So often family men blame their wife and kids for their own expanding waistline. If your wife is doing the cooking, and the kids are the reason the cupboards are filled with snacks and empty calories, it's easy to see why so many men think there's nothing they can do to take control of their diet. But the fact is, the bodies I see on so many men on the street—little arms and legs, great big bellies—suggest that we men are doing this to ourselves. The time has come to eat like a man.
If your body is beginning to look like you're a pregnant woman, the last person to blame is your wife. The fact is women are far less likely than men to skip meals—and it's skipping meals that leads to overeating, snacking, and the habits that generally lead to packing on pounds specifically around your middle.
The other thing that leads to that peculiar shape one sees on so many men today is stress. Increases in cortisol, a stress hormone, will cause fat to build up around internal organs, where it is particularly dangerous to your health. And your wife is probably not the reason you are skipping meals and stressing out. The more probable reason is your job. Causing you stress, making you skip meals, offering easy snacks as filler—this is likelier to describe your job than your marriage. So here's what you'll need to do to be a man about this.
1) Real men eat breakfast. A man needs this meal as much as his wife and kids. It jumpstarts the metabolism, and gives you fuel for the morning that prevents unconscious snacking later. And breakfast needs to be substantial—the yogurt your wife is having probably isn't enough even for her, and it certainly isn't enough for you. Unless you want to hit the office vending machine at 10 am, you need a healthy mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein for breakfast.
2) Take strong, manly breaths. Take at least one and preferably two or more two-to-three-minute breaks during the day to practice deep breathing exercises and reduce the stress hormones, such as cortisol, that build fat around your mid-section. The best times for these breaks are at 11 am and 4 pm—right in the most intense times of the workday, when your stress is high and mealtimes are near; this is the danger zone for snacking. Never done deep breathing? A very simple breathing exercise is to breathe deeply in through your nose for four counts, hold for a few seconds (no more than seven counts), and then slowly exhale through your mouth for eight counts.
3) Eat man-sized portions. How much is enough food? This is where very few people have any idea how to control their eating. But there are simple strategies for knowing how much food you should eat at a meal. A serving of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand (5 - 6 oz.); that's the right amount for dinner. Likewise, a man's closed fist is usually about a cup to a cup-and-a-half of grain or starch—past, rice, potato, beans—and enough for a meal. Those two together should fill about half your plate, and the other half should be full of vegetables. No more blaming your wife if you eat a plate piled with food—you can always just take less of any food, keeping these serving sizes in mind.
4) Out-cook your wife. If you want to know what you're eating, you have to cook it. But you can start off small, by agreeing to cook the evening meal one day per week. Bear in mind that "cooking" includes shopping—otherwise you never really know what's in the food. Once you've mastered a few basic recipes, you'll have a new respect for anyone who gets dinner on the table several nights a week. Moreover, the process of cooking, including the smells associated with food preparation, are part of the experience of satiation, or feeling satisfied from a meal. If you cook more, you may actually eat less..
5) Drink less like a man. You can't drink all the beer you want and keep your waist size down. But you don't have to be a teetotaler—a moderate amount of alcohol can be one of life's pleasures. What's moderate? For waist-slimming purposes, it needs to be no more than a serving of alcohol per day, and preferably half that. Here are the serving sizes: 4 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, 1.5 oz. of hard liquor. Measure your pours.
Getting rid of your big belly—delivering that food baby riding around your waist—doesn't mean eating like a lady, or a bird. You need enough fuel from healthy food to keep your brain and body in gear, and let you fight off cravings. Starving yourself is not the answer. But neither is blaming your wife. Time to take control of your nutrition, and manage your stress.
Manuel Villacorta is a nationally recognized, award-winning registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, in San Francisco, California. He is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good!