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How Gender Can Impact Eating

Note: I don’t have any details about gay or trans people, so my comments below are about cis, straight people unless noted otherwise.


I hadn’t consciously thought about gender impacting food choices until I read an article titled, “Why are vegan men perceived as ‘less masculine’?” As soon as I read it, though, I realized that my subconscious agreed with the concept that men eat more meat and women eat more vegetables.


Since the book Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture by Virginia Sole-Smith also addressed some gender differences around dieting and eating, I thought it would be worth reflecting on this idea a little more.


Gender and what you eat

I can’t point to a specific example, but I feel like I’ve heard several men say, “I’m a meat and potatoes guy.” And yes, potatoes are vegetables, but they’re a far cry from a salad, and I don’t think this means most men are eating a plain baked potato with just a dab of butter.


On the other hand, I have a hard time imagining a woman saying that she’s a “meat and potatoes gal” (or some variation of that) and sitting down to eat a 12 oz steak. It’s entirely possible that some women eat a lot of meat, but our society has led us to think of women ordering salads and snacking on yogurt topped with fruit.


Whether or not that’s true, the perception can influence behavior. Men may choose to order meat at a restaurant, for example, to show that they’re “manly”. Women may order a salad to show that they’re trying to maintain their figure – even if they’re hungry enough to eat more.


And yet, gender ideally wouldn’t influence what any of us eat. Rather, I encourage people to pay attention to what they enjoy, be willing to try new things, and when possible, think about broader issues, like the health and environmental impact of different foods.


This is especially true now that we know eating more plant-based meals is good for heart health (among other things) and the environment. But this doesn’t have to mean eating tons of salad or giving up meat altogether.


For example, this time of year I like a good chili, and I still put some beef in it. But I also add quite a few mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, and carrots, plus beans, which bulks it up and means the beef is more for flavor than the main ingredient.

So, it may be worth noticing if you’re eating certain foods because you feel like it’s expected or because you want the food. And if it’s due to expectations, it’s worth trying to change the feeling that you need to live up to what someone else thinks and instead pay attention to what you want and need.


Gender and eating restrictions

Something else I hadn’t consciously thought about is that most of us think of diets and eating restrictions based on what women do. Things like going to WW, trying Noom or Jenny Craig, becoming anorexic, developing binge eating disorders, cutting back on calories, etc.


Men may take those same approaches, but it’s not as common. Way back when I went to Weight Watchers, I remember maybe one or two men being there, while the other 25 or so of us were women or girls. But that doesn’t mean men don’t focus on their eating or weight.


What’s more typical for men these days are approaches that can hide under the guise of “performance enhancement” – i.e., things they’re doing to have more strength or endurance. This includes things like intermittent fasting, Paleo, macro counting, and keto. As Sole-Smith noted in Fat Talk: “<Men> are taught to equate their gender with endurance, control, and strength from an early age.” (p. 169) That makes it easy to market these eating approaches to men.


Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean those approaches are healthy. Too often, we don’t consider that, because of “our misconception that men not only don’t get eating disorders, they don’t get emotional about food or bodies, period. We don’t question that premise and the unquestioned authority we give men, especially dads, around food and bodies impacts their kids.” (Fat Talk, p. 168)


I thought about this a lot while watching a recent interview with Terry Crews on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In the interview, Crews said he treats his body like “a prime sports car.” He does intermittent fasting and only eats between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. – even though he gets up at 4:30 or 5 a.m.


Considering how successful and athletic Crews is, I imagine other men see him as an example and inspiration, and they may try to do the same, without considering that this might not be the healthiest approach to eating. At the very least, it can impact how you lead your life (Crews admitted that his wife hates his eating patterns), what social events you attend, how you approach holidays, and more. If you’re a parent, this may also not be the best example for your kids.


I’d add that not everyone takes intermittent fasting to the extreme that Crews does. Also, even if an eating approach works for someone else, that’s not a guarantee it will work for you.


Many things impact how we eat

I think most of us go through our day and have our meals and snacks without thinking too much about what influences our decision to eat a particular food or to eat at a certain time of day. But sometimes it can be useful to take a step back to evaluate how you’re eating and what those influences are. The results might surprise you.


The reality is, we’re surrounded all the time by things that might influence how we eat. Our families, our schedules, how much money we have, where we live, what time of year it is, and yes, our gender, to say nothing of advertising and online influencers. It can be very hard to sort through all the noise to think about what you truly want, but it’s important to do.


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