Is our biology, more specifically our gender, responsible for our food cravings? Are women programmed to reach for a chocolate truffle or a candy bar, while men are wired for chicken wings?
Scientific research has provided some hypotheses and a few studies, but for now this is what we know for sure: the differences between men and women probably have less to do with physiology and more to do with our early access to various foods. And by early access, I mean early—as in caveman days. According to David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, our modern-day preferences can be explained by evolution.
You’ve heard it before—men are the hunters; they need more protein and muscle to do the heavy lifting. And women—well, we’re the gatherers of light, delicate and sweet foods like fruits and vegetables (and cupcakes!).
But, really, isn’t it true that men are just more drawn to fats and meats and women to sweets? As a nutritionist here’s my take . . .
We are socialized in our eating behaviors from early on. Boys are encouraged to eat like a man by filling up on foods like grilled steak and hamburgers while women are expected to have more dainty, sugar and spice and everything nice appetites. That (in my opinion) sets women up for more emotional responses to food or perhaps—and this is not a good thing—for denying our appetites to conform to the expectations of our gender.
What about Emotional Eating?
Scientific studies gathered by the National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition, located in Rome, Italy, find that females prefer comfort foods like chocolate, candy and ice cream, while men tend to eat more substantial foods like pizza, pasta and meat. Clearly, these researchers haven’t been hanging around my house—I have to hide chocolate in the basement and camouflage ice cream in the freezer to keep it away from my husband when he’s bored or stressed.
Sweet, Salty, Crunchy or Smooth?
I’ll admit that when I’m looking for a little comfort I might go for ice cream, but when I’m stressed I want something to crunch on—like pretzels. But so does my husband. Is this a gender thing or simply that crunchy foods relieve stress (like my dog, when she chews on her bone) and creamy foods deliver comfort?
The big difference isn’t so much the food we choose but rather that women feel guilty after indulging in lots of high-calorie, high-carb foods and men don’t.
Based on my personal and professional experience, I believe that most men and women, at one time or another, fall prey to the mindless eating associated with life’s ups and downs. The big difference isn’t so much the food we choose but rather that women feel guilty after indulging in lots of high-calorie, high-carb foods and men don’t.
But We Are Different…
Let’s face it: there are clear differences between men and women—I’m talking hormones, people! Men have more muscle and metabolize food more efficiently because they have more testosterone. Women have more estrogen and fat, which is necessary for pregnancy and breast feeding. Some recent studies have indicated that there are fat receptors in both the male and the female brain, but women have a different hormonal composition with greater ebb and flow, which may lead to greater cravings.
While scientists will continue to explore this subject, I believe most of us would agree that the answer lies somewhere between our evolutionary programming and our childhood conditioning based on our genders.
Whether or not women are drawn to sweeter tastes is unclear. The fact that we are conditioned by a society that seems to think so may be why women have learned to become more comfortable in a bakery than in a brewery.