When it comes to weight, much of the information we have comparing men and women suggests that men are more comfortable with the number on the scale and feel less societal pressure to be thin. And while women have their own issues in regards to eating and the pressure they feel from society concerning how, what and how much they should eat, there are issues that ought to be of concern to men when it comes to their eating and how it relates to their health and quality of life.
Men have a number of disadvantages compared with women. Men don’t live as long as women. Men tend to wait until they’re more significantly overweight to do something about it. And recently, a Cornell University study found that men ate larger portions in the company of women than when with other men.
Let’s look at a few of myths about masculinity, men’s bodies and men’s relationship with food:
It’s manly to eat large portions: Eating contests have been primarily about men, the winner showing that he can eat more food than anyone thought possible. How is this admirable? Eating more than is healthy is as bad for a man as it is for a woman. It’s not something to take pride in, or to reinforce. Overeating gradually chips away at what could be a healthy life.
A belly on a man is no big deal: It makes you look bigger and, therefore, stronger, right? A belly ought to be a red flag that signals something is out of balance. It certainly makes a body look bigger, but it has nothing to do with strength. Fat isn’t the same as muscle. The old joke about the guy who pounds his belly while saying “It’s all muscle!” is no laughing matter. A belly has nothing to do with masculinity, and it is not a normal part of aging. A man can grow distinguishingly old without one if he takes care of himself.
Physical size is a sign of strength, masculinity and health in a man: Even without a belly, a man’s body size does not equate to strength, masculinity or health any more than thinness in a woman means she’s healthy. Strength and health have more to do with how well you take care of your body than with size.
“Real men don’t eat quiche” or small quantities: Huh? Why should anyone be restricted from eating a food that can be delicious or even healthy simply because of what society might think? On the flip side, why should a man stuff himself just because it somehow represents some type of achievement? It’s time to break the association between masculinity and food. How about this: “Real men make smart choices about their health.” Or better yet, this: “Wise people (male or female) make smart choices about their health.”
“He’s a growing boy”: Americans already have a significant problem with childhood obesity, in part because children have become more sedentary over the years. Continuing to view a young boy’s overeating as benign and due simply to the fact that he’s male can be detrimental to him and his future health. The messages boys receive about eating and masculinity can last a lifetime — and shorten that lifetime.
Real men can hold their liquor: Alcohol use and abuse is more prevalent among males than females, and social drinking is often seen as a cultural symbol of manliness. Alcohol can add significant mindless calories and contribute to weight problems. More importantly, it also negatively affects a man’s general health. A man who drinks responsibly isn’t a sissy. He is smart, and he values himself.
Real men love meat: Eating meat is no more masculine than eating vegetables is feminine. Yet, for some reason, you can see the meat eating-masculinity association in advertisements, in conversations among men and in even more subtle attitudes in our culture. Nutritional balance is for both sexes.
If you’re a man who has bought into any of these myths about food and masculinity, consider that real health and strength feel much better than obesity, bloatedness and societal pressure. Valuing yourself as a person, through your life and your health, is the greatest sign of strength. Perhaps 2016 would be a good year for a change in mind-set. Your loved ones will be exceedingly happy to have you around longer and engaged in life. We all deserve to live long, happy and healthy lives.
Previously published in The Tampa Bay Times