Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
August 21 2012

Gender Differences in Fat Metabolism

By Mark Sisson
304 Comments

A few months ago, I addressed the role gender plays in how we respond to intermittent fasting. That post sparked a great discussion, and I’ve since received a fair number of emails from readers eager to learn other ways in which gender plays a role in our health and nutrition. One email in particular set me off on a round of research. So, a hat tip to you, Winifred, for giving me something to think, learn, and write about. I hope everyone finds it to be helpful.

As you may know, women and men store and metabolize fat differently from each other, and a 2008 paper (PDF) reviewed the evolutionary reasons for these differences. Here’s a summary of their findings and few other noteworthy factoids:

Women carry more fat than men. They are better at storing fat than men. Moreover, when women store fat, they do so in different places than men. They’ll preferentially store fat in in the hips, butt, and legs, whereas when men gain weight, it usually goes to the upper body (hence why you see massive beer bellies atop stick legs). Furthermore, when both men and women store upper body fat, men are more likely to develop visceral fat – the abdominal fat associated with metabolic syndrome – while women are more likely to develop subcutaneous fat.

On women, body fat seems to be healthier and less problematic. The characteristically female lower body “gluteofemoral fat” is actually a strong sign of metabolic health, whereas abdominal fat is not. In men, high body fat levels correlate strongly with insulin resistance, while this relationship is much weaker in women (probably because of their lower tendency to store visceral fat).

Women burn fat differently than men. Upper body fat goes first, while lower body fat tends to stay put. Except during pregnancy and lactation, when the lower body begins to give up lower fat stores far more readily. Interestingly (and not by coincidence), women tend to preferentially store the long chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA – the one that’s so important to the baby’s development during and pregnancy – in their thighs.

Women make more triglycerides than men do, but their serum levels are similar. This indicates that the fat is being taken back up into adipose tissue at a higher rate in women than in men.

Women are better at burning fat in response to exercise. During endurance exercise, they exhibit lower respiratory exchange ratios than men, which indicates more fat burning and less carb burning.

Women are better at converting ALA into DHA, and they also tend to have more DHA and AA circulating throughout their serum than men, who have more saturated and monounsaturated fat.

These differences in fat metabolism aren’t seen in isolated muscle cells of men and women, which isn’t really surprising. We’re made with the same basic building blocks; we just run on different software. The differences are systemic and hormonal.

Why does this sexual dimorphism in fat metabolism exist?

Well, the name of the game in evolution is reproduction, and reproduction is far more nutritionally expensive for women than it is for men. I don’t think I have to spell out why – for a man, the reproductive process is a brief moment in time, a half tablespoon’s worth of effort; for a woman, the reproductive process lasts the better part of a year and represents a significant drain on nutrient stores. As such, women are “designed” to hold onto said nutrients because, as far as evolutionary fitness is concerned, her primary purpose is to feed, nurture, and cultivate an entire other human being inside her body for nine months. Think about that for a second: women have to create and support another life inside their bodies. They have to provide the food, the water, and the shelter. If something goes terribly wrong in the “outside world,” that nutrient flow to the fetus could be interrupted, thus putting her evolutionary purpose at risk.

Now, imagine if the body didn’t know best. Imagine if the expectant mother had to know precisely what the fetus needed at any given moment – what precise nutrients were needed, which foods to eat and when to eat them in order to provide said nutrients, what to drink and how much of it, what not to eat nor drink – and then make a conscious decision to provide those things right on schedule? It wouldn’t work. We wouldn’t be here. Luckily, the body “knows.” The body will draw on what’s stored and what’s provided to make a health baby. And if it’s not all there, it’ll even convert other stuff into the stuff that it actually needs. Sure, a good diet will absolutely improve fetal health, but we’ve all known parents with less-than-ideal diets who have healthy kids. The body knows.

Which is why women store and burn fat differently than men. In order to be able to provide those nutrients to the growing child, female bodies store certain types of fat in certain places on the body. Female bodies “hoard” certain types of fat and are loathe to relinquish them “just cause you had a simple caloric deficit.” Whereas a man could go low carb Primal and lose weight pretty easily because all he “has” to be able to do is provide a bit of sperm, a woman’s body has more important things in mind, like having enough body fat on hand to produce enough leptin for optimal fertility, or enough DHA stored in lower body fat to build a robust baby brain.

How does this affect my recommendations or your diet, if at all?

Women – don’t be concerned about a little (or more than a little) subcutaneous body fat, especially on your lower body. If you’ve been trying in vain to lose that stubborn jiggle on your thigh, consider that maybe, just maybe it’s there for a reason. Even if you’re not interested in having a child, it’s likely that the presence of lower body fat indicates good health. You don’t have to get pregnant, but the ability to do so is probably a marker of good health, and the research outlined above suggests that classically feminine patterns of fat deposition are healthier than classically male patterns. And even if you don’t like your glutofemoral fat, rest assured that the males in your life (even ones as far away as Papua New Guinea – PDF) likely do!

Men – most of the fitness and health literature is geared toward you, so I’ll just suggest that you take this information on gender differences in fat metabolism into consideration.

I’ve always stressed the relativity of a person’s ideal body composition. I’ve discussed my own failings at trying to eat big and lift big to get big. I managed to put on five pounds of muscle by eating and working out way more than was comfortable or natural, but it made me lethargic, and as soon as I skipped a meal or workout, muscle would just peel off. That’s my comfortable body composition. Your ideal body composition might look very different, and, if you’re a woman, it might look very different from a man’s. That’s fine. That’s natural. That’s attractive. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and by trying to fight it – in either direction – your health may suffer.

What do you folks think about all this? Does this take a load off your mind, or does it open up new avenues of inquiry? Let me know in the comment section!

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

304 thoughts on “Gender Differences in Fat Metabolism”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Fabulous article. There is a range of being healthy but the media higlights only what maybe 1% can achieve making te 99% worry and chase goals that are unrelaistic and undesirable.Our goals should be healthand if we want look good naked, mt look good for a magazine shoot.

      1. I am really really tired of people who comment “First”
        No input just a childish display.
        Please refrain from I’m first nonsense.
        Please notice you were too slow anyway and you are second.sheeesh.

    1. Yah, I agree. I think this post does a great job at saying that not everyone is the same. Meaning that your ideal body composition is not going to be the same as some super model somewhere. However, your ideal body composition is healthy, natural and beautiful. Great post.

      1. I don’t understand why so many people compare themselves to what a super model looks like? While there are beanpole skinny (naturally without effort) women/men out there, probably more likely than not, that super model had to suffer, A LOT, to look the way she/he does. Especially by modern societal standards. They’re deprived and starving. Who, in reality, is happy that way???? I know I wouldn’t be!

        1. You would be surprised. When you are skinny, you get a lot more attention (if you are into that sort of thing) then you would be at an average to overweight size.

        2. I have to agree with Lauren – although logically it doesn’t make any sense to abuse oneself in order to get unnaturally thin, (a fair amount of) society rewards skinny with attention.

          Unfortunate but true.

        3. That’s not really fair. I’m considered skinny which is a result of working out and eating right. Today’s average weight person is likely to be overweight. From speaking to men, they prefer women with a little meat on them and believe that super models are too skinny. I think it was Women’s Health Magazine that took an old portrait of a naked woman. And by old think not this century, so the woman by my consideration was kinda chunky. They doctored it up so the lady in the pic looked more like the skinny “modern” standards of today. When surveyed, most men preferred the undoctored picture. Something like 60%. I think that men really just don’t care and there is a man that will find some form of the female body flattering.

    2. yuppp totally agree! my body type is more like a dude… always have belly fat first before other part. lol I got trapped in body image issue for a while since i have like big muscular legs, unlike those models usually seen on magazines. Now I just focus on being healthy and be comfortable in my own body.

    3. Totally. I’m completely mystified by the near-universal assumption (in the paleo-sphere) that a ‘healthy’ fenale will look like a supermodel or triathlete.

      Natural selection will go for ‘fertile’ over ‘ripped’ any day.

      Think about those wonderful fertility goddess statues from paleolithic times- they had hips, butts, breasts, and… bellies!

      I simply don’t believe that evolution cares how flat your tummy is, especially after you’ve had kids.

      Has anyone looked into the whole belly-fat thing? Is it really true that a waist/hip ratio for women should be 0.8 (like we’ve been told),or is this another case of the stats being fraught with underlying assumptions?

      1. Regarding waist/hip ratio, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was oversimplified (or rather I would be surprised if it wasn’t) BUT there is actual evidence that waist/hip ratio is at least a reasonably decent (though certainly not perfect) marker for risk of a number of diseases, e.g. diabetes.

        However the actual ideal # varies depending on things like ethnicity and family background.

      2. There’s also the problem that one’s “natural” waist, or what science considers to be a waist, and what we culturally consider to be a waist is a lot different. One’s natural waist, as I understand it, is just under the ribs. Just about everyone is smallest there, no matter how big they might be. It’s why empire waists look so good on a woman. It emphasizes the natural waist, and flares out at about that /.8 angle. (Too tired for maths.)

  2. Good stuff, Mark. One of the things I like most about your take on ancestral health is that it’s just that – health. I always see you encouraging people to embrace their own natural, ideal body composition, not an artificially constructed societal one, and to experiment to find a diet that matches their lifestyle (e.g. natural, vegetable carbohydrates as an elective macronutrient in response to exercise levels, etc., rather than an automatic evil). Glad to see this one.

  3. Thank you for this. I mean, seriously, thank you. My upper body has shed pretty much all its fat, I can see my abs, my arm muscles are defined…but my damn lower body just holds onto the fat for dear life. Maybe I should just accept that this means I’m healthy 🙂

        1. Bon, or Ron, or whoever you are, I like where you link goes. Very nice, and a move I shall imitate.

        2. This article was well written. Links to cited articles were provided which always gives credibility to the author/researcher. The evolutionary explanation for fat storage was accurate and dovetails nicely with primal eating.
          We live in an articial world with an abundance of natural amd unnatural items, some of which we consume more than moderately. Our bodies reflect this.
          What does a completely natural body in a natural world look like? After reading this I have a better understanding of that question and it’s answer.

          Also kudos to Ron for linking to the 2nd best site on the web, with his neato linking trick.

    1. The next time my 6yo son pokes my outer thigh and giggles at how “squishy” it is, I’ll inform him that he’s lucky I am a prime specimen with plenty of glutalfemoral fat reserves or he wouldn’t even be here to laugh at me.

      Yeah, that will make me feel a lot better!

      1. Thank you for that comment… It made my day 🙂 I may steal your line for future use against my very young gang of five who feel the need to mention how squishy certain spots are….

      2. Yeah, my brothers used to call me thunder thighs. Should be more like, WONDER thighs! GIRL POWER! 😉

    2. I’m with you Carly – my body decided to become a bottom heavy hourglass at age 12 and weight fluctuations notwithstanding (from 58 to 82 kg), the basic shape and composition of my body/body fat doesn’t change. Looking at pictures of every female relative I have, we’re all the same, hanging onto that bum and thighs until the famine!

  4. Great article, but what does it mean then if I a woman has ab fat? So far I have lost 60lbs but I still have fat around the middle and I have hit a wall as to fat loss. All ideas would be helpful.

    1. I would also love to know this! I carry all of my weight in my stomach and it NEVER goes away. Even when I lost 50 pounds I had rolls on my midsection and thin arms and legs. What caused this to happen and what do I do about it?

      1. Me, too! I am small-hipped and have a smaller chest, so not much fat being stored there. Instead, it’s seems to be around my belly…the traditional apple shape.

        I have been assuming that I’m insulin resistant. I have a strong family history of diabetes. I also assume that I have to really limit sugar in all it’s various forms to reduce the belly fat, but I’d love to hear an expert’s opinion.

        1. I’d LOVE to know this as well. I’ve lost approximately 20 lbs in the last few months, I almost feel like I’m UNDERweight now at 5’4 and 114 lbs. I feel like even though my upper body has shrunk so dramatically, I still have a little “pooch” over my abs/belly that I can’t seem to shake!

    2. There are probably multiple factors but cortisol (a hormone released when you’re stressed) is one I’ve read definite research on, and diet composition is another. Sleep is another possibility.

      So be happy, eat well, and sleep well. It might help, and if it doesn’t at least you’re be calm, happy, and well rested :).

