Men and body image is something not a lot is written about compared to women. This is an interview with Steve Trimby, a South African optometrist, about his boy image and how he improved it.
You recently wrote this in an e.mail to me: "I thought you might like to know that I am generally maintaining a weight of between 80 and 84 kg of the 91 kgs I once climbed up to. This is achieved with plenty of exercise (love my cycling) and still following the rules you taught me - be calm around food, serve your own portions, no seconds unless really hungry 20 mins later etc. You changed my life."
That fascinated me because I think that a few decades ago it would have been unusual for a man to write that - worrying about your weight was more the domain of women and yet increasingly it's the kinds of conversations men are having too. I've been amazed to find that my pages on men and weight are so popular. I never realized that hundreds of men type 'men and body image' or 'male body image' into google every day.
When we first starting taking about men and body image, where were you personally? How were you feeling about your body back then?
Not fantastic. I had a pot-belly and the start of a double chin. My clothes didn't hang so well. I wasn't comfortable to be seen with a tucked in shirt yet I knew I wasn't fooling anyone by wearing shirts over my belt. I hated it when someone would comment that I had put on a bit of weight. I probably thought about my rounding shape at least once a day.
Again, this kind of men and body image talk used to be rare, but with the advent of photoshopped images, men are being bulked up and this impacts of the male body image.
So you're one of the many people who realize that men and body image issues are real - this isn't just the domain of women. How do you think the media influences men and body image?
A huge role. Not just magazine articles and slimming product advertisements, but also TV and films in general because we are constantly exposed to some of the world's most beautiful people and we want to be like them. It is natural, I suppose: I believe that if we walk down a busy street we tend to focus on all the best looking people and ignore the average ones and we compare ourselves with those that we notice and feel that we are below par even though in reality we might be in better shape than most people.
We tend to do the same with wealth: we are not happy with what we have while we know of others who are better off. We are all way too obsessed with trying to look like our film star idols and we are not happy being "normal".
Those images settle into our subconscious and before we know it they become 'the standard' we have to strive to achieve. They grow comparison and then we're either too thin, or too fat etc... making us less confident about ourselves.
Men and body Image
vs Men and health
I think there are often two levels of concern about body - men and body image and/or men and health. How did those two levels play into your feelings about your body back then?
Definitely appearance then. I wasn't overly concerned about health - I think I was even smoking at the time. I was really hung up on the appearance side and I haven't entirely lost that attitude, even now, although I am more forgiving to myself if I am carrying a couple of spare kilos. Since then, as I shed the weight I felt more energized and started exercising more. I have joined a cycling club and enjoy cycling about 500 kms each month.
As a result of our men and body image conversations, what changed for you? What changes were you able to implement that made a difference to you?
Your ideas had an amazing affect. I have always pushed myself hard to achieve and would berate myself severely if I did not achieve my full potential. You made me realise that it is okay to achieve 90% - it is human - and we must find a level at which we are personally comfortable and not strive for perfection. By trying to achieve perfection with body weight we tend to fail badly and end up worse off than if we accept a realistic goal. Once we learn to be happy with ourselves then an inner beauty comes out which is far more attractive to other people.
Had you ever tried dieting - and if so, how is the intuitive eating you learned different to dieting?
Yes, I have and the results of dieting were always disastrous. I was a typical yo-yo dieter. I would put myself (and my family) through a month of suffering while I starved myself or ate boring boiled vegetables and other flavourless foods. I would get down to my goal weight and then I would try to maintain but would end up bingeing on all the foods I had craved while dieting. I never "diet" now, I have learned to moderate my eating and chose healthier options. I will still enjoy the odd burger or pizza but the next day I will return to healthier eating.
Have the changes you implemented after our conversations been really difficult ones, or have they been ones you could easily fit into, and mould your life around?
It wasn't difficult. You took me through a process which made such sense and showed me that all my life I had been eating wrongly. Now I don't think about food as much as I used to yet I still enjoy it. I have changes my eating habits to a healthier lifestyle but I still enjoy a very active social life without depriving myself.
I know we discussed many things during our conversations. And in the same e.mail I refer to above you said: "One thing which helps me: I ask myself, which will be more enjoyable: all that excess drink and fattening food that I am going to avoid for the next couple of months or being lighter, feeling healthier and energised, looking good and having a better frame for my good clothes..............The latter wins hands down which makes it easy to resume a sensible eating plan."
I'm curious about what you did that makes the mentally easy for you to do? I mean, if I'd given you a sensible diet sheet to follow, without the work you've done on your attitude towards food and eating, would you have been able to follow and stick to it?
Yes, I could have stuck to it because I have the willpower but I would have been eating foods when I didn't feel like eating them, just because you told me to do so. I would definitely have regained the weight sometime later. You have given me some rules for life and, more importantly, an understanding of my food and my body and my personal happiness. I will be forever grateful.
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