Sometimes you would think that dieting was the preserve of women and that men beat bulge by exercise. You couldn’t be more wrong, Diarmuid Sheehan discovered when he finally decided to do something about his creeping weight gain.
Questioning my better half as to whether the washing machine had ‘yet again shrunk one of my shirts’ became common every time I noticed extra strain on one of my shirt buttons. Add this to my inability to see more than the tips of my toes as I glimpse towards the ground and I think that it could be time to admit I may have joined the ranks of the average Irish man. Overweight and suffering from a serious case of denial.
I am your quintessential Irishman. I like Taytos, chocolate, Guinness and burgers... and I like my portions to be on the hefty side. I am happy and confident when I have these, however confidence isn’t always the dominant emotion.
Whether it’s standing in the middle of a shopping centre concourse or leaning against the wall in the privacy of your own bathroom, I, like most people, am never more vulnerable than when I take those two loaded steps onto a set of weighing scales, and every chocolate bar, Chinese takeaway, ice-cream desert, and sugar-laden beverage stares back at me.
Once solely the domain of women, lying about one’s weight has now become one of the most acceptable and understandable fibs that men peddle as the un-fairer sex continue to skirt around the great struggle that is personal weight.
Men’s weight has never really been seen as a taboo subject, probably because it was never a subject at all, however the issue is coming front and centre in public discourse as 70% of Irish men are overweight or obese — compared with 50% of women.
A Safefood report, ‘Men’s Food Behavior’, published 14 months ago found that Irish men eat more fat and salt, less fruit and vegetables, and their food choices are more likely to be dictated by taste, habit and convenience — whereas concerns about healthy eating are more common among women.
We all know the statistics. If Ireland’s residents continue down the slippery slope then we will soon be the fattest country in Europe, with 2030 the year we can collectively go and claim the prize.
Already just 18% of men in the 36- to 50-year age group are a healthy weight, compared to 44% of women that age.
So with weight issues now tipping the scales of seemingly all social conversations I decided it was time to have a look at my own weight and consider just what are the issues I, and other men, are facing.
Men are a funny breed. It seems men have an unusual relationship with weight. As children, boys would often add a few pounds to their official weight to seem bigger and bulkier than they actually were, however in later life weight disappears from any conversation between men, who seem much happier discussing their prowess on the track, the pitch or the treadmill.
So is it the case that men are interested in fitness rather than weight? Well, one well-respected and very busy Cork personal trainer thinks so.
Barry Enright owns and runs Befit4life, a company based in Mallow, Co Cork that offers a selection of services for both men and women who are keen to get their bodies back into shape.
“At this time of year we are always busy. Of course you would expect that at the start of the year, but over the last few years the trend is definitely towards increased participation in fitness and weight-loss programmes right through the year.
“We cater for a 50/50 mix at Befit4life and while everyone comes to get healthier, men and women definitely are looking for very different things. Women are really interested in the scales. Fitness and toning are important too, but with women it usually comes back to the scales.
“Men on the other hand tend to be more body orientated. In short, men are often looking for the sun’s-out, guns-out look.
“Our job at Befit4life is to make sure that people get a plan they can handle and are prepared to work at. However, none of it is any good if the diet isn’t addressed. Many men will come in, pump weights and run on treadmills all day, but that isn’t enough.
“To succeed in losing, and more importantly maintaining, weight loss it is 80% diet and 20% exercise. That can often be hard for men. Over the years I would think that only about one-in-five men that lose weight manage to keep it off. That can be down to many factors, but drifting away from plans and programmes and falling back into the lifestyle that got them into trouble in the first place is usually to blame.”
So men like beating bags, pumping iron and running the legs off themselves, anything but eating a lot less. I am a man and I get it. But what about the global phenomenon that is Weight Watchers.
Do men engage in this proven path to losing weight?
In general, it appears they don’t. In 2012, Weight Watchers CEO, David Kirchhoff, said only 10% of the members attending the company’s meetings each week were men.
As a man I get that too. Men are often full of bravado about life, about sport, about women, even about death, however men don’t like to be seen as failures, particularly in front of their peers. Men will prance around the locker room — however, stripping down to show the world if they were capable of shedding a few pounds is a different matter entirely.
Men would go to Weight Watchers every week if they were guaranteed to hit their targets, however, the possibility they may have to stand in front of their classmates and accept failure is something that this man, and I would suggest most men, are not prepared for.
So men need to go elsewhere. After looking at my own shadow increasing in width I decided to change my attitude to food and exercise and try to lose weight myself. I have the expensive bike, the runners, the clothes and the gym membership all sorted, however, I still seem to lack the will. And that according to Mr Enright is key. “If you don’t want it badly enough it won’t happen.” So am I destined to be one of the 80% that fail? Unfortunately, the statistics say yes.
In the coming weeks I will begin my drive to get from my current BMI of 27 down to a more acceptable 23, or something like it, by using the tools that God gave me. My long legs, my skinny arms, and whatever willpower I have left, will take on my stomach in a battle to the death. But I really hope it won’t get that far.
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