The word ‘diet’ conjures a thousand images of women counting calories; of slimming clubs and weight loss shakes, and the need to get ‘swimsuit ready.’ Yet for men, so long left out of the weight loss conversation, a reckoning may be close.
Following Boris Johnson’s Damascene moment on the matter of obesity – reportedly caused by how badly he suffered from coronavirus, the critical risk of which is 40 per cent higher among the obese – a strategy is to be launched next week, seeking to reform Britain’s waistline crisis.
The 56-year-old Prime Minister might just be the posterboy larger men – notoriously the hardest demographic to reach – need. It’s a battle the creators of Man v Fat, a six-a-side football league where players lose points both for winning games and weight loss, have been fighting since their inception in 2016: participants must have a BMI above 27.5 to join (the healthy range is 18.5-24.9) and pay £25-30 per month to play matches and receive support from a health coach, as well as peer support via forums and WhatsApp groups.
Now hosting 90 leagues nationwide, it has helped around 4,000 chaps torch over 113,000kg of fat – no mean feat, given that around 80 per cent of weight loss programmes are currently attended by women.
“A lot of my issues were male issues,” recalls Andrew Shanahan, who developed the Man v Fat concept after finding the slimming groups he had tried “were female-focused and didn’t address the things that were pertinent to me.”
Some 67 per cent of British men are obese; the 42-year-old’s own weight had topped 18 stone – a combination of work stress and a diet of beer and curries – by the time he set up Man v Fat in 2014.
Then an online magazine, it shared health advice tailored for bigger men, from why fatherhood triggers weight gain to how to make a healthier pizza.
“I knew it wasn’t just me feeling this way,” Shanahan was sure, and he was right: his own four-stone weight loss proved to readers that the system worked, and he went on to launch a website, a forum and a book.