While this may sound like sexist stereotyping, when it comes to nutrition, men and women do things quite differently. Of course there are both men and women who don’t fit these patterns, but research shows that generally speaking, men and women approach diet and nutrition in distinctly different ways.
While obesity rates for both genders are about the same – roughly 25% of Canadians, more men than women fall into the overweight category. This means we women are doing something right. On the whole we’re more knowledgeable about nutrition than men, and studies show we eat less saturated fat and more vegetables.
On the other hand, when men do diet, they often have an easier time losing weight than women do. Of course, much of this is due to basic biology, but there are also many behavioural factors involved, and there are several lessons we can learn from men. Consider these differences and how we might adopt a few of these behaviours and attitudes for ourselves:
1. Do it for health, not just vanity
While men today are becoming increasingly concerned with their appearance, they’re still no match for women. We spend ever-increasing amounts of money on cosmetics, beauty and anti-aging treatments, and of course, weight loss – all in the name of looking our best.
When men decide to go on a diet, as often as not the motivation is a health scare – their own or a contemporary’s, or a result of instruction from a doctor, rather than strictly for vanity’s sake.
Why does motivation matter? When your concern is your health and not just your dress size, you’re more likely to choose foods that are healthy and not just low in calories. You’re also more likely to create a realistically sustainable long-term eating plan. And, when you focus on your health, you’re more likely to also address issues like stress that may also be contributing to your health and weight issues.
2. Play sports and games
It’s called “playing” for a reason. It’s fun. It stands to reason that when you do something that’s fun, you’re more likely to want to keep doing it. Playing on a team is a further commitment that makes you more likely to show up. Team sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, football and volleyball are a great way to stay active, with the added benefit of great social interaction.
Men have figured this out better than women. According to a recent study by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, almost twice as many adult Canadian men participate in recreational sports as women. While women are trudging through grueling fitness classes and tedious hours on the treadmill, men are out on the fields, courts and rinks, staying in shape while having a great time. The good news is, more and more women’s and co-ed leagues are popping up, so we can get in on the fun, too.
3. Strong is a better goal than skinny
When men set out to get in shape, they focus on building muscle. The goal is strong, not skinny. Too many women shy away from strength training and only do cardiovascular exercise because they worry needlessly about bulking up, missing the opportunity to build metabolism-boosting, fat-burning muscle tissue. Instead of only worrying about burning calories and getting thinner, women could benefit from focusing on getting strong. And most women won’t bulk up, they’ll simply become leaner and more toned.
4. Skip the artificial sweeteners
Studies show women are twice as likely as men to drink diet pop and sweeten their coffee and tea with artificial sweeteners. Again, in our endless pursuit of ways to lower calories, we often lose sight of more important issues, like avoiding unhealthy or even toxic substances. It’s best to forgo pop completely and switch to soda water with lemon, and if you must sweeten your hot drinks, a little bit of natural sweetener like raw honey is worth the calories compared to the risks of artificial sweeteners. Studies also show artificial sweeteners don’t help with weight loss anyway, and in fact, regular diet pop consumption has been shown to cause weight gain in the long-term.
5. Compare yourself to yourself, not to other women
Men are a lot less likely than women to get hung up on numbers, whether on the scale or in the fitting room. Most men have learned what a healthy size for them is, accepting their overall bone structure for what it is. A large-framed man is just fine wearing size 36 pants, and doesn’t worry that his friend with a slimmer build can wear a 32. Women, on the other hand, tend to compare ourselves against other women and media images, instead of just against our own healthiest size or weight. If you look and feel great as a size 8, who cares if someone else is a size 4? Similarly, we need to stop focusing on getting below some elusive number of the scale that may be more realistic for someone else’s body type.
6. Learn to master cravings
We know women are emotional creatures, so it may not be surprising to learn that studies have shown men to be better at controlling food cravings than women are. While scientists suspect hormones are to blame, women could stand to emulate male behavior and try to turn our attention away from the food we crave. Of course, controlling blood sugar through a healthy diet with good fats, lots of protein and fibre will help reduce cravings to begin with. But when they do arise, try to find a good distraction until the craving subsides. It’s how men avoid giving in.
7. Eat more protein
Although this seems like another example of gender stereotyping, women often gravitate to carbohydrates while many men prefer meat. While a healthy diet should include both lean, good quality protein sources and healthy carbohydrates, women who struggle with their weight often consume too many carbs and could benefit from cutting down and eating more protein. Protein has many weight-loss benefits, from muscle-building to blood-sugar balance.
8. Keep it simple
When was the last time you heard of a man weighing his food or carrying a calorie counter in his pocket? Most men are much more likely to make simple changes to their eating habits when they want to lose weight. Maybe it’s out of macho vanity because diets are perceived as being women’s domain, men tend to simply exercise more and stay away from unhealthy foods, without overcomplicating matters or following specific guidelines.
9. Learn to relax!
Approximately 90% of people with eating disorders are women. That means men are a LOT more relaxed about food and about their weight. Men aren’t wracked with guilt about eating something they shouldn’t the way women are, and are better able to shrug it off and get right back on track.
Of course, eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important, but obsessing about it isn’t the way to get there. Women could take a page out of men’s books and learn to relax more about our food intake and focus on making healthy choices and being active.
Rena Rubin-Hines is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner specializing in women’s health issues. Rena’s philosophy is if we eat better, we feel better and we look better. With a no-nonsense approach to health and nutrition, Rena offers straight answers, practical advice and effective solutions to a wide range of women’s health issues including weight loss, anti-aging, digestive health, as well as prevention and treatment of a variety of health conditions. Rena is dedicated to helping women live healthier lives, naturally.