Men Losing Weight
By Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD
It’s not just relationships where men are from Mars and women are from Venus! In reality, the two sexes are usually on very different planets when it comes to perceptions about their weight, shape and eating habits, too.
While most women panic about gaining a pound or two, spend time counting calories or constantly worry about whether their ‘bum looks big in this’, most men simply accept that a growing beer belly is a normal part of life. Added to this, they often don’t even realise or accept they need to lose weight until their GP tells them it’s bad for their health.
According to a recent survey reported in The Independent, 43 percent of men who were overweight or obese actually claimed not to have a beer belly – and more worryingly, seven percent actually said they were proud of their gut!
Two years ago, a survey carried out by Cancer Research UK found similar findings with 25 percent of overweight or obese men being in complete denial that they even had a weight problem.
But while many men might refuse to accept that they need to lose weight, the truth of the matter is they should be just as worried as women about their waistlines, if not more so.
According to the latest Health Survey for England report, 65 percent of men are either overweight or obese compared to 56 percent of women. And by the time mid-life hits, the differences are even bigger with 76 percent of 45 to 54-year-old men being overweight or obese compared to 59 percent of women of the same age.
Men are also more likely to carry their excess fat around their stomach – think beer belly – and it’s fat distributed in this area that’s particularly related to health problems such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The differences between men and women in the weight debate don’t end there – and for men this is generally good news as these differences can work in their favour when it comes to losing weight.
To start with, men don’t need to restrict their calorie intake as dramatically as women to get results.
Quite simply, because men tend to be bigger, they need more calories to maintain their weight. This means they can also lose weight on a higher calorie intake, giving them more leeway in terms of the quantity and types of food they can eat.
Men usually have a higher proportion of muscle than women. This is good news because our metabolic rate – the rate at which the body burns calories – is partly determined by the amount of muscle we have. In general, the more muscle, the faster our metabolic rate and the more calories we burn, even at rest.
And this is where men have yet another advantage over women! Thanks to a greater supply of hormones such as testosterone, it’s far easier for men to build muscle than women when they work out. This is great news as muscle burns more calories than fat.
There are also big differences in the way men and women set goals for losing weight and view their chances of succeeding.
In general, men tend to have a more positive body image to start with – remember, seven percent of men are actually proud of their beer belly! This means they are more likely to set realistic and achievable targets for how they want to look.
Rather than aiming to get the body of Brad Pitt, most men usually set out with the goal of looking a bit fitter, healthier and generally more toned. Because they are more realistic about what they want to achieve, they usually feel happy and positive about any success – no matter how small – and this means they’re far more likely to stick with it. Plus, right from the beginning, there are rarely any doubts in men’s minds that they will succeed.
In contrast, many women start out with an unrealistic image and timescale for what they want to achieve and don’t feel they are successful unless the scales show a 5lb drop each week.
Consequently, even though health professionals consider losing 1-2lb a week a success, many women quickly feel dissatisfied, disillusioned and unmotivated and so simply ‘give up’, undoing all their good work by going straight back to bad habits.
Men also have the advantage of having less emotional attachment to food. Although more and more men are getting into the kitchen, in general, it’s still women who tend to do most of the shopping and cooking. Furthermore, as the main providers of food, women are more likely than men to link food to love and nurturing and are also more likely to turn to food in response to emotional triggers such as tiredness, boredom or depression. In contrast, men usually see food simply as something that they enjoy and that stops them feeling hungry. Ultimately, without any emotional ties to food, this can make losing weight so much easier for men.
It’s not just food where men and women differ either. Exercise is generally an inherent part of most men’s lives and the idea of taking part in a sport is often a more enjoyable concept for men than women.
Many women consider exercise to be a chore, whereas having a game of football or taking the children to the park for a game of Frisbee is something most men enjoy.
Of course, the dieting differences between men and women don’t all work favourably for men. To start with, research shows that many men are often in denial about their weight and so don’t actually consider losing weight until they are diagnosed with a health problem such as diabetes or high blood cholesterol.
Some men also have fixed views about certain foods that stop them eating more healthily. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear men say ‘salad isn’t a proper meal’, ‘you only drink diet cola if you’re on a diet’ or ‘a meal has to contain meat for it to be good for you.’
Foods like vegetables, branflakes, low-fat mayo, skimmed milk and sugar-free drinks are still perceived by some men as being ‘diet’ foods rather than a normal part of a balanced, healthy diet suitable for everyone.
Men are also more likely to be victims of peer pressure when it comes to eating and drinking badly.
Put a group of women together in a restaurant and no one would bat an eye if one of them ordered a gin and slimline tonic or a salad. But as a man out with his mates, if you ordered these you would almost certainly be laughed at – and usually encouraged to go for the steak and chips and a pint.
Top Tips for Success
Follow these top weight loss tips and you’ll soon swap that cider belly for a six-pack…
Get a weight reality check
Start by finding out what is actually a healthy weight range for you. Think about where, within that range, would be comfortable and suitable for you.
For health, most me should aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 20 and 25. Use our BMI calculator to check out what your BMI is now, and what weight you would need to be to get into the healhy zone.
If you have a high percentage of muscle, your BMI might be higher than this without you actually being too fat so measure your waist circumference to see if you need to lose weight. A waist measurement of 37 inches (94cm) means you are at increased risk of health problems; a measurement of 40 inches (102cm) means you are at a high risk.
