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Why Men Are Better Dieters

Why do women seem to have a much harder time sticking to their diets than men do? A new study provides a provocative clue: Women's brains appear to have more of a mind of their own, so to speak, when food beckons.

Gene-Jack Wang of the Brookhaven National Laboratory and his colleagues recruited 13 healthy women and 10 men. The researchers quizzed the subjects about their favorite foods and then asked them to fast for at least 17 hours before coming in for a series of brain scans using the technique known as positron-emission tomography (PET).

Before two of the scans, the researchers tempted the subjects with their favorite foods, whether it was lasagna, hamburgers, pizza, cinnamon buns, barbecue ribs or chocolate cake. Sometimes they warmed the food to make it more irresistible. The subjects could smell and even taste the food. But they could not eat it. Before one of the scans the subjects were asked to try to suppress their impulse to indulge by trying their best to think about something else. They were also asked to describe how hungry they were and how strong their desire to eat was.

In both men and women, a variety of brain areas associated with regulating emotions, desire, conditioning, habit and motivation lit up when the subjects were tempted with their favorite foods. And both men and women described themselves as less hungry and less interested in eating when they tried to suppress their appetite. But only the men showed a decrease in activity in the parts of the brain activated by food when they tried to tamp down their appetite, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wang says the study is the first to document a difference between men and women in how their brains react to food and could help explain why women have a harder time sticking to their diets, are more likely to overeat and are more likely to be obese. The researchers are unsure why these gender differences exist, but it may be because of the difference in sex hormones, such as estrogen.

By Rob Stein  |  January 22, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Obesity  
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The researchers should have asked the men if they deflected their thoughts of food by thinking about sex. That may account for the different outcomes.

Posted by: mark51 | January 22, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

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