Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus – food and gender

I have always been interested in the gender DIFFERENCES in terms of food and WEIGHT. photoPracticing as a DIETITIAN over the years has taught me that you need to change your APPROACH with men and women when discussing weight and food for the messages to become SUCCESSFUL. Here is a little insight into why the approach needs to be different:

It’s a common PERCEPTION that men require LARGER portions and should have PRIORITY to foods such as meat as they were TRADITIONALLY the manual workers. Years ago men did require more CALORIES than women but, as jobs have become more SEDENTARY and, the divide has REDUCED. A person’s caloric requirements are INDIVIDUAL – it depends on height, body size and exercise level. Men NATURALLY require more calories than women as they have a higher MUSCLE mass but, as the majority of the population are now OVERWEIGHT their requirements are REDUCED. Most MEN consume too many calories compared to their activity levels, which means their WEIGHT will increase. Traditionally, WOMEN would fore go MEAT at the family meal so that the men and children would have PROTEIN. I think this IDEA that men should take PRIORITY in terms of food still exists TODAY.

When I discuss HEALTHY portion sizes with couples, some WOMEN say that they couldn’t give their husbands such as ‘small portion’ as it’s ‘not the done thing’! This continuing PERCEPTION that men need larger PORTIONS and more calories is fuelling our obesity epidemic.

In an IDEAL world, a couple sitting down for DINNER would have different portion SIZES but, we are generally seeing this rule being BROKEN and women having a similar PORTION to men. As PLATE sizes increase, it’s becoming more difficult to control our portion sizes.

Men’s perception of a ‘NORMAL’ portion tends to be very DIFFERENT to a woman’s. In general, men, given the option to INCREASE their portion size, will jump at the option of a larger portion where as women are more RELUCTANT.

Food CHOICE is an area in which RESEARCH has revealed consistent behavioural gender differences. Studies conducted in modern western societies report consistent associations between GENDER and SPECIFIC foods. Meat (especially red meat), alcohol, and hearty portion sizes are associated with MASCULINITY, while vegetables, fruit, fish and dairy products (e.g., yogurt, cottage cheese) are associated with FEMININITY. A higher percentage of women reported to AVOID high fat-foods, to eat fibre-rich foods and to eat fruit DAILY compared to men.

I think an important factor to consider is that we know, in general, women ENGAGE far more in HEALTH promoting BEHAVIOURS. Women tend to have healthier LIFESTYLES as a result of their increased KNOWLEDGE and CONCIOUSNESS towards what is ‘healthy’. RESEARCH showed that although men are AWARE of “healthy eating guidelines”, they often show SCEPTICISM and RESISTANCE to nutrition education messages. Some men also perceive healthy eating as MONOTONOUS and UNSATISFYING. Women tend to EMBRACE suggested dietary CHANGES to a greater degree than men.

Another interesting difference between the genders is ATTITUDE towards FOOD. Men usually talk about eating as HABITUAL and ROUTINE, and see eating as re-fuelling where as women see eating as a more of an ENJOYABLE experience. Does that mean that gender affects our ability to put down the CHOCOLATE and pick up an APPLE instead? Women do more EMOTIONAL eating and REWARD eating. If they’re UPSET or STRESSED, they tend to turn to food which can make trying to LOSE weight VERY difficult do to the EMOTIONAL link with food.

A factor to take into account is food-related activities, such as SHOPPING and COOKING are conventionally seen as FEMALE roles. Even in this day and age, women are PRIMERILY responsible for family meals. PLANNING menus, food shopping, and preparing meals is a LOT of work, not to mention the extra TEMPTATION to nibble, taste, and eat more calories. This role may play a part in men knowing less about the HEALTH benefits of specific FOODS.

There is also a clear gender difference in concern about body WEIGHT and body SELF-PERCEPTION. Weight control and body perception are known to INFLUENCE food choice DECISIONS mainly in women.  In many studies of attitudes to body weight or DIETING, women reported more DISSATISFACTION with their weight and make more attempts to CONTROL weight than men

For women, weight loss can be a greater EMOTIONAL challenge. The importance of APPERANCE and MEDIA pressures to look a certain way often COMPLICATE weight loss efforts for women. A study into CRAVINGS found that 28% of women and 13% of men who participated were ‘FOOD CRAVERS’. They found that cravers, especially women, were more frequently concerned about their WEIGHT but energy intake through snacks were higher. Very interestingly, they found that only around 40% of cravers reported being HUNGRY when they experienced cravings – taking us back to the EMOTIONAL links with food. Women cravers INDULGED their cravings as often as men but they reported more NEGATIVE feelings, whereas men reported more POSITIVE feelings.

The way in which men and women LOSE weight is also different – women tend to focus on COUNTING CALORIES where as guys tend to lose by SWEATING off the pounds. The MOTIVATION behind weight loss can also be different between the genders – men want to be TRIM and STRONG where as women want to be TONED and SMALL. Is also seems that men are able to lose weight FASTER than women. The TRUTH behind this is that men are LARGER and have more muscle than women due to the hormone TESTOSTERONE. Men are GENETICALLY designed to have a HIGHER percentage of muscle and less fat — which works in favor of keeping them FIT and allowing them to eat more CALORIES.

Therefore it seems that with our DIETS and food indeed, Men are from Mars and women are from Venus! But, this insight can certainly help when we consider our APPROACH towards food to men and women.