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It Takes Guts To Lose Weight

More than 70 percent of Aussie males are overweight or obese.

29/12/2016 6:34 AM AEDT
Zena Holloway
"Slow and steady always wins the race -- just ask the tortoise."

Kudos to Peter FitzSimons. Shedding more than 40 kilos from your frame is no mean feat. The self-proclaimed 'fatty boomka' says he did it by eschewing sugar and grog, and upping the exercise. In his new book, The Great Aussie Bloke Slim-Down, he's on a mission to tell blokes how to shed excess weight and keep it off.

As a dietitian, my peers and I have been warning people for decades about the perils of consuming too much of the sweet stuff as well as booze. We continue to sing the praises of fruit and vegetables as the cornerstones of any good diet, and we encourage people to have a hearty intake of whole grains, dairy and lean proteins, including legumes and beans.

Plus, we discourage the over-consumption of 'discretionary' foods such as baked goods, sweet biscuits and the like. And we categorically promote the virtues of being a teetotaler or firmly suggest that people reduce the amount of alcohol they consume. Selling a straight message to the average bloke doesn't always work, however, I take my hat off to FitzSimons for discovering a method of weight loss that has worked for him.

But before I heap too much praise on the ex-Wallaby, let me paint a picture of what I often see among the male clients in my practice. I regularly sit opposite a middle-aged man with the all-too-common middle-age spread. He's usually got high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels, and he's come to see me on the advice of his GP after being diagnosed with pre-diabetes and fatty liver disease. Let's call him Roger. I see so many blokes just like Roger, all year round.

Roger personifies a particular stereotype. He's a family man who works hard and whose free time is taken up by school drop-offs and taking the kids to extracurricular activities, as well as responding to emails at home once the wife and kids have gone to bed.

His diet is far from perfect. It consists of a coffee and muffin from the servo for brekkie, lunch from the greasy take-away joint down the road, and whatever the missus cooks for dinner. He'll often have a dim sim on the way home from work and ice cream for dessert. And most nights he washes it all down with a stubby or three. He's not one for cooking, but he's pretty adept at turning snags on the barbie. His level of physical activity usually consists of bi-hourly walks from his desk to the toilet.

Yet, Roger has heard all the diet talk before. And he's tried it all, too. From juice cleanses, detox diets, cabbage soup, meal replacement shakes, no carbs, low carb, 5:2, high fat, low fat, truckloads of protein, to no food after 7 pm. He's left no stone unturned in his quest to slim down. Nevertheless, he still presents as a middle-aged dude with a pot belly and biochemical markers that would make good cricket scores.

The mind-boggling thing is that Roger is certainly not alone. More than 70 percent of Aussie males are overweight or obese.

Here are the facts. According to the latest National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, the average Aussie takes in around 35 percent of their daily energy (or kilojoules) from 'discretionary' foods. That statistic alone is staggering. That means that more than one-third of our intake is derived from things such as chips, lollies, chocolate, fruit juice, soft drinks, cordials, booze, cakes, pastries, fast food and sugary snack foods. Also, only six percent of those surveyed met their recommended daily intake of vegetables. And just over half of the respondents reported meeting their recommended daily intake of fruit. The stats are damning. No wonder the CSIRO recently graded our diets a measly C.

Now back to Roger. What he needs is a fair amount of tender loving and care. He needs reassurance, and to know that, as his health professional, I don't have a magic bullet. Heck, if I did, I would be on an island in the Bahamas downing low-cal margaritas. I need to know that Roger is in for the long haul, that he will approach his diet like a test innings and not a 20/20 bash and smash.

Yes, I'll be there to nurture him and guide him to make subtle tweaks to his diet that will lead to positive and lasting change. I'll even help him to increase his repertoire of home-cooked meals. But I'm certainly not there to give him a radical new diet plan full of kale, quinoa, goji berries, South American tonics or spinach juice. Or, heaven forbid, to tell him that he can't ever enjoy his favourite foods or drinks again. I'm a real bloke too. Bloody oath I am! I too enjoy an occasional coldie, a pie at the footy and a pizza with the lads.

What blokes need is to be told what they can eat, not what they can't eat. They need to know that they can still enjoy their favourite foods, while having strategies in place to include more of the good stuff and less of the not-so-good-stuff. Because the drill sergeant and gung-ho approaches rarely work in the long-term. Slow and steady always wins the race -- just ask the tortoise.

Further, the single nutrient/food approach is far too simplistic. Blaming one particular foodstuff for all our health ailments is to lose sight of the bigger picture. Rather, we must focus on the overall quality of our diet. Encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetables and cut back on the junk is a bloody good start.

Healthy eating is not rocket science. But it's a hell of a lot more complex than telling people to ditch the sugar and quit the grog. If it were that easy, we wouldn't be faced by an obesity epidemic. And I'd be on the other side of the globe with that margarita in hand, not meeting blokes like Roger...

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