Real men on taking control, getting healthy and staying healthy.
We live in a culture conditioned to believe that ‘real men’ don’t need to faff around with healthy food, or take time to look after their health and well-being. Unfortunately, this translates into a culture where the numbers for men are not pretty. NZ men live on average four years less than women, and yet still remain much less likely to talk to a GP about their health. One New Zealand man dies every three hours of a potentially avoidable illness. Six out of 10 New Zealand males are overweight and 27 per cent of men have potentially hazardous drinking patterns. We think it’s time to reverse this trend. In part one of our men’s health special, one man shares his journey to better health.
Paul Hollings: a weight-loss journey
We first came across 52-year old Paul Hollings when he tweeted us: “Just bought new trousers 100cm down from a tight 107. Healthy Food Guide magazine, you have literally saved my life, thank you.” Paul has lost 15 kilos so far and the results are clear to see. Paul shares his journey.
What prompted you to make changes to your lifestyle?
I woke up on my first day back at work in 2012 and weighed myself: I was 110kg and really very unfit. I thought ‘that’s enough’. I have had high blood pressure for 12 years that has been treated with drugs but the doctor had said to me that while drugs were okay. I needed to own this thing as well. My daughter and some friends had said at various times that they thought I was getting a bit on the heavy side but until I decided that particular morning, nothing had happened.
I guess a major driver was that there appears to be longevity genes on my Dad’s side of the family (he lived to 87) and I figured that would be great but I needed my health if I was to enjoy those extended years.
Being overweight and unfit doesn’t add up to good health as you get older.
What changes did you make to get started?
My daughter had shown me the HFG 5pm panic cookbook so I bought myself a copy as I do 90 per cent of the cooking for my wife and me, and I started to use it. As a result I have been able to cook a wide variety of really tasty, simple meals and control portion size at the same time.
I started buying the magazine soon afterwards and now I subscribe to it. Oddly enough, though I had cooked a lot previously, I hadn’t been very adventurous. Using HFG recipes has given me a lot more confidence and broadened our palate considerably. All in all it’s made food interesting and reading the articles has helped make good food choices easier.
At the same time as I started to think and act seriously about what I was eating, I recognised that I needed to complement this with exercise. A few of the women in the office had started walking at lunchtimes, I asked if they would allow me to walk with them and they agreed. I committed myself to walking for 30 to 45 minutes, five times a week at the start. If my work schedule didn’t allow lunchtimes, I would walk at night and/or in the mornings and/or the weekends. Though we varied our routes at lunchtime, before long (and this was my acid test), I was walking easily around One Tree Hill and then around and up and down it in the same lunchtime. These two things, as obvious as they sound to most people, quickly had me losing weight and feeling heaps better.
The doctor expressed his pleasure and reduced my blood pressure medication which was really a satisfying moment. By August I had moved my weight from 110 to 95kg.
What are some of the challenges you’ve found?
While losing 15kg is nothing to sneeze at, my goal was originally 85 kilos, but at 95 kilos I got stuck.
Since August I have had to really dig deep, I’m 100 per cent committed to not going back but more than that I want to get to that goal weight. I picked it because all the websites and for that matter advice from the doctor suggested that it was right for me.
I travel a lot with my job – predominantly domestically but some Pacific and trans-Tasman as well – and as a result I have to eat in hotel restaurants and the like reasonably frequently. There are also catered lunches served at my meetings and smorgasbords and wines etc… I got portion control sorted when cooking at home, but it has been an ongoing struggle to keep things under control when I am away. Added to this, I have a sweet tooth with a weakness for ice cream and chocolate.
I have recently owned up to myself in this regard and falling back on my Irish Roman Catholic roots I am using Lent as a means of addressing all these things. [For the six weeks of Lent] I’ve sworn off all sweets and desserts and I am also taking the time to reflect on just controlling my appetite when away from home in order to correct the last bits, and get through this plateau. I’m hoping that after these six weeks or so that I have formed a new set of disciplines that, say in terms of sweets, a little bit and not too often is a good thing.
With catered lunches and restaurant eating, just because it’s there you don’t need to take it! Have just a main or have two entrées and no main, that kind of thing. Despite the travel the fitness side of things hasn’t been too much of a struggle as I just pack some sand shoes, shorts and a T-shirt and often walk both ends of the day, before and after work, wherever I find myself. When you’re away from home it fills in the time.
I have recognised that if I am to meet and maintain my weight-loss and fitness goals and (hopefully) live a long, healthy life, it’s going to have to be a lifelong effort. It’s not a case of fast then she’ll be right. It’s a lifestyle I have had to adopt. And I now get a bit grumpy if I haven’t had a good walk for a couple of days.
What results have you seen by making the changes you’ve made?