    3. I would also like to know what ab fat means on a woman. I’ve always had a belly paunch (starting at about my solar plexus and curving way out to just below my belly button), even when I was skinny in my teens and twenties. Near as I can tell, it’s almost all subcutaneous, but it also makes me look like I’m perpetually bloated. I believe it’s partly genetic; I’ve had to make peace with the fact that it will very likely never go away.

      I also (for a woman) have broad shoulders and a thick waist; I’ve never had a 0.7 waist/hip ratio. It amazes me sometimes that men even look at me, but I still somehow manage to catch a few eyes here and there. It helps that I have a nice rack and a nice badonkdonk, I suppose.

    4. In my recent BioSignature (really interesting assessment if you’re curious: http://www.charlespoliquin.com/Education/Biosignature.aspx) The BioSignature measures where you store fat and how that relates to your hormonal profile. My top two problem areas: 1. Suprailiac (love handles) and 2. Umbilical (belly). This first relates to blood sugar management and the second relates to cortisol. The BioSig isn’t a perfect science, but I have definitely seen improvements in these two areas by going very low carb (huge improvements in my love handles. Huge.) and now I’m working on the cortisol issue. I’m not very stressed out, so instead I eliminated birth control (which can elevate cortisol) and I’m focusing on sleeping like a champ. Perhaps try limiting your carbs and reducing your stress?

    5. Ladies, I have been Paleo/Primal for about 2 years and found the same thing… UNTIL … in support of BF I’ve been on an autoimmune + FODMAPS protocol for 3 weeks and the little pooch around the middle shrank!
      Note I lost only about 1kg, so I’m not sure whether it was inflammation or boating as I am yet to re introduce foods.
      I’m so chuffed to have a flat-ish tummy that I’m wondering if I’ll bother reintroducing any of it 😉
      The thighs are still there 🙂

      1. Agree with the above poster. My perpetual belly shrank after I discovered my fructose intolerance!

  5. I find myself now almost 6 months pregnant.. And I can certainly say the first place I put on weight was my gluteal-femoral area. Now I have a better understanding of why it happened there first! I know its all to help the baby. Wonderful post Mark!

  6. So, even though I am 18% body fat (huge yay, my goal was 20%. And a big thank you, Mark, for TBP, I hit that glorious number because of you), and it seems the jiggle on my butt and outer thighs only diminished slightly, it is a sign that I’m *healthy*?

    That will take time to sink in.

    1. A woman at less than 20% body fat, with abs showing has nothing to complain about. And if anyone in your life complains about your gluteal-femoral fat, then tell that person to go away.

      Robert

      1. “And if anyone in your life complains about your gluteal-femoral fat, then tell that person to go away.”

        +1

    2. Much lower than the body fat than what I’m sure you’ve worked hard accomplish, can actually be dangerous. At around 16% a large percentage of women stop menstruating. We don’t now know if lack of a cycle is dangerous *in and of itself*, but it is a big indicator that the body is starting to shut down to preserve energy. 18% is amazing! Consider the *jiggle* to be famine insurance. 😉

  7. The down side of being unique is that there may be no fitness model hiding inside your skin. Luckily most people can probably achieve reasonable results without killing themselves.

  8. So this explains why my *ss and thigs kept getting bigger over the last 2.5 years of eating primally…hmm.
    I never had a womanly figure really, I have always been the kind of stick figure growing up and in my 20’s.
    I’m loving my newly acquired hip and thigh fat.
    Good to know that it’s high in omega 3 and I wonder if me eating a crap load of fish over the last 12 months has anything to do with it?

    Because I ate a lot of red meat the first year of eating primally and my hips didn’t change. My bones/body/hip figure has changed dramatically since cutting down on red meat/lard and eating a diet extremely high in seafood and butter.

  9. Very interesting article Mark, and it makes a lot of sense! As a woman, I’ve always carried my extra weight more like a man does – stick legs and all. While I’ve lost a lot of weight, reversed diabetes 2, and gained a lot of fitness along the way, I still have that spare tire that I hope “going Primal” will help me with.

    Does the study say anything about women who carries weight around the middle section rather than the “usual” pattern?

    1. Yes, I’m definitely interested in hearing more about ab fat for females. I am fit, tiny butt, no fat on my muscular legs, but my body loves to store this bit of fat on my tummy!

        1. I believe I’ve seen similar research about high carbohydrate diets — that they tended to favour more abdominal fat and less lower body fat.

      1. maybe that’s ok! We all need to quit setting “what that chick on the cover of Shape” looks like as a goal/ideal and remember that we are all unique.
        Most of what makes the “jiggle” go away is weights. but then not all of us will have the same success/results as others – because of our genetic predisposition(s)

    2. I know I’ve read research before showing that women who carry their weight in the abdomen do tend to be at somewhat higher risk for health problems (e.g. diabetes). Apparently it’s one of the reasons, though not the only one, for genetic differences in diabetes.

      Sorry :(.

    3. Me too Mark, I lost weight everywhere and now have stick legs. I eat 60% Healthy fat, 30% protein 10% carbs from veggies lots…still have the muffin top? I also IF once a week for 24 hours.

      I eat about 1800-2500 calories daily, lots of grass fed butter and healthy oils (grass fed beef, eggs and free range chicken) NO SUGAR, GRAINS or FAST FOOD. (past three years)

      I am stronger and faster feel great (look great with out the muffin top would look better)… never been overweight but now looking at boarder-line underweight 5’5 -111lbs. with a muffin top…

      Workouts 3-4x weights(45 min) (squats and dead-lifts “heavy” 120-165lbs x5x5–still stick legs), walking and sprints.

      What is it about the mid section for middle age women?

      Could it be red wine? Mid Life? Hormones. BTW if women live longer for lower body fat -well mine is gone from going Primal! However I can get it back if it means I would be healthier —just pick up the junk food —LOL

      1. I always wonder, when nice-looking / nicely built women complain about or agonize over so-called “muffin top” — if they are, in fact, unaware that a woman’s body SHOULD have hips and a waist? If you’re wearing your pants so tight that your subcutaneous fat is pushed up and over your belt line (the lower-body version of a push-up bra?!) — maybe that’s not a sign that you need to ‘do something about your body’– but you need to get pants that fit better? Women are supposed to have smooth contours and a lovely (granted, small) layer of subcutaneous fat gives that!

        1. Good point Elenor. There’s a reason vanity sizing exists. Some of us don’t want to let go of our size 2s.

          And another flip on the “muffin top” if you are small in the waist and thicker in the hips, pants today are not really made for “us.” They are all low-rise for the boy shapes of teenage girls today.

        2. You can get smaller, but you are more likely going to have hip bones jut out rather than a muffin-top. We can’t win, can we?

        3. exactly what I was going to say! also, proper fitting clothes can make a world of difference when it comes to curves

        4. I agree with the “pants fitting better” comment. I think it was one of those fashion TV shows where the host said that back in the day, everyone used to get their clothes tailored, and the “made to wear” phenomenon is only very recent. Heck, not that long ago, women were still making their own clothes. Maybe we should spend less money on tons of clothes and instead get the stuff we have tailored so it fits properly.

        5. I generally find that, if my pants aren’t pushing up my belly fat and causing the muffin-top, then they keep falling down and I’m constantly pulling them back up. I feel like it’s a catch-22 for me.

        6. I don’t want to start an argument, least of all with a cat ’cause I love ’em, but I wonder why you say women ~should~ have those things.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Does the female body change according to different ages (ie, childbearing vs non)?

      1. It does. And men’s bodies change, too. Old men and old women look more alike than men and women in their reproductive years.

      2. I’ve just started reading “Why Women need Fat” Melissa Mcewen’s review of this book mentions some of these connections.

    2. Not only that, but will all this lead to separate future Primal Blueprint books for each gender?

  10. It’s interesting that since I’ve been eating primally my body has taken on a much more feminine shape. Nature is cool.

  11. Someone help me out here. What rhymes with “gluteo-femoral”?

    1. Why? Are you writing poetry about the female bod? Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

    2. paleo temporal
      (means I set my diet-watch to Primal Time)
      as in,
      when I was chillin’ with my Grokkies and our gluteo femorals
      yeah everybody shakin’ their derriere immortal
      i knew it was cause we all went paleo temporal…

      you get the idea

      god that’s nerdy LOL

        1. and when I ditched the grains the pain went down the drain
          i mean I used to be bigger than Queen latifa
          but then I made peace and shook hands with beef-a
          I smile as I lick the bacon grease
          cause what a relief
          I’m a FAT BURNING BEAST
          y’all

  12. Thank you thank you thank you. So happy to read a thorough, well-written article/blog post about these differences!

  13. Fat deposition in post-menopausal women is a completely different animal. There are a lot of us out here, Mark.

    1. That’s right – my thighs and butt are shrinking, but I have gained belly fat since menopause. Primal has help tons though and I have lost 13 pounds. Almost under 20% body fat!

      Never give up!

      1. Yes, I would like to see more info on post-menopausal metabolism/fat deposition. I would be so happy with 20% body fat. I’ve only just started Paleo lifestyle so I appreciate all these posts that show the success of others. It’s encouraging.

    2. no kidding. when you write “women are …” or “women do …” most of the time it doesn’t describe how MY body is or behaves, at all.

      not even close.

    3. I would like to see this topic addressed as well–my body responds differently, looks different, since menopause. I am a couple of years post-menopausal–nothing is the same!

  14. Please be mindful that “gender” is not the same as “sex”. Mark, you should be using the term “sex” when referring to biological differences, as gender is an expression that is not based on someone’s “parts”. I am a faithful reader and your work has changed my life!

    1. O brother, can we just all admit we all know exactly what he is saying and not be nitpicky where there are no nits to pick.

      1. No, please recognize that all people are not aware of how certain language is oppressive and/or inaccurate. If you look up the two work in the dictionary, they have different definitions. I’m not trying to be a jerk, because it’s awesome info, but definitely upset me in the way it was framed.

    2. For this and all scientific discussions gender refers to sex. XX and XY stuff. Surgery and hormonal therapy affect appearancevbut they can not change your DNA.

      1. But hormonal therapy will sure as heck affect how you lay down fat! I bet Primal trans-people are doing a lot of interesting self-experimentation, and mixing of advice when it comes to ancestral heath. Hopefully there will be a resource on those issues someday.

        1. I agree – I am a trans man and live primally as a way to be healthy and modify my body in a way the fits with my gender. For me, and for many other trans and gender queer folks out there, there is a BIG difference between sex and gender.

          I love this site, the Primal Blue Print, and the work Mark does, but would love it even more if I saw LGBTQ perspectives considered a bit more. Not all Grokers want to be attractive to the opposite sex.

        2. Like Kris I’m a trans man.

          Mark’s post quite clearly goes through the differences in storing fat that we associate with male/female. For most people that will tie up with their genes because their genes have dictated the appearance of their sexual organs and their sexual organs produce most of their sex hormones. Some of us get our primary sex hormone from other sources (I get injected with mine).

          Personally once I started hormone treatment I started to apply advice for guys to myself. And it’s largely held true. But I had hormones “loaded” for the start of my treatment. So I would have pretty darn quickly gone into a male range for my testosterone. Certainly by 4 months I was comfortably in the male range. But I think we should all experiment anyway to find the version of paleo/primal that works for each of us.

          I think we’ll struggle to get much of a resource for trans people TBH. We’re obviously few in number, there are fewer paleo trans folk, and there’s a lot of under-knowledge medically about trans folk anyway.

          Nature loves diversity. It’s why we’re here in the first place. Evolution only works when it offers up different options in the first place.

      2. Not everyone is born XX or XY, like those with Klinefelter’s. And even if the chromosomes are clear, there are still conditions like CAH, which can make genetic men look like women, or virilize the genitals of females, or lead to various degrees of intersex. Then there are transexuals, who may be genetically and anatomically one sex, but deeply, unshakeably, identify with the other. Sex is a tricky business, sometimes — genes don’t always determine identity — so it is important to make a distinction between sex and gender.

        1. Agreed. My in-laws had adopted a baby girl with fetal-alcohol syndrome. She was undeniably a “she” but was born with both parts. I don’t understand it all, but they had to choose which sex (gender?) she would be right after birth. Not all genetics go by the book. FWIW:)

    3. I totally second this. River is not being picky here, actually. Just accurate. Gender and sex are considered to be different in the scientific literature, it would be great if the post title would reflect this.

      1. Yeah, another transperson agrees! But good article! I wish this would be shown in the health classes, esp. to the girls. It’s so sad to see so many people with eating disorders.

