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What’s the best diet for men vs women?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Your Daily Health
Men prefer high-protein diets like the paleo diet, while women prefer those with more fruit and vegetables.

Jay Rishel, 34, still dreams of tater tots. But that’s about all the computer systems administrator in York, Pennsylvania, misses about his old, carb-heavy lifestyle. 

Since going on a ketogenic diet last July—trading his potatoes for bacon—he’s lost more than 30 pounds and rarely feels hungry. “It kind of changes your whole relationship with food,” he says.

His wife has a different story. A few months after adopting a less restrictive version of her husband’s diet, she experienced stomach pain so severe she wound up in the emergency room. Doctors suspected gallstones, which can be triggered by dieting.

Needless to say, “it seemed that my high-fat diet wasn’t working well for her,” Rishel says. The pair now eats leaner meats that Rishel tops with cream or another high-fat sauce​, and his wife’s stomach pain has lessened. His words of wisdom for other couples considering the same diet plan? “The advice might be don’t,” Rishel says.​

While experts say the central components of a healthy diet—high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy—are gender-neutral, there are both biological​ and behavioural differences between men and women that may make some types of diets more effective, or at least more appealing, to each sex.

As for the Rishels, their experience demonstrates just how​ much diets can affect people differently, regardless of gender,​ says​ Elisabetta Politi​,​ the nutrition director of Duke University’s Diet & Fitness Center and one of US News’ expert panelists for the Best Diets rankings.

“I don’t sit down with a client so much thinking of the gender,” Politi says, “but from the conversation I have with them, (we come) up with what is a sustainable plan.”

Here’s a fact of life that many women resent: Men lose more weight and faster. They’re bigger and have more muscle mass in general, which means that they burn more calories–whether at rest or at play. “They wake up every morning with a bonus that women don’t have,” Politi says.

Melissa Musiker​, a registered dietitian in the District of Columbia who works in public relations​, knows that firsthand. When her husband decided to try Weight Watchers with her in 2013, “weight would just melt off of him in the most obnoxious way,” she says. “For me, it was a struggle.”

Men’s brains might also give them a leg up when it comes to resisting temptation.

In a 2009 study​ in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers measured the brain activity of 23 hungry men and women while tempting them with their favourite foods. (Among their choices: a cheeseburger, ribs, chocolate cake and a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.) While both men and women reported to be less hungry when told to resist the treats, only men’s brains actually mirrored that.

The results support what Musiker has seen with her husband​: Women have a tougher time controlling cravings. “He’d say, ‘I just don’t eat that anymore,’ whereas I’d be sitting there measuring out how much cheesecake I could eat for three points,” she says.

But there’s a silver lining for the ladies, Politi says. Just because a man sheds pounds faster, doesn’t mean he’ll sustain the weight loss longer. “How fast you lose weight is not a predictor of how well you’re going to keep it off,” she says. “Some lose very well and regain it.”

Choosing a Diet ​

In US News’ Best Diets rankings, the results apply to both men and women: The Dash Diet and TLC Diet ranked in first and second place, respectively, while the Mayo Clinic Diet, Mediterranean diet and Weight Watchers tied for third.

“I would group men and women together when discussing a ‘best fit’ diet, simply because–aside from differences in energy and nutrient needs based on body size and muscle mass–the fundamental needs are very similar,” says Lawrence Cheskin​, director of Johns Hopkins’ Weight Management Center and a US News Best Diets panelist.

Still, components of some diets might appeal more to one gender than the other–an important consideration since it’s really the diet that you’ll stick with that will work the best, says Musiker, chair of the District of Columbia Board of Dietetics and Nutrition. “Any diet can make you lose weight because you eat less,” she says. “What’s really critical is that maintenance phase and figuring out what’s going to empower you to maintain it–not just help you lose it.” (


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