Maintaining a diet is hard enough, but it's made even harder when the options target the wrong population. Not only do men and women require different diets, they also show greater success when that diet is tailored to their requirements, new research finds.

Generally speaking, men and women fall into two distinct camps when it comes to dieting. Men prefer clear binaries: eat this, not that. If they're members of a program, such as Atkins or Weight Watchers, they like to stay anonymous. They prefer to "get in shape" rather than "lose weight." Women, on the other hand, gravitate toward the dieting itself. They prefer group settings where they can share their experiences and find comfort in fellow dieters. They enjoy snacking more frequently.

Biology, Brain Activity, And Cheat Days

On the biological side of things, women and men find themselves burning calories differently as well. Men tend to have more muscle mass, which burns energy more easily and results in greater caloric output, even when they're just lying around. Research has shown men also have an easier time resisting cravings.

This, in particular, is something Katy Stonitsch and Suneeth Samuel, of Chicago, have observed all too well.

"He's disciplined, I'm not," Stonitsch told the Wall Street Journal. Stonitsch has lost 15 lbs. in a 20-month time period, compared to her husband, Samuel, who has lost 100 lbs. in the same time. "I cheat way more than he does."

The couple, both 28 years old, have adopted a diet where they eat fewer calories as the week progresses. On Monday, they eat the most calories, and Sunday the fewest. Sundays are also reserved as the only day for cheat meals.

"I always tried to get him to cheat with me," said Stonitsch. "I could never say no to anything."

Samuel, for his part, said the diet plan has simply become "part of my daily routine, like getting up and brushing my teeth," he said to WSJ.

Stonitsch and Samuel aren't alone in their dieting dichotomy. Much of the research into gender differences in this area pits the two sexes against each other according to biological and social influences. Where a man's ego tends to get the better of him, a woman often defers to her emotions, said Gene-Jack Wang, researcher at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Wang published a 2009 study on the very effects of Stonitsch's inability to resist cravings, despite her husband's deftness in refusing. The study showed less brain activity associated with decision-making and emotions in men when tempted by their favorite foods than in women.

"When those areas show activity," Wang told WSJ, "it means that you're still associating food with emotion and struggling to suppress cravings or make a decision about eating it."

Wang suggested the greater levels of activity could perhaps be associated with higher levels of estrogen in women, although he conceded what was behind the different responses still remains unclear.

Such a discrepancy has some diet companies tailoring their products to different genders. Nutrisystem, which delivers packaged meals to the consumer's home, offers separate menus according to gender. Meals for men typically include greater sources of calories and red meat, including hamburgers and pizza. Meanwhile, a woman's choices often include grilled chicken and fudge graham bars.

The Dissenters

However, one group of studies offers another interpretation of male-female diets. Using crickets as their basis for comparison, researchers at the University of New South Wales found "male and female crickets maximize their fitness of different diets;" however, each sex's dietary preferences are very similar, Science Daily reports. "Instead of selecting foods in a sex-specific manner, males and female select 'intermediate' diets that are less than optimal for both sexes."

Maybe that's why diets are so hard to maintain. Not only are programs such as Nutrisystem targeting consumers according to their gender, they're telling them certain foods are off-limits strictly because of that gender — that a woman couldn't possibly want steak, and a man couldn't possibly want a salad.

"What men and women need to eat might be more dramatically different than we had realized," said Dr. Alexei Maklakov, the study's lead author. "However, men and women eat very similar diets and our results suggest that our tastes and food preferences could be a shared compromise, as they are in crickets."