At 25 years old I was 340 lbs (136 kg) and on the fast track to having the curtains go down on my life way too soon. I found my way out of this physical and emotional burden that I carried for my entire life by eventually losing 160 lbs (73 kg).
Since then I have committed my life to understand why so many of us are challenged by weight and how I can help others drop the armor that burden them.
As men we face unique challenges with weight. We must recognize that we do have physiological, psychological, social and cultural differences.
The majority of the wellness and weight loss world is created for and marketed to women. So it’s time we take a look at the real challenges that men face; and create some empowering shifts in perspective as well as solutions.
1. Bigger is Better
From a very young age we are taught explicitly and implicitly that bigger is better as a male. Bigger boys got picked first on the playground for sports, were often put in leadership roles in school and on teams, and were given priority in general. We idolized massive pro athletes and wrestlers, as we got older this didn’t change.
One unconscious way that boys and men embody this deep seeded message is to gain weight. When it comes time to lose weight, we often have a conscious or unconscious aversion to being a “small guy”. I hear it all the time from clients and have had this internal message live in me as I was losing my weight. “I want to lose weight but I don’t want to be a small guy. I like being larger, ya know?”
One solution is to simply create awareness and give yourself a reality check. Write down all the ways that you were influenced to be bigger. Get as specific as you can with real memories. Then make a list of all the ways being bigger is actually a burden and challenge. Identify role models that you think are happy and healthy who are moderate or smaller men.
2. Healthy Eating is Considered Weak or Feminine
Another message that we glean from our environment is that healthy eating is for women or is effeminate in some way. “I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy” is considered a very “manly” thing to be. Back when I was beginning to eat healthier I remember lots of comments from other men about how I was now eating “bird food”. Take a look at food marketed towards men and food marketed towards women; you’ll see the clear difference.
We even have to deal with a glorification of over eating. There are TV shows about the exact topic. Formal and informal eating contests are a display of man’s ability to conquer food and even conquer the body by ignoring its signals.
Whether they will admit it or not, most guys don’t want to go out to eat with their buddies or on a date with a woman and order a quinoa salad. We place masculine ego above our health.
To get over this you need an update to your definition of masculine and some exposure therapy. Try this on, as a man who is a potential father, protector, provider, and in service to the world, a focus on your health is the most masculine thing you can do. Focus, discipline, energy, mental clarity, and the feelings of confidence that come with a healthy lifestyle are part of being an empowered healthy masculine figure in our world.
So get out there and buy the “health foods” and the formerly “girly” dishes you used to avoid because of your fragile ego. It’s time to grow up and step up.
3. We have been conditioned to sacrifice our bodies
There is some nature, but mostly nurture via cultural conditioning for us men to sacrifice and neglect our bodies. The most “masculine” imagery for generations has been the pro athlete, the soldier, the action hero or the corporate businessman or lawyer who prioritizes everything behind his 80-hour workweek. We are told that we either have to put our bodies on the line or neglect our well being to be a successful man. Since we are taught that our physical bodies are dispensable, it’s no wonder that we don’t focus on them unless we can use them to fulfill these valuable yet shallow masculine archetypes.
If this is you I recommend more deep inquiry. Exposing where, when and how you caught these beliefs will do wonders to transforming them. Talk to other men about this, journal and read more inspired men’s literature.
4. We disconnect from feeling
Most men are far less sensual than women. We are also far less in touch with emotion. While some of that is connected back to hunter gather psychology and biology, we can consciously evolve. We are taught to “suck it up”, “walk it off” and that “boys don’t cry”. In response we repress feelings. Feelings live literally within the body. So at a very young age we learn to ignore the signals from our body, whether they be fear, or pain or joy.
Yes we need to be mentally tough, and emotionally resilient but that doesn’t mean we have to keep our sensations and our emotions repressed any longer.
It is really easy to gain weight when we are cut off from our body and emotions. We stress eat, we fill our bodies with stimulants, we repress emotion and become addicted to food. Without a deep connection to our bodies it is really easy to be unaware of when we are full, and unaware of the impact that poor eating has on our bodies. We are then unaware of how good it feels to take care of the body.
You can overcome this but it takes work. The good news is that it is fun, feels amazing and so worth it. There are so many ways to reconnect with your body and emotions.
Here are a few:
- Weight training
- Men’s groups
- Mindful eating
- Float Tanks
- Conscious sex
There are many options, the bottom line is to begin to understand and feel emotions and engage consciously with all 5 senses. Men…it’s time to embody.
5. We leak all of our leadership energy elsewhere
Getting healthy and losing weight takes what I call “empowered self leadership”. As men (and women in today’s world) we spend our whole leadership bandwidth on others.
The best and most effective leaders know that they have to lead themselves first before they can lead others. Often when men are neglecting their health or weight they are giving their energy to their employer, their family, their business, their friends, and the community. It is a very predictable common thread amongst my male clients that they are over extended in the interest of serving and leading others.
You are leaving nothing left for yourself. Healthy weight requires boundaries, discipline, focus, and planning. It also requires scheduling time for you. You might hear this and think it sounds like I’m telling you that you need to be selfish, but it is the exact opposite. The way you care for yourself has a deep impact on how much of you can show up to serve and lead others.
It’s time to start putting some fuel back in the self-leadership tank. There are two ways to do this. First, step into self-care that allows you to nourish, rest, and reinvigorate. This includes exercise, active relaxation, healthy food, and some sensual pleasures. Second, you must look at all of the ways you are serving others and decide what can be dropped or delegated. Then you must actually let go and create time and energy for self-leadership.
It’s time to recognize that we men have a very different set of challenges that are keeping us overweight, fatigued and unhealthy. It’s time to take some ownership of your life and step up to a new definition of masculinity. There are lots of options that are geared towards women when it comes to weight loss and wellness and those aren’t for you.
You can lose and maintain weight. Engage your body, engage your emotions and reallocate some leadership energy towards yourself.