Are You Stuck On the "Man Diet?"

Posted in: Diet & Nutrition
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Susan Ohtake, Certified Personal Trainer

Susan Ohtake, CPT

Here's why the diets made for men simply don't work for women (and how you end up stuck on them without knowing it)...

From the time we are little, we are taught that there is one universal rule to losing weight: eat less and exercise more.

We hear it all the time. “Calories in. Calories out.”

We hear it more as we get older.

You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it.

“Ready to finally take off that middle-age belly flab? You have to cut out the calories, keep carbs low, and exercise more.” – That’s what you’re told, over and over, right?

But – chances are – you’ve tried to follow this basic rule countless times. You pick up a plan and follow every piece of advice only to end up frustrated at a lack of results.

We often find out it’s NOT that simple.

And the reason it isn’t that simple is because of the hormone responses our bodies have to dieting.

Let me explain the difference between men and women by talking about what I call the “Man Diet:”

What is a “Man Diet” Anyway?

I’m using the phrase “Man Diet” because the vast majority of eating strategies, dieting advice, books, and programs you see out there are made with just ONE factor in mind:

Body composition (size and makeup) and its relationship to calorie needs.

When you look at most diets you’ll notice an alarming trend:

The diet is based on composition body and composition alone.

Determining how many calories you need, what macronutrients (and what volumes) you need, and more are all based on:

(A) How Big Are You?

(B) How Much Fat vs. Muscle Do You Have?

It’s not as simple as calories in, calories out – or just removing select macronutrients (like lowering carb intake) based on body composition.

And that’s because:

Men and Women May Be 95.5% Genetically Identical, but that Extra 4.5% You Have Makes Your Nutrient Needs Dramatically Different.

It all comes down to the 3 factors that determine if a diet is going to be successful.

Now – by “successful,” I’m talking about 2 things here:

Number 1 – Will the eating strategy/diet help you lose fat and support your body composition goals?

Number 2 – Will the diet improve overall health and longevity?

When I think “successful diet,” these are the two questions that come into play.

Will the diet work?

Will it improve overall health?

One of the only studies of it’s kind, published by the University 0f New South Wales determined that there are 3 steps to choosing the right diet.

Their research focused in on question number 2 – will the diet improve overall health and longevity? (AKA – will it make you live longer).

Factor 1: Your Individual Needs - This is all most people think about when they start a diet. “What are my goals?” and “What works for me?” This is body-composition-focused. And it’s the point where most diets end – the it’s the only factor nearly ever diet takes into account.

Factor 2: Your Sex – Are you a man or a woman? In the UNSW study, there was a dramatic difference in macronutrient needs between men and women – specifically when you add longevity (AKA – lifespan) to the equation. We’ll talk more about this.

Factor 3: Your Hormones – Something you already know, but no one really addresses with any diet or really any workout or exercise program is this: Your hormones determine what you can eat, how much you can eat, and how what you eat impacts your energy levels, overall health, and weight.

Let’s take a closer look at a “man diet” to see how it ignored these principles and the research discoveries made at NSWU.

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“Man Diet” EXAMPLE: Ketogenic Diet

I’m going to use the “Ketogenic Diet” as an example:

“Eating keto.”

It’s a “Man Diet.”

And it’s when you (this is the basic version) reduce carb intake in order to force your body to burn fat.

Why do I call it a “Man Diet.”

It was made by a man, it is sold by men, and 90% of the clinical tests of the keto diet are performed on men.

That means every time you see a study, an article, a blog post, or a video saying:

“Keto is xx% more effective than [INSERT WHATEVER DIET TREND HERE] at melting fat…”

You’re looking at results – most likely – based on MEN.

Now—

Remember I talked about 3 factors that impact diet success according to UNSW: Body composition/goals, man vs. woman, and reproductive stage of life (hormones)?

Here’s where that comes into play:

Are You Accidentally Sabotaging Your Hormones?

Let’s say you go on a ketogenic diet and you decide to restrict carbohydrates.

AWESOME.

You’re going to force your body to burn fat as fuel because you’re not giving your metabolism it’s “preferred source” of fuel (carbs/glycogen).

But what’s going to happen to hormone levels?

Specifically, cortisol.

Cortisol is a universal control hormone that tells your body when it’s experiencing stress – most of the cells in your body have cortisol receptors.

Cutting out carbs raises cortisol levels.

And cortisol levels have a HUGE impact on other hormone levels within your body, inflammation, blood pressure, fat retention, metabolic rate, and more.

As you cut carbs, cortisol levels rise.

Elevated Levels of This Hormone Are Diet to Thyroid Dysfunction, Increased Fat Retention, Premature Menopause and More…

Cortisol is by no means a “youth hormone.”

It doesn’t control how young you look or feel.

But it does play a significant role in the decline of the hormones that make you feel young, look young, and burn fat like you’re young.

Low carb diets elevate cortisol levels.

And when cortisol is elevated, the rest of your hormones go absolutely crazy.

Women and men respond to these hormonal spikes and dips differently. As estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormone levels rise or fall, the delicate balance of chemical reactions telling your body and your metabolism what to do come gets thrown out of balance.

That balance of hormones is what tells your body to age faster or slower, to gain weight faster or slower, to take the foods you eat and burn them now (fast metabolism) or burn them later (slow metabolism).

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What Should You Do Next?

Does this mean you should avoid “low carb” all together?

I don’t think so.

Low-carb diets can be effective for women. I’ve personally used low-carb diets with success.

But the key is making sure you are looking out for the unique needs of YOUR body, not the needs of a MAN’S BODY.

Your body is a big walking chemical reaction.

The chemicals in your body – hormones – tell everything from your mind to your metabolism how to react to what you give it.

The chemical reaction going on in a man’s body is similar to the chemical reaction in a woman’s body. But it is NOT the same.

My advice?

Don’t blindly follow a diet or ANY program without taking into account your unique hormonal needs.

Listen to your body, listen to what your body is telling you – don’t just blindly follow diets and workout programs. Everyone is different, everyone will respond differently and WOMEN will definitely respond differently to diet and exercise stimuli when compared to men.

It comes down to hormonal differences and how your hormones change as you get older.

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