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Eating and Losing Weight Like a Man

By Linda Formichelli

Diet Revolution

It's not fair. Your husband says, “Gee, maybe I could stand to lose a few,” and voilà, he’s suddenly five pounds lighter. You count every calorie, deep-six goodies like cookies and ice cream, and sweat on the treadmill every day. But all you have to do is touch a fork that once touched a piece of cheesecake, and the needle on your scale shoots up again.

The equal rights movement has finally reached the diet revolution. Here, we blast open men’s secrets to staying slim and tell you how to steal their macho maneuvers.

Macho Maneuver #1: Men Stress Less

Have you ever heard your hubby say, “I just ate three M&Ms now I have to run on the treadmill for 20 extra minutes?” Most likely, no.

Believe it or not, your husband’s relaxed attitude toward dieting is one secret to his slimming success. The high level of restraint women display when it comes to eating can actually be their downfall. “When women diet, they get too focused,” says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., director of the nutrition clinic at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and author of The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health -- and What You Can Do About It (Hunter House). “It’s good to be aware of what you’re eating and how many calories you’re taking in, but if you get stressed out over every little morsel, that goes against you and your weight-loss efforts.”

In fact, a study shows that women who have high dietary restraint -- for example, they constantly say no to their favorite foods -- have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes the body to store fat in the midsection.

How to Master This Man Move: Hand Off the Stress

Forget about weighing your food down to the last nanogram. A more relaxed attitude toward dieting will keep stress levels down and the pounds off. To nix the obsessive calorie counting while still eating in moderation, Dr. Talbott suggests using your hands as a portion control device at each meal:

  1. Hold your hand out and spread your fingers as wide as you can; that’s how many fruits and veggies you should pile on your plate.
  2. Use your tightly closed fist as a guide to how much starch to eat, such as oatmeal, pasta or bread.
  3. Note how large your palm is. Your protein serving should be that size.
  4. Make an O.K. sign with your fingers. The circle made by your thumb and forefinger is about the amount of added fat to have.

“By using this method, you’ll be getting about 1,500 calories daily without fat, calorie or carb counting,” says Dr. Talbott. “It’s a huge relief for people. Food isn’t the enemy anymore. When that adversarial role goes away, stress levels go down and so do the pounds.”

Macho Maneuver #2: Men Snooze More

If you’re like many women, you’re wide awake in the middle of the night worrying while your husband snoozes blissfully beside you. “Women tend to report more problems with insomnia,” says Carl E. Hunt, M.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Skimping on sleep leads to an increased tendency to store calories as fat and makes you crave sweet, fatty foods.

How to Master This Man Move: Get More ZZZ's

Tips from Dr. Hunt on getting enough sleep:

Macho Maneuver #3: Men Pooh-Pooh Perfection

Sure, you’d love to go for a walk, but you don’t have any walking shoes. So you head to Foot Locker, but it’s closed so you decide not to take that walk after all.

Women tend to be perfectionists. Men, on the other hand, don’t get bogged down in the details. They just take action. “Men go to the gym and do their thing and it doesn’t matter to them what they look like,” says Pamela Peeke, Ph.D., M.P.H., a metabolism expert in Bethesda, Maryland.

How to Master This Man Move: Don't Think, Just Do It

Dr. Peeke suggests that women take what she calls the Peeke Pledge: I will try not to ruminate, stress over or get anxious about taking care of myself. Instead, I will just do it. “There is healing in action. You don’t heal by ruminating, you heal by doing,” says Dr. Peeke. “Take a first step and don’t worry.”

Macho Maneuver #4: Men Get Pumped

Not only do men have more muscle mass than women (thanks to the male hormone testosterone), men are good at pumping up what nature gave them. And that translates into a leaner figure because pound for pound, muscle burns more calories than fat. In fact, each pound of muscle burns 30 to 50 calories per day, while one pound of fat burns only two to three a day, according to Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. And since weight training increases muscle mass, it adds up to more calories being burned at rest.

