Men on Diets
Move over, ladies -- the men are dieting too.
Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is
his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for
its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of
all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious
gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.
Diets aren’t just for women – Men diet too
Since his quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2004, the former
McDonald's-lover-in-chief has been strikingly candid about his relationship to
food -- candid not just for a former world leader, but candid for any man.
"I was a fat band boy," he writes in My Life (a hefty volume,
ironically, weighing nearly three-and-a-half pounds).
In the book, he discusses his weight fluctuations and admits to
experimenting with a kind of homespun precursor to the Atkins diet. This past
October, he told the New York Times that he weighs himself daily.
Famously America's "first black president," Clinton might well become
America's first female ex-president.
Indeed, the vast universe of dieting has been a kind of private (and grim)
clubhouse for women. A realm of Jenny Craig and egg whites, Weight Watchers and
fat-free yogurt, it's historically been glimpsed by men only from across the
dinner table. But increasingly, the unfairer sex is beginning to find a corner
in that realm all its own.
"Men are becoming more conscious of health, and with that, weight,"
says Betsy Klein, a registered dietician in Miami. "Being overweight is
becoming such a marker for diabetes and heart disease."
Diet and masculinity
Of course the health risks of a bad diet are just part of men's motivation
for changing how they eat -- we also care about how we look.
"Males of all ages are being affected by our highly body-conscious
culture now," says registered dietician and exercise physiologist Samantha
Heller. "Body dysmorphia -- an unhealthy view of the body -- is also
increasing in men as well as women.” She tells WebMD that for men, these issues
manifest differently than with women. “They tend to work out a lot, and many
turn to anabolic steroids. And more and more, they're dieting while they do
Or at least they're doing something while they do this. Venturing
into territory traditionally reserved for women isn't always easy for men, and
they tend to couch their involvement in it differently -- starting with the
language they use.
"They don't always call it 'dieting,'" Heller says. "'Dieting'
and 'slim' don't resonate well with men. Their goals are more to feel strong
and masculine. Not only does the term dieting sound feminine, but dieting also
causes them to worry they'll lose muscle mass in the process."
"Fine with me that they don't like that word,” Klein says, “I don't
either. To me, dieting implies a beginning and an end, as opposed to the full
lifestyle change that they need."
So what ideas do put men in front of healthier plates? Visions of
brawniness, it would seem. As Klein, Heller, and a multibillion-dollar dietary
supplement industry attest, it's an interest in bodybuilding, stamina, and
other hallmarks of masculinity that really get guys to be food-conscious. If
the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the way to his stomach is
apparently through his biceps.