A study sponsored by Weight Watchers found that men and women who described themselves as overweight tended to differ in how often they thought about their weight and in their emotional reactions to those thoughts.
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The women in the study reported thinking about their weight more frequently than the men. When asked what events would trigger thoughts about their weight, the women identified a number of diverse things. For example,women closely linked weight and clothing, saying that getting dressed in the morning, getting undressed at night, and buying clothes made them think about their weight. In addition, the women said that they thought about their weight when they were in the public eye, such as when they attended celebrations of special events. Finally, experiences of physical discomfort (feeling tired or too hot, having feet that hurt or other aches and pains) or emotional distress (a low self-image, a lack of self-confidence, or depression) triggered thoughts about their weight.
When asked about their emotional responses to their thoughts about their weight, the women were more likely than the men to say that the thoughts elicited negative emotions like disgust or anxiety.
When asked the same series of questions, men identified fewer trigger times when they thought about weight.They shared with women the association with clothes, describing getting dressed, undressed, and shopping for clothes as times when they thought about their weight. Men also described linking weight to physical health, saying that experiencing physical limitations like being out of breath or feeling fatigued and being told by their doctor that they had a weightrelated medical condition made them think about their weight status. Interestingly, men did not link being out in public or times of emotional distress to thoughts about their weight. When asked to describe the emotional response to thoughts about their weight, the men were more likely to speak in terms of being “bothered,” whereas the women expressed deeper negative emotions.
This study shows another dimension of the gender weight gap. In addition to the differences in self-assessment regarding weight status, women and men differ in their reactions to the weight once the awareness is there. By thinking about their weight more often and having a stronger negative reaction to it, it follows that women are more likely than men to take action to lose weight. Conversely, the tendency of men to have less frequent thoughts about their weight and to react to those thoughts with milder feelings, such as annoyance or bother, helps us understand why many guys may place a lower priority on weight loss