6. Desperation makes us do desperate things. Delusion makes us do nothing.
I can't remember the last pair of pants that fit me well. If I buy size 38s, they fit around the waist but suffocate my hips and butt. If I go to a 40, they're roomy where I need it but gaping in the waist. Several years ago, I tried on my wife's post-pregnancy size-20 jeans to see if they were cut differently. "Did I just admit that?" Trying on women's jeans—this is about as low as it gets, I thought. Then I realized it could get lower: The jeans fit me perfectly.
I wore those jeans for six months, and I felt leaner every day I wore them. My wife asked me why I didn't just buy a big pair of men's jeans and have a tailor alter them. My answer: Why pay for alterations when I know that tomorrow I'm going to start an exercise routine that will change my body shape forever? It's been my mantra for two decades.
7. Men's body image problems can be just as dangerous as women's
For some men, poor body image can lead to anger, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction and steroid abuse. Doctors may fail to recognize eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia (the need to constantly bulk up), even though it's estimated that eating disorders affect one million men. Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of The Adonis Complex, says secrecy reinforces the patients' sense of shame. "I've treated men who would tell people they were alcoholics, but they'd never admit they were bulimic," he says.
Cody Swann, a 21-year-old graduate student from Stuart, Florida, was so obsessed with being thin that he measured himself on a body-fat scale every day. "I remember how happy I was when I stood on the thing and it came back 'error' because I didn't have enough body fat for it to read," he says. "It wouldn't read below 2 percent, which is what I was. Woohoo, can't do much better than that." It took Swann a year to realize he was anorexic. At six feet tall, Swann is now a muscular 205 pounds and feels he has overcome the disorder. But he still obsesses about his appearance. He exercises three to four hours every day and has eaten in a restaurant only twice in the past two years. If he can't weigh his food, he won't eat it. Swann watches every last morsel. "My rule is that I have to chew a piece of gum for 30 minutes so I burn off the calories in it."
8. We don't blame anyone (except maybe Tiger Woods and Taco Bell). But we'll be grateful to anyone who makes us feel good about shaping up.
We know what it's like to be bombarded with images of perfect bodies. We see the men in commercials and on magazine covers, the bigger-stronger-better mentality that dominates our culture. "Look at Tiger Woods. The best golfer in the world has an outstanding physique. Golfers used to be everyday men," says J. Kevin Thompson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. "Basketball players used to be skinny. They're all muscular now." Hell, even our president runs sub-seven-minute miles.
As much as I'd like to, I won't blame my shape on genetics or the media. I'd love to blame stress or lack of time. But the real culprit is my elephantine appetite and a four-times-a-week Taco Bell habit.
Nine years ago, though, I'd had enough. I took a 150-mile charity bike ride and gained weight rather than lost it because of all the cookies I ate at the pit stops. That was my epiphany. Four months later, I dropped from my all-time high of 231 pounds to 191. My wife dubbed me "Little" as I started to lose weight. That encouragement kept me on my program. But now I'm back around 215 and want desperately to drop to 180—for my health, for my looks, for my confidence, for the quest to find the perfect-fitting pair of pants.
It's not that I can't change my body; it's just that I haven't. All I do know is that I'll never stop trying to shrink my hips, tighten my gut, and deflate my rear tire. Because if there's one thing I believe in, it's that every love-handle story should have a happy ending.
We Hear You!