It is best not to focus on whether it is more difficult for women to lose weight than it is for men. Statistics are just that and there are many men who struggle with weight issues all their life, as there are women.

If someone wants to lose weight then do-it. Focus on what has to be achieved and then bit by bit, achieve it. Certainly, it will not be easy if excessive weight gain has been allowed because habits have been developed that will need to be broken.

It has been shown that anyone who diets is likely to have gained the weight and more within 12 months, so diets are not the way to go.

In my fourth book, Breathing's good I devote a chapter (Fit, slim, healthy) to a weight loss program that has worked for me for over three decades. There are no whiz bang things - it is all about a sensible approach however I have found a few things that have nothing to do with food that have made all the difference to me being able to stay the size I want easily and largely without effort when I have an excellent diet and exercise regularly. Before I found out about them though I struggled with a few issues that did make a difference to my size and shape and no amount of good food or exercise made any difference at all.

Monique Lynn
Monique Lynn

This is all true. It doesn't matter if people think it's about men vs women in a sexist way. It's not sexism. It's science!

protank
protank

When women have a d!ck, then they will be equal

john hamm
john hamm

Bob, great article. But according to John Cloud, who wrote in Time's Aug. 9, 2009 article "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" regarding  muscle increasing metabolism, he writes:

 "a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that."

I'm not sure who to believe. I guess I'll believe you since you're probably in better shape than John Cloud.

Rodboy
Rodboy

What I see at the health club - the people can beat everything except their FORK.

docky
docky

why on earth would one ever think that men and women were the same or that nature is "fair"?

what a stupid way to start a scientific discussion.

jabd
jabd

The double standard is using language like "coping"and "lack of self control" to describe what is possibly a physiological drive meant to protect the organism. Obviously working to exhaustion inhibits weight loss in women, regardless of the mechanism (if their is just one), never mind, the criteria for exhaustion between genders is probably different. The issue is a program geared for a male physiology and expecting a different biology to respond in the same way, then describing the response as some psychological or self control limitation. Women need exercise and diet programs that facilitate their long-term health, not useless gender wars.

Emil Posavac
Emil Posavac

Get Obama to issue an Executive Order to handle this injustice. Afterall, he assured us that 'the seas stopped rising" when he clinched the Democratic nomination is 2008.

SethVonti
SethVonti

It is true however this "advantage" that men have over women by having more muscle than women.  However, said advantage really isn't much of an advantage in comparison to the ***societal social influence*** placed on men in comparison to women -- to try harder physically (i.e. women are more likely to sit down an cry about their situation vs men being toughened up to "deal with it").

In further explaining:  a woman would likely use this article as an excuse as to why she's fat as opposed to getting out there and doing something about it regardless of advantages and disadvantages.And yes, you really need to utilize a euphemism for "double standard" -- because "double standard" has TOO MUCH of a negative connotation -- as if men having more muscle than women is being sexist or something to that extent.In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  You should have just stopped at explaining that men have a physical advantage over women.

SethVonti
SethVonti

It is true however this "advantage" that men have over women by having more muscle than women.  However, said advantage really isn't much of an advantage in comparison to the ***societal social influence*** placed on men in comparison to women -- to try harder physically (i.e. women are more likely to sit down an cry about their situation vs men being toughened up to "deal with it").

In further explaining:  a woman would likely use this article as an excuse as to why she's fat as opposed to getting out there and doing something about it regardless of advantages and disadvantages.And yes, you really need to utilize a euphemism for "double standard" -- because "double standard" has TOO MUCH of a negative connotation -- as if men having more muscle than women is being sexist or something to that extent.In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  You should have just stopped at explaining that men have a physical advantage over women.  This article's title is a result of "sensationalized journalism".

SethVonti
SethVonti

It is true however this "advantage" that men have over women by having more muscle than women.  However, said advantage really isn't much of an advantage in comparison to the ***societal social influence*** placed on men in comparison to women -- to try harder physically (i.e. women are more likely to sit down an cry about their situation vs men being toughened up to "deal with it").

