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Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig offer programs for men who want to shed pounds

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do men really need their own weight-loss programs?

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The two leaders in the industry, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, have targeted men with programs apparently tailored to their unique needs. Working under the premise that "men approach weight loss differently," Weight Watchers for Men offers a "customized online system built for men, just men," according to the program's Web site. Jenny Craig has enlisted actor Jason Alexander as a spokesman and promises guys that they can occasionally splurge on beer and fries.

But do men actually lose weight differently than women do? Or are these "for men" programs just marketing gimmicks?

A bit of both. Arizona-based weight-loss doctor Craig Primack, speaking for the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, says there are a few basic ways in which men diverge from women in their approaches to losing weight. (I'll get to those in a minute.) But he suggests the differences aren't big enough to require separate programs. "I think [the companies] are looking for subtypes of people to market to."

That's probably a smart business move, as the market is, well, huge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about a third of all men are obese.

Men, Primack says, "tend to underestimate how much weight they have to lose, and they won't start until they have 50 pounds" to shed. Plus, he says, "In society now, it's not frowned upon when a man is mildly overweight." The same doesn't hold true for women.

Men also have an advantage in that they're generally taller and carry more lean muscle mass, which helps in losing weight, Primack says. "For women, baby weight often puts them behind the eight ball, and they get a second hit around menopause, when they gain weight around the middle."

Primack notes that while women are generally "slow and persistent" in their approach to weight loss, men tend to "initially lose faster, 15 or more pounds in three or four months. But then they get a little complacent" and their progress slows.

Beyond that, Primack says, "the grand stereotypes are that women are more emotional eaters, and men are habitual overeaters." To lose weight, both kinds of eaters must change their behavior and habits. "An emotional eater needs to learn to ask, 'Am I really hungry?' before eating, while an overeater needs to look at portion sizes," he explains.

Weight Watchers launched its for-men program in 2007, says Jason Carpenter, men's editor of WeightWatchers.com, to see how it would fly. "Before then, we spoke to everyone the same way, and the perception was that Weight Watchers was a women's company, a women's program." Three years later, Carpenter says, the men's program has proved popular.

"The program itself is exactly the same" as the overall Weight Watchers approach, he says, in that it assigns a point value to every food according to its fat, fiber and calorie content. "But the men's Web site now engages men differently."

Carpenter, who at age 36 has "lost 20 pounds so far and could probably lose another 20 or 30," calls himself "exactly who we're trying to reach" with Weight Watchers for Men. He notes that "men tend to gravitate toward the fitness part of the program, learning how to be active in addition to using tools to eat right. Women tend to use Weight Watchers more as a food or eating plan."

The Web site isn't shy about using sex as an incentive. Better sex, Carpenter says, is presented as "an enjoyable byproduct of losing weight." The site also notes that obesity often leads to erectile dysfunction, a condition that weight loss may correct.

Weight Watchers won't say how many of its members are men. Jenny Craig didn't supply actual numbers, either, but reported that 10 percent of its clients are male.

And though Alexander happens to be the Jenny Craig guy of the moment, he's not the first. Steve Bellach, the company's vice president for North American marketing, points out that in years (way) past, Elliott Gould and Jerry Mathers have appeared in Jenny Craig commercials.

As with Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig's basic approach is the same for men and women: "When someone starts our program, whether male or female, we work with them to understand their eating style, lifestyle and food favorites," Bellach explains. The company customizes a weight-loss plan for each client. "Men do very well with Jenny Craig, as it allows structure where they handle their consultations over the phone, eat three meals and three snacks per day at designated times, follow pre-planned menus, and food preparation is minimal. Men tend to lose weight very consistently," Bellach says.

That flexibility allows the program to address male clients' particular diet bugaboos. "Men tend to crave different foods than women. Men long for meat and potatoes, whereas women favor carbohydrates, desserts and chocolate." Moreover, Bellach says, "portion control is a huge issue for men." Jenny Craig helps guys learn correct portion sizes and also to "volumize" meals by adding salads, soups and non-starchy vegetables.

So maybe these man-focused weight-loss programs are a good idea after all. Would that more fellows would avail themselves of them.


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