I've always been intrigued by how some people can lose weight by restricting calories or following a formal diet, while others can't. In the past, I joined special programs and lasted nearly two weeks before self-destructing due to the stress of counting points and finishing a box of ice cream. Any type of counting or working with a trainer makes healthy living seem like a science project to me.
These days, my colleagues are trading in their morning doughnuts or bagels for protein smoothies without anxiety, self-pity, or any other emotional repercussions. Since I'm surrounded by mostly men at work (I'm one of two women on a 40-person team) and go home to a husband, I’m noticing with fresh eyes and keen fascination how others approach diet and health, and how men do it differently.
I've relearned some obvious truths — such as that men and women are VERY different, but also that men take a vastly different approach to weight loss. Some of their tactics are worth trying!
Here are some tips I can offer, based on my observations of men who are trying to lose weight:
1. Eat (a lot)!
As a person who eats at specific times and almost the same things every day, my initial reaction to a colleague on a "diet" eating his third snack at 11 am was to call the Snack Police. Then I realized that many men graze all day rather than waiting for designated times — they eat when hungry! Others (including my husband) need to set alarms to remind them when to eat — odd to me because I NEVER forget to eat.
This just shows me that they aren’t constantly thinking about food, because they don't let themselves starve! They don’t allow an extra snack to derail their eating plan, which is probably why they don’t get hangry like I do.
2. Use competition in a healthy way.
I've known dozens of women who have dieted but have yet to meet one who will publicly declare, “I will have a six-pack by June.” My male colleagues have no problem making these types of grandiose public declarations, competing against each other in office diet pools, and setting actual deadlines.
While women can be just as competitive, I notice we're more inclined to being collaborative or boosting each other than making weight-loss a competitive sport. Personally, I won't make bold vows for any "packs" or participate in an office weigh-in, however, this tactic can be an effective way to hold yourself accountable, rather than simply telling yourself, "I'll lose those extra pounds someday."
3. Tie weight loss to an event to motivate yourself.
Men use races or other athletic events as extra motivation. Most women I know view health consciousness as a lifestyle, whereas many men use races or fitness regimens as an extra push to get in shape. I prefer my workouts to be something I can look forward to, rather than something to compete for, however, I can adopt this by competing against my own best running times or thinking about an upcoming social event.
4. Don't avoid treats or cheat days.
My colleagues rarely pass up an occasional birthday cake, and my husband will order a steak when he wants, eat it, and just move on! Since no food item or group is "off-limits" or "bad," there's no reason to feel guilty or use it as an excuse to give up. This was a HUGE revelation for me, since I tend to banish and rediscover sugar in an all or nothing approach.
Interestingly, more often than not, I see men indulging in real food (such as meat and potatoes) rather than refined sugars or sweets. Taking a cue from men, I recently expanded my "cheat day" brunch beyond eggs and dabbled in burgers and fries. Guess what? NOTHING CHANGED! I woke up the next day and felt EXACTLY the same, but possibly more sane!
5. Drink shakes and pump iron if you want.
This is NOT about strength training or eating protein — at this point you know muscle burns more than fat, and protein keeps you full. There's a deeper realization here. So, as I walked into the office and noticed that boxes of Reese’s Pieces were replaced by tubs of protein powder on people’s desks, and at home my husband is doing pullups in our bedroom door, I realized they aren’t just trying to get smaller — they're also trying to get stronger!
As women, we're most often occupied by dropping a size or getting smaller, whereas men are trying to get STRONGER and FITTER. What if, instead of saying "I want to be a size 2" or "look great in a bikini," we said, "I want be really strong?" At this point, if I can reach it, I might hang from the pullup bar.
6. Don't stress.
When my husband slips up, he never says, "My diet is ruined, pass the ice cream," or, "I need to go run an extra 20 minutes now!" He does NOT feel guilt, beat himself up or open the floodgates for more junk. I'm starting to think I'd rather gain an inch in my waist from eating rather than ruminating over food!
7. Don't try to be perfect!
My colleagues will gladly dump their gym bags for a last-minute happy hour or skip salad for a team lunch without remorse — they allow LIFE to get in the way. I've read that positive social interactions can help keep you healthy, but I hadn't been following that advice, since I've been in a deeply committed relationship with my yoga mat and reuseable salad bowl for the past year. This summer, I'll try to go with the flow and see what happens!
Men and women are indeed different — before you call me Captain Obvious, just know that sometimes when you look at a picture with fresh eyes you might notice something different. I'd always been committed to healthy eating and exercise, but watching the men around me join the bandwagon I see how they pull it off without overthinking, deprivation, or boredom. They declare goals, but not "bad" or "off-limits" foods; they're competitive, yet kind enough to themselves to allow for indulgences and life to happen.
By far the best lesson I've learned from watching the men around me that they aren't preoccupied with shrinking and occupying less space in this huge world, but rather growing stronger and fitter.