Today’s Dietitian editor Judith Riddle accepted my suggestion to write a guest commentary for this special men’s health section because … well, because it’s a guy thing, and I am one.
Several times over the years, I’ve read something in Today’s Dietitian that made me pause and think something like, «That information is terrific, but it’s not how I’d present it to a male audience.» That thought would be followed in short order by this one: «Jim, it’s not a male audience.»
As editorial director at Great Valley Publishing, I’m certainly aware that Today’s Dietitian readers are predominantly female, which you’d expect when dealing with a profession that’s more than 90% women by any estimate I’ve seen. This magazine is written for our audience and, in many cases, by our audience— your peers. Some articles simply inform you of new developments in the field. Other times, we arm you with advice to share with your clients on ways to improve eating habits. Since this is a special men’s health section, I’ll address advising men directly.
In a professional community dominated by women, and whose professional interaction is mostly with women, I suspect that advice often is geared toward women and communicated in a way that resonates with them. It just happens. I’m confident there’s no gender conspiracy involved, but after decades in publishing, I firmly believe that you communicate with men and women differently and therefore you advise them differently.
If you’re seeking behavioral changes from a man, find what really motivates him and then communicate those proposed changes in ways that are relevant to him. For example, in this issue’s feature on smart snacks for men, Juliann Schaeffer interviews nutrition professionals about creative ideas for snacking as well as the importance of snack preparation. The trouble is about 80% of men start to nod off at the mention of snack preparation. Still, it’s true that really nutritious, healthful, calorie-conscious snacks tend to come from little plastic bags you measure and pack yourself at home. Fruit, nuts, cheese, veggies—and maybe a few pretzels if you’re not following one of the starchy carbaverse eating plans—can cut serious calories from your diet and improve the quality of the food you eat.
Those are the facts, but eating right simply isn’t an objective for its own sake to most men. I’m not saying this view is particularly smart, but I’m telling you that it’s mostly true. In a vacuum, most men don’t care enough. A man’s weight occupies his thoughts far less than a woman’s weight occupies hers, and this mindset tends to extend to how weight and diet affect our overall health.
Contrast that to dietitians. You’re part of a well-informed professional community that truly understands and believes in the intrinsic value of healthful eating. Most people outside the profession do not, and for most men, that’s probably even more so. I’ll concede that’s changing somewhat, but if you look at the obesity numbers in this country, you don’t observe any sea change.
The nutrition and healthful eating message is hugely important to individuals and society, but you’ll see better acceptance and uptake of that message if you present it in a context that really makes a difference to men. Motivation matters. For its own sake, most men don’t care about nutrition, healthful eating, and its effect on health—at least until some catastrophic event happens.
What does matter very much to me—and, I believe, to most men—is preserving my ability to do what I enjoy and to do the things needed to support the people who matter to me. Fortunately for men, both doing what we enjoy and protecting those who matter most in our world are enabled by watching our weight and pursuing a healthful lifestyle. That’s an opportunity for dietitians to direct men toward eating better. Find what motivates them and then communicate the healthful eating message in terms relevant to men.
Circling back to snack preparation, taking 30 minutes on Sunday to prepare a workweek’s worth of healthful snacks because it’s good for you doesn’t resonate with most men. Pitching the idea of swapping an inning or two of the ballgame, halftime of the football game, or a couple holes of televised golf to eat better and be there for those who matter might. Or maybe for the less high-minded, you’ll do better with the ladies if you trim that gut.
There’s no doubt it’s worth the effort to replace heavily processed snacks with better whole-food choices. Men know that if it comes out of the vending machine at the office, it’s almost assuredly a poor snack decision. And grocery store shelves contain way too many poor choices masquerading as healthful- sounding foods. But knowledge is not necessarily motivation.
Healthful eating certainly matters but not for its own sake according to many men. You’ll find more success with your male clients when you frame your advice in terms of what really motivates them and communicate in a way that’s relevant to them.
And some nice grill recipes would be good, too. We men enjoy cooking with fire.