Odds and magazines are stacked against diet success
How many column inches in women’s magazines are devoted to dieting every year? Enough to cross the Nullarbor? Circumnavigate the globe? Traverse the universe?
“Get your body beach ready. Now!” “Your best body. Fast.” “Your best-ever body in four weeks.” “Shrink one size in four weeks.” And my personal favourite: “Drop a dress size by Saturday!” Really?
I should issue a little disclaimer and own up to writing many vacuous and silly diet coverlines during my 15-plus years working in women’s magazines. Seven kilos in seven days? Only joking. But you get the drift.
Here’s the thing. Men’s magazines don’t bombard readers with unrealistic, sure-to-fail propositions. Apart from coverlines in men’s health magazines on how to get great abs, more muscle and less fat, or the occasional page on body image in the more general titles, men’s magazines don’t seem to obsess about diets and weight loss which, naturally enough, begs the question: why?
Is it the degree of difficulty? Because it is much harder for women to lose weight than men. Anyone who’s watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ knows that. When was the last time a woman won?
Well, never in Australia and women only started winning in the US when uber-trainer Jillian Michaels worked out that she needed to come up with a diet that boosted testosterone in the female contestants. It’s not quite that simple but it is a major contributing factor since testosterone, the male hormone, gives us energy, boosts libido and builds calorie-burning muscle.
Michaels worked for four years with an endocrinologist on the link between diet and hormones and it’s resulted in the book Master Your Metabolism (published by Random House, available from Angus & Robertson).
Totally jaded as I am about quick-fix weight-loss programs, this book is a bit of revelation. It’s amazingly well researched, yet easily digestible and, what’s more, plausible. And clearly the theory has legs since women have actually begun winning the weight-loss show and Michaels has her self-confessed weight issues under control.
In a column in this month’s issue of Notebook: (another disclaimer, I edit this magazine), journalist and media executive Philip Barker writes about his “Man Diet” and how he lost 15kg in about four months. That is a lot of weight to lose (not by ‘Biggest Loser’ standards but by real life standards given that the people on the show are morbidly obese and he certainly isn’t. And wasn’t).
How did he do it? His “Man Diet”. It’s easy, you know. “I was going to make sure kilojoules-out were more than kilojoules-in,” he says. “Every day. It is simply mathematics.”
Well, yes. If you’re a bloke.
And this is where the testosterone comes into play. It goes back to when we were dwelling in caves and he was out hunting and gathering and building lean muscle mass, burning off a trillion calories while we were stuck in a humpy, pregnant, breastfeeding and, well, just surviving really.
Our bodies held on to our calories as if our lives depended on it and, guess what, they still do. Women’s hormones ensure our bodies are fickle and don’t always respond so easily to the energy-in, energy-out principle. I’ve known men who’ve changed just one thing in their dietary/exercise routine and dropped heaps of weight. Quickly. No, I’m not bitter.
But you know there is one gender-equalising factor in all of this. And it ain’t good news for anyone, man or woman. Ageing. “Our libidos slip, our muscles lose mass, we gain abdominal fat and our bones weaken. Motivation to exercise decreases, which is absolutely tragic because exercise helps to boost testosterone,” Michaels says in her book.
“And, to make matters worse, as people gain weight, their bodies start to convert more of their testosterone to estrogen. This estrogen can then start to overshadow the effects of the testosterone in another vicious cycle: more estrogen, more fat; more fat, more estrogen.”
Yes, the dreaded female anti-weight-loss hormone gets us all in the end. Man boobs anyone?
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