Do Men and Women Really Eat Differently - and WHY?

Men and women eat many of the same foods, but they bring a different set of taste perceptions, attitudes and eating styles to the table.

Some taste differences are inborn

Women have a more acute sense of smell than men and that translates into a more vivid experience of flavor. (Flavor is actually a combination of tastes - sweet, sour, bitter or salty sensations on the tongue - and a complex mixture of odors.)

A woman will experience a "good" smell as being better than a man will and a "bad" smell as worse; she may even detect some odors that men miss entirely, says Charles J. Wysocki, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The differences are subtle but may explain why something you think tastes "funny," he thinks is fine.

But the genetics of taste account for only some of the male-female differences.

The mysterious effect of hormones
Women's appetites are influenced by their menstrual cycle. We eat less around the time of ovulation and more just before our period; cravings for sweets peak at that time, too. Less is known about the effect of male hormones on appetite, though men are thought to have a stronger overall preference for sweetness.

Cravings-not for women only
Both men and women have cravings. Women report more cravings than men do, but it's hard to tell if they have more cravings or are just more aware of them, says Marcia Levin Pelehat, Ph.D., an experimental psychologist.

Women tend to crave deserts while men more often yearn for savory foods. But high-fat foods, whether savory or sweet-pizza, nachos, chocolate, doughnuts-are prime choices for both sexes.

Feeding your self-image

When dining with same-sex friends, both men and women eat more - 40 to 50 percent more - than they would dining alone, says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., the Guthrie Chair in nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. But in mixed company, women tend to eat less than they would if alone.

In a study conducted att he University of Toronto, women ate less with an attractive male companion than they did when they were with other women or a less attractive man. Men are slightly less in the company of women but didn't vary their intake according to the attractiveness of their companion.

In another University of Toronto study, women who reported eating smaller meals were rated as more feminine and more attractive by both women and men than women who ate larger meals. Did the size of a man's meal affect how he was perceived? No.

Patricia Pliner, Ph.D., professor of psychology, who coaunthored the studies, suggests that for women, eating lightly is a way of conveying femininity: "In our culture, that's considered appropriate sex-role behavior. It's a cultural norm, like standing up when they play the national anthem."

Others see it as less neutral. "To be perceived as feminine by having less (though not by doing less) is an across-the-board issue for women, from paychecks to power to weight." says Susan Zigouras, R.D., a psychotherapist and registered dietitian in New York City. "Why should you need to eat less to be OK?"

Subtle differences in the way boys and girls eat begin to emerge as early as age three, says Rolls. As they grow older, girls fall more under the influence of dieting and learn a "feminine" eating style.

Are men happier with their weight?
A male dieter is a relative rarity, but studies conducted by Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., directorate of the human nutrition program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, have found that a majority of young men are - like women - dissatisfied with their weight. Key difference: Men are almost evenly split between those who want to lose weight and those who want to gain in order to appear more muscular. And men are less likely than women to express their weight concerns at the table. When they want to lose, they rely on vigorous exercise, not cutting back on food.

What makes him overeat? And you?
Some studies suggest that men are most apt to overeat in social situations (a time when many women would eat less). Women eat more in response to stress: under stress, men drink alcohol, says Susan Schiffman, Ph.D., professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

He eats more...
She eats more...They both love...
Barbecue potato chips
Snack cakes
Chocolate sandwich cookies
Corn chips
Tortila chips
Beef jerky
Bagged popcorn
Sausage pizza
Hot dogs
Roast beef
Cheese puffs
Toaster pastries
Macaroni and cheese
Taco salad
Grilled chicken sandwiches
Diet ice cream
Frozen yogurt
Dried fruit
Cinnamon rolls
Rice cakes
Low-fat cheese
Fat-free cookies
Diet soft drinks
Cream liqueurs
Wine coolers
French fries
Ice cream
Potato chips
Iced tea