One thing I notice in my private practice is that women in relationships with men constantly complain that their hubby or boyfriend can eat more without gaining weight, or that he can drop pounds faster. It’s unfair but definitely true. When it comes to nutrition and weight loss, men and women truly are like apples and oranges. Just how great is the divide? Take this quiz to find out and read on for some tips designed to help you level the field:
1) If a man and woman are the same height, how many more calories will he burn per day:
A) 0 - they burn the same amount
B) 10 percent
C) 20 percent
Answer: C. Because men have more muscle mass, they burn about 20 percent more calories doing nothing, even at the same height, and men are on average 5 inches taller than women, which further widens the calorie burning gap.
Tip: If you “split” an appetizer, dessert or pizza, make it a 60/40 or 70/30 share rather than 50/50.
2) If a man and woman of average height and weight both walk on treadmills at 4 miles per hour for 1 hour, how many more calories will he burn:
Answer: B. According to the latest stats, the average American man weighs 26 pounds more than the average woman, which allows him to burn slightly more calories per hour.
Tip: Make up the difference by cutting an extra 50 calories. For example, trade mayo for hummus on a sandwich or swap orange juice for a whole orange.
3) To support “ideal body weight” how many more servings of grains does an average man need per day compared to a woman?
A) 1 more
B) 2 more
C) 3 more
Answer: C. One serving of grains is equal to one slice of bread or a half cup of cooked brown rice. Most women need no more than six servings per day or no more than two per meal, perhaps less if you’re petite or less active.
Tip: To fill up your plate without overloading on carbs, replace half of your starchy serving with chopped or shredded veggies or wrap a sandwich in crisp romaine leaves instead of bread.
4) True or false: men and women’s brains work differently when exposed to enticing foods:
Answer: A, at least from what the research indicates. One study looked at the favorite foods of 13 women and 10 men, which included lasagna, pizza, brownies, ice cream and fried chicken. After they fasted for 20 hours, the subjects underwent brain scans while being presented with their favorite foods, but they weren’t allowed to eat them. The researchers found that after the sneak peek the women's brains still acted as if they were hungry, but the men's did not. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why but they have a few theories. The first is that the female brain may be hard-wired to eat when food is available because women need nutrition to support pregnancy. The second is that female hormones may react differently with the part of the brain linked to triggering or suppressing hunger.
Tip: One smart strategy is to keep a food diary, even if it's only temporary. Most of us underestimate how much we eat and even forget about some of the foods we mindlessly munch on. Writing it down is like a reality check for our built-in biological drivers.
Bottom line: There are significant differences between men and women. For example, when I think that my husband’s ideal weight is almost 100 pounds more than mine I don’t get as frustrated by the fact that he can eat more, because it’s just physics. Some of my female clients like the following analogy because it helps them keep things in perspective: Eating with a guy is like going shopping with a friend who makes a lot more money than you – maybe you can’t spend as much, but you can still enjoy the experience, and if you make peace with the fact that you don’t have the same budget, it can be very freeing rather than causing you angst.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.