If you’re a man, a trimmer waistline will improve your chances of enjoying as long a lifespan as Australian women – that's a whole four more years! We share advice on getting started.
We live in a culture where men have never learned to fuss about healthy food and have missed the kind of diet and health-focused messages that women have absorbed growing up and through reading women’s magazines.
Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss. The health stats for men paint a troubling picture. Sixty-eight per cent of men are now overweight or obese. The National Health and Medical Research Council predicted in February that an estimated 83 per cent of Australian men will be overweight or obese in 2025 if things don’t change.
Aussies may enjoy the third greatest longevity in the world, but men still have a shorter life-expectancy than women. Men now aged 40 can expect to live to 81.4 years old, while 40-year-old women can expect to live an extra four years. According to Garry Egger, founder of Gutbusters and now Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Southern Cross University, men have a greater likelihood of suffering disability in their later years than women do. Added to this, research from the ABS in 2011–2012 found men are 84 per cent more likely than women to die from cancers that are common to both genders.
This may sound all bad, but there is good news. Our chances of enjoying a long, healthy life can be drastically improved by what we eat and drink, and shedding any excess weight. So here’s a few insights to get you, or the men in your life, started.
Unequal in dieting
While men and women share the need to eat better, men are very different to women when it comes to weight loss. Egger says while it can be hard to get men to start a health kick, once they do, they have great focus and can form new habits quickly.
“They seem to have a lot fewer excuses than women,” reports nutritionist Claire Turnbull of her own experience in helping clients.
“Men love rules, guidelines and boundaries — plus if there is any way they can involve some element of competition they are all over it,” she says.
Setting up a weight loss challenge with a group of mates or betting a friend to eat two pieces of fruit every day for a month is one way to boost motivation.
Turnbull believes there are common hurdles men face in watching their food intake:
Eating just because the food is there.
Buying food on the run and mindlessly snacking.
Peer behaviour: “When men get together (especially at a barbecue or big night out), they’re very easily influenced by what is socially ‘normal’ within that group,” she says.
Men and waist gain
Ever wonder what happened to that slim-hipped and broad-shouldered young man? He sat down.
Gaining weight is not a normal part of ageing, but our sedentary lifestyle tends to result in gradual loss of lean muscle, which defines a man’s shoulders and also helps burn up the kilojoules that otherwise gather around a man’s middle.
Unless a man maintains a high level of physical activity (sport, gardening, commuting on foot or by bicycle, and doing DIY projects), modern life will gradually have him sitting more as he gets older. Studying, watching TV or playing computer games, lots of driving and working at a desk, all make for this apparent slide of bulk from the shoulders to the waistline.
The key to reversing the process is consistently moving more, before work, at lunchtime and in the evenings says Accredited Practising Dietitian Glenn Cardwell. He advises starting with regular, moderate intensity exercise (which makes you puff). Begin with half an hour walking a day and build up to an hour, in one or two sessions, and gradually increase intensity. Plus do more standing, lifting and moving activities.
Nutrition mistakes men make
Spot which ones you (or the man in your life) might be guilty of.
Lack of planning
“Men tend to walk out the door in the morning with their wallet and phone. At lunchtime, they think ‘Oh, I’m hungry’. At the shop they’ll say, ‘Well, what have you got? A pie and chips, okay I’ll have that,’" says Cardwell.
“Most of them don’t consider in the morning that there might not be something healthy to buy at lunchtime and that they could pack themselves a couple of sandwiches.”
See food, eat it!
“A lot of guys will just eat whatever portion they’re served. So if they order a large pizza, they eat the whole thing. If they order a massive sandwich and get a free muffin, even if they aren’t hungry they’ll eat it all,” says Turnbull.
Lack of variety
“It’s easy to get into the routine of just eating the same thing day-in, day-out. A lot of guys will be missing out on valuable nutrients simply because they are not eating a varied enough diet,” says Turnbull.
Cardwell recalls talking to a man about barbecues. “He told me, ‘You don’t make friends with salad.’” The old promotional slogan Feed The Man Meat is the complete opposite of the new Australian Dietary Guidelines launched in February which urge men to eat less meat because we’re commonly eating too much.
“For some guys who are in and out of meetings all day or on the road, having coffees all day long just becomes part of a normal daily routine,” says Turnbull. “It’s not necessarily the coffee that’s the problem, but the extra kilojoules from milk and sugar that sneaks in without being noticed.”
Not enough fibre
“There are so many men that we see in clinic who are bunged up and haven’t ever told anyone before. With a lack of vegies and fruit and not enough wholegrains and fibre-rich foods, being blocked is no surprise!” says Turnbull.
Drinking it all in
“Drinking lots of soft drink, energy drinks, sports drinks or alcohol is one way guys add excess kilojoules without even realising it," says HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson.
"Especially when it involves getting together with mates!"
For example, five schooners of beer on a Friday night has around the same kilojoules as four slices of Supreme pizza, that's a whopping 3400kJ!"
Great reasons to make a change today
Eating well and looking after your body is what gives you the energy to do whatever it is that you want in life.
Would you love to wake up feeling energised and ready to face the day ahead rather than wanting to hit your alarm clock and roll over?
Do you like the sound of feeling confident and happy with your body on the beach or looking good in your favourite shirt, without having to worry about rolls or bulges?