In further explaining:  a woman would likely use this article as an excuse as to why she's fat as opposed to getting out there and doing something about it regardless of advantages and disadvantages.And yes, you really need to utilize a euphemism for "double standard" -- because "double standard" has TOO MUCH of a NEGATIVE CONNOTATION -- as if men having more muscle than women is being sexist or something to that extent.In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  You should have just stopped at explaining that men have a physical advantage over women.  This article's title is a RESULT of "sensationalized journalism".

SethVonti
SethVonti

It is true however this "advantage" that men have over women by having more muscle than women.  However, said advantage really isn't much of an advantage in comparison to the ***societal social influence*** placed on men in comparison to women -- to try harder physically (i.e. women are more likely to sit down an cry about their situation vs men being toughened up to "deal with it").

In further explaining:  a woman would likely use this article as an excuse as to why she's fat as opposed to getting out there and doing something about it regardless of advantages and disadvantages.

And yes, you really need to utilize a euphemism for "double standard" -- because "double standard" has TOO MUCH of a negative connotation -- as if men having more muscle than women is being sexist or something to that extent.

In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  

In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  

In another words, this is NOT a double standard.  

You should have just stopped at explaining that men have a physical advantage over women. This title is a result of "sensationalized journalism".

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Mr Harper just requires you to buy his book ?

skeptica
skeptica

That's not true. If you don't eat or drink sugary products, and if you limit your meals to 8 ounces per meal and 3 hours break between meals, women will lose as much weight as men. You don't even need to work out. Controlling food intake is more effective than working out and doesn't cause wear and tear to your body.

NStat
NStat

theres more to being healthy then losing weight 

francis colon
francis colon

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Marjean Fieldhouse
Marjean Fieldhouse

Oh joy, 'science' delivered by a personal trainer instead of actual scientists

BuceriasGuy
BuceriasGuy

Sugar and other simple carbohydrates are  addictive. Obesity is the result of an out of kilter insulin cycle caused by too much of these. Go no-carb and no-packaged corporate  crap food. Take back your health from the poison food industry.

c_laird478
c_laird478

Jennifer Lopez, Maria Menounos, and Jennifer Anniston  must be working REALLY hard at it, then. Because they look soooo great!

Nancy Toby
Nancy Toby

Funny they don't mention those endogenous anabolic steroids men have in their system. Guess they don't want to talk about muscle-building drugs, naturally-occurring or not. 

Sean Sutter
Sean Sutter

There is truth to this article; however simply assuming that female metabolism is 10% less than male metabolism is not accurate.  Metabolic rate is determined by many factors including genetics, size, activity level, and gender.  In a study done by Gary Foster, it was found that among 5'4", 170 lb women of the same age, metabolic rate varied by 1000 calories burned per day (range was 1200-2200 calories/day).  In addition to this, women are more prone to utilize highly restrictive, low calorie diets in order to effect weight change.  Unfortunately, this has the negative effect of further reducing muscle mass - thus lowering their metabolic rate.  With that said, restrictive dieting has the same effect on both men and women.

The key to fat loss (different than weight loss) is to increase your metabolism while creating a slight negative energy balance (burning slightly more calories than you consume).  This allows the body to maintain muscle mass and metabolism while subtracting fat mass.  The best way to accomplish this is through a balance of strength training, cardiovascular training, flexibility training, and proper caloric intake.  Simply starving your body or exercising to excess will not lead to effective fat loss.  

The best way to start this process is to have your resting and exercise metabolic rates measured.  This service is available at many health clubs and nutrition centers.  Finding out this number is akin to knowing how much money is in your checking account - as we all know, it is impossible to balance your checking account without knowing how much money is going in and out.  Your body's calorie balance is very similar.  You can then take this number and apply a small caloric deficit to it in order to effectively lose body fat.  It is important to note that healthy fat loss is a process that will yield anywhere between .5 and 2 lbs of weight loss on the scale per week.  If your weight loss exceeds this, you are most likely losing a combination of muscle and/or water weight - neither of which is healthy.  

