Why is it that men quit drinking soda for a week and—PRESTO!—it looks like they’ve dropped 10 pounds. Not fair, right? But do they really have an advantage in the weight loss department, or is it just an optical illusion?
Turns out, it’s a little of both. We dug through the research and questioned the experts to bring you the 5 fascinating (and only slightly depressing) reasons why guys really do trim down faster—plus the awesome way you can hack your own metabolism to even the score. (Get a flat belly in just 10 minutes a day with our reader-tested exercise plan!)
1. Men have more lean fat-burning muscle.
There’s truth behind the Popeye and Olive Oyl body types. Men have more muscle, especially in the upper body, and since muscle burns more calories than fat, men have a faster metabolism—5 to 10% faster to be exact. You can blame (or thank!) testosterone for the double standard.
“Testosterone is a powerful hormone, and men have approximately 10 times more of it than women do,” says Chris Jordan, MS, CSCS, director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute and creator of the 7-Minute Workout. “Testosterone increases protein synthesis and lean body mass, which will then increase your resting metabolic rate. Meaning, guys will be burning more calories all day.”
2. Evolution tells women to “hold onto those curves!”
Estrogen has its perks (it preps the body for childbirth and boosts libido), but it’s not doing women favors on the weight loss front. Not only do women have a higher percentage of body fat than men—usually 6 to 11% more—but researchers at the University of New South Wales found that estrogen reduces women’s ability to burn energy after eating. Meaning, we’re better at holding onto that fat, too.
3. Women are literally hard-wired to crave cupcakes.
Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional eating, women win. Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory found that when primed with the sight and smell of pizza and cake, men were much better at turning off their cravings while women fixated on their favorite foods, even after being told to think of something else. Other research suggests that women are more likely to eat in response to stress, while men are more likely to turn to alcohol.
4. Men are overachievers…at first.
Thanks to their speedier metabolism, men’s bodies respond faster to diets. In aBritish Journal of Nutrition study, when men and women were put on popular weight loss programs like Atkins, Slim-Fast, and Weight Watchers, men lost twice as much weight and three times as much body fat after 2 months. But there was also good news: At 6 months, the weight loss had evened out, with men just slightly in the lead. So keep exercising and eating clean—consistency helps even the playing field. “Regardless of gender, however, you still need to burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat,” says Jordan. And for both men and women, that takes work.
5. Even if men don’t lose more weight, it looks like they do.
Fat distribution differs greatly between the sexes. While women often gain fat on the butt and hips, men tend to carry excess weight around the abdomen, where it’s more noticeably lost when they trim down. But don’t envy their shape; that apple physique also happens to be more dangerous, putting men at a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers due to the high concentration of visceral fat surrounding their vital organs; a little extra weight on a pear-shaped woman isn’t nearly as dangerous. (Here are some exercise moves to help you slim your lower body.)
But there’s hope! Here’s how to hack your metabolism to even the score.
Yes, men have a genetic leg up when it comes to building muscle, but they don’t have a stronghold. The best way for women to boost their fat-burning metabolic rate is through resistance training, which builds lean muscle mass, says Jordan—”and because of the gender differences in testosterone, women should not fear becoming too muscular.”
Pumping iron at the gym isn’t your only option. Body-weight exercises like planks, push-ups, and squats also increase muscle mass. Bonus: Not only isexercise a muscle builder, stress buster, and endorphin releaser, it also can power up the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s willpower center, to help counteract emotional eating.
This article originally appeared on prevention.com