First, here’s why metabolism matters when it comes to your weight, regardless of gender: “It’s often the biggest obstacle to weight loss — and gain, for that matter,” says George Liakeas, M.D., founder of Lexington Medical in NYC. “And, because your body burns more calories fulfilling its normal daily needs [as in, just living] throughout the day than it does running on the treadmill during your workout, having a healthy, active metabolism to help calorie-burning along 24/7 becomes very important.”
Do the math: you have to burn about 3,500 to 4,000 calories to lose ONE pound (and the same is true for the reverse — that’s how much you have to not burn to gain a pound). Obviously, it is extremely difficult (i.e. time consuming and physically taxing) to work out to the point where you burn that number of calories — and that's why just working out is often not enough to lose weight. You need to focus on a healthy diet and boost your metabolism to its max, too.
However, building strength while you are at the gym is the gift that keeps on giving, making your off hours more productive, in terms of calorie-burning, according to Dr. Liakeas. “Muscle requires more energy to sustain itself than our fat storage units do, so if you gain muscle, especially in the larger muscle groups, you’ll burn more calories daily, just breathing, than you would at the gym.”
But the gym time and the healthy eating obviously don't have the same effects on all of us. Research (and just normal observation of the dudes in your life) shows that men can lose weight faster than women, all while, well, eating like a guy. Here are a few points of difference that weigh in on the battle of the sexes — when it comes to metabolism and weight loss, anyway:
“Men are statistically heavier, have a slightly higher bone density, and are often taller than the average woman,” says Liakeas. The result: they naturally need slightly larger muscles even in the absence of exercise, to carry their bodies, which could explain their (on average) improved metabolism and ability to eat more without gaining weight as quickly as the opposite sex.
“The thyroid is the boss of the metabolic process in the body,” says Frank Lipman, M.D., founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC. Testosterone, the mostly I-am-man-hear-me-roar hormone, also plays a role in the increased amount of lean muscle mass in men. “Women produce both estrogen and testosterone, but have more estrogen — the main female sex hormone responsible for menstruation and reproduction — than testosterone, roaming through the body, while men have the reverse,” says Liakeas.
Here’s why hormones impact weight: “When energy is needed by the body, hormones trigger the release of fat and glucose from the cells, and hormones aid in their transportation and absorption,” says Lipman. But this process can also go haywire: “When there is an excess of these in the blood, then hormones like insulin and estrogen are released to convert them and ready them for storage,” according to Lipman. “High levels of glucose are handled by insulin and often deposited in the belly area, while estrogen is usually related to the storage of fat in the hips and thighs.” Which gets us to the next point.
Photo: Via H&M
Let’s face it. Women usually have them. And men typically don’t. “Women tend to gain weight more peripherally (hips, thighs, etc), as well as in their breasts and glutes, which tends to be the deeper more subcutaneous fat, while men tend to gain weight centrally,” says Liakeas. Translation: They’re more prone to having a beer belly. (The major exception is after menopause, when women can have an increase in tummy fat due to the lower production or lack of production of estrogen.)
And no, you aren’t hallucinating—it’s actually harder to lose fat from the hips and thighs than it is in the waist. “For women, fat there is used as a storehouse for energy — therefore accumulation often begins around adolescence, and accelerates during pregnancy,” says Lipman. “For men, on the other hand, fat in the stomach area is most readily stored when there is an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, and is also most quickly called upon when the body needs energy.”
So, what’s a girl (or guy) supposed to do? Instead of avoiding the spin bike because you think it will make your butt too big, fearlessly jump on: “Don’t be afraid of getting strong legs and glutes from your aerobic exercises, as that is more likely to build lean muscle — as long as you are not doing excessive, heavy-weight lifting in these areas,” says Liakeas.
Besides the places where we store fat, another point of difference is how men and women burn fat. “Although the female body is a highly effective fat burner, it also appears to be more effective at storing fat, probably due to estrogen,” says Liakeas. “Estrogen seems to have a slightly different (perhaps negative) effect on fat breakdown, and this may have an evolutionary role as women are the baby carriers and feeders, while the males [historically] play the hunter roles.”
Mom And Dad
Sometimes, the way your metabolism works is just like your hair color — it's what you’re born with. “There is an uncertain genetic link, but some people tend to just have a slower metabolism than others,” says Liakeas. See your doctor if you think you have a legit metabolism issue. Otherwise, here's what you can do: Eat clean and super colorful—opt for fruits and veggies and fresh foods over processed kinds — workout consistently, and be the healthiest version of you that you possibly can.
Photo: Via H&M