How would you like to feel super-fit again? Get back into sport, or better at the sport you do now?
Would you like to be around without poor health, to see and enjoy your kids and grandkids growing up?
Would you like to feel you're getting the most out of life, plus get more done each day?
Start here! A goal-kicking guide
Cut back a little
Regular drinkers (of alcohol and/or soft drink) can quickly score health benefits and weight-loss wins by cutting down their intake, advises Accredited Practising Dietitian Nicole Senior, author of Belly Busting for Blokes: 5 steps to bust the bulge. Aim to halve your alcohol and soft-drink consumption, and get ready to buy a smaller sized belt. Cutting out three schooners of beer and you’ll be saving the equivalent of a Big Mac (2000kJ) or half a packet of Tim Tams.
Cardwell suggests for successful, long-term change it’s important to choose only one to three changes to work on at a time. For example, if your goal is to eat the recommended two servings of fruit per day, start with one piece, such as an apple (or the equivalent size serving of grapes or plums); and after a month, increase it to two pieces.
Divide your plate
(Or your lunchbox.) Senior recommends making sure half the space on your plate is occupied by vegies; a quarter should be taken up by lean meat or other protein (eggs, fish, chickpeas, dried beans); and a quarter should be starchy foods (potato, rice or pasta, wholemeal pasta varieties taste good these days). It’s not a matter of making your meat or potato portions larger than they are (in fact you may find that this formula means reducing the amount you are used to). But all those vegies, rich in the nutrients that will make you feel energised, will fill you up, too.
Cut out foods that come in a box
(Or from the cake shop.) Egger recommends getting back to basics and ditching breakfast cereals other than muesli or porridge, and binning the biscuits, pies, sausage rolls, crisps, finger buns, doughnuts... you get the picture.
When buying lunch, try to make better choices, says Senior. Go for brain food as well as satisfaction with, say, two chicken and salad sandwiches on wholegrain — that’s right, two for blokes (women should have one and a piece of fruit). You don’t have to live on air! Eating a burger and chips, or pad Thai, with all their unhealthy fats and salt, will only make you feel sluggish.
Give meat a break
Egger’s strategy to help men adjust to eating less meat is to prepare a vegetarian meal just once a week to start with. For tasty ideas look no further than our food pages, or the extensive recipe library on our website, healthyfoodguide.com.au
Paul Hollings: A weight-loss journey
We first came across 52-year-old Paul Hollings when he tweeted us: “Just bought new trousers 100cm down from a tight 107. Healthy Food Guide magazine, you have literally saved my life, thank you.” Paul has lost 15 kilos so far and the results are clear to see. Paul shares his journey with us.
“On my first day back at work in 2012 I weighed myself: I was 110kg and really very unfit. I thought ‘that’s enough’. I’ve had high blood pressure for 12 years and the doctor said, while treating it with drugs was okay, I needed to own this.
My daughter and friends had said at various times that they thought I was getting a bit on the heavy side, but until that morning nothing had happened.
My daughter had shown me Healthy Food Guide and I started to use the recipes. I have been able to cook a wide variety of really tasty, simple meals and control portion size at the same time (I do 90 per cent of the cooking for my wife and me).
At the same time, I recognised that I needed to exercise. A few of the women in the office had started walking at lunchtimes, and I started to walk with them. I committed myself to walking for 30 to 45 minutes, five times a week at the start. If my work schedule didn’t allow, I would walk at night or in the mornings. As obvious as they sound, these two things quickly had me losing weight and feeling heaps better. By August I had moved my weight from 110 to 95kg. The doctor reduced my blood pressure medication, which was really a satisfying moment.
My goal was originally 85kg, but at 95kg I got stuck and I have had to really dig deep.
I’m 100 per cent committed to not going back, but more than that I want to get to that goal weight. I travel a lot with my job and have to eat in hotel restaurants reasonably frequently. At meetings there are also catered lunches served with smorgasbords and wines. While I’ve got portion control sorted when cooking at home, it has been an ongoing struggle to keep control when I am away.
I try telling myself, ‘Just because it’s there you don’t need to take it! Have just a main or two entrées instead.’
Despite the travel, fitness hasn’t been a struggle, I just pack some sand shoes, shorts and a T-shirt and often walk both ends of the day, before and after work, wherever I find myself. When you’re away from home it fills in the time. And I now get a bit grumpy if I haven’t had a good walk for a couple of days.
I recognise that if I am to live a long, healthy life, weight control and fitness is going to have to be a lifelong effort.
When I started, each Monday I went on Facebook to let my friends know how much I had lost the previous week. This was really helpful because all my friends were encouraging, and the last thing I wanted to do was tell them I had gone back up.
In the last 12 months, the business I work for has more than doubled in size so I’ve worked some long, hard days, but I’ve had little or no time off sick and I never get really stressed. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t got my lifestyle sorted, the very opposite would have been the case.
Also, it’s nice to have your partner, kids and friends tell you that you look well.
We have six grandchildren and I am enjoying rough and tumbling with the boys — all that sort of thing.
Before, I would be puffing but now I can keep going. It sounds a bit cliché but I’m having much more fun than I used to.
It’s that warm, fuzzy, satisfying stuff that makesit all well worth the effort."