There are many things that make men and women different physiologically, and 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 in this situation. It’s just that our bodies were designed differently, and for good reason. Keep reading to learn more.
Fat Distribution and Metabolism in Women
Women are genetically engineered to carry more fat on their bodies than men. The body fat percentage of a healthy, active woman is 18-20%, whereas this figure is 10-15% for men. This is because, physiologically, women’s bodies naturally like to prepare to nourish a growing baby, and our fat reserves help us do that. Women begin to develop these precious fat reserves during puberty.
Women don’t just carry more fat than men—fat is also distributed differently throughout the body. While fat distribution is different for everyone and has roots in where your ancestors lived, women tend to store their fat in their hips, buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen. The fat needed for pregnancy and nursing is stored in a woman’s thighs. In fact, gluteofemoral fat—that which develops on the butt and legs—is actually a sign of strong metabolic health, regardless of how it makes you look in your jeans. Women also store more subcutaneous fat—fat that’s under the skin and provides a layer of insulation over the muscles, and that also gives women’s bodies their softer curves—than visceral fat. Visceral fat is more of a health risk, as it builds up around internal organs instead of between the skin and muscle.
It’s true—women actually burn fat more efficiently than men. Women’s bodies make more triglycerides than men, but this doesn’t have much effect on serum levels. That means that fat is being used more efficiently by a woman’s body than it is by a man’s. The hormones that make a woman a woman play a part in fat metabolism, too, creating more omega-3 fatty acids faster than men.
All of this means that women carry more fat, but they tend to carry it in a healthier, more easily managed way than men. We bet you didn’t know that!
Fat Distribution and Metabolism in Men
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 through 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, along with less-efficient fat burning than women, means that men are actually more prone to fat-related illnesses and conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.
Celebrating Our Differences
It’s safe to say that the hormones our bodies come with have a great deal to do with these differences. Looking even deeper than this, our differences come from the genes imprinted on our DNA, genes that have been 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 18-20% body fat. You are naturally made to carry more fat, and to carry it in a healthy, happy 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 itself 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.