Soccer is proving a great support for overweight men who want to lose weight. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
Football is being used to lure overweight men into keeping fit and healthy through a new weight-loss program at the University of Western Australia.
The MAN v FAT soccer league brings more than 80 men of all sizes and ages together each week to play half-hour games.
UWA School of Human Sciences PhD candidate Tim Budden is running the program and said his league had lost a combined total of more than 300 kilograms in eight weeks.
“Twenty-three guys have lost 5 per cent of their total body weight and five of them have hit 10 per cent,” he said.
UWA student Tim Budden is doing his PhD on the MAN v FAT program. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
Mr Budden said it could be extremely difficult to motivate overweight, middle-aged men to take control of their health.
“They’re the ones that suffer most of the negative consequences — they die younger, they suffer much more from heart attacks than women.
“If you look at things like Weight Watchers, for example, typically they’re targeted towards women.
“They talk about fitting into bikinis, getting slimmer, eating salads and most of this stuff isn’t that attractive to guys.”
Weight loss counts towards final score
He said sport had proven to be the silver bullet, pitting the men not just in a weekly soccer match, but a daily challenge to change their eating habits.
“It’s kind of like luring them in with a carrot and then they realise that to win, it’s not just a sport,” Mr Budden said.
MAN v FAT was created in the UK in 2016, with WA hosting the first Australian competition. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
“This game [MAN v FAT] is seven days a week and they only play one day a week.
“The other six days they’re making the real changes that are actually helping them lose weight.”
To compete in the league, players must record a body mass index (BMI) of 27.5 or higher.
“The average BMI in the program is approximately 34,” Mr Budden said.
“If your BMI is above 30, that puts you in the obese category and at that point you’re at quite an elevated risk of a myriad of health conditions.
“About 70 per cent of Australian men are in the overweight category at least.”
Before each match the men are weighed and the losses they record factor into the game’s score.
Commitment to the cause
Along with two friends, Paul Harricke, 46, makes on a four-hour round trip from Australind every week to compete.
He said the most appealing part for him was the support and camaraderie he enjoyed from his team-mates.
“It really has become addictive,” he said.
Paul Harricke says the program is more about making healthy life choices off the field. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
“We’re all football fans, so we all love our football anyway but now we’re keeping fit as well.
“We’re all doing runs and we’ve got a WhatsApp group where we share details on how we diet and what’s working for us.”
Soccer succeeds where diets don’t
Mr Harricke said he had struggled with his weight all his adult life.
“I’ve always done little diets where I’ll try and lose a bit, and after three or four weeks you’ll plateau and be like, ‘I can’t be bothered now, I’m not losing anything’.
“This one is 14 weeks and if you’re going to commit to it, you do it properly, and with football, it’s game, set and match.”
At 70, Serge Dombrowsky is both the league’s oldest player and has dropped the most weight, shedding 15kg in eight weeks.
“I didn’t exercise until the fourth week because I was just so sore from playing,” he said.
Serge Dombrowsky (second left) with his team, Clockwork Orange. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
Mr Dombrowsky said he symbolically shaved his long beard and hair after a few weeks of play.
“Some players didn’t even recognise me,” he said.
“It’s all part of disrupting my past lifestyle to shock me into taking ownership of my weight problem.”
‘It makes you feel good’
Mr Harricke said for him it was less about the game and more about making healthy life choices off the field.
“It’s just sensible eating, low-carb food — cutting out the beer was a big one. I have low-alcohol beer instead.
“I didn’t walk anywhere really before where now I have a Fitbit and I’m doing 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day.
“Before, I thought I can’t be bothered, I’ll watch the footy on the telly, I’ll have a beer.
“You’re at work and people start to notice that you’ve lost weight and it makes you feel good.”
More than 80 men compete in the league and have so far lost a combined total of 302kg. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
Expansion the goal
The WA Government has given the MAN v FAT program $375,000 to expand into other parts of the state over the next three years.
Mr Budden said the goal was to offer the program to men nationwide.
“They don’t have to win by losing a ridiculous amount of weight and they don’t have to win by following any specific program,” he said.
“Instead they get to make a lot of the decisions themselves.
“In a sense they’re in the driving seat — they have their hands on the wheel and they steer in the direction where they want to go.
“We’re here to provide that incentive, that competition, and also when they want it they can reach out to the weight-loss coach in the league for help.”