Fiona McCade: Lads can teach ladies how to slim

Research shows men who commit to slimming are better at it than women. Picture: Getty
Research shows men who commit to slimming are better at it than women. Picture: Getty
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The male approach to losing weight shows that many women are just playing at slimming, writes Fiona McCade

Did you know that more men than women are overweight in the UK? No, neither did I. When I think about the problems inherent in our over-indulged First World society, my mind tends to conjure images of large, seaside-postcard-type ladies, waddling around with their muffin tops stuffed into unwisely small leggings. Why do I never think of James Corden?

Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman. We let blokes get away with being cuddly – dammit, I mean fat – while harshly judging ourselves right, left and centre. There simply isn’t the same kind of pressure on men to be slim. We’re not bothered, they’re not bothered and as a result they’re getting bigger and bigger.

The good news is that once a man realises his waistline is out of control, he is likely to be successful in doing something about it.

Nutritionists and health researchers at the universities of Aberdeen, Stirling and Bournemouth recently got together to analyse data gathered from 15,000 men involved in weight-loss studies. They found that men were far less likely than women to get involved in organised slimming programmes, but those who did finally commit to joining such activities were more dedicated to achieving results than their female counterparts.

I can see how this works. I’m probably going to get letters in green ink for saying this, but a lot of women play at slimming. They don’t do it properly, or with enough single-mindedness. They’re permanently on a diet, so they live their lives in a kind of half-hearted purgatory of self-denial. Of course they shouldn’t have that chocolate cake, but they solemnly promise themselves that if they have it they will go straight back on the diet again. So they eat too much, they beat themselves up, they go on a diet, they overeat – but it’s OK, they’re on a diet – they beat themselves up, and so on. And on. And on.

It’s not necessarily their fault. They may not even be particularly overweight, but they think they are because every magazine they pick up is telling them they should be size eight. There’s a lot going on in the brain of a modern woman, and weight loss is just one small part of the load she has to tote. From all directions she’s being pelted with information that tells her she’s too wrinkly, her body hair is out of control, her head hair’s too frizzy, her pores are too open, her cellulite is rampant, her stretch marks desperately need attention, her boobs are too small, her ankles are too thick… she has way too many things to deal with.

Her waistline is just one of these myriad complications, but this is where the much-vaunted multi-tasking female mind comes to grief. She’s trying to juggle all her imperfections at once, but not really sorting out any of them satisfactorily. Sometimes she’s only going to the slimming club to find other people like her, so she can enjoy the sweet relief of being understood.

The new research proves that men don’t operate like this. First of all, since they don’t experience the same kind of pressures as women, their motivations are different. As Dr Flora Douglas, one of the clinicians at the University of Aberdeen, pointed out: “Men are less likely to see their weight as a problem.” So chances are, if a man decides to lose his extra pounds, the reason will be acute, not chronic. He will have had some sudden epiphany, or more likely a very nasty shock.

Then the male, linear, one-thing-at-a-time mindset gets to work. He’s got a problem: he’s not going to talk to anybody about it, he’s going to solve it himself. Perhaps, though, the process doesn’t go so well, or as fast as he would like. He realises he needs help, but where to go? There’s the slimming club, but oh no, it’s full of girls.

Then that wonderful, clear simplicity kicks in again. It’s the only place to go, so there he will go. But he can’t be seen to lose face. He will beat the girls! He will be supreme! And that, in a nutshell, is what seems to have happened around 15,000 times in weight-loss centres across the land.

However, given how many lardy lads are out there, this data only shows us the tip of a very chunky iceberg. For every man who comes to the realisation that he’s dangerously fat, there are many who just think they bear a passing resemblance to James Corden. And of the ones who have finally decided to do something about it, there will be some who just can’t summon the courage to get weighed in with the women.

Thankfully, the scientists are using the data from this research to find new and better ways of encouraging big-boned boys to slim down. The key lies in presenting weight-loss strategies which are tailored to appeal to the male brain.

Ironically, given how well they do when thrown in with the girls, men prefer the company of their own kind when trying to lose weight. So the doctors have decided that the way to get our lads in shape is to create special plans of action for them, preferably in a sporting environment, where they can bond – probably through elaborate towel-flicking rituals.

Dr Douglas said: “Men prefer more factual information on how to lose weight and more emphasis on physical activity in weight-loss programmes.” This is particularly interesting, because the research also found that men tend to lose more weight by combining dieting with increased exertion than they do through simply exercising.

Obviously the physical aspect of getting fit is particularly appealing to the masculine mindset. Chaps like to imagine themselves pumping iron and running around like the Six Million Dollar Man, even if it has less effect on their physique than checking the calorie count on their pots of Müllerlight. Never mind – anything to get them off the couch.