  15. Thank you for the Great post! Since I’ve started eating primal, I’ve leaned out a little (eating bacon, whole milk yogurt, organic cream, butter, etc…) even though this was not my intent when starting this lifestyle. I think this may be more a function of my waining hormones (I’m over 50). All I know its made quite the improvement on my quality of life. You’ve confirmed what I always thought about body image and health. It’s great to lead a healthy, active life style and still sport a wonderfully feminine figure.

  16. And don’t forget that even after those nine months are over, women are still growing their babies for a long time through nursing. Evolutionarily, women would need to be prepared to be the primary nutritional source for their babies for a year or more – traditional societies tend to breastfeed for three or more years, and that adds up to a lot of calories.

    1. Great point Kat. Not only does it add up to a lot of calories but women also have to make up the vitamins and nutrients they “lost” during pregnancy.

    2. 3 years?! Well, good to know.

      Since going Primal reduced my body fat *everywhere,* that bodes well for getting that part of my womanly shape back for a while once we have a little Grokling.

    3. ..and so, a great deal of that hip/thigh fat will remain until breastfeeding has used it up – which usually happens during the second year of breastfeeding. Something that new moms who only token feed for a few months never get the benefit of.

      1. …and also something those crazy-ass Hollywood starlets should be told, so they stop express dieting away their nutritional powerhouse bodies 5 mins after giving birth!
        Aishwarya Rai is not only gorgeous, she is a role model for mothers wanting to buck the “rubber band body” trend of the celebrity world – it is comforting to know that not only is she a bastion for self esteem, but is doing the right thing from an evolutionary perspective too.

  17. Mark, this was interesting and a little comforting, but in a future post could you please, please dig a little deeper into a very large (ha!) sub-set of your female followers (and future followers) – – the post-menopausal woman and any additional challenges or differences in burning fat? For post menopausal women, doesn’t that mean their bodies aren’t driven to store fat for reproductive purposes? Shouldn’t the body then give up some of those stores more easily now? It sure doesn’t seem that way.

    And to round out that long-anticipated post that’s more geared to your post-menopausal followers, I’d love you to address just what actually happens in the body as it breaks down its own fat. I’ve read that toxins and hormones can be stored in our body fat so how much concern should we feel about releasing stored toxins & hormones into our bodies and blood streamed we lose the weight? Are there any precautions we might take to avoid any potential stressors (besides the age old ‘keep hydrated to flush them away’)?

    Thank you again today’s post!

    1. Yes! Please! Women spend half or more of their adult lives peri- and post menopausal, and believe me, fat metabolism changes!

    2. Kerryk, Thanks for bring this up. Yes, Mark please do address this in the near future. I know you’re not busy! 🙂

    3. Yes, please re: what happens to the toxins and hormones, etc, all stored in our fat, when we burn it?

      1. Hi everyone,
        Count me in here too. Peri and post menopause is a huge issue, as us XX’s tend to live longer, and I want to be able to approach menopause and beyond empowered with strategies to cope. I have read that it is a stage where insulin resistance rears it’s ugly head which whacks on belly fat, and i am starting the research now but I think there is a huge chunk of readers out there that crave this information.
        As regards body shape, media has a huge part to play in this, in our modern world, primal cues on attractiveness and the ability to reproduce are being subverted by stick figures and impossible flat bellies and low, low rise jeans, which only about 5% of the population can wear with any confidence, the rest of us look like muffin tops:)
        Cheers everyone, love yourselves, and enjoy life and people around you in all their diversity.

    4. Mark, count me in too. Would love for you to dive into the effects of menopause on women and how the primal approach can help. There is a distinct lack of info out there for us. And 51% of the population (and probably your readership) that have dealt with or will be dealing with this issue. Thanks much in advance!!! Grok on.

  18. Mark, this was a great post. I’m sure it makes a whole lotta women feel better about themselves because it did that for me. I have spent a lifetime agonizing over my gluteofemoral fat that no amount of squats will shrink – this has been a huge bummer since having children was never my desire. But…I’m probably healthier for it. And that’s really all that matters. Thanks for all the good info.

  19. Great post! I have spent a lot of time wondering about a related issue the last year while pregnant:
    If the body knows best and the mothers dirt during pregnancy is important, then why oh why does nature make you feel so sick?
    I’m ashamed to admit I’ve rarely eaten worse than whilst pregnant – anytime I tried to do better my body got rid of it immediately. I lost 4 kg in first 4 months and my poor daughter got white bread and cheap chocolate to live on – stuff I never ever eat otherwise…

    1. This is my pregnancies too. Vomiting everything except McDONALD’S or white bread. Why?

      1. I experienced horrendous morning sickness during my 2nd pregnancy and had trouble gaining weight until the 3rd trimester. It had my doctors worried, but my midwife was never all that troubled by it. She seemed confident my body would “figure it out” in due time, which it did. All the indicators of fetal health were good.
        Now I’ve been reading a book by German ancestral health scientists (not yet available in English, unfortunately), in which it is said that morning sickness is a protective mechanism to prevent the mother from eating anything that could potentially harm her or the baby (such as via food poisoning). The fact that today, we have so many unhealthy foods to fall back on was not foreseen by this evolutionary mechanism – before the advent of doughnuts and McDonalds, we would have resorted to more healthy foods that were available but didn’t repulse us. And because we are better at storing fat and gaining/maintaining weight during pregnancy, the fetus can be kept healthy even if we are eating a less than perfect diet or even too little food in general.

  20. So if we store fat differently, process nutrients differently, should we be working out differently than men in the primal context?

    When you say, “Women are better at burning fat in response to exercise,” that means fat as a macronutrient, not the aesthetic definition of fat, right? Does this mean our balance of protein/carbs/fat should be different than the typical recommended 40/30/30?

    But I do appreciate the shout out that women are just built differently. I think that in general we don’t give ourselves enough leeway here. Hooray for loving ourselves!

    1. Eating 40% of calories as protein will probably make you feel sick. Almost every culture ends up averaging about 15% of caloric intake as protein, with a range of about 10% to 30%. If you stick to Mark’s “Primal Blueprint” recommendation of 100 to 150 grams per day of carbs, that is only around 400 to 600 calories per day, or maybe 30% for a woman with just moderate exercise levels, maybe a little less for someone who exercises more and eats more because of that. So you end up with something more like 15/20/65 to 20/30/50 protein/carb/fat ratios as a percentage of calories. If you really want to optimize for low fasting insulin levels you can go down to something like 15/5/80 but you have to start consciously watching what you eat for carb level at that point, since even eating fresh fruit will put you above 5% of calories as carb pretty easily.

  21. ‘As such, women are “designed” …’
    Mark, you’ve got it!
    I enjoy your website except for the evolution premise. Women were indeed designed. They were the last thing God created and still the best design around.

    1. According to David King, an associate professor in the anatomy department at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Carbondale, “The modern theory of evolution is almost universally accepted among scientists. It is far and away the best explanatory framework ever proposed for understanding data from paleontology, biogeography, systematics, comparative anatomy and physiology, ecology, ethology, population genetics, and molecular genetics.”

      Sorry, Dan, but humans and every other form of life on this planet (and beyond) are the product of evolution. The evidence is overwhelming.

        1. Seriously? Are you so ignorant of basic biology and evolution that you would even need to ask such a question?

          There is no such thing as a ‘missing link’. Yes, there are many details of evolution yet to be worked out. But that’s a basic difference between science and pseudo-science: people continue to work on, enhance, refine, and yes, even correct the theoretical framework.

          That said, the existing framework of evolution is as well established as our knowledge of any physical science, and better than many which you wouldn’t think to question. Modern biology simply wouldn’t exist outside the framework of evolution.

          (There are so many examples of evolution in day-to-day life that how could you doubt it? Drug resistant bacteria and intentional evolution by breeders of numerous species, being two of the most obvious.)

      1. Without having to insist on our own beliefs, Primal works whether you think humans evolved to perform optimally by eating, moving, sleeping, etc., this way, OR whether you think humans were brilliantly designed to function at peak using the world provided for them.

        Either way, it just makes sense.

        1. And who knows? God may be a sculptor of sorts using evolution to design and create us.

          Either way, the primal blueprint works and in my own personal experimentation has proven to have truth in it! 🙂

    2. Argree!
      I don’t believe in evolution either, but that doesn’t negate the science behind Primal living working.
      I think Dan made a valid and considerate point. He didn’t put anyone down, so don’t be offended.

  22. Thank you so much for this post, Mark! I am very lucky to have an hourglass figure which I love (most days). I am pregnant now, so my waist is getting thick and I’m no longer looking much like an hourglass. Big boobs, thick waist, wide hips, and thick thighs. It’s reassuring to read about why my body looks like this now…and to be reminded of what these hips and thighs are for! It’s also reassuring to read that there really is a difference (and a reason for the difference) between the way women and men lose body fat. Thanks!

  23. Great article Mark. Much of the research says that women tend to put on weight in their thighs and butt. However, when I gain weight, it tends to go to my stomach first (and also my thighs and butt). And when I lose weight, I see greater changes in other areas of my body as opposed to my waist. Why does this happen? I would love to see a follow-up article addressing this.

    1. This is exactly how I gain weight too, it goes straight to my belly first, and I am female. I am lean and muscular elsewhere, but the belly fat just hangs on no matter what.

    2. I agree, I have never been hour glass like, and nor has any of the females in my family. I do not carry weight in my lower area, when I lean out, I lean out in my upper body and my legs. I am currently at 17% body fat and I am a 34 year old mother of one. I think we can’t group all women the same, my more hour glass friends can obtain very small waist circumferences yet have very large thighs and hips. There has to be some evidence of different body types of women that cause them to gain weight in different areas of the body. And I DO do well on a restricted carb diet, when I cut my carbs I loose a lot of body fat.

  24. I love this article as it helps women accept their natural body fat placement. I’d love to know more in regards to a post-pregnancy body. I just had my second baby in May and I’m finding it much more challenging to reduce my belly. I also ended up with appendicitis at the end of July which I think didn’t help. Also, why are my cravings so crazy now that I’m nursing. I didn’t have this problem when I was pregnant.

    1. I just have to say that if you’re nursing exclusively the cravings are WAY worse than pregnant cravings. Pregnant cravings made me want one thing or one taste of a certain item. Nursing cravings made me a snack monster. Take heart! At around 10 months, when my son was taking in good amounts of solid foods the cravings started to let up.

      1. Yes! Nursing always made me gain so much weight pre-paleo. Now I just make sure that I eat enough carbs and fat; protein too but it doesn’t stem the cravings. I think water is a huge factor as well. Makes sense, I’m feeding a giant 5 month old super baby from my own body. That’s a lot of water I’m using. I’m guessing that I make 60-70 ounces of breastmilk a day maybe more.

    2. Nursing mothers need way more food than pregnant ones. Snacking is totally okay, and stock up on lots of nutrient-dense foods. Butter, eggs, meat, bone-broth soups, dairy fats (if you can tolerate it), coconut cream and oil if you can’t.

      My body settled down a lot when I started using real butter instead of margarine, when I was nursing my first baby (way back before I knew about paleo).

      Watch your actual caloric intake, too – I wasn’t eating enough. Too many ‘easy’ foods that were empty (toast, mostly!), and not enough actual nourishment.

      Generally, in a metabolically healthy person, a craving is a sign that your body needs something – not necessarily the thing you’re craving (your body can problem-solve in crazy ways), but *something*.

      A good multi-vitamin wouldn’t hurt, either.

      And I also just had appendicitis myself – it’s taking me longer to recover than I thought it would, so go easy on your body – it’s working hard to heal up, clear up any residual infection, AND nurse a whole other human being 🙂

      1. I agree! I really enjoyed this article, but I think it’s definitely worth noting that it’s not just the 9 months in the womb in which the female body has to do more to protect fetal health – breastfeeding is associated with even higher caloric needs. Arguably, the fat weight you gain in pregnancy could be more important for future breastfeeding than for the pregnancy itself. And in an evolutionary context, breastfeeding was designed to go on for up to 4 years!
        When I was breastfeeding my first child, I lost weight to the point of being very underweight. While I obviously knew that I was ALWAYS hungry, I neglected to really consciously improve my nutrient intake to fuel nursing. I think modern medicine often neglects this time period, focusing so much on the pregnancy, that many women are taken completely by surprise by their caloric needs once the baby has been born.

