Men are vastly better than women at losing weight because they view it as “a war”, the international head of the Weight Watchers organisation says.
Visiting Australia this week, Weight Watchers' US-based chief executive David Kirchhoff says this fact intensely annoys women, who are also burdened by a media-led barrage of negative body image stereotypes.
Guys don't want to be seen as going on a diet, they want to be seen as getting more fit.
Kirchhoff admits to his own battle of the bulge before losing 20 kilograms using the program he now runs, and says men are typically more successful at losing weight because they approach it in a combative frame of mind.
“Here's the dirty little secret when it comes to men and women losing weight: men can lose weight really quickly when they put their minds to it, almost to the point where when men finally decide to deal with a weight loss issue, it's almost like they go to war,” he says.
“When men are doing the Weight Watchers program, which is based on keeping track of points, as soon as they start doing it, it becomes like a fantasy sports league.
“They keep track of scores and numbers and things, and they crush the program, they do so unbelievably well, it's a bit frightening. And it irritates women to no end.”
The biggest hurdle for men is making the decision to start a weight loss program, Kirchhoff says, often because it is considered less socially acceptable for men to admit they're on a diet than for women.
In recent years Weight Watchers in the US has featured former NBA basketball star Charles Barkley as a spokesman for male weight loss, which Kirchhoff says generated a huge response from men.
“We've had men come up and thank me for doing TV spots with Charles because, in their words, it gave them 'air cover' that it was OK to deal with their weight issues and they weren't somehow going to have to give up their masculinity by getting in shape and starting to get their nutritional act together,” he says.
“Guys don't want to be seen as going on a diet, they want to be seen as getting more fit. They need to do the same stuff (as women) but they like to use different language around it so they feel like they're maintaining their masculine virility.
“Most guys, if you pin them down, are not that happy about being overweight, whatever initial bravado you hear from them. If you peel it back, you find they'd like to do something about it, but they struggle in terms of how to get started.”
Kirchoff says men who are overweight face the same health issues and risks as women, but in most cases without the peer pressure and media-enforced stereotypes to which women are subjected.
“Women have had to deal with the yoke of body image nonsense that has been browbeating them into looking a certain way that men haven't historically had to deal with,” he says.
“We've seen a little bit of a change recently, but that's still pretty nascent. Obesity as a health condition is unisex and as obesity becomes recognised as a health issue, men are going to have to start dealing with it.”