In the last 12 months the business I work for has more than doubled in size and a lot of that growth has been added to the division that I lead. So I’ve worked some long and hard days and weeks. But I never fell over, I had little or no time off sick and I never got really stressed. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t got my lifestyle sorted, the very opposite would have been the case.
Also, it’s nice to have your partner, kids and friends tell you that you look well. It’s that warm fuzzy satisfying stuff that makes it worth the effort.
We have six grandchildren and I am enjoying acting the goat, rough and tumbling with the boys — all that sort of thing. Before this I was puffing but now I am able to keep going. I know it sounds a bit cliché but I’m having much more fun than I used to.
What’s your advice for other men looking to lose weight and get healthier?
You’ve got to own it. No-one but you got yourself into this state and no-one else but you can get yourself out. There is lots of help out there but all the advice, peer support etc. add up to squat if you don’t take it by both ears and give it a good shake yourself.
If you have a bad day and eat a bit much or whatever, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and recommit. Also, there is nothing wrong with a treat — but I emphasise, a treat.
Ultimately, there is no quick fix and then it’s done: this is a lifestyle change you make for a life time.
One thing that helped me was that for the first few months, each Monday morning I went on Facebook and let my connections know how much I had lost the previous week. This is helpful because all my friends were encouraging, but it’s also like standing up in front of a heap of people and the last thing I wanted to do was tell them I had gone back up.
Expert advice: men and nutrition
We asked HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull for her insights on men’s health and nutrition.
What are some of the main reasons men come to see you in your practice?
At Mission Nutrition we mainly see men who want to get their health (and bodies) in better shape and have more energy. A lot of the guys we see were fit and healthy when they were younger, but as the years have passed with being busy at work, kids coming along and no time to exercise, the extra kilos have crept on and they feel tired all the time.
Many of the men we see have established some really unhealthy habits such as drinking beer or wine every night to help them de-stress, skipping meals during the day and then eating massive portions of dinner at night and relying on endless cups of coffee through the day to help them stay awake.
In what ways are men different from women when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating?
In my experience with the men I have worked with, when men want to lose weight and get healthy, if they have a plan to follow of what to eat and when, they just get on with it. They seem to have a lot fewer excuses than women.
Men love rules, guidelines and boundaries — plus if there is any way they can involve some element of competition they are all over it!
Most men don’t seem to have much of an emotional connection with food so comfort eating isn’t hugely common. However, eating just because food is there, buying food on the run and mindlessly snacking are issues men tend to contend with.
When men get together (especially when there is a barbecue, fishing or a big night out involved!), they are very easily influenced by what is socially ‘normal within that group’ — be it rounds of drinks, ‘go on, have another beer, mate’ or ‘let’s get into the whiskey’… men can be weak and will just go with the flow.
What’s your main message to the average Kiwi bloke who thinks that eating healthily is ‘for the girls’ or not a manly thing to be concerned about?
Eating well is not just for girls and it isn’t all about losing weight, either. By eating well and looking after your body you will have the energy to do whatever it is that you want in your life. A few questions for you boys…
- Would you love to wake up in the morning feeling energised and ready to face the day ahead rather than wanting to hit your alarm clock and roll over?
- Do you like the sound of feeling confident and happy with your body on the beach or looking good in your favourite shirt without having to worry about rolls or bulges?
- How would you like to feel super-fit again? Get back into sport or get better at the sport you do now?
- Would you like to be around without poor health, to see and enjoy your kids and grandkids growing up?
As well as keeping yourself healthy, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and all the other health-related issues we hear about , eating well can make the difference between a day when you feel tired and fed up and a day when you wake up ready to face the world and know that by feeling positive and healthy, that anything is possible!
Nutrition mistakes men make
Lack of planning
“Men seem to just eat as and when food appears, or grab what they can when their stomach starts grumbling,” says HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull.
See food, eat it!
“A lot of guys will just eat whatever portion they’re served. So if they order a large pizza, they eat the whole thing. If they order a massive sandwich and get a free muffin, even if they aren’t hungry they’ll eat it all.”
Not enough veges
“Most men I have worked with don’t eat nearly enough vegetables,” says Claire.
“For some guys who are in and out of meetings all day or on the road, having coffees all day long just because it becomes part of a normal daily routine.”
Lack of variety
“It’s easy to get into the routine of just eating the same thing day-in day-out. A lot of guys will be missing out on valuable nutrients simply because they are not eating a varied enough diet.”
Not enough fibre
“There are so many men that we see in clinic who are bunged up and haven’t ever told anyone before. With a lack of veges and fruit and not enough whole grains and fibre-rich foods, being blocked is no surprise!”
See also Part 2 of our Man up! feature.