Dieting, Research
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Macho Meatballs and Six-Pack Abs: Dieting like a Man in ‘The Abs Diet’ – Part 2

male bodyBeyond the language used to connect with male readers, which was discussed in the previous post, the foods promoted on The Abs Diet also endorse conventional notions of masculinity.

While some diets count calories, ward off wheat, or prohibit processed foods, The Abs Diet forbids no comestibles, instead promoting twelve “power-foods.” By their very nomenclature, these diet-approved foods exude force and authority. Again grounded in masculine rationality, these foods are encouraged based upon evidence from nutrition science, as well as common sense. Specific nutrients are encouraged, such as protein, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and calcium, while others are discouraged, including refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fat, and high-fructose corn syrup.

Protein in particular stands out as a stereotypically masculine macronutrient, promoted for its ability to build and repair muscle. Protein also works to promote satiety, ensuring that men never fall victim to feminized hunger caused by dieting. The authors also encourage limiting alcohol consumption to two or three drinks per week, not so much for health effects (positive or negative), but for aiding in weight loss and maintaining a “fat burning” status. In this way, foods are framed as fuel rather than pleasure.

In 'The Abs Diet,' smoothies are considered "the ultimate power food."

In ‘The Abs Diet,’ smoothies are considered “the ultimate power food.”

Based upon these power-foods and general nutrient-based recommendations, the diet provides a meal plan and recipes. Interestingly, smoothies are considered the “ultimate power-food” (p. 2). Notably, the ingredients within smoothies (low-fat dairy products and fruit) are generally considered “feminine” foods (Jensen & Holm, 1999; Kiefer et al., 2005). The authors supercharge smoothies with masculine power, however, literally by adding whey powder and conceptually by focusing on the nutrient components and satiety power of the beverage as a whole. Within a diet that largely refrains from cooking, smoothies are also framed as an “easy” breakfast option (p. 2), maintaining the gender divide between masculine food preparation and feminine cooking (see Parasecoli, 2005).

While some recipes included in The Abs Diet feature straightforward entrée titles, such as “Chile-Peppered Steak,” some also communicate a masculine agenda. For example, the “Philadelphia Fryers” sandwich taps into masculinity through a sports-inspired play-on-words. The “Cereal Killer” smoothie and “Chicken a la King Kong” and “Tortilla de Godzilla” entrées communicate hegemonic masculine characteristics, such as violence and monster-sized quantity. On the other hand, the “Guilt-Free BLT” reinforces typical diet mania, rooted in a moral system of diametrically opposed foods that are good and bad, virtuous and guilt inducing.

The “I-Am-Not-Eating-Salad Salad” recipe endorses masculine eating by disparaging salad, a meal generally regarded as feminine.

In ‘The Abs Diet,’ the “I-Am-Not-Eating-Salad Salad” recipe endorses masculine eating by disparaging salad, a meal generally regarded as feminine.

Some recipes evoke masculinity more overtly, for example, “Mas Macho Meatballs,” which are made with not only extra-lean ground beef, but also a tablespoon of whey powder for an even more powerful protein punch. The “I-Am-Not-Eating-Salad Salad” endorses masculine eating by disparaging salad, a meal generally regarded as feminine. This sentiment is repeated when the authors write, “Most diets deprive you of something – whether it’s carbs, fat, or your manhood. (Tofu? No thanks)” (Zinczenko & Spiker, 2004, p. 32). With this snide statement, the authors denigrate tofu as a feminine food that impinges upon a man’s masculinity.

Two diet titles, however, evoke not only gender, but also an element of chauvinism and female domination. In preparing and consuming “Bodacious Brazilian Chicken,” male dieters literally consume a figurative voluptuous “chick” or woman. In the same way, male consumers ingest a celebrity known for her sexiness as they slurp a “Halle Berries Smoothie.” From encouraged nutrients to recipe titles, The Abs Diet communicates a subtext of masculinity through diet-approved food, emphasizing characteristics such as strength, quantity, and power, particularly over women.

Join me next time for an analysis of masculine ways of eating in The Abs Diet, the final post in this three-part series.


  • Jensen, K. O., & Holm L. (1999). Review preferences, quantities and concerns: Socio- cultural perspectives on the gendered consumption of foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53, 351-359.
  • Kiefer, I., Rathmanner, T., & Kunze, M. (2005). Eating and dieting differences in men and women. The Journal of Men’s Health & Gender, 2(2), 194-201.
  • Parasecoli, F. (2005). Feeding hard bodies: Food and masculinities in men’s fitness magazines. Food and Foodways, 13(1&2): 17-37.
  • Zinczenko, D. with Spiker, T. (2004). The abs diet: The six-week plan to flatten your stomach and keep you lean for life. New York: Rodale.


  1. Great follow up to last weeks post! The argument of gendered food is especially apropos and illuminating. I always find it ironic how cooking and complicated food prep tends to fall within classic gender stereotypes as a a more feminine characteristic, but the majority of famous chefs are male. Men have plenty of examples of men cooking full meals when they click on the TV but that doesn’t always translate in their own kitchens. I do think that the current celeb chef culture may encourage a more gender equal presence in the kitchen, but I agree that in the diet/fitness world especially, the marketing approach remains very stereotypical. Again, great series!


    • emilycontois says

      Thanks! And I completely agree with your comments about the relationships between men cooking at home vs. on television vs. in professional kitchens and why those continue to be distinct ways that, and environments in which, men can engage with food in prescribed ways.

      I particularly enjoyed Guzman (2002), Hey, Man, What’s for Dinner? in the NYT. It’s a bit dated at this point, but does reveal some interesting and growing trends on men cooking in the home environment, e.g. in one survey, 27% of men were the primary cooks in the home; Food Network’s audience is 42% male; etc.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!


  2. Pingback: Macho Meatballs and Six-Pack Abs: Dieting like a Man in ‘The Abs Diet’ – Part 3 | Emily Contois

  3. corunder says

    Men and Women are both people and therefore their bodies will respond to the same stimuli in virtually the same manner. I find it odd that marketers choose to single out men or women for food or exercise, as it would make sense to me that both genders would be considered for any product. The best approach to anything, would be the best approach rather it is a masculine or feminine approach. Women should not fear lifting heavy weights, and men should not protest yoga. Both of these activities are good for both genders. It is also Ironic that whey protein is considered masculine as I always think of this nursery rhyme “Little miss muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and WHEY”. Anyway, good analysis, I enjoyed reading this post


    • emilycontois says

      I agree with you that from a physiological and health perspective, men and women can often benefit in quite similar ways from physical activity and diet; I like your example of men not doing yoga. While marketers certainly contribute to how we think of gender, society and the broader culture also create and perpetuate gendered norms. For example, according to socially constructed ideas of gender, it is suitably “manly” to lift weights, exhibiting one’s strength and individualism, while it is less socially acceptable for men to take group fitness classes, such as Pilates, Zumba, or yoga – as you point out – than for women, who are more so expected to be social, emotional, and communicative.

      The rise in the sports/training supplement industry is likely one factor responsible for the reframing of whey protein from a comestible suitable for Miss Muffet to one consumed for its ability to “build mass” or “put on muscle.”

      Thank you for reading and commenting!


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