body image · diets · men · weight lifting · weight loss

Men, muscles, and weight loss: Argh!

I remember when my office mate in grad school, a man of course, Philosophy is mostly men, set out to lose weight. Within a few weeks he’d lost 15 lbs and looked great. Stupidly I asked him what he’d done. I’d lost more than 50 lbs that first year in grad school, mostly with lots and lots of exercise and not very much eating. I thought maybe we could bond over hard it is to lose weight.  Turns out he’d switched from regular to diet Coke.

At that point in my life it had been years since I’d tasted a full-on sugar loaded beverage. Mostly, then as now, I drank water and coffee. Diet coke was an occasional treat.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t strangle him. But I admit to being shocked at what different embodied experiences we’d had.

It’s true the playing field evens a bit with age. But not very much.

There’s a man, my age, with whom I ride bikes who loses 10 lbs every spring with his tried and true method: skipping breakfast.

SKIPPING BREAKFAST! Yes, you read that correctly. If there is one piece of advice that nutrition advice givers all give it’s to never skip breakfast. Indeed, they often say, eat more calories early in the day and eat fewer calories later. You know, that saying: eat like a king at breakfast, a nobleman at lunch, and a pauper at dinner. (The extreme version of this is the dessert-for-breakfast diet which I’ve never tried because I don’t feel like dessert at breakfast but if you’re so inclined here’s some info: ‘Dessert Breakfast’ Diet: Weight Loss And Reduced Cravings, According To Study.)

This seems to me to one more area where men’s and women’s experiences of diet and weight loss are just very different. There’s been a huge dust up in the Paleo community over men’s and women’s different responses to IF, or intermittent fasting. Short version: It works well for the boys, and for the girls, not so much. Long version: Read Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature and Krista Scott Dixon’s piece linked below.

I often think that it would be fun to be a man, just for the ability to make such dramatic physical changes so quickly. Look ma, biceps and a mustache just after two weeks! They’re like starfish, those men.

Men go to the gym, start lifting weights, and voila, they grow visible muscles. It’s kinda cool and fascinating in a science experiment kind of way. Whenever I meet men who don’t lift weights, I admit to being a bit baffled. Come on, you’ve got it so easy. Here, just pick up this bar and let me load some weight on the end. Now just wait, sit back, and you can practically watch the muscles grow.

In her best rant ever Krista Scott Dixon writes about why women should stop listening to personal training advice from young men who live in such different worlds.

To lose weight, they do crazy shit like give up drinking so much beer. I hear women from all over the globe gnashing their teeth at their partners’ superhuman abilities to get riptshizzled with no effort. I’ve been busting my ass and I lost 1 lb in a month! That jerk’s doing my nutrition plan along with me and he’s lost 40 lb in the same time, just by eating one less strand of spaghetti a day! I hate him!

I hear ya. My home dinner table conversation sometimes goes like this.

Me: Ugh, I feel the estrogen demons again. I feel like an inflated wet sponge. The only thing that fits me is the Snuggie my grandma gave me last Christmas.

Him: I don’t feel so good myself. I had a whiff of anxiety today and dropped 5 lbs. Then my shirt tore itself on my abs.”

Mostly I try to regard the muscle growing abilities of the male of our species with wonderment and awe, rather than envy. Some of the time I even succeed.

(And yes, there’s a ton of variation between men and a ton of variation between women.  And lots of people for whom those categories aren’t meaningful. I don’t mean to suggest here that all men are alike in their ability to lose weight and gain muscle. What does bother me a lot–and it’s the subject of another post–is how much of the research in the nutrition and fitness realm is carried out on young men and then becomes advice given to women of all ages.)

7 thoughts on “Men, muscles, and weight loss: Argh!