    3. Don’t forget that sometimes babies go through growth spurts and your body actually anticipates these by cranking up your own intake to meet the little one’s needs. Then the baby will nurse like a mad thing for a week or so to bring in even more milk. During those times I’d be a wild hunger monster! Thank goodness for dietary fat to help feed the little one.

  25. “Except during pregnancy and lactation, when the lower body begins to give up lower fat stores far more readily” And that is why I am still nursing my little Grokling at 18 months. Horray!

  26. I have always had a bubble butt (notice the word ‘had’). My butt began to go away durring my first pregnancy. While I was nursing, there was literally nothing left of my butt or thighs. My son was a very aggressive eater. It took a full 18 months post nursing for my butt and thighs to return to normal and they are still only a fraction of what they once were. The next child will likely just take the rest of me. LOL. But, that’s what a woman’s body is designed to do. Sustain, protect and nurture life. It is true that our body is a gift that keeps on giving.

  27. Okay, so I come from a fairly athletic-looking family. I a woman, and my fat levels are fairly low (17%) but I will tell you this: You can bounce quarters off my thigs, and my butt was reverse-engineered through Squats. While my stomach is very flat, I have a bit of fat there and on my arms.

    …so I’m NOT healthy?

    1. How do you feel? That’s the most important question.

      You could also be one of the lucky women who could be an underwear model. I love every inch of my body EXCEPT what gets covered by my gym shorts.

      1. I was just confused because it sounds like I’m UNhealthy by medical standards! But I have been eating like a saint my entire life! My dad was a nutrition nazi growing up, but now I love him for it and have been doing the same thing as an adult.

        1. Isn’t the whole point to love our female bodies as they naturally occur under healthy life conditions? The last thing we need is more body envy, where women with full, rounded butts and thighs are scornful of slim women with boyish hips, who then feel insecure and sad about themselves. 🙁

        2. Well, medical standards aren’t written in stone! I’m the same way and I’ve always been healthy. I did have to work for my body to some extent, but I have an athletic build as well. If you feel well, aren’t lacking nutritionally, and everything works… best thing you can ask for.

  28. Damn. And I was hoping you were going to tell me exactly what to do to get rid of my outer thighs that seems to think they run my show…

  29. I am adding my plea for more info on females who store fat on their abdomen. I have always had “runner legs” despite never running, and small arms. Fat accumulates aromd my waist first and then my breasts, and good luck ever getting rid of it. What could be causing this, how can we change it, and

  30. Thanks, Mark!

    Great article, but you forgot a couple places where we store fat preferentially — I’ll give you a hint: they’re to do with lactation.

    That’s another nice thing about primal compared to semi-starvation diets (i.e. low cal/low fat), is that with primal, body fat is preserved in all the right places!

    for Jodie and Nikki, who mentioned they had trouble losing abdominal fat — what about trying a careful carb count for a few days and then experimenting with lower levels…

    I know I need to keep carb counts closer to 20 than 50 to have visible abdominal muscles, while still maintaining fat in the right areas. [Overall I’m about 20% body fat, heading towards 19%].

    The reason my carbs need to be so low is there is a genetic predisposition to obesity in my family. [But I think if you had many pounds to lose, you might also benefit from more carb restriction. Gary Taubes talks about that in “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It”. Jimmy Moore’s been talking about it, too, over on his blog.]]

    It’s a very different way of eating — usually by the time I’ve finished breakfast I’ve had about 1000 cal. of fat…. I eat about 3,000 cal a day, half of those at breakfast.

    I do more low- and medium-intensity exercise now (started training for a triathalon with all the extra energy that eventually came with this shift in my diet, hence the 3,000 cal a day intake) but when I started last year it was just Doug McGuff’s 12 min per week “Body By Science” approach to exercise. That was enough to start changing my look and capabilities…and it also made a big difference in my fat burning, specifically off my abdomen.

    Hope that’s helpful…

  31. Interesting and informative post. Anyone else have “Baby’s Got Back” running through their head? LOL

    I do think that things are a little different for peri and post menopausal women though. All the fluctuation in hormone levels definitely affect the fat distribution. Also, stress and cortisol levels play a huge part in where your fat is stored (IMO). I’d love to see the whole peri/post menopause issue addressed.

  32. I feel better! Even with 8 months of nursing so far, the fat has been SLOW to come off. This article also hints that different women store fat differently. And gain muscle differently, as Mark points out with his own example. Focus on acceptance and HEALTH, rather than some body ideal, is key for me.

  33. I dont think I have ever been so happy to have a big ass in my life! After just a month of primal I feel spectacular not just because i am not a slave to the 3 hr meal plans anymore but because of this… I am so at peace with my body and instincts. i used to eat low fat and after a few days go nuts and crave half n half. Gee i wonder? Its so nice to just make peace and realize we are that way for a reason…and still get a bit of a smaller butt in the mean time….Thank You Mark!!!!!

  34. IMO the difference between the effects of subcutaneous fat and abdominal fat is fascinating and although it’s known they’re very different, we don’t hear about it way often enough!

    It can be a problem in both directions — fit athletic people (esp women but not only) who needlessly worry about a little bit of subcutaneous fat on top of their muscles

    –but also people whose BMIs and weights seem OK but who have abdominal fat. They and their doctors can underestimate their risk of diabetes and heart disease.

    AFAIK measuring waist/hip ratio is a rough way to estimate

  35. I really appreciated your comments about trying to eat big, workout big, to get big. I was much the same when I was younger. Always wanted to be bigger. I tried for 6 months to put on weight with lots of extra calories and too much weight lifting and managed to gain ~7lbs. I was ripped though. However like you, a few weeks of slacking off due to burnout and the weight was gone. Much happier now to weigh less but have a lean, easier to maintain physique.

  36. Still doesn’t explain why some of us women cannot attain that attractive athletic body on this diet no matter what we do.

  37. I’m glad this article was posted–was JUST talking about this with a friend. Sometimes it’s frustrating for us women, because we’re involved in a community where men generally seem to have greater/faster success than we do (in terms of fat loss). And yet I still have to endure hearing the “You can eat as much paleo food as you want and LOSE weight!” Not sure who came up with that line of thinking, but it sure isn’t true for someone like me.

    These last ten pounds on my frame are holding on for dear life! That all being said, I def feel better and leaner following this way of life, and I encourage curious friends and family to give it a whirl–better health equals a better life. I’m super glad I made the switch from vegetarian to primal 🙂

  38. Adding another voice here to the requests for post-menopausal women and fat/weight loss/body composition. And maybe the latest and greatest research on estrogen supplementation in those early years of menopause – I’ve been researching this on my own but, Mark, you do it so much better!

  39. It would be great if this kind of knowledge were published in magazines/on blogs that teenage girls and young women read. They might be encouraged to not worry about their body image so much.

  40. Thanks for pointing out the differences, Mark. I’m another post-menopausal apple shape that can’t seem to budge the weight. I was doing fine until the hormones changed direction! I don’t know that there’s any natural way around that.

  41. I was expecting this article to say a lot more about testosterone in relation to fat metabolism. My understanding is that the differences between male and female metabolism are largely attributable to differences in hormone levels.

    The reason men on paleo can obtain a lean, muscular build while female role models on paleo are often plumper is that testosterone helps metabolize fat.

  42. So, if a woman wanted to reduce that fat to a healthy but lower level, would we talk about lowering the fat overall by not adding fat, increase protein to 40-50%, and choosing O3 eggs, wild salmon and g-g beef over the pork, poultry in skin and nuts/avocado. Prefer coconut oil over every other fat source. Avoid high sugar foods? Add 20 min steady state cardio after each lifting workout? What?

    1. The way I’m understanding it is more that what’s a healthy level of body fat for the average woman is higher than what’s a healthy level of body fat for the average man.

      I.e., you may not look like a TV model but if you have strong muscles, good energy and endurance,
      feel good, and your body fat is mainly subcutaneous fat as described in the article (i.e., hourglass shape or pear shape), you may actually be healthier than that TV model.

      1. Mark’s Body Fat % is lower than an average male’s BF%, and nobody is going to argue that he is healthy. So, if a woman wanted to achieve the same, healthy but below average BF%, what are the recommendations? Not a model with no muscle and 15% BF, but a fit woman with 16-18% BF and large muscle size instead of pudgy average woman at 25% BF.

        1. 25% body fat isn’t pudgy for a woman, and I’m certain it’s not average. It may be a little higher than athletic ideal, but it’s still reasonably good.

  43. I’m trying to build muscle and get a bit leaner lately and it’s been difficult with the available shelter/soup kitchen food. I’ll pig out on stuff like cheap cheese and cereal or other high-carb foods (french fries for ex., even some bread/bagels) and end up bloated and gaining noticeable fat fast, then if I cut back I’ll lose the fat fairly fast but also lose muscle. A few years ago my body probably looked better than now overall, and I was probably in better shape. I recovered a lot faster from workouts too – maybe because I was conditioned to a routine, maybe there was less strain on my system. After 5 years of reckless drug usage I’ve only been off them for about three weeks now – I’m guessing there’s all sorts of healing and cleansing that has to happen before my organs put their resources towards building and maintaining muscle, though ironically I think I have a fairly normal countenance and skin tone, whereas a few years back I was fairly “ripped” at times and had quite a bit of energy but my face looked like that of an addict and my skin tone was kind of patchy. I think I should get a bike. I used to bike everywhere and it was a great thing.
    A couple months ago I was getting abs but unstable circumstances + a dumb diet mess with my body composition constantly, so I guess they’re still mostly there, but not visible. A recent back injury limits my exercise so I’m kind of confined to hiking and a little easy-going tree climbing, some chin-ups and monkey bar sit-ups.. jogging hurts and even push-ups kill my lower back after a bit. I’m finding it difficult to burn sufficient calories by exercise so now I’m toying around with caloric restriction, eating lots of veggies and protein (with some animal fat) to see how that goes, while drinking quite a bit of coffee in the morning and tea the rest of the day, a small amount of molasses here and there for minerals. I’m basically trying to shock myself into ketosis. The huge bowls of rice crispies must go! I feel sore and hungry but kind of good.

    1. Later on that evening just kind of thought, “forget that”.. went out and did pull-ups and a bunch of curls with a log. Stuffed myself with mostly healthy food, lots and lots of mixed greens, that really helps with satiety.
      Going for more micronutrients and trying not to worry about calories. If I work hard enough, they’ll burn.

  44. Not sure if it was mentioned above but this post is only correct for younger people. As people age, the fat distribution pattern on their body changes. Not sure if any one has noticed that women approaching and past menopause often lose the extra fat on their *sses and thighs and start to accumulate more on the upper body – primarily the abdomen. You often see ladies in their 50-60’s with tiny butts. In men, as they pass middle age, their fat stores on the abdomen often shift downward onto the hips and legs.
    This may be primarily a result of changing sex hormones. As women age they usually produce less estrogen and more testosterone. In men it is the reverse. This affects emotions as well – older men can be maudlin and older women often become more assertive.
    This process does not happen at the same rate or even in everyone – it may depend on diet, genes, activity etc.
    But is certainly is prevelant in America.
    Cheers
    j

  45. Oh and further to my comment above – don’t forget, womens breasts typically shrink past a certain age and men grow them.
    For younger women who have apple shapes – likely a hormonal factor at play – likley could be changed somewhat though diet and exercise and reducing stress levels.

  46. Wow, thanks Mark! Judging from the comments of all your primal “girl friends” out there, I think more posts like this are needed.

  47. Well, I just turned 60 and I don’t have a tiny butt. 🙂 I do agree that fat deposition may change a little. For instance, fat more across the back and arms for some women.

    I have my own ideas (and some will agree with me) about what happens to fat stores around the time of menopause. Women’s ovaries sure aren’t providing anything post-menopause, so where does the estrogen come from? From where it’s stored in the subcutaneous fat, naturally. I think this extra fat is needed transitionally to get through menopause.

    However, yes, in my experience, there comes a time, several years past menopause when the female body, indeed, is “ready” to give up more stored fat. Sure was true for me. At 5’4″, I now weigh 120. I haven’t been that lean since 1994. It’s only my experience, however. I have lucky genes and no diabetes nor much obesity in my family.

    1. Interesting thoughts, Erin – and a little encouraging for me. I’m just starting down the back side of menopause and the subcutaneous just does not want to leave – even the extra I put on during the 10 years prior to menopause. Maybe I just have to be patient for a couple of years and keep up with the primal lifestyle.

