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How to Eat Like a Man and Not Die of Heart Disease

Many guys love red meat and large portions — even though it's killing them

Plate of breakfast and eggs
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It’s 10 a.m. and I’m sitting in a vinyl booth, scanning the menu at a diner in northern New Jersey. On one shoulder I can hear my cardiologist telling me that, due to a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, I have about 10 more years to live if I don’t clean up my act. 

On the other shoulder, I have my Food Monster, a gout-ridden old goat goading me into hedonistic pleasure. 

Together we thumb past the lettuce cups with tuna salad and cottage cheese, pausing on the Big Daddy, an omelet stuffed with bacon, sausage, ham and cheddar. 

“Did I say 10 years?” my cardiologist implores. “Eat the Big Daddy and it’s more like five.” 

“Did that say Big Daddy?” my Food Monster purrs. “Oh, you’re a Big Daddy. And bacon is delicious.”

Bacon is delicious, but the facts are well established. Men have higher mortality rates than women and are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues. Though the causes are multifactorial, the differences between how men and women eat are clearly a factor. 

We’re regularly bombarded with images of men shoveling meat into their mouths as if it were an ancient rite of virility. Guy Fieri, the frosted-tip archangel of heart attack, is appropriately named Guy.

“Food is a realm where gender scripts are especially easy to recognize — meat is masculine; salad is feminine,” says Emily Contois, author of Diners, Dudes and Diets. “Men have big appetites, while women have — or should have — small, restrained ones.”

Even for me, not exactly a model of traditional masculinity, the appeal of the Big Daddy is nearly ineluctable. So, too, are the overstuffed burritos at the Mexican place by my house, and the dry-aged strip steak at steak houses. 

Why? Because the type of rugged individualist I want to be is a man who can repair his own car, wakes up early to till the fields and stays up late to drink bourbon and play poker. Men are hunters. We eat meat. But when’s the last time you actually chased down a wildebeest? This disconnect between the kind of men we think we are and the kind of men we actually are is crammed with bacon double cheeseburgers and heart attacks. 

It reminds me of the 2010s, when I was working at J. Crew. We sold (and the company still sells) a line of expensive clothes inspired by the “traditional workwear” of blue-collar laborers, called Wallace & Barnes. I can guarantee you that no one buying a field jacket for $240 (the cost at the time) was actually doing manual labor. They were cosplaying as manly men from a different era. 

But food doesn’t go into your closet; it goes into your body and fills your veins with plaque. 

Back in Jersey, my devils and angels are still arguing over what to order. But their frequencies cancel each other out. The voice I can hear, ironically, belongs to the man I want to be, that rugged individualist clad in flannel who makes his own destiny and chooses his own future, who realizes that the gender norms compelling him to eat like a garbage truck aren’t his idea at all but a notion that has been absorbed unwittingly over centuries. 

So when the waitress comes over and asks, “You know what you want, sweetie?” I say, “Yes, give me an egg white omelet with spinach … and a side of bacon.”

Baby steps.