It takes a real man to diet.
That's the message marketers have tried for years to get across to male consumers, and it appears they've finally broken through. The number of men in dieting programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers is increasing, as are the number of new diet food and beverages that target men. A recent commercial for zero-calorie Pepsi Max, for instance, shows rival delivery men coming to blows in a diner. It appears men are also more comfortable talking about weight management and their struggles with it, with confessionals like “Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater,” by former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, gaining national attention.
So what's the secret? Well for starters, change the vocabulary.
“If you put the word ‘diet’ in a food product, it immediately becomes feminine,” said Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers and author of the book “She Loses, He Loses: The Truth About Men, Women and Weight Loss.”
She pointed to the release of Pepsi Max and Coke Zero — known in England and Australia as “Bloke Coke” — as examples of this new philosophy. Weight-conscious men and women are after the same goal, but men like to approach it in a more utilitarian fashion. Instead of slimming down so their clothes fit better, they're shedding pounds to stave off a heart attack or to get back into shape. It's losing weight without losing their masculinity.
“The whole Atkins phenomenon brought men out of the closet in terms of not only their awareness of weight management, but their ability to talk about it,” said Miller-Kovach, who said the percentage of Weight Watchers members who are men is currently 10%, up from 5% 15 years ago. “It was a masculine way of eating, and at the time it was really popular.”
The Atkins star may have dimmed since the height of the low-carb craze, but other brands and weight-loss programs carry on the mantle of manliness. Nutrisystem for Men enlists former pro athletes and coaches as spokesmen. And earlier this year, Jenny Craig named Jason Alexander — best known for his role as George Costanza on TV's “Seinfeld” — as its new spokesman.