    2. Lynn,so true, thanks! I heard that from a health professional, but also from my grandmother and great grandmother,(both lean,french farmer centenarians – old wive’s tales,hehe) that a woman should have an extra few pounds, if she was lean, to get her through menopause. I am like you,small and 105, went down to 100 around peri, then gained to 110, all primal (+ a bit of cheese) to get me through it, with no additional problems. Now back to 103-4 as usual, all muscle but small gluteo-femoral curves, that fall off if I swim more regularly(good for back and arms too.) (Also important is the inherited proportional hip/waist/shoulder ratios.) You mentioned subcutaneous fat estrogen, and estrogen is stored in fat cells, so there you have it! Good luck!

  48. What if you’e an androgen insensitive xy? Lol kidding. Seriously, im a skinny legged um Grrrl, with NBAA syndrome, NO BUTT AT ALL? Im starting to wonder about my lack of omega 3s?

  49. Great information today. However, I would add my vote for more information about post-menopausal women’s differences and issues. There are a lot of us here in primal-land. Appreciate all you do for us.

  50. There are also age differences in where people store fat: postmenopausal women typically store a little more abdominal fat. This abdominal fat makes estrogen for you, since your ovaries have slowed down estrogen production. If you lose that abdominal fat entirely, your libido may plummet.

  51. Great article, this highlights a good point, that women need to be comfortable with their healthy bodies even when we have a little bit of jiggle left! For me losing weight after my third baby, my upper half has thinned out quickly while my hips butt and thighs take much much longer, and truthfully after three kids not all of it may ever be gone…and I am cool with that! Health is more important….that extra jiggle in my walk is a badge of honor!! I created three little lives….ain’t nothing more Primal than that!! 🙂

    1. Er. As I was saying…

      Articles like this one and the “intermittent fasting for women” one actually make me feel a little LESS hopeful. If the societal ideal is to be lean – not to mention the primal/paleo ideal – then we ladies are kind of up poop’s creek it would seem.

      For 2 years I’ve been eating grass-fed meat, lifting heavy tings, sprinting, going for long slow walks – doing all of the things that are touted as the makers of the lean bodies by the paleosphere: “Not losing fat? Try sprinting!” “Hit a weight loss plateau? Walk slowly for 5+ hours a week!” “Want to ramp up the leaness? Skip breakfast!”

      And then it all boils down to “Actually, you’re a chick, so nevermind.”

      All this means is I need an attitude adjustment, really. But I thought I’d throw it out there in case any other ladies were left feeling a little hopeless in amongst all the “Yay! My thighs are a sign of good health!”

      With the utmost respect for my sistahs who are comfy in their not-super-lean bodies (and wishing I could be cheering for my thighs right about now),

      Erin

      1. yeh, Erin, I’m kinda with you…I will NEVER look good naked. not after creating 5 kids. my body is slim-ish and healthy, but my belly is disgusting! primal or not, having children creates lives and destroys the mother’s body.

        1. If you have 5 kids, seems to me that someone thinks you look pretty good naked! 😉
          I know it’s unhelpful sometimes to hear it from men because women compare themselves to women, but men enjoy women’s bodies in all shapes and sizes.
          When we don’t point our our “imperfections” to the men in our lives they probably don’t even notice them.
          That said, I don’t appreciate my body nearly as much as my husband does. (He thinks it’s perfect and I still think it needs work.)

      2. I will say this: after a couple of years of Paleo/Primal eating, I have noticed my body composition has changed. My waist to hip ratio used to be 4-5 inches. Now it’s 10. And I don’t weigh that much less. I am just storing fat differently. It used to all be in my stomach and waist- I was like a potato on stilts. Now I have a serious hourglass. My pants are a size smaller- bigger in the waist, smaller in the butt and thighs than they used to be. Yes, I’d like to lose weight, but losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean gaining health- unfortunately, we are conditioned to believe that.

      3. I get what you are saying. At least I think I do.

        I’m someone with squishy thighs who can get to 12-15% bf with a lot of discipline and desire following a body builder style diet. With a lot of desire is key. I no longer have that desire. What I find really surprising is all the “wow” “great post” comments. It’s well written but my goodnes I thought every woman would know this by now. Women carrying more far and having a harder time losing than men because they are the baby growers. And fat on the hips/but/thighs is a sign of health. It’s sort of “no shit sherlock”. What I find depressing is the amount of women this is apparently new information too. Sigh.

        1. It’s not so much that it’s new information as that it seems to be acknowledged relatively infrequently, particularly any time people are talking about weight loss, or about appearance. It gets frustrating hearing and reading all these things about how to ‘lose those last ten pounds’, get visible ab definition and so on, as if that’s an obviously good thing (some women do look like that when healthy but for many it’s a sign of being underweight). So it’s nice to see it pointed out clearly now and then, in an article that focuses on how to be HEALTHY.

  52. Interesting article. It would be very exciting to dive into a comparative physiology expose on the difference between cohorts for fat metabolism. Like gender, age groups, nationalities and so forth…that is too big a job for me however…

  53. Thank you for making me feel better about my huge, un-lose-able ass.

  54. Great post and it does relieve my mind as I have always been one of those whose body type has screamed good metabolic health. 🙂

    However, I’m now passed the child-bearing years – did any of your research indicate a difference for women after menopause? I’ve been maintaining a primal diet for a year now and about 3 months ago the weight stopped coming off despite still being 40 pounds above what I think is optimal for me.

  55. Erm yea.. that doesn’t explain why I have lots of fat on my upper arms, but my thighs are not even big. I must be a freakazoid, because I mostly store fat in my upper body than my lower. =(

  56. If I go low carb enough I can easily get to 10/13 body fat and that’s not good for me so I must really watch carefully how much I eat. My problem is carbs are really hard on my system because they damn trigger up fluid retention in ways my heart can’t deal with anymore.
    My target is a healthy 15% which would be easier if I could up my carbs going low gi and gl and by keeping my insulin low, whatever it makes my heart and kidneys happy is ok for me. Since the transplant and medication I developed belly fat, I never had that one before and maybe it’s to blame on meds.
    I have friends who put weight on their breasts, I thought that was cool once but now I just feel like it’s dangerous, not sure why.

  57. This article sounds really nice and positive (which is one of your strengths, Mark) but when it comes down to it, women (especially those of us over 30) are screwed when it comes to fat loss. I’ve been reading your site and others for months, diligently following the advice, thinking that the diet changes would work for me. They didn’t.

    I’ve been paleo for over a year. My ass is still the same size (possibly larger!) and my boobs have shrunk. There simply aren’t enough resources and research that focus on women. And I’m not talking about that “firming and toning with barbie weights” crap that’s all over the womens’ mags. I’m talking about real research, real enactable plans with real results.

    The only writer I’ve read who seemed to actually have done the research and provide a sensible explanation on a biochemical level was Lyle McDonald. Not to say there aren’t others… they’re just hard to find.

    I read most of the articles here with half a grain of salt, knowing that most of the sources you cite (and not to say that you’re responsible for the lack of research on women) tend to revolve around male metabolism.

    1. “but when it comes down to it, women (especially those of us over 30) are screwed when it comes to fat loss.”

      I had the opposite reaction… women have a huge advantage — they can be healthy, disease-free, and long-lived, without being as crazily lean as a man would have to be to be as healthy.

      No wonder women live longer.

  58. Let me extend my line of criticism. I made two major changes to my diet following months of reading MDA and similar sites:
    1) adding more saturated fat back in, in the form coconut oil and butter.
    2) i quit running/biking long distances and focused on bodyweight exercises

    When I look at videos of myself 18 months ago, I was more cut, and slimmer than I am now (when I was running and eating slightly less fat). If anything, the advice here favors men’s bodies and hasn’t favored mine. I’m frustrated and looking for better resources.

    Other reading I’ve done has led me to question my high fat diet diet and lazy cave man ways. I’ve added various forms of cardio back into my strength training regmine. I’ll tell you in a year if it works.

    1. I think cardio should be considered necessary. Maybe not to extremes, but I’ve always had better results overall when I’ve been doing cardio. When I focus just on calisthenics and weight lifting I seem to lose mobility. Our muscles aren’t just made for contracting while the rest of our body is staying still and for running in a straight line really fast. They’re meant to move us around in countless ways at varying speeds. Cardio helps with this, especially in nature (fields, forests, trails) and not on some track or sidewalk.

      1. I do better with some cardio, also. A small criticism I have with Primal Blueprint fitness is that it focuses more on the man’s walk-sprint-kill-carry vision of fitness. Is that also an accurate reflection of what women’s bodies were built to do physically? If men are the hunters, and women are the gatherers, what does that mean for women’s fitness?

        1. Seems like yoga might be a good idea based on the gathering concept.
          I like to pick wild berries and though I’ve never officially done a yoga class or routine, that’s what it seems like to me.. lots of squatting, leaning, stretching and reaching, lunging, light stepping, high leg lifting to go over the plants – that is, if you want to be elegant about it. You could always Godzilla your way through a berry patch, though I bet our ancestors were careful not to damage the plants that provided them with food.

      2. I still think cardio is good. I think paleo/primal is just against boring “do I have to?” cardio, like getting on a treadmill if you’d rather be outside.

  59. I just wanted to say that I LOVE this article. It is almost creepy that you posted it today. I have lost over 25 lbs in the last year eating Primal. I had three daughters back to back (8, 6 & 5) and until a year ago I had pretty much conceded to the idea that I would never be the athletic 135 lb build I once was. However, I am finally within that grasp and I just told my husband last night how great I feel (younger, healthier etc) BUT there was only one place on my body I wasn’t quite happy with. My thighs….This article made me very happy! I will embrace the little extra jiggle in those areas because I have three gorgeous examples of why it is there. (Plus my husband doesn’t seem to mind it!!)

    Thanks Mark for bringing this into perspective for me!

  60. It’s hard to take an (ex) hardcore athlete with ripped pictures of himself all over his website seriously when he says, “Strive for your ideal body weight and don’t worry about having a little bit of fat on you. Look at me, I can’t build muscle! Oh, but I sit at 6% body fat naturally :-P”

    1. I have to agree with M here. It’s real easy for someone whose genes allow them this body type to tell someone like me to just be happy to have fat all over them despite great efforts to rid themselves of it. That’s akin of a gold medalist telling the bronze winner they should be proud of their achievements.

      1. But maybe us women are looking at it wrong, we shouldn’t have a cut look with hip bones and six packs showing for optimum health.

        1. Yes, that’s what I think. For the majority of women, that look would mean malnutrition and health problems. There are probably occasional women who are ‘meant’ to look like that, but for most of us, it means we’re sick.

    2. I bet Mark’s workouts are extreme and he downplays them a bit for the emotional comfort of his lazy readers.

  61. I would LOVE to hear more on the peri/post menopausal woman and health. I have been perimenopausal for 8 years now and still going strong…I expect another 10 years at least…I worry the weight I have lost will come back in ten folds once I am fully menopausal…there is very little research on how a woman can maintain a healthy body during and after menopause…I love your articles Mark and I love how you recognize the difference in losing fat in men and women, now how about some help for the older woman in the peri/post menopause time of their lives.

  62. “The body knows” during pregnancy. Yes, This!!! When I was pregnant, especially with the twins, it really felt like there was a physical siphon into my vitamin and nutrient reserves. The baby will take what it needs, and it’s up to Mama to go find more!

  63. Wow, Mark’s last statement about trying to build muscle (for the guys) beyond your body’s comfort zone is right! I have never heard it said quite that way before. Years of trying to eat, eat, eat has led to terrible digestive issues. Once I stopped eating for size and stopped using heavier weights(I had back surgery in Nov/11), I felt better. It was hard to see 25lbs go, but I remain at about 8-10% bodyfat with ease and I will be 47. And….I am a former chubby kid.

  64. I’m nursing now, and my butt and thighs are becoming fat-free, thanks also in part to PBF. However, my post-partum “jelly belly” has not. budged. at. all. What’s up with that???!

    1. It’s part of the nursing cycle…it will change after your baby is weaned, if not sooner. I found I could notice cycles of fat storage and draw down when I was nursing. For instance, if my baby was fighting off an infection and wanted to nurse nearly incessantly for 24hrs, there would be a noticeable decrease in belly fat. But then over the next few days the belly fat stores would be replenished, ready for the next time.

  65. I lost my belly fat only once. And that was with no fatsand no carbs for 3 months. True i had no belly for the first time sence having my childern, but my health was not so good. On primal eating i feel much better but have the belly back( not much hips or thighs). I am reaching the 50 mark in life too. Could that be the problem? Alittle help the direction would be good.

