One of the most common questions from our amazing Fitter Food community often looks a little like the below:
“Dear Fitter Food,
As a woman who recently turned paleo I’d like to know why this nutrition appears to be working effortlessly for my husband/boyfriend/brother/male pals (insert appropriate) but not for me? In fact I feel like I’m actually gaining weight whilst he struggles to keep it on!”
Luckily as Fitter Food are man/woman team we have plenty of personal experience in this field. We’ve been helping people adapt the principles of Paleo/Primal nutrition to their own needs for years; including nutrient timing, macronutrient intake, protein rotation and of course portion size, well you’d be worried if our plates look the same!! Here are some helpful tips and observations about how men and women may differ in their fat loss journey.
How a bloke does Paleo…
Right so I’m ditching the toast for bacon and eggs, cool! Should probably drink less beer but a few tequilas is fine, cool! Should cut back on the coffee and drink more green tea, tastes rank but I’ll get it down, cool. Need to move a bit more so I’ll head back to footie training and take up rock climbing, cool. Need to sleep more, f*ck yeah! Totally sold, can I crack on with life now?
How a woman does Paleo…
So I’m not to touch, consume or look at anything remotely modern or processed that didn’t exist in the Paleolithic era? This is serious, I need a list! I need to know EXACTLY what I should eat so that nothing ‘bad’ passes my lips (except a bottle of prosecco at the weekend, that’s non negotiable!) I’ll need something to look forward to each day so I’ll make granola, bars bread or biscuits entirely from nuts and seeds. Fats are good so I’ll exist primarily on bulletproof coffee, nut butter and if I need carbs I’ll eat a banana. Stress management and sleep you say? I’ll be too busy scouring the shelves of Wholefoods, fermenting coconut water and peddling away on a spin bike for that!!!
Don’t be offended we say it because we’ve been there ourselves.
We experimented extensively on ourselves in our early paleo years and with our personal clients. This has enabled us to establish some nutritional and lifestyle needs that distinguish paleo man from paleo woman and now we coach people on how to implement measures to compensate for these differences. It’s not necessarily as simple as “Guys do this….” And “Ladies do that…..” but we have provided some pointers below that offer a good starting point as well as broader foundation for you to reflect upon if your paleo transition isn’t going a smoothly as you would like.
Quick and Simple Starting Tips
Some straight up observations –
- Women benefit from more consistent carbohydrate intake and often higher carb versions of paleo whilst men are often able to experiment with high fat, low carb and carbohydrate cycling.
- Women should favour oily fish, seafood and wild meats as their sources of protein to increase their intake of omega 3 fatty acids and support hormone function. Men often thrive on lots of zinc rich red meat such as lamb and beef.
- Men seem to tolerate higher caffeine consumption than women.
- Men can survive on less sleep than women (although everyone benefits from 8hrs+).
- Women benefit from more regular meals and snacks to support adrenal function and blood sugar balance. Men can experiment more with intermittent fasting and reduced meal frequency.
- Women need to be more careful with regard to the frequency of intense exercise, high repetition resistance training and excessive cardiovascular exercise. A couple of sessions alongside a structured nutrition, strength and recovery programme offer the most benefit.
The Tricky Part
The reality is our body composition is governed by a complex interaction between our environment, genes, hormones, psychological and physiological health, and let’s not forget the all important state of our gut! We’re sorry to say you’re much more than calories in and calories out.
Man and Woman Versus Food
Women generally have a much more emotional relationship with food than men. We all have our little crutches that just help us cope with whatever life throws at us! Chocolate, a cheeky biscuit, vino, soy lattes, naked bars and Percy Pigs always seem to be up there (just a couple…)
This complex relationship with food often results in a skewed notion of our bodies actual needs. Most women will confess to having some degree of disordered eating making it difficult to decipher hunger from needing to alleviate boredom or to be blunt some emotional experience. Regardless the solution for many women is to either over eat or possibly not to eat at all and ultimately use food as a form of control to cope in situations where safety, comfort or distraction is really needed.
One of the amazing outcomes of running our online plans has been observing individuals break this vicious cycle with the help of genuine friendships and bonds they form with other members. The Fitter Food: Fat Loss in 42 forum offers something beyond what we can coach by providing a sense of community, identity and solidarity that helps many women address their disordered eating habits and regain control. Instead of reaching for a biscuit they pop into the Facebook group and someone is there to offer the necessary support, be it a Fitter Food mentor or fellow plan participant.
We kindly asked the women from one of our plans if they minded us sharing a glimpse into their experience:
Don’t get us wrong men can also have similar experiences but as a very general observation their relationship with food and health is much more logical and practical. For most guys nutrition needs to serve its purpose of fuelling a healthy lifestyle and that’s it! Ultimately it shouldn’t become a life sentence. Guys just seem to do middle ground and moderation so much more naturally than women and therefore obtain the desired results much more quickly.
