Saturday, May 7, 2011
Manning up the nerve to talk about food
We first launched Weight Watchers Online for Men about four years ago. Prior to that, the Online product was unisex other than the fact that it had lots of articles that arguably had a feminine slant (Stress Eating? Take a Bath Instead!). Weight Watchers Online for Men basically took all of the same tools, but packaged them around articles and features more suitable for a mannish lifestyle. All the usual cliches applied such as beer, grilling, etc. We developed a nice base of dude subscribers, including me.
The only thing missing was the little issue of not really telling anyone about it. Lots of guys kind of assume that Weight Watchers is only concerned about women, so it doesn't even dawn on them to look for something designed for the hairier sex.
It made my heart glad the other morning when I saw a Weight Watchers Online for Men ad pop up while I was eating my oatmeal and watching CNN. The male race had finally arrived in the world of Weight Watchers, and Weight Watchers was finally spreading the good word to the other 50% of the population.
Here is one of the spots...
I like this spot a lot mostly because all three guys are actual subscribers who have had great success, and they get the whole Weight Watchers thing. And they're pretty funny to boot.
However, there is also a part of the ad that is arguably a little sad. The spot has to get into things like BEER and GRILLING and other overtly mannish signaling devices as if to say "Hey guys, jump in! The water's fine!". It also pokes fun at the unseen other guys who were clearly teasing one of the three guys for doing Weight Watchers. It seems a shame that the ad has to go out of its way to prove that Weight Watchers is OK for guys, and that it's OK for guys to deal with their weight issues.
The reality is that many guys still don't feel comfortable talking about weight issues let alone doing something about them. We still need to be convinced that it's OK to consciously make healthier choices and to burn more calories than we take in. The advertisement is merely a reflection of this reality, and it does its noble best to begin to break down some of these calcified perception issues.
Men are very happy to blog prolifically about their exercise routines and share notes all the time on matters of biking, running, lifting, etc. However, they rarely seem to share notes on food choices, managing portion sizes, and they certainly don't get into the emotional aspects of eating.
Do a search of weight loss blogs, and see what percentage have female scribes vs. male ones. I'd have to guess that 95% of the weight-oriented blogs are written by women. Men just don't talk about this stuff. In fact, the reason I first started writing this blog was that I believed that there were not enough men out there talking about weight, weight loss and healthy life. I'm grateful for every other guy who does the same, even this guy out in California named Jack Sh*t, who likes to make fun of me.
I certainly write about my own experiences. Do I talk about them too? Most definitely, but usually with the women I know. That said, I have some dude co-workers who are willing to engage on the topic, but mostly to make fun of each other. Frankly, teasing beats silence, so it's something. Outside of work, most of the guys I know almost seem embarrassed to talk about what they eat or what their struggles are. They usually don't get much further than making fun of themselves for being out of shape and having a belly.
Does it matter? I am starting to think it does. If we guys feel self-conscious about talking about eating more healthily and eating less, then we may feel the same way on actually carrying out healthy behaviors. Is it actually embarrassing or unmanly to eat healthily? I hope not, but I do worry.
Talking about food choices and nutrition should be the most natural thing in the world for a guy to do. We share notes on cars and gadgets all the time. We obsessively track stats from the sports pages and stock market. We love keeping score. Why not talk about the fact that scallops have practically no PointsPlus values, yet they have tons of protein. Why not talk about the fact that a bowl of fruit is a huge amount of food that keeps you full, but it has relatively few calories compared to most processed foods.
I'm not preaching here, because I have been (and sometimes still am) one of those guys who feels a little shy about the topic. I think that the shyness comes from not wanting to admit that I'm on a "diet". The shyness comes from feeling badly about not having enough "will power" to conquer my food demons. The fact is this: there are still lots of stigmas and emotional issues around weight and weight loss, and none of them are helpful. This has always been the case for women, and it's increasingly the case for men too. They just come in a different form.
In my utopian view of the world, we would all treat weight, healthy lifestyle and obesity as a math problem to be solved. On some basic level it is just that: the first law of thermodynamics. Use more energy than you take in, and fat stores go down. It's all numbers and keeping score from there. When we look at the topic in this construct, there is nothing whatsoever about it that is deserving of embarrassment or shyness.
Btw, here is a fun little fact about the men who subscribe to Weight Watchers Online: in our satisfaction surveys, they rate the product at least as high as their female counterparts. More importantly, they have some pretty impressive weight loss results. The simple truth is this: counting and keeping score works in weight management. Nothing un-masculine about that.