  66. I would love to see some thoughts about what women who DO have more than enough fat stores can do about them. (I’m pretty sure that if I got pregnant tomorrow I could not eat a thing and still have enough fat mass to get me through the pregnancy and a couple months of breast feeding before I started to look like a skeleton)

  67. So this is very informative but kind of depressing…I started eating paleo, and very low carb paleo at that to lose the 70 or so pounds that I need to lose. One of the first steps was to eliminate virtually all omega6 fats – other than what is actually found in meat and fish and replace with coconut oil, organic butter and fish oil (which I actually use as a salad dressing with some lemon juice. My body is not very balanced looking – my thighs are really oversized – and now I read that I’m storing DHA there when I was hoping it would go to my brain so that I could remember stuff for more than 30 seconds! So Mark, what should I do -cut back on fish oil, eat more chicken and beef? Is there any way to tweak this so that I can trim the thighs…no way I’ll ever look like a boy, figure is way too womenly but def need to trim the thighs and backend…any ideas? BTW I am 51 and peri-menopausal so there is no more nursing in the cards for me!!
    Thanks for any advice!

  68. Mark,

    This is a great article! I have been battling hashimoto’s for some time now and am on a very strict protein and fat intake. I am an avid lifter and still maintain wod’s along with the program. I actually just had this conversation with my fiance that our means of I.F. are so different, there are some mornings where I physically just can not I.F. or I will black out or pass out. I would get frustrated because i didn’t understand how he could go so long in between meals and I on the other hand have to keep a bit of meat or avocado at hand so i don’t black out. I hated the feeling of needing this to function through out the day however you are absolutely accurate in that women process differently, My body is in prime time at 25 it’s ready to start popping those kids out at some point and my body I think is going into natural storing mode where it needs to store nutrients for its main purpose to reproduce.

    I guess with all that said it sheds some light as to why I need listen to my body in refueling it every so often. Thanks for the article!

  69. Great article. Now, as a 33 y.o. woman who bellydances, CF’s and who is also a fencer–and who has zero current and perhaps 5% future interest in having children–How do I get rid of that extra “glutealfemoral” fat? I appreciate and understand the motive of the article, but it seems somewhat defeatist for those of us who choose NOT to do full-on Paleo to include reproducing. As such, and based solely on the results of the research: Does the research then mean that in order to “fight” genetics, that twice as much effort must be executed to achieve the desired result? Granted, I am not happy that I’ve gone from a 38D to a barely 34B, while my lower half is still thick-ankled-athletic-Beyonce; but for me, I’d still like the encouragement that I will be able to meet my performance goals instead of fighting my body and getting nowhere. I’m moving 5# a year at most. For a competitive athlete, this is a snail’s pace that isn’t positive given my increasing age, the wear on my knees and now a tendonitis in my hip. Bummed. :/

    1. We don’t have to wash up after an orgasm. That’s a pretty big perk, I think.

  70. Another difference between men and womens health is that we ladies tend to eat our feelings – snacking out of boredom or sadness. I do a lot of this. the difference is that the ice cream and chocolate became nuts and fruits.

    1. Actually that’s the one kind of disordered eating that falls equally in men and women. Men just don’t admit it as much.

  71. Yes! — I have a flat stomach, defined/muscled calves, veins popping out of my forearms, (and no hips, never had ’em ever) but still I have shapely thighs. Your body just does what it wants to do with the meant-for-baby fat!

  72. Oh yeah, I am a big butt and thigh girl, so much that I have to buy a larger size pair of pants to accommodate them which makes the waist too big. I have so much muscle in my legs too.

    Glad to know that is healthy though and I won’t stress it now that I know I am doing the right things, but it is out of my control. 🙂 PS, I still don’t like it.

  73. There is no need to read the comments to know it is too easy to confuse the issue with self-image.

  74. THANK YOU MARK! The more interested I get in health, the more I realize that a) women respond vastly differently in almost every arena of health than men do, and b) there are not enough studies that look at these gender differences. Then, of course, all the bro scientists on paleo forums like to tell women to try IF and go keto and all this stuff that works great for them but not for us. It makes me so happy to see the “patriarchs” of the paleosphere (I mean that in a good way!!) addressing these issues. From what I understand, estrogen regulation is super complicated and I don’t expect a non endocrinologist to really be able to disseminate it understandably to the masses — but it’s rare to find even a broad review of current literature.

    On a side note, going primal pretty much addressed all my body issues. It’s kind of ridiculous, in one month I lost something like two inches in my belly (probably from gut inflammation) and half an inch in my thighs. I weigh more than I did in college, but for the first time in my life I can put on some short-shorts and run around feeling like a million bucks. I’m still pretty squishy (probably like 27%-30% body fat) but it’s more evenly distributed now. Clothes suddenly fit me incredibly well. And better yet, I just feel great, inside AND out!

    1. Also, Robb Wolf had a great episode of the Paleo Solution Podcast that sent me down a rabbit hole looking at sympoms of estrogen overload: http://robbwolf.com/2012/06/12/estrogen-brad-davidson-episode-136/

      While I firmly believe that women do, and SHOULD, have significant body fat, there was some interesting info in there about stubborn thigh fat plus bad PMS symptoms being possible signs of too much estrogen. There are tons of estrogenic chemicals in our environment (not to mention conventional beauty products…) so I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.

      I do think that eating primal can help women reset their hormone balance, though. I’m in the middle of making some changes in my life to reduce excess estrogen, and I’m looking forward to finding out how that will affect my body and mind.

  75. I’m a marathoner, 170 cm/65 kg, strong and athletic. From the hips down, I look like a model. But the rest of me looks like I’m five months pregnant. My belly won’t bulge no matter what I do. I don’t drink alcohol nor coffee, I do lots of yoga, I sleep well, eat lots of vegetables, no trans fats, no fast food etc etc. Tried non-dairy no grains for two years. Ate lots of grass-fed beef, eggs and butter. Tried IF. Nothing happened except that I got fatigue, hair loss, recurrent colds and generally felt like shit. So I upped my carbs and started to eat grains again. I feel an instant increase in my energy levels and feel great! Now I’m actually able to stay awake after 9PM and do other things than work, work out and house work. And my belly looks like it’s always done (semi-bloated with rolls of fat), but at least I feel a helluva lot better. Any advice on that?

  76. To the AB FAT questions, the solution for me was to get my body used to eating MORE carbs!!!

    I am shedding torso/ab fat rapidly by having day-by-day increased my carb intake to between 80 and 115g. Now before you laugh, I was reading Paleo For Women and decided to see if my low thyroid and adrenal exhaustion were resultant from too few carbs. But I never crave carbs, and didn’t know how much I was eating, so I tracked myself for a few usual days, and averaged between 15 and 35g per day. Not enough!

    I never even considered that I would need more. I have birthed and breastfed five children this way, but while they have been thriving, I have not. As Mark said, “the body knows”, but I’m the last priority! So I was not likely even getting any of those carbs since I am still nursing.

    Anyway, more carbs = less stored ab-fat for me. I am losing fat so quickly that it is visible every morning. Not only that, but fat is growing in a very pleasant way on my butt! I used to be a bit boxy-looking there, but in three weeks, I have turned into an up-side-down heart-shape and now have visible venus dimples! My man can hardly believe it! But it’s even more shocking to *me* to see a shape I’ve never had that is *my* body!

    More carbs. At least for a while. Maybe I’ll hit a point where it doesn’t work at this level anymore and I’ll have to eat more, or less, carbs. I don’t know, but adjusting carbs seems to be the key for me.

    Also, my low thyroid and adrenal exhaustion seem to have improved drastically; I’m not taking my thyroid replacement anymore either. And I sleep much better.

    Carbs. More. If you’re a woman. Not if you’re a man; that won’t work.

    1. I have had exactly the same experience. Low carb primal for me meant stalled weight loss, heart palpitations, insomnia, hair loss, and changes in my menstrual cycle. I found Paleo for Women, added in a lot more carbs, and now feel much better. The questions is, how do we achieve weight loss without these symptoms?

  77. “Women burn fat differently than men. Upper body fat goes first, while lower body fat tends to stay put. Except during pregnancy and lactation, when the lower body begins to give up lower fat stores far more readily. ”

    Funny – this could be a reason why HCG works so well for me. I literally dropped most of the weight at the thighs and belly… still so much to go, though.

    1. Interesting….I have 2 bottles of HCG left and it worked well for me for the week and a half that I tried it; but then went paleo and added back the good fats. Wondering though if I should try again and see if the thighs can melt down a bit…

  78. This is very timely because I am taking on a couple products that promise men more muscle mass and strength. It promises them to “get big”. Although I haven’t gotten in depth into the programs yet, I am sure there are dietary components that demand excessive eating that might be ultimately unnatural for some individuals. I will put them onto this article so they understand the reality of the difficulty trying to do something sustainable when it isn’t natural.

  79. This is great stuff. I’m a midwife and discuss all of this with my clients when we talk about healthy pregnancy weight gain. On a personal note, I haven’t been able to menstruate in about 5 years. My BF is 12-13% and all my hormone levels are too low. How does one boost lepitin levels to help induce hormonal change? I’ve researched it to death…I sleep 8 hrs most nights (except when at work), reduce stress, eat primal (except for the occasional piece of gluten free toast). What gives? Any suggestion would be welcome

    1. Hmm, it does seem that low BF percentages for women can lead to loss of menstruation. I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but have you tried to gain more bodyfat to regulate yourself? Or is is that you have low hormones due to some genetics that have lead to having such low bodyfat in the first place? That is, was the low bodyfat intentional? Just curious!

  80. I will now eye the “Stubborn Hateful Three” pounds with (slightly) more tolerance. 😉

  81. Great subject, you definitely addressed the majority of your readers which seem to be peri-menopausal women. So please clarify the omega 3 to 6 issue. You mean all this marketing about 2 to 3 grams of fish oil plus good paleo diet is being converted to extra fat to our legs and hips. Please address this issue. I will not be taking any more omega 3 until you do. Thanks

    1. LOL! Maybe I’ll go on an Omega3 hunger strike with you til we get an answer…I want DHA for my brain, not my thighs!

      1. Maybe they’ll have a surgery for that some day. Thigh fat being extracted and then pumped into the brain. 😯

  82. I’m a pudgy 25% body fat and the only way I can ever get thinner is with chronic cardio and starvation. It’s the only thing that works. All the PB diet does is get the insulin resistant extra fat off and restore health, which admittedly is a heck of a lot. But it’s not a weight loss diet. The PB fitness helps some with tone, but it doesn’t make me thin. If anything, it makes me fatter because the old CW when I was a kid was you shouldn’t lift weights because as soon as you stop it turns to fat. So true! Miss a week and it’s all turned to fat and I look worse than ever. The only way to be thin is to eat only vegetables and run run run. Sadly, this leads to severe depression. Women can’t win on this and everybody judges the pudgy 25% ones like me as having no will power and not trying hard enough to be healthy.

    1. I’m curious if there’s any real evidence that 25% body fat in a women is actual unhealthy in any way if the woman is healthy by more direct measures (fit, strong, energy, endurance, not getting sick)

      My suspicion is that it’s one of those things driven more my pop culture (everyone should look the same and there’s a particular body type that’s the ‘fashion’ every generation) than by actual health.

      25% body fat in an otherwise healthy woman… to me doesn’t sound ‘pudgy’ particularly, it sounds like it could very well be just normal genetic variation in healthy people.

      1. I.e., it sounds like you’re healthier when you’re at 25% than when you try to go lower.

        Maybe the solution isn’t ‘cardio and starvation’ but dumping the fashion magazines or whatever’s messing with your mind and/or getting healthier friends (i.e., ones who are active and eat well and aren’t obsessing about body fat percentage).

        1. Sure, I’m certain 25% is just fine and dandy for me. But you won’t see someone who looks like me in the Friday Success Stories and my own appearance isn’t going to make anybody run out and buy the Primal Blueprint.

        2. I would love to read Primal Success Stories from people who haven’t turned into supermodels. Healthy comes in a wide range of body types and distributions. Hearing about impressive blood work changes and about finally feeling good and energetic is just as much a success story as “I lost weight and now I am a size 4”. I really want to hear from other women in their 40s-50s who maybe still have a few pounds hanging around but feel better than in their 20s and 30s. How about it??

