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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    • Georgia says:

      12:26pm | 20/10/09

      Soo true. Look at how quickly men lose weight simply by giving up drinking - it just drops off them and oooh, how smug they get. If I stop drinking, sure I’ll lose a kilo or two but not enough to encourage abstinence for any length of time. Same with dieting. Men have it much easier.

    • Siobhan says:

      12:50pm | 20/10/09

      My husband has to work bloody hard at getting rid of excess weight. This includes some serious self-discipline come Thursday night which is usually reserved solely for planning what beer specials he will take advantage of at the bottle-o on Friday afternoon. Come spring time the range whittles down to low-carb options only. The temptation practically kills him when he enters the cold room.

    • Barry says:

      01:02pm | 20/10/09

      Losing wight may be easy for blokes but on the downside we’re walking wallets alienated from our families in a never-ending, increasingly stressful corporate hell, defined by our titles, unable to make a meaningful human connection before we die, sobbing, in our late-50s of a heart attack, alcohol-related illness or both. So what if we can get into size 32 pants?

    • Trjn says:

      01:15pm | 20/10/09

      Men’s magazines don’t focus on weight loss because men don’t focus on weight loss, they focus on muscle gain. A chubby man who is 6 foot tall and 90kg would probably be fine with staying at that weight if the fat was turned into muscle (admittedly, they’d be slimmer, but you get the idea). The magazines are writing to their readership and if you look back over them, that’s what pretty much all of the articles are about, turning fat into muscle, building muscle, being able to work out for longer and all other things like that.

      I’ve no doubt that the testoterone thing is true, but when you walk into a gym and see the women on treadmills and the men lifting weights, you tend to get the idea that they have different goals.

    • Kirsten says:

      01:18pm | 20/10/09

      When I was growing up my father used that looking after one’s weight was easy: eat less, move more. He was saying this to my mother so it was less than sensitive, but it made sense to my young ears.

      Except that it matters what the ‘less’ is and what the ‘more’ is. There were times in the Seventies when my mother seemingly existed on cantelope, cottage cheese and grapefruit, then rewarded herself with gin and tonics. I’m not sure if her diet books explained that her day’s starvation amounted to naught once the bottle was opened, and that the body goes into some weird typeof shock when you feed it this way. And the exercises of the time involved equipment that seemed to do little more than jiggle around the fat… You moved, but to no great effect.

      Seems extremely sad that so many women regard their bodies as forever imperfect. Not everyone can or should be skinny, not all clothes look better on a bean pole, not all men - not any men really - should be allowed to comment on a woman’s weight.

    • stephen says:

      02:00pm | 20/10/09

      Yeah, women gotta go get pregnant too ; makes ‘em real fat.

    • Mr Pastry says:

      02:31pm | 20/10/09

      Its so simple - here it is:

      Eat less and exercise lots.

      Don’t want to exercise - there is your problem.
      Don’t want to eat less,  exercise even more.  None of this bobbing up and down in a heated swimming pool, do some proper exercise with profuse sweating.

      There you are, it didn’t really need the purchase of a book did it.

    • Budz says:

      03:42pm | 20/10/09

      @TRJN: Yes the girls are on the treadmills and guys are on the weights. So what is a way to increase your testosterone and metabolism? By increasing your muscle mass!

      So girls, get on the weights too and before you know it your metabolism will improve and you will be using more calories while you are sitting on your bum watching TV!

      Also some other tips, eat small frequent meals. Don’t miss meals and have breakfast as soon as you get up otherwise you will destroy your metabolism.

      And finally, make a healthy lifestyle a fun thing to do instead of jumping on the dieting bandwagon. Find friends to play sport you enjoy doing, or go for a walk with friends.
      Remember there is a reason you feel like crap after you eat some greasy take away or have a big night out. Just think of the aftermath and you might stop yourself!

    • John says:

      01:02am | 21/10/09

      Just getting off the track slightly…when you talk about women’s magazines, the first that pops into my head is make up, cosmetics, anti-wrinkle/aging creams. I do a lot of international travelling, and everytime i pick up the duty free magazine on board, half the magazine is full of womens cosmetics! The next few pages are of mens’ creams and lotions etc.
      So what is it with women and cosmetics and diets? Ok the age thing comes into it naturally, and weight becomes an issue, wrinkles become an issue, and so on and so forth.
      Just accept it…we eat, we sleep, we get old. But at least we are happy. Aren’t we? Maybe this is the key. Stay happy to stay young!


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