Some research suggests they may, but there’s a caveat.
I recently started dieting with my fiance, Nick. We’re both following the Weight Watchers program—I stick to it pretty religiously, while he follows the rules about 60-70 percent of the time. It’s a little frustrating to watch him buck the system, but ultimately I’m proud of him for trying to make a change in his diet at all.
He travels for work several days a week and often swings through a drive-thru, counting only half of his Weight Watchers points. Meanwhile, I’m at home eating kale salads and boneless, skinless chicken breasts and tracking points like a mad woman.
We weigh in together on Friday mornings for accountability. Over the past two weeks, I’ve lost about two and a half pounds (yay, me!)—and he lost nine.
NINE POUNDS, Y’ALL! I almost died.
complaining to talking with my female friends, I’ve learned that this dynamic has frustrated many women who diet with male friends or partners. Here's a typical comment: “If I smell a cookie, I’ll gain weight. But if he skips drinking beer for a weekend, he loses five pounds! It’s just not fair!”
This got me thinking—is it all in our heads, or do men really have a physiological advantage when it comes to losing weight? I turned to the experts to find out the truth.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory studied the differences in gender and weight loss back in 2009 and found that gender does play a major difference in our brain's ability to inhibit its response to food and hunger—but only because (and I hate to write this) women tend to be emotional eaters.
I know, I know. That sounds incredibly sexist. But it turns out there’s some legit science behind it, so hear me out.
The study showed that even when women said they weren’t hungry, their brains still fired away in the regions that control our drive to eat. In contrast, men’s brain activity decreased along with their self-reports of feeling hungry.
The study's lead author, Gene-Jack Wang, put it succinctly in a press release: "The finding of a lack of response to inhibition in women is consistent with behavioral studies showing that women have a higher tendency than men to overeat when presented with palatable food or under emotional distress."
Wang, went on to make the point crystal clear: "This decreased inhibitory control in women could be a major factor contributing to the observed differences in the prevalence rates of obesity and eating disorders such as binge eating between the genders, and may also underlie women's lower success in losing weight while dieting when compared with men."
Wang believes that differences in sex hormones, such as estrogen, may influence food intake, body weight, and fat distribution, as well as eating behavior. So those insane cupcake cravings I have aren’t just me having a lack of willpower—they’re part of evolutionary makeup as a female. Great. Just great.
Adding to the weight loss schism, men are generally taller and have more muscle mass than women, which can actually work to their advantage. The Mayo Clinic says people who are larger or have more muscle burn more calories, even at rest.
So, you’re not imagining it. Men do lose weight faster in the short-term, but there’s a pretty big caveat: the weight loss scales will eventually balance out.
In a British Journal of Nutrition study, men and women dieted together using weight loss programs like Atkins, Weight Watchers, and Slim Fast. In the first 2 months, the men lost twice as much weight and three times as much body fat as the women. But, their weight loss eventually plateaued—after 6 months, the total pounds lost between men and women were almost completely even.
Cooking Light’s Assistant Nutrition Editor, Jamie Vespa, MS, RD, explains why this may be the case: “Men typically start their weight loss journey consuming significantly higher calories than women. For example, if a male consumes an average of 3,000 calories per day and then drastically drops down to a regimented 2,200 calorie diet, that’s almost a 30% reduction. Many women, on the other hand, are likely already consuming under 2,000 calories and may drop to 1,600-1,800 (a 10-20% reduction) on a weight loss plan. So the number on the scale may drop more quickly for men, but a plateau will eventually set in and both sexes may level off.”
The bottom line: Nick and I are only a few weeks into trying to diet together, but I hope we can both continue to lose weight at a steady—and healthy—rate.
If you’re a female who’s getting discouraged by your male friend or partner who’s losing weight faster, try to relax and focus on your own health journey. As someone who’s going through it, I know it’s easier said than done, but as long as you’re making strides to become healthier version of yourself, you’re already doing great.