  83. Thoughts on body fat storage & post menopausal (non hormonal using) athletic women? Thx…

    1. Well for one they’re gratifying, it sounds like you’re getting a standing ovation.

  84. As a woman, this news actually makes me sad although it’s something not at all surprising. I live in an area where there are scores of women around me without extra lower body fat (this is a place of marathon runners), and I’ve managed to achieve a similar look in the past but it was only at extreme cardio levels. I was physically exhausted all the time for the amount of lower body exercises combined with the running.

    I wish we could program our woman genes to change this, particularly if we have no children or aren’t going to have them. Ah well.

  85. Thank you so much for writing this article. I have such a battle with my body and the way I feel I should look. This article is exactly what I needed. I know that being healthy isn’t looking like a model and being small, it’s about my ability to workout, recover, and do my day to day tasks. Thank you again for this!

  86. Thanks for the post Mark.

    Have you ever seen cases where women transition into a Primal diet and actually put on more body fat?

    I am 5’8 and starting the diet I weighed 127lbs and had 15.4% body fat. 2 months later I’m 130lbs and have 17.8% body fat.

    I’ve been eating Primal since the beginning of July because I was suffering from inflammation issues (psoriasis, joint pain, ect). I’ve had a hard time transitioning into being Fat Adapted i think mostly because i was so good at burning glucose. I felt like crap until about day 18 where i think i made the switch. I can now skip a meal and not crash and have seen inflammation reduce. But i can’t reconcile why i put on body fat when i thought the opposit was supposed to happen.

    According to your post i should be ok with a little extra because I’m still very healthy, but I just don’t like the way i feel with a little extra “coosh” 🙂

    Any advice would help.
    Thanks!

    1. It sounds like for your height, the extra pounds are probably much healthier. There’s definitely such a thing as too little body fat.

  87. Great article at a great time. Just as I’m complaining about how whenever I get pregnant the first thing that expands is my hips and thighs. I’m walking around at 20 weeks with my booty sticking out as much as my stomach. Which, thankfully, this being my first Primal pregnancy, isn’t half as much as previous pregnancies! Now I have a good reason not to worry about it. And I imagine continuing to squat 130# and deadlift #160 is helping all that as well.

  88. I so agree with you.

    If only our doctors would look into this properly and stop making their patients frightened of their own bodies all the time.

    We need more of this sort of thing so that people stop feeling bad about looking normal.

  89. I love, love, love this article. It just slays me when I talk to my friends who are a little over weight when they come back from the Dr.’s office having been told they are “obese”. Seriously! Sure they could stand to lose 10-15 pounds but if they lost more than that they wouldn’t look healthy. Women are supposed to be curvy. I am not a fan on the BMI at all and love how you explained the differences between the sexes. Nicely done.

  90. I absolutely cannot do IF, I become dizzy, light-headed and just generally bitchy when my calories get too low.

    1. Me, too. And, it seems like the stricter I get with my diet, the less I can IF. It used to be that I got crabby. Now I don’t get crabby, but my stomach makes all kinds of horrendous “FEED ME NOW” noises within 3-4 hours of my most recent meal. I really think I need to eat 4 times a day.

    2. That’s how I usually feel when trying to fast. It’s an exercise in discipline and something you might have to approach incrementally.
      Or you could cheat.. and sleep while fasting. That’s how I managed my first and so far only 24 hour fast (though I think at some point I drank a little coconut milk so I’ll have to do a real fast some day).

      1. Remembered – it was a little bit of flax oil, not coconut milk. But maybe a “fast” with small amounts of high omega 3 fats would be a good thing.
        The oil ended up going rancid though and I made a bad decision to eat some anyway, thinking it wasn’t yet too rancid. Felt terrible, vomited up half a jar of peanut butter and had to sleep / lie there suffering for a while on my tarp.. the vomit fed some squirrels though.

      2. That’s a good idea. Usually when I fast, I try to make it from dinner to dinner, but at the end I’m counting down hours and end up breaking down around 18 hours. Recently, I’ve been playing around with giving myself at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast with pretty good results.

        Also, in response to another of your comments, I never thought of yoga in a hunter-gatherer context. I like it well enough, though, so I might play around with that.

    3. there are different ways to do IF. i never fast for a whole day or more. i eat 3 meals between the hours of midday to 8pm most days and don’t eat between 8pm and midday. easy. if your hungry in the morning have some coffee, you could even go wild and have some milk in it if you can handle dairy. coffee may help suppress your appetite.
      check out leangains.c o m as the author is pretty much the daddy of IF.

  91. Would also love to read about the fact that higher (not obese, just not skinny) BMI is associated with longevity in women. And curious about all these people citing their “body fat percentages” How was that calculated? I was under the impression that the only way to get an accurate number for that was to do that water submersion test.

    1. I think even in men it’s more complicated than people often make it out to be.

      There’s a radical difference in the effects of subcutaneous fat (especially when there’s only a bit of it anyway) and visceral fat, for example. That goes for both men and women, though it’s particularly relevant to women who tend to have more of the former.

      But even for men I’m not sure if there’s any actual advantage to losing that last couple of pounds if you’re active, strong, eat well, etc.

      IMO we should measure health by looking directly at HEALTH.

      The extreme low body fat ideal is more of a (recent) fad than an actual sign of health, IMO. And it’s not universal, either – it’s easy to see by artwork that there have been many times over history when they would have found our extreme low body fat ideal to be unattractive.

  92. I know I’m supposed to take comfort that nature is my behind my body’s refusal to relinquish its grip on the fat on my thighs but I don’t! I found this somewhat depressing. It would be better if you would maybe utilize the research so I could end up closer to the photo of Mark’s wife! I want her body!

  93. Very interesting and informative article! However, evolution really has nothing to do with it! In fact the chances of evolution developing such a complex process inside of such a complex organism not only defies the laws of psychics but is statistically impossible! The truth is the reason our bodies work so well and the male and female systems are so distinctly & brilliantly different are because the were genuisly DESIGNED

    1. +1. but no matter one’s beliefs this PB thing works for most people. should I be eating/exercising etc like a 20 yr old guy ? no. do I need to experiment a bit to find what works for a 50 yr old lady? yes. does it matter if I believe in GOD? maybe only to me and HIM…!

    2. Do tell us more about the laws of psychics, genuis, and how God or evolution alone explains the existence of trolls.

      1. Last night a guy who was “high” on opiates and drunk lectured me about Satan and Jesus when I answered to his inquiry if I liked Satan that yes, sometimes I do, and also Satanism, though I look at Satan as a mythological figure and not an actual being.
        Then I thought about how self-righteous I acted last time I got drunk (even though I was right, overall at least) and have now decided not to get drunk anymore. Chances are I’ll drink except moderately.
        I read that alcohol opens up all sorts of cell membranes and ion channels, basically at random, causing general havoc within the body so it seems like getting sloshed is a risky endeavor.

    3. I don’t believe that, nor do I discount it. One species, two genders.. how does that evolve? (and this goes for a great number of species)
      I’ve read/heard of sexual reproduction with bacteria, when they “lock” and trade some DNA, but I think it’s mind-boggling to think all gendered species resulted from that.

  94. I think a lot of women are hinting at the same question, but how does Primal affect a woman’s hormones? At any stage in life? And what does that mean for the amount of carbohydrates we eat, the kind of exercise we do, etc? We talk a lot on this site about life for Grok, but what was Grokette’s life like when Grok went out hunt? What were her daily activities?

  95. I totally agree with your statements. Like you, I have tried to put weight on by trying to lift heavy and eat a lot! What I saw when I did that was me getting injured and feeling nauseous constantly. When getting to bed I felt extremely bloated and sometimes could not even fall asleep. But its true that everybody is different when it comes to their physique and their metabolism. This article is great insight and I will keep this in mind when trying to help my friends out in exercising! Thanks!

  96. May be, just may be, evolution will some day take into account that flat belly and ripped body is sexy and improves an individual’s chances of mating. Then, we all will naturally start having ripped bodies!!

  97. Cool! After I started supplementing with fish oil and cod liver oil, I suddenly had more hip and thigh fat whereas the rest of my body stayed the same. Not sure if that’s how it works but it is a fun co-incidence.

  98. This is an interesting article and it got me thinking but I still feel there is a missing tile somewhere which is not explained. This information is addressing only young women.

    So my question will be as follows:
    How would you then explain woman in menopause tends to put more weight around their waist?
    Most women during that transition period start putting a lot of weight beyond their control. And for some reason unless they are really at it, they loose hope, they give up and become quite fat. This is nothing to do feeding another human being anymore because by nature they cannot.

    How can we explain this? I am very curious and thank you for all your research, it is very useful to all of us.

  99. Self image is also important. A male’s body composition may well be higher than average but is self perseption is that he has the perfect physique, what he sees in the mirror is his own confident perception of himself. In contrast many women who have ideal body composition self-perceive themselves as fat! Sadly.

    1. Nice, excellent point! I see some women who I would call downtright perfect complain of being fat!!

  100. I find it interesting that women respond better to exercise than men but not diet. I work with mostly women and they always complain that their diets aren’t working. I tell them diet is only 1 piece of the puzzle but have never really concerned myself with finding any research to share. You have done the leg work for me. Thanks! lol

  101. That is a rockin’ article! I feel insecure only when I know I’m not on top of my food/nutrition game…otherwise, my lady shape has served me well and I SURELY don’t want to look like a man 🙂

  102. I started following Primal Blueprint on May 1. I am a 38 year old female. I lost 12 pounds within the first six weeks and then my weight loss stalled for 6 weeks. At the same time, I started experiencing distressing symptoms including: Heart palpitations, insomnia, hair loss, and amenorrhea. I recently took myself to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart issue, but all the tests came out fine. Thankfully, I sound the Paleo for Women blog and her thinking about weight loss and/or low carb can cause metabolic and systemic problems for women of childbearing age.
    I have an appointment with an endochrinologist to explore this further.
    I started feeling much better about 3 days after I started adding rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes (and some sugar) into my daily eating. But of course I am still not losing weight. Even though I have eliminated SO MUCH from my previous diet.
    My theory is that weight loss (and maybe specifically low carb) causes a stress reaction in some women’s bodies making it very challenging to lean out without feeling terrible. Any other experiences like this out there?

  103. Add me to the “this sucks and is depressing” camp.

    And who are these men who think that women look fantastic with saddlebags and a big butt? I feel like there are some token condescending “but men like big butts!” platitudes being thrown around that are pretty hypocritical. Men don’t, most of them. I don’t want to look like a Victoria’s Secret model (although I don’t see men boycotting those catalogs in mass revulsion either). I want Marilyn Monroe’s size 16 figure! Firm thighs and hips. Not this jiggly People of Walmart butt beneath my slim waist. I want curves, firm curves.

    Anyway. I don’t know who all you saddlebag-loving men are, but you’re not the majority. And you never have been. Ancient Greek statues idolized curvy but firm bodies, ample but tight thighs. I would kill for Botticelli’s Venus’ thighs. Instead I have jiggle and lumps. My husband sure does like the look of those Olympic swimmers and divers. Lean, muscular and strong. You’re telling me that PB can’t deliver that to most women? Fan freaking tastic. Color me depressed.

    1. In 2 months I lost nine pounds. Since May, I have lost nothing more, but every day my whole body still improves, including the butt and outer thighs. I still despise them because they are just out of proportion enough to be irritating as hell, but my husband says there is great improvement. Cellulite is slowly but surely vanishing. But it takes time.

      Don’t forget, the PB can’t change our genetic bodily makeup. I’ll never be a Victoria’s Secret underwear model, but I could be a Victoria’s Secret dresses, jeans, t-shirts, bras model because my arms, legs, back, and abs are killer now, *thanks* to the PB and luck in the genetics department in those areas.

      Perfection is for fiction.

  104. I wonder if the Venus Willendorf wasn’t a fertility figure, but a feeding figure.. like a cow!
    Imagine in prehistoric times, after giving birth some women were made to keep lactating, as our ancestors knew that breast feeding children for a long time was good for them, and assumed (or realized or knew) that human milk was good for everyone. So they had these woman, sort of like queen bees, who they gave lots of extra food to who then provided the tribe with human milk.

  105. I’m with many of the women on here. I lost 3 stone eating primal but my belly is huge. i have lost 9 ” off my middle but its still huge. I’m apple shaped and as heart disease and diabetes is in my family I’m obviously concerned. I have Fibromyalgia and cant exercise, my sleep is erratic because of the Fibro so dont tell me to get a good nights sleep and relax! it doesnt happen! I would love to have a flat , fairly fat free stomach. I’d also like to know mark, if I stick to my primal way of eating but still carry the belly fat what are my risks of developing diabetes and heart diease in the future?

