Lately I’ve been finding myself mildly irritated by the apparent ease with which men seem to embrace diet and fitness. In a photographic studio in Paris recently, while the women rushed for the biscuits and bread, the (male) photographer declined politely, saying, “No, thanks, they make me fat,” and got on with it. Like Eve with the apple, we tried to tempt him: “Are you sure? They’re so yummy!” but his resolution was firm.
At a dinner back in London, I overheard two City men discussing nutrition and workouts with such scientific rigour that it unsettled me (and bored their female guests, who were tucking into the pudding with gusto). The men’s blue shirts and chinos were lying flat to their stomachs, scarcely a ripple. We were in Chelsea, where men seem to be born with a trouser press in their DNA, but still. Whatever they were doing was working.
At the risk of sounding like a five-year-old, I’d like to point out this seemingly innate willpower and dedication to staying slim is just not fair. We women have spent years not finding a “cure”; we beauty editors have spent even longer writing about it. And you men come along and claim ownership? I don’t think so.
To which end, here’s my fast-track guide to what does and what doesn’t work – because there’s so much misinformation out there that it’s an opportune occasion to be somewhat male and matter-of-fact about it all.
1. Skip the long-term juice diet
Extremists will opt for five days, others will suffer three days, but in spite of all the claims of weight loss and renewed energy, I find that one day is enough to get rid of a bloated stomach before a big occasion. If you’re getting your detox delivered, check that it comes in a refrigerated or thermal bag. Trust me, you don’t want to be the idiot at the breakfast meeting whose blueberry and chia seed juice erupts like a volcano because the seeds have fermented in transit. (Yes, it happened.) On any juice cleanse there will be a point when sugar levels dip, along with your resolve, so pick one that offers a range of flavours within the day, rather than the same juice repeated throughout, and you’re more likely to stick to it. I’m a fan of new brand Juice Well, which has rainbow coloured cold-pressed juices (pretty!) that taste delicious, from the gazpacho-flavoured spicy tomato to the charcoal and chia seed. Yum.
2. Forget the cellulite cream
Apart from the French, I’m not sure anyone is still really bandying the words “anti-cellulite” in relation to leg creams any more, at least not with any conviction. It is far better to focus instead on the things that make you feel good about your legs. Kate Shapland is a beauty editor and the brains behind Legology Air-Lite Daily Lift for Legs (£60), which focuses on making the legs feel lighter. Shapland says you can forget those old wives’ tales about drinking coffee and a mountain lake’s worth of mineral water; they’ll fail. Walk to work; if you’re going to run, sprint rather than jog (“sprinting streamlines legs and makes them look longer by lengthening the muscles, whereas jogging bulks them up”) and book a deep-tissue massage. “Branded treatments from beauty spa companies do nothing in any lasting way to contour your legs because the therapist actively avoids your buttocks, when she should be digging her thumbs in there, into your muffin top and your thighs, pushing trapped fluid out and, in the best cases, taking an inch or two off in one session,” says Shapland.
3. Stop doing sit-ups
Yes! You knew there was a reason why you always hated them! Sit-ups are “possibly the most overused and abused exercise in history”, says James Duigan, founder of Bodyism (who has worked with Elle Macpherson and Lara Stone). “It’s almost impossible to perform a sit-up without your tummy sticking out – it also works the flexor chain, which can lead to a poor posture and a hunched-over appearance.” His advice is to perform planks (your classic press-up position, only you’re not going up and down) and twists (where you move from side to side exercising your oblique muscles) that also allow you to draw your belly button in and create a movement pattern for a flat stomach.
4. Stop starving yourself
“As a general rule of thumb, the quicker you lose body fat, the more likely you are to get it back,” says Jean-Claude Vacassin of west London gym W10 Performance. “It works in the short term, but in the long term it’s likely to lead to a loss of lean tissue muscle – which is a no-no, as muscle is what helps you to continually burn fat and stay lean.” Opt instead for an 80/20 approach, eating healthily most of the time but enjoying the odd glass of wine or couple of squares of (preferably dark) chocolate; and avoid very low-carb diets, which can leave you feeling weak and tired. “It’s a real issue with women,” says Vacassin. You’ll need to reduce carbs from non-nutritionally dense sources, but you’ll need some carbs to fuel your training and they should form part of your overall calorie intake, especially if you are exercising.”
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