How Men and Women Gain Weight Differently

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Men and women are different. No surprise there. Our skeletons are different, our bodies are definitely different, our brains are different, and our behaviors tend to be different. Does the difference carry over to weight gain and our ability to lose weight? The answer seems to be “yes.”

Women store body fat differently.

It shouldn’t be news that women store body fat differently than men. For starters, women tend to store fat around the hips and thighs. On the other hand, men often have more belly fat. Women also have a higher percentage of body fat. For the same BMI (body mass index), a woman will have more fat than a man. A healthy body fat range for women is 20-25%, while for men it’s 10-15%. So even at healthy body fat levels, men and women are different. Experts don’t fully understand why this difference exists, but hormones likely play a role. 

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Women may mobilize fat differently.

Mobilizing fat is the process of getting fat out of fat cells to burn it as energy. Studies show that fat cells in the belly area are more responsive and release fat easier than fat cells in the hip and thigh area. Men typically have more belly fat and women tend to have more hip and thigh fat. So men’s bodies may generally mobilize fat better than women. 

Women metabolize fat differently. 

Metabolism of fat is the process of using fat for energy. Research suggests that women’s bodies use less fat for energy when they are at rest than men’s bodies.  This may be one of the reasons women store more fat compared to men. However, research also shows that women tend to use more fat for energy during low to moderate intensity exercise compared to men. So if you’re a woman trying to lose weight, mixing in some low to moderate intensity workouts along with your high intensity aerobic activities may help you burn fat.

Women have a lower muscle mass than men.

It’s well known that men tend to have more muscle mass than women. And muscle tissue uses more energy than fat tissue. Having more muscle mass means men tend to burn more energy than women. It also means men can generally eat more calories than women. As a woman, you can increase your metabolism by building muscle through resistance training.

Men and women tend to eat differently.

There are differences in the types of food women and men prefer. Women are more likely to report eating dairy foods and foods high in added sugars, while men tend to eat more meat-based foods. What’s more, research suggests that women are more likely than men to cope with stress by turning to food. This emotional eating may be the result of depression, low self-esteem, and cultural or social factors may influence your food choices and eating habits. If emotional eating is a problem for you, talk with your doctor about healthier strategies for channeling stress.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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