A Diet Built for Two

Here's how couples can get fit together

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD

"If you can't beat him, join him!" That's how Tami DePalma got her husband, Gino, to start paying attention to his weight and his fitness routine -- or lack thereof. "Last year, my husband and I each found ourselves thinking, 'I'm just fine, but my spouse? He/she could stand to get in shape.'" says DePalma. "Well, each of us was only half-right. Between the two of us, we knew the whole truth."

For years, the DePalmas would come home from work, nestle into the couch, and hint to one another, "Honey, are you going to work out tonight?" "Finally, we made the decision to change -- together," says Tami.

The DePalmas dedicated to change their habits. In the space of 12 weeks, Gino trimmed 4 inches off his waistline and went from having 11% body fat to 4.69%, while Tami lost 31 pounds and saw her body fat plummet from 22 to 13%.

Follow the Leader

Tami had the right idea, says Audrey Beauvais, who leads wellness seminars in Arlington Heights, Ill. "You have to walk the talk," she says. "Show by example."

Many men are resistant to changing lifetime habits and preferences, says Beauvais. If you know something's got to give, but you just can't sell the man in your life on the notion, let it go. "When he's ready, he'll change," Beauvais says. "Otherwise, you're going to be in a power struggle."

In the meantime, keep an eye out for what Beauvais calls "teachable moments." Encourage your partner to go grocery shopping with you where he'll be able to see you choosing fresh fruits and vegetables or reading labels.

You can also change the way you cook at home, advises Jill Stevens, a registered dietician with the Geisinger Health System in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Don't ban his favorite dishes, but rethink how you prepare them. If you're making chili, for example, use extra lean ground beef, or even ground turkey breast. Fire up the barbecue grill, Stevens adds. "Most men love grilled foods. Instead of grilling a steak, though, grill tuna or salmon, or chicken tenders, and serve them with a tomato-based hot sauce." Pizza doesn't have to be a no-no either. Make your own, using low-fat cheese and toppings like vegetables, pineapple, or boneless, skinless chicken breast. Even lasagna is not out of the question as long as you use low-fat cheeses and extra lean ground beef or switch to a vegetarian variety.

When you're not using the grill, your favorite food preparation terms should be baking, broiling, steaming, microwaving, and roasting, says Stevens.

Men are snack eaters but helping them watch their weight doesn't mean taking away their chips and dips. It does mean losing the fried snacks, though. Switch to baked chips, pretzels, and air popped or "light" microwave popcorn. Dips are okay, too, as long as they're made with nonfat sour cream or yogurt or salsa, which is always low in fat.

If you're really meeting with resistance in getting your man to change the way he eats, you just might want to let him know that the more pounds he's carrying, the lower his testosterone level may be. In fact, it takes as little as 10 extra pounds for a man's testosterone levels to start falling, says Larrian Gillespie, MD, a Beverly Hills urologist and author of The Gladiator Diet.

"When he's ready, he'll change. Otherwise, you're going to be in a power struggle."

"Men don't pay attention to their health unless they have a medical emergency or unless they're worried about their virility," says Gillespie. Which is why her book, though focusing on men, was written with women in mind. "Men don't pick up health books," she explains. "But if they see it in the house and hear you talking about it, they'll pay attention."

Another risk factor for men in terms of their health -- both sexual and otherwise -- is the fact that men tend to put weight on around their abdomen (as opposed to women, who put it on around their hips and fanny). That abdominal fat is able to convert testosterone into estradiol, a female hormone. A waistline of 34 inches or more doubles a man's risk of impotency, says Gillespie, not to mention increasing his risk of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.

Add in Protein

To preserve their potency and manage their weight, men need to change the way they eat, but too many of them are following the high-carbohydrate, low-protein regimen that was touted for several years. "That works if you're a performance athlete, but it's not what the average man needs," Gillespie says.

Rather, a typical man needs a diet made up of the following:

  • 40% protein
  • 20-25% fat (less than 10% of that saturated fat)
  • 35% low-glycemic carbohydrates like fresh vegetables and whole grains

If you're the one doing the grocery shopping, look for organic meats that have not been treated with hormones, because the hormone-treated meats may further raise estradiol levels. Also look for foods that include soy, which is a good, low-fat source of protein. Just one soy serving a day -- whether a quarter of a tub of tofu or a soy drink -- will do the trick.

Last but not least, says Gillespie, offer positive reinforcement. Men need their egos stroked. "Praise always helps."

Published April 23, 2003.

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