The biggest loser competition is slightly tainted in that the participants have access to all of this information (as well as fitness and nutrition coaching) and also have such a high body weight that they can afford to lose water and muscle weight as part of the competition.  For people who are less obese than this, do not expect such extremely weight loss per week to be a healthy experience. 

Take your time, educate yourself as to how your body burns calories, develop healthy habits and reduce the urge for the quick fix of starvation or over-exercising - neither of these methods are effective in the long term!

lokidecat
lokidecat

You said it's not accurate, then said, "Metabolic rate is determined by many factors including... gender."

Gender is a psychological, I think you meant sex. Which in this case is male/female, which is exactly what the article is mentioning.  Is it the ONLY factor? No. And the article doesn't claim it is.

Liz14
Liz14

I always thought it had something to do with women's hormones too. High estrogen makes it harder to lose weight - that's why some women tend to gain weight when they go on the birth control pill, which raises estrogen to artificially high levels. Since our bodies are designed to accommodate pregnancies, we have a tendency to hold on to every last ounce of fat in order to preserve fertility. In the old days when food was hard to come by, this was an advantage. Today... not so much.

ERenger
ERenger

"In the old days when food was hard to come by, this was an advantage. Today... not so much."

Are you talking about the extra weight or the extra fertility?

Liz14
Liz14

The tendency of female bodies to hold on to extra weight to preserve fertility in times of low food supply is unnecessary for most women in developed nations today, because we basically have access to unlimited calories.

smitvict
smitvict

We need to pass a law to give women equal opportunity to lose weight.

Talendria
Talendria

I think women tend to carry more of the psychological weight of the family.  Whereas men focus on what they can do, women worry about what they can't do, which is inherently self-destructive.  In my twenties I attended Weight Watchers meetings, and I used to roll my eyes at the older women who complained about their families sabotaging them.  I thought they were whiners blaming their lack of self-control on other people.  Now that I have a family, I understand where they were coming from, although I still wouldn't use the word "sabotage" to justify my extra pounds.  While I know how to lose weight and have managed to do it several times, I'm easily side-tracked and exhausted by my family's needs.

Joe Black
Joe Black

No a double standard would be women wanting to be equal to men in every way then complaining that you didn't hold the door for them, pull out their chair and pay for their entire meal. They want to be equal to men but treated like a lady. Having their cake and eating it too.

C12_Ryder
C12_Ryder

Stop complaining, Joe. For somebody who accuses women of complaining you sure do a lot of it here. If you don't like women, date men. You do have a choice.

Kimberley Morse
Kimberley Morse

What does this have to do with this article? And why the hell does it have ten "likes"? You guys do know it's sometimes acceptable to discuss a womens' issue without complaining about women, right?

Eric
Eric

Kimberly, he's just pointing out the stupid name they gave this article, because the article had NOTHING to do with "double standards".     Although sarcastic, Joe black was merely demonstrating what an actual double standard is.   Based upon your comment, you STILL don't understand what a double standard is.  You lack the ability to see past the vitriol (look it up) in his comment, to see the point he is making.

  Allow me to clarify for you.  The term "double standard" pertains to the inconsistencies of social norms and social acceptance.  It has nothing to do with physiology or biology.  As such, this article deserves every bit of ridicule it has received from Joe and other posters.   It highlights the fact that Journalism is dead, and that modern "journalists" have little comprehension of the words they use.

Diana Maras
Diana Maras

His example of what a double standard didn't show his sarcastic humor - it showed his anger/fear towards women. 

So you idiots think that a woman can't have equal value to a man and still be considered a lady? What did your mommies do to you idiots? Not enough love? Too much love? Eww! LOL

protank
protank

go cook something, then spread em!

