File this under It’s Not Fair (or, Another Reason It’s OK to Steal His Comfy T-Shirts): Men can eat simple carbs like white bread, pasta and rice galore and it doesn’t up their heart disease risk. Women, on the other hand, just smell the stuff and their ticker goes off like a firecracker. To pour salt on our razor-nicked legs, men aren’t even afraid of getting fat – a woman’s worst nightmare, second only to our Pill packs getting replaced with Pez.
Men Get Carte Blanche With Carbs
In the first study, out of the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, a national institute for cancer research in Milan, Italy, researchers found that women who eat foods high on the glycemic index – think crusty French bread, French fries and French silk pie – have twice the incidence of heart disease as their whole-grain chowing sisters. (Side note: I don’t think the French have forgiven us yet for the XYZ Affair.) Men, it was found, were able to chow down on the villified white stuff to their heart’s content – and their heart would actually be content. They may get fat but their hearts don’t suffer.
This idea of eating according to a food’s rank on the GI is not new. The glycemic index
“is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. […]
Recent studies from Harvard School of Public Health indicate that the risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease are strongly related to the GI of the overall diet. In 1999, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommended that people in industrialised countries base their diets on low-GI foods in order to prevent the most common diseases of affluence, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
But targeting the recommendations to women is a new development. Fortunately, eating low-GI doesn’t take any more diligence than does a normal healthy diet (which is to say it takes a lot of diligence but at least it’s stuff you already know you should be doing): replace white grains with whole ones, avoid sugary drinks and candy, get enough good fats and protein in your diet and so forth. But then you always knew, deep down, that crunchy-yet-still-styrofoamy rice cakes weren’t really health food, didn’t you?
Men Aren’t Afraid of Getting Fat
Anyone who has ever spent time people watching with a straight man at the mall can skip the details of this next study and jump right to the conclusion: Men aren’t afraid of getting fat. Some men may fear gaining weight due to societal or health pressures but this fear isn’t hardwired into their brains like it is for women. Of course. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that the brains of all women, even those with no previous history of eating disorders and self-reported that they weren’t concerned with their body image (wherever did they find these rare, mythical creatures?), lit up like a Christmas tree in the area that conveys fear when shown pictures of obese strangers (and where did they find people willing to pose for these pictures?).
The point of the research was to use brain imaging technology to help in the treatment of eating disorders. Unfortunately this plan was short-circuited when even the control group of “healthy” women showed brain patterns of body anxiety similar to those of the eating disordered women. Men showed no such predilection to feeling badly about their own bodies when shown pictures of overweight strangers.
The lead neuroscientist Dr. Mark Allen concludes:
“Although the [healthy] women’s brain activity doesn’t look like full-blown eating disorders, they are much closer to it than men are. Many women learn that bodily appearance and thinness constitute what is important about them, and their brain responding reflects that,” he said. “I think it is an unfortunate and false idea to learn about oneself and does put one at greater risk for eating and mood disorders.”
The findings are more sad than surprising but I found it interesting that our thin-is-everything culture is so powerful that it actually alters our brain wiring. Bring that little tidbit up the next time someone says that photoshopped ads are harmless.
Now that I’ve got you contemplating your thighs and glaring at your man eating pizza, check out Marc Ambinder’s nuanced look in The Atlantic about the obesity crisis. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the national conversation on weight and what it means.
What do you think about the GI diet? How do you feel when you see an obese stranger? Do you immediately feel fear and shame, like the women in the research? Would you admit it if you did?? What differences have you noticed between you & your man when it comes to food and body image?