In our experience men have little interest in super optimising nutrition as it just doesn’t figure so hugely in their life goals. They would rather devote time to securing a decent fantasy football team than composing the perfect macronutrient pie chart on MyfitnessPal. We actually think women could learn a lot from the guys here. Maybe take a step back from your relationship with nutrition and reflect upon the role it is playing in your life. Perhaps a little less over thinking and analysing is necessary. If you feel you genuinely need help here consider seeking some professional advice with NLP/Mindful coaching or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Man & Woman Versus Exercise
Similar observations can be applied to exercise. We all need to be aware of the impact of exercise, just enough = awesome, but too much and your health can spiral down the toilet. For some reason (perhaps again the striving for perfectionism) women don’t seem to grasp this concept and firmly believe the ‘more is better’ philosophy when it comes to exercise. Just as we are often guilty of believing a couple of unhealthy meals changes the width of our thighs, apparently one missed gym session causes the body to instantly store up all our calories as body fat! The guilt and anxiety we subject ourselves too if we don’t get our regular quota of exercise sessions each week just compromises our adrenal function and likely sends our hormones out of balance.
Women also seem to quantify exercise more than men with rather obsessive compulsive tendencies; “I need do XX sessions, lasting XX minutes to reach my desired weight….” (you shouldn’t even be weighing yourself!) This leads them to apply multiple attachments to the outcome of their gym sessions in order for it to ‘count’ and provide that all important sense of achievement. This does nothing but add extra pressure and often removes the enjoyment factor of exercise, not to mention diminishes your natural inclination to WANT to exercise as you may not be confident you’ll hit your anointed goal. When did we start becoming so hard on ourselves???
On our plans we actually suggest a 1 week break from exercise. Besides getting busy in the kitchen and sourcing healthy ingredients we feel it’s important to build a solid foundation for health with some simple daily movement, lots of sleep and some stress management measures. We then educate participants about the role of exercise but most importantly getting the dose correct.
Men seem to strike this balance much easier perhaps because their body composition often responds a little quicker and they are not driving their training via asthetic goals. Hormonally and physiologically men are designed for a greater stress load but it’s equally important for them to ascertain the right level. If your results are stalling it’s perhaps worth considering if the way you approach exercise is negating any potential progress or health benefits.
Everyone should be moving but there’s a difference between a daily walk and religiously running 10K every morning. If your body composition isn’t adapting as you would hope then assess your exercise programme; are there too many sessions? Is there too much volume or intensity? Are you doing the same thing over again and expecting different results? (read that back to yourself…) Do you need more rest days and some restorative exercise like yoga to balance out your training? Do you enjoy your chosen type of exercise or does the thought of putting your trainers on fill you with dread? Take a moment to consider how you can adapt your programme to make it enjoyable and effective again.
At the opposite end of the scale if you really dislike ‘exercise’ for the sake of it find an active hobbie you enjoy; dancing, gymnastics, surfing or rock climbing. We’ve seen clients lose weight easily just by walking on a daily basis. Keep it simple!
Man & Woman Versus Body Image
There can be no doubt that women experience an ever growing amount of pressure to acquire the perfect body. The images reinforced by the media exacerbate this no end, it might help to watch this video occasionally and remind yourself that many of those bodies do not exist! Some of this may also be self-inflicted in that even as our body composition becomes healthier we simply want MORE. The pressure we apply here simply pushes our chances of optimal health into the ground and ironically the chronic stress may actually encourage the deposition of more fat, especially around the middle.
We can all be guilty of excessive self criticism, dismissing compliments from others and focusing too much on our weaknesses and failings rather than the beautiful aspects of our body and personality. We’re all amazing in our own unique and special way and need to tell ourselves this on a regular basis. On our plans we encourage gratitude posts each morning to switch the focus from anything negative back to the bigger picture. We take so many wonderful things in life for granted on a daily basis; the view from your kitchen window, a smile from a stranger, a phone call from someone who cares. We all have lots to be grateful for and starting you day by consciously appreciating this can have a profound effect on your mindset and ultimately your health.
Therapies can also be helpful here and you should prioritise this if you feel like low self esteem and a negative relationship with your body image impacts upon your daily wellbeing.
It may seem like we’re stereotyping hugely here (which we are) but we’ve observed these common threads of behaviour across our extensive time as coaches and as we mentioned have been guilty of many of these ourselves. We simply wanted to highlight them to help you reflect and stop yourself falling into common paleo pitfalls.