Many things make men and women different physiologically, so the fact that we carry and metabolize fat differently is no surprise. Although these differences can be frustrating and puzzling for some, no gender has the upper hand. It’s just that our bodies are designed differently, and for a good reason. In this guide, we’ll take a look at how men and women store fat, and why we have fat to begin with.
Why We Have Fat
The human body is made up of water, minerals, protein and fat. Fat is considered either essential or stored. We have essential fat throughout our bodies, including in vital organs, such as the heart and lungs. Essential fat is needed to fuel bodily functioning.
Stored fat can be found around internal organs, called visceral fat, and under the skin. Fat located under the skin is known as subcutaneous fat. Too much stored fat, particularly visceral fat, can increase your risk of health conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, a healthy amount of stored fat plays a vital role in protecting your organs from impact and helping you conserve body heat.
How Women Store Fat
Women are naturally designed to hold more body fat than men. According to the American Council on Exercise, an active woman will have 21% to 24% body fat, whereas a man will have 14% to 17%. Both men and women need to maintain a certain percentage of essential fat to function normally. Women should not have less than 10% body fat, for example, while men only need 2% body fat. This is because women’s bodies must be able to care for a growing baby, and the fat reserves help a mother do that. During puberty, estrogen production enables women to develop these necessary fat reserves.
Women also store fat differently than men. While fat distribution varies between people and depends mostly on genetic factors, women tend to be pear-shaped, while men are more likely to be apple-shaped. This means women usually store fat in their buttocks, hips, lower abdomen and thighs. The fat needed for pregnancy and nursing is stored in a woman’s thighs. Gluteofemoral fat, which develops on the legs and butt, is actually a sign of good metabolic health, no matter how it makes you look in a pair of jeans.
Women also carry a greater amount of subcutaneous fat than visceral fat, giving them their soft curves. Visceral fat is more of a health risk.
Where Do Women Lose Fat First?
Where a woman loses fat first depends mainly on hereditary factors. With that said, women might first notice weight loss where they last gained weight. For example, if a woman recently gained weight in her belly, her abdomen might appear flatter after losing a few pounds.
In general, weight in the belly, calves, arms and face are first to slim down in women because they impact childbearing the least. Most women hang onto weight in their hips, buttocks and thighs longer than other parts of the body.
The way you slim down also depends on your body shape. For example, if you have a pear-shaped body, you’ll keep the same form as you lose weight and become smaller. Losing weight doesn’t eliminate fat cells — it shrinks them. These cells can expand again if you regain the weight you lost.
Why Is It Harder for Women to Lose Weight?
Women might wonder why their male partners lose weight much faster than them, even if they follow the same diet and exercise plan. While this seems unfair, science proves it’s only natural. In a recent study, men lost 26 pounds on average while women lost 22 pounds, even though both groups followed a low-calorie diet for eight weeks. The men in the study also saw a greater reduction in body fat than the female participants.
Why do women lose weight at a slower pace than men? Scientists say it has to do with muscle mass. Men tend to have greater muscle mass than women, thanks to testosterone, and muscles burn more calories than fat at rest. Muscles also have insulin receptors, which allow men to metabolize blood sugar faster and use glucose for energy. Typically, men burn 500 to 1,000 more calories a day than women, which means they can lose about one to two pounds of more weight than women a week, even if they eat the same amount of calories.
Despite all of this, women should not despair. Even though men might lose weight faster at first, the rate of weight loss evens out over the long run.
How Men Store Fat
Men, take notice. Men’s bodies are more apt to store excess fat in the upper body, especially in the abdominal region. This is what creates that glorious beer belly effect so many men struggle with. Men also tend to lose fat more efficiently, not through exercise, but diet. Fewer calories in means fewer stored in fat reserves.
While women are more likely to develop subcutaneous fat, men are more prone to storing visceral fat — the stuff that coats your internal organs. This tendency to store visceral fat means that men are actually more prone to fat-related illnesses and conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.
Where Do Men Lose Fat First?
Like women, the way men lose weight depends a lot on genetics and where they recently gained weight. Since men typically store fat in their bellies, this is usually the first area to slim down.
Can You Change Where Your Body Stores Fat?
Although it would be convenient, you can’t choose where your body stores fat. Too many factors, such as bone structure, body type, age, hormones and sex, determine where you’ll store fat in your body. However, you can control how much visceral fat your body stores by changing certain lifestyle factors, and you can also build muscle in different parts of your body to become more toned. Overeating junk food, skipping exercise and regularly experiencing high levels of stress can lead to excess visceral fat. On the contrary, you can practice healthy habits that keep fat from building up around organs. This includes exercising for at least 30 minutes every day, avoiding sugary foods and saturated fats, and finding ways to keep stress levels under control.
How Does Fat Leave the Body?
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you may be wondering where fat goes when you lose weight. First, it helps to keep in mind that fat is stored energy. When you consume fewer calories than your body needs, your body converts fat into usable energy to fuel your muscles. As a result of this activity, fat cells shrink. The complex metabolic processes your body goes through as you lose weight also generate heat to maintain your body temperature and create waste products such as urine, sweat and carbon dioxide. So, in a way, you exhale fat as you slim down.
How Long Does It Take for People to Notice Weight Loss?
It would be great to start a diet and notice a major difference the next day, but that’s not usually how it works. Weight loss becomes noticeable at different times for different people and depends on your starting size and the type of diet you choose. For example, if you’re a hundred pounds overweight, you might not notice a difference when you lose 10 pounds. If you’re 20 pounds overweight, you’ll likely see a 10-pound drop.
Also, some diets, like the Atkins diet, lead to fast weight loss in the beginning. However, this is mostly due to water loss as a result of carbohydrate restriction rather than shedding fat.
Most people following a regular diet and exercise plan will start to notice differences in how they look and feel by the second week. If you stay on track, you might have a smaller clothing size by the fourth week.
How Men and Women Can Celebrate Their Differences
It’s safe to say that the hormones our bodies come with impact the way we store and burn fat. When we look even deeper, we find our differences imprinted on our DNA and passed down from ancestors over thousands of years.
So, what does all this mean in the long run? Well, for the women reading, it may mean coming to peace with having around 20% body fat. You are naturally made to carry more fat and to carry it in a healthy way — even when the kids are grown and gone. If you really want to lose it, forget the diets and denial programs. Eat a wholesome, healthy diet and go for the gym instead.
And for men in the audience, you might be thanking your lucky stars that you were born without a body that’s constantly preparing for the miracle of childbirth. But the tendency to store more visceral fat means that men should be especially careful to eat a wholesome, balanced diet and have regular doctor visits to make sure blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are at healthy levels.
Instead of comparing ourselves, we can celebrate our differences and take mindful steps to stay healthy and active.
Contact Erchonia for More Information
If you’re a man or woman who wants greater control of how your body looks and feels, you might consider non-invasive body contouring. At Erchonia, we offer innovative laser technology, such as the Verjú™ Laser System and Zerona®-Z6 Laser specially designed to target fat and shape the body without surgery. Ask your physician about the slimming effects of laser treatments or contact us at Erchonia, where we will be happy to answer your questions.