  106. I’ve always had the proverbial “childbearing hips” and “thunder thighs” no matter how slim I was and had actually resigned myself to the idea that I’d probably have to resort to plastic surgery to get the visual results I wanted. A few months ago I read Nina Planck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby since I’ve been searching for paleo/primal-friendly resources for conception and pregnancy. Her book also discusses that DHA is preferentially stored in the gluteofemoral fat and was a HUGE AH HA! moment in coming to terms with my body. That bit of jiggle is going to be major brain-food (literally!) for whatever podlings I eventually have. It gave me a whole new appreciation for human physiology and all the things that we’re capable of. Not to mention giving me even more reasons to love my curves.

  107. My question is it okay to not have a period for awhile while being on the primal diet/lifestyle? I train hard 4-6 days per week and am very low carb. I am about 10-15lbs from my vanity weight, at about 21% body fat and would like to get leaner. I’m not having a period , should I be concerned or will it come back once my body adjust to this lifestyle?

  108. For those of us who have “Wonder Thighs” what brand of jeans do you wear? It’s very difficult for me to find jeans that will accommodate my Wonder Thighs and still fit around the hips and waist. I’ve had luck with American Eagle Boyfriend pants cause they’re larger in the thigh and have a low rise.

    What else do you wear?

    1. Start with a relaxed or curvy fit, then find yourself a great alterations person and plan to have the waist taken in. That’s what I finally had to resign myself to as the ‘perfect’ jean is a MYTH. So look for something that really flatters your butt and thighs and just have the waist altered.

  109. Thanks Mark for that article. I am fairly new to PB, my first miracle being the stabilization of my blood sugar (no more crashes for me!), but I have struggled with fluxuating weight, bouts of fatigue, loss of libido, lost desire to workout, etc, your leptin article really helped with that issue, I figured out I’m one of those that need a certain amount of carbs or my leptin levels go all wonky. This article about the differences in men and women’s fat metabolism makes me feel much better, my husband who has been mentoring me in primal seems to lose the fat so easily when he eats clean true primal where I will bounce back and forth seeming to lose and regain the same pound every other day. I have also lamented the fact that the fat loss seems so slow. I will now have more patience with myself and concentrate on reducing my stress and getting enough sleep. 🙂

  110. Women burn fat differently than men. Upper body fat goes first, while lower body fat tends to stay put. Except during pregnancy and lactation, when the lower body begins to give up lower fat stores far more readily. Interestingly (and not by coincidence), women tend to preferentially store the long chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA – the one that’s so important to the baby’s development during and pregnancy – in their thighs.

    THIS makes me feel SO much better! I’ve always had an easier time losing weight in my stomach area. After my face and chest, its the first to go…and usually within a month of exercising on a regular basis.

    So when its been my thighs and hips lately that have been getting slimmer while my tummy stays relatively the same, I’ve been wondering what’s gone wrong? Is it that I have no abdominal strength? Or did my body chemistry change?

    OH! That was it! I’m currently nursing a 7 month old and have been exercising for the better part of 3 months now (5 days/week ~30 min of cardio/day + 45 min of weights 1-2x/wk). This makes me feel so much better. I’ll just keep up what I’m doing and look for the results in February – March!

  111. Hello,

    This post has revealed a stunning piece of information which most of us never knew. Of course, we are not trained in medicine to get to study these facts. So, the bodies of men and women are designed differently to store fat. This article should surprise both men and women.

    Thanks a lot for posting such a valuable post with so much of information useful for all of us.

    Regards,
    Andy

  112. Pancreas releases insulin. Insulin tells cells to take up fat.

    Eat a lot of glucose molecules and a lot of Insulin works hard to store it safely. High blood glucose damages cells.

    Excess alcohol and fructose are turned to fat by liver.

    Good fats and proteins reduce insulin needs to a minimum.

    Insuring replacement of all 60 essential minerals allows the other hormones to put the fat where it belongs or burn it up.

  113. I’m not sure about this whole “fat thighs are healthy” thing. I thought it was a sign of estrogen dominance. Then there’s cellulite – surely not a sign of vibrant health. Are there paintings of hunter-gatherer women with big thunder thighs?

  114. The .pdf download of the research paper is not working, could you fix it?

  115. 2 tips for the women posting here.

    1. For your thighs: foam rollers. Google it. Cellulite is formed by connective tissue; rollering it helps smooth it out. Worked for me — didn’t get rid of cellulite altogether but turned the clock back 10-15 years.

    2. For your belly: add an exercise to your routine that contracts the transverse abdominis — an ab muscle that gets weakened and stretched during pregnancy. Getting the trans abdominis toned will help pull that pad of abdominal fat up and in. Not a cure for the fat itself but makes it more presentable 😉

  116. I too enjoyed the article except he kid of left out that there are different body shapes period. Apple versus pear for one. Apple shapes DO NOT GAIN weight in their legs, harder to build muscle even besides basic. I mean mine are shapely but not athletic like my tube or pear shaped friends.

    I struggle with losing weight in my specific apple shape problem areas. It is like i have a rubber band just below my thighs and up. Apple shapes abdomen is at about four inches shorter than everyone else’s and yet we still have to fit the same amount of organs and such missing that space.

    We gain most of our fat in the upper region and it is the last to come off if you can get it off :). Before children when i was slender i still looked bigger because of this. I would like to lose about 25 more pounds and even eating a low carb Nourishing Traditions diet for yrs and it is not really working. I tried carb increase for a while do not think it is working. It is like my body is just stuck here. We have been gluten free for a while. I usually only have fermented dairy and have been with out as well and did not notice any difference. I have to kill myself with exercise to budge weight and even then it leaves the other areas not my apple section!

    MDA do you have an suggestions??

  117. What about the female who is past production age, who is just now, at 77 yrs, acquiring a wider girth? The primary change has been less exercise during the past 3 yrs due to surgeries, cataract (2010); hernia repair (2011) and the extreme heat/mosquito virus that prevents prolonged outdoor activities here in 2012. I never had a real weight problem and want to lose 10-15 lbs now to combat high blood pressure. I have gone up from 116 lbs. to 126.5-129 lbs. I am flummoxed!

  118. Ok, this has always frustrated me, because I gain weight like a dude! *insert angry face*. I am 5″3, 116 lbs, and while the rest of me is fit and healthy, ALL of my fat is in ONE, SINGULAR spot. My stomach. I literally look pregnant. I cut out wheat in july and instantly noticed a difference. But I am wondering if replacing the wheat with more ice cream and chips is catching up to me. I cut out sugar this week, and other than that I eat eggs, bacon, fruits, veggies, meat, fish etc. But this belly. It’s so annoying.

  119. Great article.
    Everyones body is different and not everyone thrives on the same foods. When you move your body , eat healthy and dont restrict, and you still carry some extra weight on for example your ass, then dont judge it. Then it may be just natural for you:)

  120. Hm… male and female fat distribution and why it is the way it is really is interesting.

    For transgender women on hormone treatment out fat distribution becomes like any other female but it works best for trans kids that start before or as puberty kicks in. Hormone treatment later in life is not as effective.

    Could or would having or promoting certain types of body fat, perhaps in a diet regime along with hormone treatment bring better bodily feminization (curves, shape) in trans bodies that started late in life with hormone treatment?

    Hormones only do so much. Are there certain treatments or medication that can promote certain useful types of body fat that could help combined with hormone treatment?

    This is interesting.

  121. So what does the research (or dearth of it) say about us women who have small hips and “beer bellies”? We’re as feminine as other women, produce offspring, etc. “Estrogen dominance” is common among the women in my family, and all of the women are built this way, with big breasts, big stomachs (if we don’t exercise), and “chicken legs.” I can’t think of one female relative with an hour-glass figure or who might be referred to as “hippy.” I grew up in Iowa, and most of the women there are built that way, so perhaps it’s a German/Irish thing?

  122. interesting article, but as a woman I still have no idea whether my different fat metabolism calls for modified diet, specially in regards to fat consumption? As women should we eat less of it? Should our proportion of consumed carbs be higher and fat lower in comparison with male diet?
    I’m new to primal lifestyle and from very beginning I felt ovewhelmend by amount of fat I was advised to eat… I just find it slightly scary and in my case impossible to achieve. But as advised I have switched to full fat products (I eat diary) and I’m still questioning whether it’s a good move… And yes, I’m not a big fan of big healthy lower body on my body 😉 I like athletic look, not skinny supermodel (yuk!), but lean and healthy with low fat %. So I’m still scratching my head wondering what is the best diet to achieve that optimal look…

  123. interesting article, but as a woman I still have no idea whether my different fat metabolism calls for modified diet, specially in regards to fat consumption? As women should we eat less of it? Should our proportion of consumed carbs be higher and fat lower in comparison with male diet?
    I’m new to primal lifestyle and from very beginning I felt overwhelm by amount of fat I was advised to eat… I just find it slightly scary and in my case impossible to achieve. But as advised I have switched to full fat products (I eat diary) and I’m still questioning whether it’s a good move… And yes, I’m not a big fan of big healthy lower body on my body 😉 I like athletic look, not skinny supermodel (yuk!), but lean and healthy with low fat %. So I’m still scratching my head wondering what is the best diet to achieve that optimal look…

  124. Hi Mark. I don’t have time to read the comments right now, so this may have been mentioned. I’d love for you to write something to women who have the apple-shaped body. We aren’t the ones with the nice rears and heavy thighs that are healthy. How should we eat? How should we exercise? Our body type is working against us! Also can we build muscle mass to become less insulin resistant? Thanks!

  125. For the peri-menopausal gals contending with visceral fat, I’m wondering if it’s simply the body’s reaction to the natural reduction in estrogen that occurs at that time, trying to bring it back up to its previous set-point (since visceral fat produces estrogen). It’s known that estradiol deficiency causes abdominal weight gain.

    If this paradigm is correct, then supplementing with bioidentical estrogen (cream) might help reduce the visceral fat, since the body would no longer need it in order to bring the estrogen level back into line.

    Are there any peri-menopausal or post-meno-pausal women here who have used bioidentical estrogen cream? Was there any effect on visceral fat?

  126. Great Article and is the closest explanation to my pregnancies. I was overweight before pregnancy and have lost 18lbs and 25 lbs respectively within two weeks after delivery with respect to the pre-pregnancy weight. My second one i was diagnosed with gestational so my diet was stricter (i also had a one carb per meal rule and seemed to keep my on track) but I do know i lost appetites while pregnant, ate less than normal just due to being less hungry and never had any cravings. I’m sure which explains the loss in weight. Now that I am only 3 months postpartum and 25 lbs lighter I would like to keep my current weight and possibly lose more. I have noticed since the day I delivered I am very hungry and can’t seem to keep my hunger satisfied. Right after delivery i also noticed how thin my limbs and hips were very thin which no I know why through your articles explanation the fat stored there before was used by the baby. I haven’t gained any weight back but i am noticing my limbs are not as thin looking as they were when i got home from the hospital. Is there anything I can do to keep this thinness? Or should i just chalk this up to my body is preparing for another life? It did feel amazing being thinner than it does now because i feel more bloated and less agile. Or could it be that I can be the thinner look if I go to a primal diet because maybe my bloated look is intolerance to gluten, grains and sugar? I still consider myself slightly overweight and can still lose some more fat to be at a optimal health range. I don’t know…. frustrated and confused. Trying to find the answers and ways to acquire the thin and agile feeling!

  127. hi Mark,
    I’m a woman in her mid-twenties. i’m 5’7 and weigh 120 lbs. i have about (19-)20% bf. but i still have a protruding fat belly and very bad love handles. once i lost to around 115 lbs, it got somewhat better. my abdominal circumference is 70 cm, when i lost the 5 lbs it was about 67. i am very desperate. i don’t know how much more to lose to look normal in tighter dresses and clothes.
    i would say i’m skinny fat, however, i do high intensity workouts regularly, little bit of weight lifting, i surely have built some muscle tissue, and have a body fat percentage around 19-20%. how is that skinny fat?
    have you ever encountered someone with this issue? thank you if you have any suggestions for me. i guess i just need to lose 10-15 pounds and then i will be ok. but wont my bf% be too low? thanks!

  128. I am at a low -ish body fat, for woman, 22-24 but how come the fat that I do have is not in the “sexy” places, but rather it is how men store their fat, like lower back and midsection???