Bda Gamer
Bda Gamer

Double Standard: Women Must Work Harder to Lose Weight

annsrum
annsrum

I am completely annoyed that he is implying the small sampling of people on the show is enough to indicate women are weaker at having self control.  Good grief.   Some people (of either gender) are just emotional eaters.  And if they aren't they may also be ones that turn to smoking, dipping, or alcohol to deal with stress.  So to say that women are weaker is not an accurate assessment from such a small pool of individuals.  I personally cannot stand how they berate and force people to rapidly lose weight on this show.  It is a very stressful and in my mind unhealthy way to go about it.  How is it safe to take someone who is 300+ pounds and run them until they are about to pass out?  And how can someone sustain such a program going forward if they have to work etc.  It takes time to learn new habits such that they became the new normal.   I lost 55 pounds all by myself across the course of a year.  I had a combination of unhealthy food choices (which I didn't quite realize until I kept an honest food diary) and also emotional eating as well as being sedentary.  Changing from being an emotional eater requires someone to learn other coping techniques for stress.  Among those are perhaps having someone to talk to as well as exercising.   This kind of transition is not overnight.  it takes time.  This is likewise the reason that weight loss surgery may ultimately fail overtime because these individuals have not dealt with the emotional aspect to their eating.  They eventually gain it back (i.e. Carnie Wilson).  Also another aspect is education.  A person must know enough about foods overall (calorie count, carb count, fat count etc) in order to be able to create dishes at home themselves.  If you have to go by someone elses recipes without understanding how to get there yourself, you are going to eventually want your old foods and not know how to modify them to be healthier.  People need time to learn and adjust overall.  And Moderation is very much key.  Knowing what that is and sticking to it is very useful.

Talendria
Talendria

I personally cannot stand how people want to watch a TV show about other people losing weight.  If you think about it for a moment, the irony becomes apparent.

Steffi Evans
Steffi Evans

 I like to watch it when I'm on the treadmill at the gym. It always inspires me. If I happen to be on the couch, it's a nice reminder to plan a workout.

Inspired117
Inspired117

I'm sorry, what becomes apparent? The fact that I watch the show through Netflix on my iPad while I run on my treadmill. As I use each episode to push myself when I feel like quitting. Telling myself that if someone 300 lbs can push themselves to keep running when they feel like quitting then so can I. Or is the irony that I have learned that strength training is also important and have added that to my workout routines? Or is it the countless testimonies of other people like myself, who have been inspired by the show to get healthy, in shape, and lose a ton a weight? Again, please excuse me for my ignorance, but what am I missing here that is ironic?

Phoo Bear
Phoo Bear

So you missed the scientific study that the author linked to which made it clear this wasn't just based on few T.V. anecdotes. Pay more attention next time, ranty mcranterson.

Quote:

"According to a 2008 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, men are better able to handle self-control over food cravings than women."

Heather Meinke
Heather Meinke

 I've been exercising and dieting for a year, lost 126 lbs so far. It's been a struggle for me, I really have to exercise every day, one day off a week max, and watch what I eat to the most miniscule calorie. My husband gained some weight over the past few months and he recently started to simply watch his portion sizes a little more. He still eats junk, still doesn't exercise much, and he's already lost 5 lbs. It makes me sick that I have to work so hard and it just melts off of him!

scmaize
scmaize

Heather, Losing 126 pounds in a year is absolutely phenomenal!  There are very, very few people who could accomplish that.

Veronica Lodge
Veronica Lodge

126 lbs in a year?

Go see your physician.

Brook Monroe
Brook Monroe

And we'd take advice from a comic book character because...?

Terri Hormel French
Terri Hormel French

The same is true for me and it is harder now that I am older! Congrats on the weight loss and the hard work, I've been down that road once, it is a long, lonely one for sure. Keep up the hard work!

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