food

Why the diets peddled by Peter Fitzsimons and Sarah Wilson are judged so differently.

Former footballer, journalist and best selling author, Peter Fitzsimons, has waged a war on sugar.

In his new book, The Great Aussie Bloke Slim-Down, he argues that by cutting out the white stuff (as well as alcohol) he went from “fat to fit” in two years.

Last Sunday, 55-year-old Fitzsimons told 60 Minutes “This is the key: stop the sugar, stop the hunger,” and by doing so, the father of three lost 45 kilos – a third of his body weight.

"The Great Aussie Bloke Slim-Down" by Peter Fitzsimons. Image supplied.

His message is very purposefully tailored towards middle-aged men.

In a column for Fairfax he writes "Oi! You. Fatty Boomka. Yes, you. Don't look around at others. I am talking to you, bloke. And don't be offended at being called 'Fatty Boomka' either, precious, because I used to be you..."

Can you imagine if those words were penned by a woman? How intense the backlash would be? How we would fiercely defend the 'vulnerable' women who are susceptible to disordered eating?

But for Fitzsimons, the reception seems to have been universally positive.

In 2012, Sarah Wilson published a book titled "I Quit Sugar". At the time, something about it made me uncomfortable.

"I Quit Sugar" by Sarah Wilson. Image supplied.

Several friends and acquaintances tried it, and almost as many 'failed'.

For them, it was unsustainable. Some thought it was setting a bad example for their children and others said it triggered cycles of disordered eating. Most just eventually shrugged their shoulders and learned that the best thing for them was "everything in moderation".

But, hang on a minute. Aren't these two individuals, neither with a degree in nutrition, neither with a medical background, espousing an identical message? Quit sugar. You'll lose weight, and it's good for your health.

Perhaps. But there is, however, one critical difference.

Today, I asked my dad how Peter Fitzsimons' book made him 'feel' about himself. I have never heard someone be quite so confused by a question.

We spoke about the "no sugar" message on this weeks episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

He said he very much believed Fitzsimons' message, and that we should all eat less sugar - but the most interesting part of the conversation was when dad said a few years ago he was probably "carrying a little bit too much weight."

When would a woman ever refer to weight as extrinsic to herself?

A woman is 'fat'. A man carries it.

A woman is her body. A man has a body.

Dad didn't understand the question because his self esteem and self worth isn't indexed on the number he sees on a scale, or the image reflected back to him in the mirror.

For men, diet and exercise has far more of an association with 'health' than it does for women. If I were to quit sugar, I can say with absolute certainty it wouldn't be motivated by health concerns. I would do so in a quest for thinness.

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To be clear, the reality that thinness is the measure of a woman's self worth is hardly the fault of Sarah Wilson. She did not decide that a 'successful' woman looks like a size 6, and a successful man can be so at any size.

Case in point. Image via Channel 9.

Wilson did not invent the rule that women's bodies are for public consumption, whereas men's bodies are secondary to their sense of humour or intelligence.

The most illustrative case study has to be Kyle and Jackie O. Guess who's weight is a persistent talking point on Australia's most popular breakfast show?

Kyle's weight escapes any scrutiny. Image via Kyle and Jacki O.
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Women's diets are about bikinis.

Men's diets, especially at Fitzsimons' age, are about heart disease.

Of course, I am making a significant generalisation.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.

Men absolutely suffer from eating disorders. One in four anorexia and bulimia sufferers are men, and half of patients presenting with binge eating disorder are men.

Men are not at all immune from body image anxieties. They face an entirely different set of pressures when it comes to strength and leanness, giving way to a steroid epidemic among young men.

Men's relationships with their bodies is also problematic and dangerous. But not in the same way.

I cannot scroll through my Instagram feed without a woman in her skimpy workout gear trying to sell me a diet.

I cannot walk through Coles, without being stared down by a celebrity in her swimsuit on the front cover of a magazine, daring me to ask her her secret.  I cannot have a conversation with a female friend, without a remark about how much we detest our bodies.

This is not the same for most men.

A few weeks ago a friend asked if I'd like to go to the beach. For the first time in my life I declined, because I was uncomfortable about what my body looks like.

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Something tells me that Peter Fitzsimons would jump into the surf regardless. As would my dad, and as would my brothers.

Men are not their bodies.

Image via Universal.

Obesity is, of course, a significant public health crisis. Issues related with obesity are lethal, particularly for middle-aged men. And Fitzsimons is speaking to overweight men of that demographic, who are objectively at risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Wilson, on the other hand, was not quite so targeted.

Her gospel was consumed by young women, the demographic most at risk of developing life threatening eating disorders. A demographic who are already dissatisfied with their bodies.

Again, this is not Wilson's fault. The problem lies with her audience, or more accurately the paradigms that shape them.

When I spoke to Paula Kotowicz, an eating disorders counselor, she said that for vulnerable people, men or women, a "rigid dieting idea can prove to be very detrimental."

"Seeing foods as either good or bad can cause some people to become very destructive with their food choices and this can lead them into a state where their eating is very disordered, or worse, into a full-blown eating disorder," she explained.

For some, eliminating sugar from their diet will lead to happier and healthier life. It certainly has for Peter Fitzsimons and Sarah Wilson.

But for others, health looks like moderation, not abstinence.

Most importantly - our self worth has absolutely nothing to do with the number printed on the tag of our t-shirt.

Check out all our podcasts and any books mentioned in any of our shows at apple.co/mamamia.

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