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Why Do Women Take Longer to Lose Weight than Men?

Do you remember a weight loss supplement commercial that featured a woman and male cartoon where both were trying to lose weight?

Even though they each eliminated pastries, pizza, and other junk foods from their diets, the guy shrunk his waistline and lost more weight than the woman. Does this sound all too familiar to something you've gone through?

Well, there might be some truth behind this experience.

There really IS a difference in the way diets, exercise, and weight loss affect men and women. This may happen due to the fact men have more muscle mass and less estrogen than women. It may also occur because women are more likely to turn to food for comfort when upset, stressed, and/or anxious.

According to an article posted in Medical Daily, men have a height, weight, and muscle-to-fat ratio advantage over women. Men are just bigger than women, which gives them an upper hand when it comes to losing weight.

Think about it, if a person is bigger due to weight, muscle mass or height, you may need more calories than someone who is smaller than you. So, if you're trying to lose weight, it's easier to shed the weight if you're a bigger person, which men tend to be.

Is there something women can do differently to help lose weight?

Listen in as Dr. Mike shares why it might be harder for women to lose weight than men.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 14, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Living longer and staying healthier. It's Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith, MD. Here's your host, Dr. Mike:

DR MIKE: So, why is it easier for men to lose weight than women? I mean, and I think that's what most women would tell you is their experience. There's even a commercial—I don't even remember what the product is for, but there's a woman and a man. They're out having a picnic and they're talking about losing weight and no more cheeseburgers, no more sodas and as she's saying that, the guy's getting skinnier and skinnier and skinnier by the second and the woman's not losing any weight. I don't know. Maybe you've seen that commercial.

There may be some truth in it, though. You know, men do lose weight a little bit easier than women and I think I have some reasons for that. But, what I want to share with you first, was a report that I found on a website that I like. You know, I have hundreds of health websites that I play around on, check out, get a lot of good ideas from. This came from and they started this article by asking the question, "Why do men hit their weight loss goals first?" And, you know, to me...and I'm going to get to this here in a moment. I went right to hormones and I'm going to get there in a second, but they didn't even talk about that. They went into something, they gave an angle that was a little bit different than I thought they would, so I wanted to share this with you.

Again,"Men lose weight faster because they're bigger to begin with." Hmm. So, where are they going with that?

"In fact, how fast a person loses weight isn't necessarily a gender issue. It's more of a big person/little person issue. Whether a person is bigger due to his height, weight or muscle mass, he has the physiological benefit when it comes to losing weight compared to a smaller person. Since men tend to carry around more height, weight and muscle mass than women, their bodies need..." and this was the key point in here. "Their bodies need to burn more calories to function. Because they're caloric needs are higher, any modifications that they make will create larger calorie deficits.

"It's an interesting angle. So, let's talk about calorie deficits for a moment. I've done this lecture before. It's called, "The Science of Weight Loss" and in this lecture, by the way, it was developed with a good, good friend of mine. She's a chiropractor. She has her own supplement company now, Dr. Stacy Nottingham. And, in this lecture, we talk about calorie deficits, right? I usually begin the lecture by saying, "You know, your weight, on a day to day measurement, even just moment to moment, meal to meal, whatever. Your weight is determined by a very simple mathematical equation. Your weight or your change in weight equals calories that you bring in minus calories you burn."

It's that simple. The weight equation is simple math. Calories in minus calories out. If you bring in, through eating and drinking, whatever, more calories than you burn out, you have a calorie excess and you gain weight. If, on the other hand, you are burning more calories than what you're bringing in, you have a calorie deficit. That's kind of where this article went. It was talking about the fact that men who have a greater calorie need--caloric need--when they deprive themselves of bringing in some calories and maybe burning more through exercise, the deficit—that negative number in that equation—is greater for a man than a woman. Eh. Maybe.

I mean, I agree with the calorie deficit part of this, but that's assuming that all men have a greater mass, let's say, muscle, that kind of stuff, than women. I don't know if that's always true, but it's an interesting way to start off this article. Now, the article also goes into the fact that women don't hit the gym quite as much as men and, specifically, hitting the free weights, the weight training part of the gym.

Women go to the gym and do a lot of the aerobics, but not necessarily the weights and the argument they make at is there's this distorted, pre-conceived notion that if women start using free weights and start building muscle mass, whatever, that kind of stuff. They're going to become bulky and less feminine. Okay. Maybe. Maybe that's true. I don't know. Again, I think it's an interesting argument. So, in answering that question, "Why do men lose weight easier, faster, however you want to say it, than women, they're going with the fact that there's a greater calorie deficit created in men when they diet and exercise than women and that women don't hit the muscle-building as much as men and that's important because it is true. Muscle tissue is your best way to burn calories. The more muscle tissue you have, the higher your muscle mass versus fat mass.

You're going to burn more calories even at rest. Having good tone, muscle mass, you're resting metabolic rate—which is how many calories you burn at rest—goes up. So, they have some points here, but I think they missed something here and that was the discussion about hormones. When I first saw this, that's what came to my mind—that it's a hormone issue. I can say this from my medical experience. Working with Life Extension customers, working with patients in my past, first and foremost, a lot of women—men, too—but mostly women in this country have hypothyroidism and don't even know it. Or, maybe they don't have overt hypothyroidism, but they have low-functioning thyroids.

Sometimes what we call "subclinical thyroid". You know, your thyroid hormones, it's your metabolic throttle. It's what accelerates metabolism. So, if you don't have enough thyroid hormone, even if it's just a drop and a little bit. You know, a little hypothyroid. Just a little low in thyroid hormone production, just a little bit. It's an uphill battle, then, to lose weight. So, first and foremost, and this is really for men and women, but I'm speaking to women specifically here. Before you start any diet program, five pounds, 10 pounds, whatever it is, you've got to check your thyroid hormone. Be careful, now, when you do that and you're going to your conventional doctor, they're usually going to look at TSH, total T4 and free T3. TSH, total T4 and free T3. Those are usually the three kind of standard hormone tests now. If you go by the conventional levels, the conventional numbers, for what's normal and not normal.

You could be a little low on thyroid, making it hard to lose weight, but your doctor will tell you your thyroid's fine. So, when you get your thyroid tested, the TSH should be between 1 and 2. If it's greater than 2, you could have subclinical thyroid issues. It could be hard to lose weight and that's probably the most common test that you're going to get is that TSH. So, you want to at least be between 1 and 2 on that one. So, check your thyroid. The other issue is this relationship between estrogen and progesterone in women, especially in women in their 30's, 40's, 50's, peri-menopause to post-menopause. You see, estrogen and progesterone kind of balance each other. Estrogen builds things up, but gets you ready for pregnancy. Progesterone calms everything down.

Estrogen is at the front of the cycle where it builds up the endometrium, it builds up breast tissue, it builds up fat because you might have a baby. So, you have to have all these reserves. So, estrogen's this building hormone. Well, progesterone, if you don't get pregnant, is the one that comes along and says, "Okay. Let's calm everything down, but as women get older, there is this imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. We call it "estrogen dominance". Even though both hormones are dropping, the progesterone drops off at a far greater rate, it creates this imbalance called "estrogen dominance" and that can also make it really hard to lose some weight.

So, maybe it is a calorie deficit issue. Maybe the women aren't hitting the weights as much, but, personally, I like to look at the hormones first.

Check your thyroid. Check your estrogen. Check your progesterone. By the way, Life Extension physicians, you can give them a call. They can go over those more optimal numbers with you and help you succeed in losing some weight.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.