In addition, a moderate 40-minute weight-training session uses all the carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles and raises your metabolism rate between 20 percent and 30 percent for four to six hours after the session, says Melyssa St. Michael, C.P.T., C.N.C., a personal trainer in Bentonville, Arkansas, and co-author of Becoming a Personal Trainer for Dummies (Wiley). And because your body uses all of its stored carbohydrates during your weight-training session, it starts burning your stored fat for energy instead.

How to Master This Man Move: Build Your Muscles

To burn more fat and get your metabolism moving, St. Michael suggests doing strength training two to three times per week for 30 to 40 minutes. Beginners should start with one exercise per body part (chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, stomach and legs), with three to four sets of each exercise and 45 seconds to one minute in between sets. You should be able to do between 15 and 20 reps with the weight for each exercise; if you can easily do more, the weight is too light. Make sure to have at least one day of rest between sessions.

Macho Maneuver #5: Men Don't Beat Themselves Up

“When a man notices the number on the scale has crept up, he says to himself, O.K., I’m up 20 pounds. Time to get rid of this weight,” says Dr. Peeke. “When a woman sees that the pounds have snuck on, she says to herself, I’m fat and ugly. I’m not sexy. How can my husband bear to look at me?”

Such negative self-talk only makes weight matters worse. “When a woman has toxic stress -- stress associated with helplessness, hopelessness and defeat -- she ends up feeling overwhelmed,” explains Dr. Peeke, author of Fight Fat after Forty (Penguin). “This allows cortisol levels to rise, which overstimulates the appetite.”

How to Master This Man Move: Think Positively

Turn your negative self-talk into positive self-talk. “Instead of saying, Gee, I only walked a quarter of a mile today, say, I managed to get in some exercise today. You go, girl,” says Dr. Peeke. “Instead of telling yourself, My thighs are too fat, say, I have strong, curvy legs.” Dr. Peeke also suggests taking a few minutes several times a day to regroup, organize your thoughts and think positive things about yourself and what you’ve accomplished that day.

Macho Maneuver #6: Men Leave the Cooking to You!

If yours is like most families, after you get home from work you prepare dinner for your husband and kids, tasting and nibbling to make sure that the seasonings are just right. Your husband, on the other hand, waltzes into the kitchen once the food is cooked, downs his dinner and helps clean up afterward. Nibbling? None. Even in this age of two-income households, the burden of cooking falls largely on women, and women tend to tie their identities in with food preparation.

“It’s true that food is a wonderful gift to give to your family,” says Lonnie Isaacson, R.D., nutrition specialist in the Health Education Department at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon, who conducts weight-loss classes at the company. “But at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure to provide your family with cakes and cookies and other high-calorie treats. It’s also risky because you can consume a lot of calories during food preparation.”

How to Master This Man Move: Get Out of the Kitchen

Nix the meal-prep nibbling by sharing cooking responsibilities with your husband and kids. “All family members can help in planning and preparing quick, healthy meals and snacks that match their preferences and fit into their busy schedules,” says Isaacson. “Time needs to be scheduled for creating a simple menu plan, cooking, shopping and cleanup. Keep it easy and flexible.”

Macho Maneuver #7: Men Get with the (Computer) Program

Men are more comfortable with technology than women and are more apt to use it as a weight-loss tool.

“I find that men are much more likely to come to class with their Palm Pilots and foldable keyboards and be excited that there’s software that can be helpful to them in record keeping,” says Isaacson. Computers, the Internet and personal digital assistants are amazing awareness tools. “If you have a device that you can use to enter the foods you’ve been eating and your physical activity, then, at a glance, you can see where you are for your caloric intake and caloric expenditure,” Isaacson says. “And it’s easy to make good choices the rest of the day to stay within this limit.”

How to Master This Man Move: Get Wired

Isaacson recommends these Web sites:

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