Gender-based diets key to weight loss

To lose weight and eat right, women need a new approach, tailored to them. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Women and men have different bodies.

It sounds like common knowledge, right?

Well, science surrounding nutrition and weight loss hasn’t always explored those differences. And what works for a man looking to lose a few might not translate for women.

“Virtually all of the research that has been done for nutrition and medical treatment was conducted on men,” says Staness Jonekos, author of “Eat Like a Woman” and “Menopause Makeover.”

Working with Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, a sex and gender expert at the Laura W. Bush Institute of Women’s Health, Jonekos used gender-based data to identify weight-loss problems women encounter and how they can rework their nutrition for their physical and emotional well-being.

The two worked in part with data from D.C.’s Society for Women’s Health Research, which makes sure women are included in research.

“We’re not small men; sex matters.”

Because women make less serotonin than men, they’re two to three times more likely to suffer from depression. On top of that, tryptophan, which synthesizes serotonin, is absorbed better by men than women. Adding to the emotional differences, the emotional seat of the brain — the limbic system — is deeper in women.

Armed with knowledge like this, women can better support their neurotransmitter health, says Jonekos.

Women naturally have more cortisol than men, which helps keep a grip on belly fat, a common qualm of women trying to shed inches. Jonekos says women become frustrated as they see their male counterparts losing weight faster than they are despite working just as hard.

But Jonekos stresses that it’s important not to compare the weight-loss journeys of men and women. Embracing reality is key.

“Women should have a shape like a woman. Some people are naturally a size two, but the average woman in America is a size 10 or a size 12,” says Jonekos.

“We make more fat than men. We’re born with more fat. Our fat cells are five times larger than a man’s. We store fat differently. We digest fat differently.”

Women even digest carbs and fats before their metabolism gets to proteins. Plus, because of their deeper limbic systems, women are more often emotional eaters. And the foods they reach for tend to be “mood zappers.”

Exercise and daily activity are critical, particularly for women, says Jonekos. From standing up at a desk to daily walks with the dog, it all makes a difference. A standing desk can burn 500 calories a day, which translates to a losing a pound a week.

In a pinch, women reach for sweets. Not only does it offer a sugar boost, it offers a serotonin boost.

“It’s just not a very lasting boost,” Jonekos says. Instead, she recommends:

  • Tryptophan: Foods rich in this support serotonin. Examples include eggs and poultry.
  • Low to medium glycemic carbs: A piece of whole wheat toast can balance blood sugar.
  • Dark chocolate: 70 percent cocoa has lots of health benefits. Women can eat up to four bars (yes, four) a week.
  • Red wine: This alcoholic drink has benefits, especially for women, as it supports breast health. But women shouldn’t drink more than seven glasses of alcohol a week, as it depletes Vitamin B and can contribute to moodiness.

For more information about the book “Eat Like a Woman” and to see recipe ideas, visit

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