Getting your percentage of body fat measured will also give you an idea of whether or not you need to shape up. Between the ages of 20 to 39, you should aim for 8-20% body fat; between 40 and 59, you should aim for 11-22%; and between 60 and 79 years, between 13-25%. Most gyms will be able to measure your body fat.
Listen to what your mates say
Most blokes don’t hold back telling each other that they’ve ‘got fat’ or developed a beer belly. If your mates take the Mickey, don’t take it as a compliment. Instead, take it as an indicator that you need to shift some weight.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of going on a ‘diet’, don’t go on one
Instead, focus on ways in which you can improve your eating habits – for weight loss that will last. There’s less stigma attached to eating healthily and you won’t feel as deprived; for example have a green smoothie made from vegetables rather than the traditional fruit version.
If you have a partner, ask them for help
Most women will be delighted and only too happy to serve up healthier meals and smaller portions.
Get to grips with the basics of healthy eating
As a rule:
- eat more fruit, veg and wholegrains
- have fish twice a week (including one serving of oily fish like salmon, mackerel or fresh tuna)
- opt for low-fat dairy products
- choose lean sources of protein like lean red meat and chicken
- go for fresh, natural, unprocessed foods; eat fewer fried and fatty foods
- cut back on salt and sugar
- watch portion sizes
- don’t drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol in a day
Don’t be fooled into trying low-carb diets such as Atkins.
Large amounts of red meat, eggs, cream, cheese, butter and fried food might seem appealing but diets based on these foods are usually loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat – and men are already at an increased risk of heart disease compared to women.
Carbs are actually friends to weight loss rather than foes, especially if you opt for wholegrains such as wholewheat cereals and pasta, brown rice, wholemeal breads and porridge, which will all help to fill you up – and keep you fuller for longer.
Eat five portions of fruit and veg each day
Fruit and veg in dishes all count towards this target. It’s as easy as having a fresh fruit smoothie at breakfast, an apple mid morning, adding a tomato to your sandwich at lunchtime and having lots of onions and mushrooms in a spaghetti Bolognese for dinner.
Eat fewer takeaways and choose healthily
For example, if you love kebabs, opt for a chicken skewer rather than donner meat; go for a chicken or small burger rather than a double cheeseburger; choose a thin crust Hawaiian pizza rather than a stuffed crust pepperoni one; and have boiled rice rather than fried or pilau rice.
Eat a healthy, balanced meal before going to the pub so you’ll be less likely to grab a takeaway on the way home. If you don’t have time for a proper meal, opt for a wholemeal sandwich or soup and a roll.
Drive to the pub...
so your mates won’t keep encouraging or forcing you to have pint after pint.
All alcohol is packed with calories, but men tend to drink pints and pints tend to be the worst option – and the stronger the lager or beer, the more calories it will contain. A pint of ordinary strength lager contains around 165 calories, while strong lager contains 250 calories – possibly explaining why you never see James Bond with a pint in his hand!
Single measures of spirits with low-cal mixers like diet cola or slimline tonic are the best choice with just 50 calories each.
And remember, if you’re staying tee-total, you still need to stick to low-cal drinks to gain the benefits. A pint of orange juice and lemonade contains around 160 calories while a pint of regular cola contains as many calories as a pint of strong lager – around 240!
Don’t be afraid to tell a white lie...
if any of your mates start questioning you about what you’re eating and drinking. If you’re off the booze tell them you’re on antibiotics; if you’re skipping the burger and fries tell them you have high cholesterol and the doctor has told you to cut down on fat; or if you’re eating more wholegrain carbs, fruit or veg tell them you’re in training for a sporting event such as a half marathon or triathlon.
Don’t just watch sport...
from the comfort of your armchair or local pub. Instead, get off your butt and start playing it.
Think back to what you loved at school – football, cricket, rugby or running, for example – and consider joining a local club. Or have a go at learning a new sport, such as golf – an hour at the driving range might not give you a great cardiovascular workout, but it’ll certainly burn more calories than sitting in front of the TV.
Arrange social events around playing sport, too – for example, get a group of mates together and go for a kick around in the park at the weekend. And if you have a gym membership, make sure you’re using it.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until you’ve been diagnosed with a health problem before you take action! Weight loss will give you more energy and help to improve everything from your health and looks to your confidence and love life!
Men Losing Weight - Success Stories
Glynn decided to lose weight for his health and confidence. Read how his passion for health and fitness spurred him on to lose over 3 stone in weight.
Tired of relentless jokes from his friends about his weight and worries about heart disease promted Adam to start his weight loss journey. Read how WLR’s extensive database and a return to exercise helped him lose nearly 4 stone in weight.
Chris knew that his surgery was not a quick fix for weight loss and focused on calorie intake to help lose over 9 stone! Read how his gastric bypass was not enough to help lose the pounds…
Feeling despondent with his lack of weight loss, Paul joined WLR on a recommendation in order to overhaul his lifestyle. See how he used WLR’s tools to lose 2 stone in weight and fit back into his dinner jacket.
Unhappy with his weight gain as a result of an excess of hotel living and junk food, Peter was inspired to lose weight by the book ‘Fat Bloke Slims’. See how he lost over 5 stone by following tips on how to lose weight and ways to keep up the weight loss
From his heaviest weight of 22 stone Dean has lost 9st 6lbs and reached his goal of a healthy 12st 8lbs.
Pete's lost over 3 stones and is now just 4lbs away from his target.
Steve's weight loss story is an entertaining and inspiring read - here's how he lost over 2 stones..
Martin's lost over 3 stones in 3 months to reach 12st 1lb.
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