  1. Great post, Samantha.

    Running with your idea a bit, I think our culture (or maybe just capitalism) encourages guys to “use up” that muscle-building and fat-burning advantage rather than redeem it in the form of actual fitness. “Man-sized” snacks, burgers, drinks, and so forth are HUGE. Watching your calories is culturally marked as an inherently unmasculine thing to do; we dudes are supposed to gorge ourselves as a sign of our manliness. Why? Because (i) one cultural/advertising theme is that we don’t have to care about our body image; and (ii) while a competing cultural/advertising theme is that we do indeed have to care about being lean and ripped, the hallmark of manliness on this narrative is to hammer wings, nachos and beer non-stop and still be lean and ripped. Wait, dude, you can’t do that? Really pack on the weight when you go all Papa Burger and Hungry Man? Well, (a) never mind, you can always identify with theme (i); and (b) maybe you aren’t quite the man you thought you were, eh?

    1. Fascinating. I hadn’t thought so much about manly meals and manly portions as part of this. New Zealand has a company that makes excellent dips and yogurt all marketed to men, larger portions, high in calories. There’s even a manly cupcake place in New York.

  2. I don’t know too many men who are in seriously good shape who don’t pay alot of attention to their diet, although they almost all eat ALOT of good food. So this stuff about wings and beer, no, sorry, that is not the men who are true athletes or even truly athletic. My nephew before he became a vegan quite regularly ate a chicken for dinner, or perhaps a steak or 3, and a salad (for 4) in a serving bowl (albeit with no dressing)!

  3. Hmmm…everyone’s body is different. Men lose weight differently than women for a number of reasons. I wonder if your friend was being totally honest with his ‘how’ of weight loss?A big secret is men with eating disorders. Men will almost NEVER admit to others or themselves that they have food issues. So, not drinking gets rid of bloat quickly… so does skipping breakfast, drinking water, eating high fibre foods. Ostensibly, the healthy stuff. But when I hear of a man losing that much weight in that time period, my alarms go off… he may be purging or skipping too many meals. I know of what I speak, I binged and purged for 13 years and was quasi-anorexic for many years prior. No healthy body loses 15 (real) lbs in a couple of weeks. just my POV.

    1. That’s an excellent point. I confess that eating disorders didn’t occur to me though I did only half believe the answer about switching to diet coke. Thanks for sharing your experiences. These are tough issues that aren’t helped by silence and the myth of the macho stiff upper lip.

  4. Well, I know you say there are variations in the end, but stuffs like that never fail to make me feel anormal at best. And I don’t know much (ok, I know one*, yet I know buttloads of men, including men who weightlift, I’m interested in so many men dominated fields) men like that. I guess it would make them feel abnormal too, plus it’s kind of a cliché, the only representation of people there is, so much that when someone talks about variations you’re like: “OMG YES!”
    I guess in most cases it’s real, but frankly exaggerated and it shouldn’t be, because it makes one feel so out of place. And people will list the reasons why a woman would build muscles fast to justify, and I’m like: does it mean you’re not a woman then?
    Yet if a woman do take muscles fast, even if it’s a “normal” amount of muscle, everybody get suspicious about steroids and insist they take it and starts saying their body is masculine when they wouldn’t care at all if she didn’t get or wasn’t muscular. Including the first people insisting women can’t get “masculine”. Even those who they would read as feminine without the visible muscles. It’s true for FAAB who identify other than woman, in funny ways: a trans man bodybuilder, who hasn’t transitioned, talks about how natural women bodybuilders also take steroids, then his photo gets posted on another trans* website and someone seriously says he must take steroids. This is all so ridiculous.
    *who took visible muscle “fast” (I guess, I saw him three months after when he stopped) after having to do physical exercise everyday as part as a job with his mother forcing him to eat more and more proteins on his own complain (he’s a vegetarian friend, basically he helped his mother on her job, which is building houses; though I know there are vegetarian foods high in proteins, unrelatedly), but he is really short and skinny (like 1m58, 40kg) so it’s gonna show easier. Also it happened to me when I started handball 3 times a week without changing my diet (but I’m not vegetarian, though back then I just ate whatever, which includes so called man food, which I considered teenagers/kiddie food, because that’s how I heard those described but I’m not american), yet I didn’t notice without someone mentioning it to me a few months after as well, but when I do it’s seen as abnormal yet when he does people just say he looks better when than he is skinny/bony.

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