Losing Weight Like a Man

I picked up a copy of Prevention magazine recently and read with interest an article called "Lose Weight Like a Guy."  The pull quote is "He drops pounds overnight.  You gain just by glancing at cheesecake.  Here are 5 reasons for his success.  Steal 'em today and look slimmer tomorrow."  Sadly, the article doesn't appear to be on-line, though a previous article by the author, Denise Foley, on how women can restore their libidos is.  That second article also begins with a complaint about how guys don't have to worry about waning libidos, thanks to Viagra and such, so I think complaining about how easy guys have it is something of a schtick for her.

Anyhow, as a guy who has lost weight, I thought I'd be in a good position to judge the quality of her advice in the article.  So, here are the five reasons guys are better than girls at weight loss, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men Don't Crave Sweets

Ahem.  No.  Well, sort of.  The idea here is that women crave sweets, notably chocolate, while men crave meat.  Meat, it is argued, is a healthier craving because it's high in protein, and is thus more filling, and it's relatively low-density in terms of calories.  Sugary snacks aren't very filling and are dense with calories.  True enough, but I'm not certain how true the gender stereotype is.  I'm probably unusual in this, but I really don't crave meat at all.  Yet I DO get cravings, for sweets and for salty snacks, and this is where I think her theory falls down a bit.  Guys may not crave sweets as much as women do (maybe) but I get the feeling that they crave high-carb low-protein low-fiber salty snackfoods like potato chips more. 

2.  Men Don't Berate Themselves When They Screw Up

In my experience, yes they do.  I do, at least.  The premise is that beating yourself up when you screw up on your diet makes it more likely that you'll give up entirely.  Men, the article argues, roll with their little failures.  "It's not the end of the world," they say.  They accept their occasional lapses and move on.  Women cry, get emotional, and eat a bunch of chocolate, compounding their initial error.  This strikes me as bullshit gender stereotyping.  How you react to diet failures is affected far more by your personal psyche than by your gender.  When I screw up and overeat I'm far more likely to freak out about it and become depressed than I am to shrug and try again tomorrow. 

3.  Men Go for Weights with Muscle

This one has a bit more merit, and may be the best advice in the article.  The article argues that when men work out they tend to focus on strength training that bulks up muscles, while women focus on toning muscles with lots of reps on light weights.  The article maintains, accurately, that training for tone is a huge waste of time.  It doesn't really help build muscle mass and you'll get the same visual effect in far less time from strength training.  Plus, thanks to differences in hormones, women don't generally have to worry about actually bulking up the way that men do.  I feel this is one of the more accurate differences the article presents, if only because thousands of articles in fitness magazines have told women that they should focus on tone and avoid the possibility of bulking up. 

The article also provides a useful primer on strength training: use the absolute heaviest weight that you can do 8 reps of with the full range of motion.  It should be physically impossible to handle a 9th rep.  Once you're comfortable with that weight, bump it up to a level where you can do only 3 reps and work there for a while.  Always be sure, though, that you're doing the full range of motion when you do these exercises, or else you won't be working the right muscles.  For example, if you do a bench press, but only bring the weight down to the point where your elbows form a 90 degree angle, you're essentially only working your arms.  That's fine if your arms are all you want to work, but generally people do bench presses to work the chest, which requires you bring the weights down further.  This is a lot harder when the weights are heavier, hence the provision that you be able to do the full range of motion with whatever weight you choose. 

4. Men Don't Use Food as a Therapist

The article claims that women eat to medicate their feelings.  This is the longest segment of the article and has a number of facets.  First, men don't eat when they're upset (wrong).  Second, men work out or do other physical activity to get over stress and depression (depends on the guy, but not me).  Guys spend money to cheer themselves up, while women eat (I spend money, but it tends to be on food, so I don't think that counts).  Finally, men just don't get depressed, because they're not all emotional like women are (Um).  They make some good points about not eating out of depression, but I'm not really certain that men don't do this just as much as women do. 

5.  Men Don't Give Up Their Favorite Foods

This is another decent weight-loss tip wrapped in a spurious stereotype.  The nugget of truth here is pretty simple: Don't diet.  Make small-scale adjustments to what you eat, cut out a couple hundred calories per day, exercise a little more (or just do more physical activity, by parking at the far end of the lot or walking to lunch instead of driving) and stick with that.  You'll lose weight gradually, but it won't be painful and it'll stay off.  When you diet, on the other hand, you get quick results by setting unrealistic goals, you cave, your weight returns, and you're back where you started, with a lot of starvation and self-recrimination to show for it.  The article couches this all in gender terms; men do it right, women do it wrong.  I don't buy it.  I think it's more that men don't care as much about their weight and don't face as much societal pressure to slim down in the first place; it isn't so much that men know how to do it right, it's that a lot of men don't bother to do it at all. 

In the end, it's not a bad article in the sense of giving bad advice; most of the points it makes are pretty good (I'm skeptical about the pro-meat, pro-protein stance of the first point, though).  I just disagreed with the hook and the framing that these good dieting techniques are the province of masculinity.  Having said that, I may well be an outlier on this.  I'm not necessarily the guy most men would pick to represent the platonic ideal of the gender, so maybe it's unsurprising that I diet like a woman.  Still, I think the article could have been just as informative without the somewhat specious gender angle.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on May 24, 2006 2:53 AM.

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