He drops pounds overnight, you gain weight just by glancing at a doughnut. Here, 7 habits you should steal.
One of the most frustrating things your husband can say to you: “I need to lose 5 pounds—I’ll cut out the beer.”
That’s because you could forgo beer forever and still never get close to squeezing into your skinny jeans from high school. It’s not fair, but men are natural losers. We women may think we know every weight loss trickin the book, but men have some distinct physiological advantages.
For one, men’s bigger muscle mass helps them burn 30% more calories than we do, says nutritionist Cynthia Sass, RD, coauthor of Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy. Women generally have more body fat and are biologically more inclined to store it; men also get a free pass from the monthly hormone peaks and valleys that leave us grumpy, bloated, and craving anything chocolate. Finally, in the gym, men flock to the weight racks and do routines that pack on metabolism-boosting muscle, while women miss out on those benefits when they’re tied to the treadmill.
But all is not, ahem, lost. If there’s no way to beat men at the dieting game, women might as well join them. Here are seven guy habits that can help you slim down, get strong, and be healthier, too.
1. He doesn’t get upset when he screws up.
Okay, you blew it. A ridiculous project lands on your desk at 4 pm, and the vending machine beckons…What do you do next? If you’re a woman, you throw up your hands, tell yourself what a bad person you are, and reach for your quarters. Then you wallow in self-loathing for days. And what does a guy do? “He feels okay, maybe even good, and really enjoys that snack,” says emotional-eating expert Edward Abramson, PhD, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University and author of Body Intelligence. The guy also climbs right back on the weightloss wagon, no harm, no foul.
To avoid this diet-busting mentality, apply his 80% rule. “Most guys avoid anything that even smacks of perfectionism,” and that applies to dieting, too, says Pamela Peeke, MD, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “When women start a diet, they go from zero to 100—they become ‘perfect’ overnight, which is a hallmark of failure. That’s why I developed the 80% rule: Hit your weight loss goals 80% every single day you can. One day, it’ll be 120% because it happens to be a great day. Other days, you’ll hit 50% or even 20% when you’re dealing with PMS. Just make sure it averages out to 80%.”
2. He doesn’t crave sweets.
Both men and women have cravings—but his work to his advantage. While your comfort food is more likely to be sour gummy bears or double-chocolate chip bars, his is a thick, juicy steak. A Cornell University study found that women seek out sweets to ward off the blues but men turn to meat when they want to indulge. Why this gives him aweight loss advantage: He’s eating protein, which will help fill him up (and curb overeating later) far better than your coffee cake will.
If cravings for desserts and candy are your diet downfall, try protein first. Have low-fat string cheese, a low-fat turkey and cheese roll-up, or fat-free cottage cheese mixed with some cut-up fruit. If you can’t skip a sweet, combine them: a small handful of chocolate chips and almonds, for example.
3. He lifts heavy weights.
Women are catching on to strength-training, but some experts think women ought to approach weights more like men do. “When a guy goes to the gym, he’ll usually pick an exercise that allows him to use the most impressive-looking weights,” says Lou Schuler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of The New Rules of Lifting. The result: muscle building in less time, and working a range of muscles at once instead of one in isolation. “A woman, on the other hand, will go for light dumbbells and do an exercise that allows her to use perfect form but will do the least amount of good.” To wit: the laborious but ineffective 12 triceps exercises women do to try to rid themselves of underarm dangle, says Schuler.
So drop the “Barbie” weights. If you’re doing two sets of 12 or 15 reps, your weights are probably too light, says Schuler. Move toward higher poundage that makes you strain to do 8 to 10. Once your body is used to 10, then increase the weight until you’re only able to do 3 reps. “At sports medicine conferences, I’ve seen scans of women’s upper arms before and after this kind of training program, and the girth of their upper armshasn’t changed, but you can see the fat tissue is reduced and how much more muscle there is.”
4. He doesn’t use food as a therapist.
Women are twice as likely as men to binge because they’re depressed, found a University of Minnesota study. Women are also twice as likely as men to be depressed, which makes for a lot of eat-a-thons. Worse, after a binge, a woman is likely to feel guilty, feel even more down, and soothe herself with more food. But guys don’t think they can boost their mood by mainlining frozen dairy products. You shouldn’t either.
Break the habit by identifying what’s behind your need to feed. Rank your desire to eat on a scale of 1 to 10, recommends Santa Barbara, CA, psychotherapist Gloria Arenson, author of Five Simple Steps to Emotional Healing. “If it’s an 8, then look at what in your life was an 8 that day. Your boss yelled at you? Your dog ran away? Your kid got into trouble at school?” By matching your numbers—the craving and an equivalent stressor—you’ll soon learn how to determine whether you’re hungry or medicating a bad mood. With practice, most people who use the rating system stop themselves before taking the first bite, says Arenson.
5. He acts out his anger.
Here’s another reason why men’s emotions don’t drive them to the fridge. Guys are more likely to do something physical to dissipate their negative emotions, like go for an extra-grueling run or pound nails in the garage. Women on the other hand, tend to swallow their feelings—sometimes with an entire row of Oreos. So when you get mad, get moving. Take a Spin class, say, or go for a head-clearing walk.
6. He makes time for himself.
Women are less likely to declare, “I need to take the day off and get pampered.” “For many women, their only source of gratification and reward is food,” says Sass. Starting today, snag an hour just for you. And give yourself something inedible to look forward to, whether it’s a Saturday morning at the outlets or a monthly girls’ night out for pedicures at a spa.
7. He doesn’t give up favorite foods.
When women diet, we deprive ourselves of all those luscious “forbidden foods” until we can’t stand it any longer. Then we fall like starved dogs on year-old Halloween candy stuck to the back of the freezer. Austrian researchers, looking at gender differences in eating and dieting, found that “men’s approach toward nutrition is uncomplicated and pleasure-oriented.” They’ll still eat Doritos and guacamole while watching the Super Bowl, but they’ll have a third less then they usually do. Studies by University of Toronto obesity researcher Janet Polivy, PhD, found that restrained eaters—that’s the average female dieter—are more likely to not only overeat after dieting but also to gorge themselves if they just think they’re going to go on a diet. Scientists call it “the last supper effect.”
So don’t ban your favorite food—nothing can scuttle your good intentions like feeling deprived. “I order my clients to have something they love every day—a portion of ice cream, a small cupcake,” says Arenson. And choose something fun to distract you when cravings strike. “So many times women are told, ‘If you feel like you’re going to overeat, distract yourself by cleaning the house,’ ” says Sass. “That’s like torturing yourself.” No man in his right mind is going to do chores to keep himself from overeating. A guy will find a more hedonistic distraction, like shooting hoops in the driveway or playing his guitar. Take a cue from him and look for something enjoyable that engages your hands and mind.
Bottom line: Weight loss is as much about attitude as it is about aptitude. Adopting a male mind-set, at least in this arena, can make you a leaner, more in-control woman.