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How Men & Women Think (Differently) About Food, Exercise & Body Image

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This lengthy article discusses the different levels of importance males and females place on health and wellness. I had the chance to talk with Paul Burhardt and Christiana Lumaj, Nutrition and Food Scientists at Wayne State University and Personal Trainer Kayla Itsines for their take on these subjects as well. (Audio available at bottom of post.)

A recent Nielsen survey found that roughly 75% of people around the world believe they “are what they eat”-evidence that food has a major effect on purchasing factors, priorities such as eating healthy and exercise, personal body image perceptions and overall happiness.

It’s no surprise, males and females perceive their bodies and overall health differently. We have all heard the stories and seen the pressure women have to be thin. Campaigns are being launched everyday to tackle terms such as “plus-sized” and “beautiful”Men may not be under the same scrutiny but could knowledge or lack thereof play a role in how males perceive themselves? Could males simply be happier with their bodies because they spend less time worrying about them?

I wanted to delve further into this issue and to do that, I surveyed 50 males and 50 females.

What did I want to know?

  1. What level of importance do males and females place on eating healthy and exercise?
  2. Do males and females exercise as often as they think they should? 
  3. Are males and females equally happy with their body?
  4. Are males and females equally knowledgeable about food trends? 
  5. What factors motivate males and females to purchase the food that they do?

This info graphic was made with the help of If you have questions about it, please comment below!

Purchasing factors

As you can see above, males tend to purchase food based on how long it will take to prepare. Convenience plays a key factor in purchasing. Organic, gluten-free, low MSG, hyper-local, etc. were purchasing factors for only 21% of the males surveyed which could mean two things; males are not aware of these health factors and trends or males purchase their food based on price (these foods tend to cost more) and convenience.

Females were split almost equally between price, prep time & organic purchasing factors.

Confused about gluten? I called Paul Burhardt, a graduate research student in Nutrition & Food Science at Wayne State University to discuss this popular health trend.

When people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance go gluten-free, they do feel better and more energetic. However, those without a medical need to avoid gluten shouldn’t expect the same results.


It’s obvious, you get out what you put in. The survey showed that 63% of the females said “No, I am not happy with my body.” But, as eating healthy came in as a major priority, exercise did not.  72% of females and 68% of males confessed that they should be exercising more than they actually do.

Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey  states that 49% consider themselves overweight, and a similar percentage (50%) is actively trying to lose weight.

I reached out to one of my favorite fitness motivators, Kayla Itsines, a personal trainer from Adelaide, South Australia who said “A combination of both regular exercise and a healthy consistent diet are vital to losing weight and feeling great.”

Kayla Itsines is just 23 years old but has changed bodies and more importantly, the attitudes of women across the world.

“I think a balance of all things in life makes up a healthy lifestyle. The two most obvious ones would be a healthy balanced diet and a regular exercise regime. 100% effort and consistency should be put into both of these components because they go hand-in- hand… One of my biggest tips to keep a healthy balance is to create a daily to-do list so you can aim to make sure that you are fitting in all of those priorities such as exercise, work, family and friends.”- Kayla Itsines

Healthy or Not?

So, many people are trying to lose weight, but only a small percentage of them regularly exercise. This made me wonder, how healthy are the foods these people are consuming? In the survey, I asked respondents to list off their favorite breakfast and dinner meals. I read off a few of the respondent’s ideal meals to Christiana Lumaj, a recent Nutrition and Food Science graduate from Wayne State University to get her opinion. See if she deemed yours a healthy choice or not below!

Body Image Perceptions

An illustrative of how women look compared to how they feel.

With males and females placing some priority on eating healthy and a small priority on exercise, it’s no wonder the prevalence of obesity is highest in the Americas, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  But the question still stands, how come a majority (68%) of males are happy with the way they look and a shocking 37%of females are not?

I’m going to take a stab at the answer.

Could it be that females, who 26% place eating healthy as a priority whereas males are at 14%, worry too much about food? Could labels, food trends and fad diets be the reason? Do females place a higher level of importance on food and then consequently place a lower level of happiness on themselves when they don’t see results? I truly wonder if women placed less worry on calories and fad diets and more on exercising, would they perceive themselves similar to their male counterparts?

So females, I challenge you to give it a try. Worry less and exercise more. With summer right around the corner, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise.

Opportunities At Wayne State University

Join the Healthy You Crew (paid)

Rent Bikes from Mort Harris  


Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

Visit your local YMCA

Questions? Contact me by leaving me a comment below!

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