Published March 18, 2014
You've been sweating away on the elliptical for months and obsessing over your diet (kale again?), and the scale is at a standstill. Meanwhile, your husband announces his desire to get in shape. He swears off beer and voilà —two weeks later, his spare tire is gone. What gives?
Unfortunately for us, "weight loss is stacked in favor of men on account of differences in hormones, metabolism and muscle mass," explains Dr. Sean Bourke, co-founder of JumpstartMD, a group of medical weight-loss clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Thanks to a biological edge (think more testosterone—which helps build muscle, which in turn helps burn more calories), men will lose 1 to 2 more pounds a week than women who are the same age and starting weight if they're following the same routine, said Bourke.
Still, that doesn't mean you have to stand back and let him be the biggest loser. Learn the science behind men's seem- ingly random strategies, and you can optimize them for your own body.
Man move No. 1: Cut one treat
While it sounds like a halfhearted attempt at dieting ("I'll pass up late-night Domino's!"), this simple move can be a good way to potentially drop 20 or more pounds in a year. "When a diet is padded with calories from one thing, eliminating it can lead to immediate weight loss," says Patricia Bannan, RD, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight.
Make it yours
The beauty of this guy tactic? It's so doable. Instead of dumping an entire food category (like carbs or sugar), just remove a single indulgent item (burritos, soda, ice cream). To target the true waist-expander, Bannan recommends keeping a record of what you eat for a few days. "See what foods or beverages are adding up that could easily be omitted," she advises. Maybe you're sucking down a vanilla latte at every coffee break; trading it for herbal tea or an unsweetened cappuccino with skim milk will wipe out calories without making you feel deprived.
Man move No. 2: Work out fast and furious
How often, as you're plodding along on the treadmill, do you see a guy enter the gym, blast through a gonzo circuit and leave while you're still at it? And how often do you return from an endless power walk to hear your man grunting to the latest extreme dude workout—CrossFit, Insanity, P90X? The male sex is wise to a fitness tactic that science recently confirmed: Short bursts of vigorous exercise—known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—dramatically boost the body's calorie-torching abilities. "HIIT workouts change you on a genetic level," says Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of Body for Life for Women. "You're challenging your muscles and your metabolism and pushing the volume of oxygen in the lungs, driving up calorie burn."
Make it yours
Many go-to guy workouts incorporate principles of HIIT, but if those seem too aggressive, don't worry. "Kickboxing, hip-hop, even spin count—there are all kinds of high-intensity classes now," said Peeke. And they may not take much of a time commitment. A 2012 study at Colorado State University found that people who worked out on a stationary bike for less than 25 minutes, with just a few sprints mixed in, torched an additional 200 calories a day, due to an afterburn effect. If you haven't worked out in ages, though, ease into high-intensity workouts.
Man move No. 3: Eat like a caveman
The me-Tarzan-you-Jane appeal of the trendy Paleo diet for men is obvious: Modeled on what our Stone Age ancestors ate, the menu is heavy on meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Practitioners assert that modern-day foods—loaded with sugar, grains and vegetable oils—are making us fat and must be nixed. It's a message many guys, including pro athlete Kobe Bryant, have taken to heart. "The biggest change you make with Paleo and similar diets is getting rid of processed foods and sugars," says Diane Sanfilippo, a nutrition consultant and author of Practical Paleo. That can't be a bad idea in any era.
Make it yours
The caveman diet is very restrictive, and few dietitians recommend doing it whole hog (so to speak). Instead, adopt one of the following Paleo changes to reap rewards: One, stick to "good" fats, like olive oil, coconut oil and avocados. Two, eat the right carbohydrates. "You need carbs for energy, so pick just the good ones— sweet potatoes, winter squash, fruit," Sanfilippo said. Three, have protein at every meal. "It's great for weight loss," she says. "It really helps with satiety."
Man move No. 4: Pump it up
Even if your guy would never join the Strongman competition he watches on ESPN, he probably still equates muscles with manliness—and lifting with shaping up. Though we girls are no strangers to the weight room, we're far more likely to choose cardio over lifting—a real mistake. There's a mountain of scientific literature showing that nothing is more effective at keeping body fat down than strength training. "Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat," points out Barbara Bushman, professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University. Translation: More muscle will help you burn more calories (even when you're lounging around post-gym). "And you don't have to fear bulking up—it's testosterone that builds girth," she adds. Since women don't have a ton of the hormone coursing through our system, we're naturally not at risk of turning into she-hulks.
Make it yours
Adding another component to your workouts isn't as daunting as it may sound. Bushman says that even one day of lifting a week is beneficial. "If you can't make it to the gym," she adds, "do exercises that use your body weight for resistance—push-ups, planks—while you're watching TV." It will help. And if you're already turned-on to the fat-blasting power of weights, try this: Instead of breezing through 15 curls with the same 5-pound dumbbell you've been using forever, choose a slightly heavier one that will challenge you over 8 to 12 reps. "You have to put a stress on the muscle in order to see benefits," Bushman said.
Man move No. 5: Get competitive
It's clichéd but true that men are raised in a gladiatorial culture—everything they do is framed as a battle to be won. Sure, it's annoying during charades or at your kid's soccer game, but when it comes to fitness, that often works in guys' favor, prompting them to sign up for intramural sports leagues or weight-loss challenges at work. And this showdown mentality can translate to more calories burned, according to University of Rhode Island professor Bryan Blissmer, who studies exercise psychology: "Athletes who are competitively oriented push 5 to 10 percent harder during a challenge versus when they're working out alone."
Make it yours
No need to start signing up for races all over town (unless you want to, of course)—you can earn the dividends of competition merely by working out with a friend. Researchers from Michigan State University found that women who exercised on a stationary bike with a virtual pal (shown on a TV screen) went 11 minutes longer than those who pedaled alone. You can even compete against yourself. Set what is known as performance goals—specific, actionable aims such as doing five more crunches each day, adding distance to your run each week or eating three servings of vegetables with every meal.
Man move No. 6: Chugging your calories
You probably know at least one guy who covers his kitchen counter with giant tubs of protein powder in hopes of building muscle and scoring that lean-yet-cut David Beckham look. But the truth is, unless you're an NFL linebacker or a professional bodybuilder, you don't need a megadose of protein, according to nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, who says most Americans get two to three times the required amount of protein—0.8 grams per 2.2 pounds of body weight—through their regular diet. (A cup of yogurt contains about 8 to 12 grams of protein; a can of tuna, 40 grams.) If you have too much of this nutrient, your body turns the excess into acids that stress your kidney and liver, or into fat. On the flip side is the calorie deprivation that comes with short, multiday juice cleanses, which more and more men are embracing to shed pounds fast.
Make it yours? Not exactly
While overdoing the protein shakes is not a great idea, having one liquid meal a day holds water, research suggests—but stick to drinks made with fresh ingredients, like fruit, dairy and peanut butter, Somer said. And tell your dude to copy you on this one.