It’s no secret that women experience many pressures to abide by certain body standards. It’s also no secret that women often resort to restrictive eating and dieting — and in extreme cases fall to eating disorders — in order to attain such standards.
Many diet foods, products and programs are marketed towards women to help them attain these goals. We all know the Jenny Craig ads or remember the classic Diet Pepsi commercial with Cindy Crawford where her consumption of the beverage somehow allows her to maintain the perfect figure to attract the male gaze.
I know many female family members who seem to be on a different diet every time I go home to visit. These often take the shape of fad diets — no carbs, special shakes, pills and powders added to their regular meals. They are very good at staying on the restrictive diets, but when they reach their goal, they revert to old habits and end up regaining most, if not all, of the weight.
Research has shown that diets are often ineffective in the long run. Worse yet, “yo-yo” dieting — or losing and regaining weight — has severe health repercussions, including gut issues, heart problems and actually gaining back more weight than you lost in the first place. Instead, researchers suggest making long-term changes and building healthy habits.
Eating more fruits and vegetables, replacing white bread with whole grain, quitting smoking and exercising more often are obvious and simple changes that can be done gradually to improve one’s weight, heart health and energy.
Fad diets and yo-yo weight loss also affect men, of course, but it’s often less talked about in the media. I once had a male friend who, in the interest of getting into shape, believed it was effective to fast for a few days and then eat two entire pizzas in one sitting.
He assured us that he’d seen many bodybuilders do it and refused to listen when he was sent multiple sources about how dangerous it was. This was attributed to the fact that these sources pertain generally to women’s health, not men’s. It is often difficult for men to engage in things that have been feminized. Usually, this isn’t a big deal, but when it comes to diets, things can get dangerous.
Women’s diets are usually at least somewhat based in fact, cutting carbs and reducing portion sizes. Not wanting to seem like they’re being picky or eating “dainty” portions, men can sometimes resort to different, more extreme measures like my friend.
Worse, because eating disorders are often associated with women, men can find it more difficult to admit they have eating disorders and seek help. Recently, companies have found a way to capitalize on diet culture without feminizing it with technology giving us new ways to think about diets. Sequencing the genome allows people to find the most effective way to get their body into shape and keep it there.
Companies like 23andMe now offer programs that include workout and eating plans, focusing more on overall wellness than simply losing weight or gaining muscle. Although the research on this technology is fairly new, the diets they prescribe do not seem to be radically more effective than any other fad diet.
There’s no shame in wanting to change your body for the betterment of your health. We are all surrounded by media that’s constantly telling us we aren’t good enough, and that can take its toll. Convincing ourselves that skinny and toned always means healthy is wrong and often has the opposite effect.
With the advancement of technology, it’s becoming more and more possible to understand our bodies from a scientific perspective instead of understanding ourselves based on how the media defines us. More importantly, combining technology and diets allows us to remove the classic gender bias and have an objective and effective conversation about health.
Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor