The scene: E. Baldi restaurant in Beverly Hills. Overheard during the course of a meal: "I'll have the sole, no meuniere sauce, no butter, very little salt please; steamed veggies on the side; just a green salad, no dressing, just lemon. And a Pellegrino with lime. … Can you take the breadbasket and butter away, please? … I'll have a very skinny latte. … I've gotta drop at least 20 by the end of the month. I need to get down two waist sizes by the Oscars."
A toothpick-sized Hollywood wife in leggings? A would-be actress itching to borrow size-4 Dolce? A female movie producer detoxing from too much craft services?
Guess again. It's a male executive in a suit, at a business meeting with an agent who's also watching his post-holiday waist. A similar scene played out last year at the Natural Resources Defense Council benefit at the Malibu beach house of Ron and Kelly Meyer, where 48-year-old record producer and Columbia Records co-chairman Rick Rubin queried waiters about the ingredients in every sauce. He'd lost more than 130 pounds in less than a year and a half on a fish-, egg white- and protein shake-heavy diet.
Men in the industry are boarding the body-conscious bandwagon, perhaps a gut reaction to all of the actors -- Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Jerry Ferrara most prominent among them -- who seem to have lost half their body weight. Obsessive conversations about diets are no longer strictly the domain of the best actress in a mini category.
The 5-foot-10 Seth MacFarlane wasn't fat -- but he did weigh 205 pounds, says his trainer Bobby Strom. "A year and a half ago," says Strom, "Ryan Reynolds, who I've worked with for nine years, did an episode of Family Guy. When Seth saw him, he said, 'Hey, man, who's your trainer?' Now Seth weighs 170, works out seven days a week and eats things like egg whites and Greek yogurt; but then, Seth had Vikki Krasinsky, a healthy chef who's cooked for many celebs. Mostly, I make my male clients get home food delivery so they have some discipline. Not just actors come to me: I have entertainment attorneys, concert promoters, executives at Interscope."
Brett Davidson, a 40-year-old executive producer of Truth About Kerry (out in March) and a key-art graphic designer, lost 40 pounds in four months recently after getting to 195 on his 5-foot-8 frame. He did it with fat-burning drinks in the morning (with appetite-suppressing cactus-flower extract), followed by egg whites, then a lunch of lettuce with tuna and tomato with balsamic vinegar. Dinner is a grilled chicken breast, steamed broccoli and brown rice. "I made sure never to allow myself to get hungry," he explains. "Eating throughout the day keeps your metabolism high. I lost my love handles, gut -- I feel more comfortable walking into pitch meetings with folks I don't know."
Dieting has become a manly pursuit. Hence Weight Watchers' new ad campaign: "Lose Like a Man." To kick it off, who manlier than NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley? He joined because, as he says, "I don't want to be a fat old man taking lots of pills. Men don't like to diet -- they like to eat. But I've already lost almost 50 pounds." He also might lose the nickname he earned in college: "The Round Mound of Rebound."
Dropping 30 pounds allowed blowsy sidekick Rogen to go leading man in The Green Hornet and Entourage's Ferrara to get cast in the upcoming Screen Gems sex comedy Think Like a Man.
"Dieting in general is always important in the Hollywood scene," says nutritionist Carrie Latt Wiatt of Diet Designs, who works with James Franco and Christian Bale. "But new pressure is coming from the abundance of tabloids and TMZ-type media." But then, says Simon Doonan, author of Gay Men Don't Get Fat, a new tome that promotes a "gay diet" of lighter food as opposed to "straight" heavier food, "L.A. men have always been the most self-critical in the world. They would sell their soul to get back down to birth weight. Most straight men will still get laid even if they look like Shrek, but no Hollywood dude wants to end up on the 'Worst Beach Bodies' list. No actor wants to have that conversation with his agent."
How did these male stars do it so fast? Hill, who has said that when he eats something unhealthy now, "I kind of feel a little weird, and my body hurts," worked with a nutritionist and trainer. Rogen has claimed he dropped 30 pounds by "just eating cheeseburgers. I have no regimen. I did have a trainer [Harley Pasternak], but I've since set him free. I don't know if I can keep the weight off. I want my food, and I have a lot of tantrums. Yet so far, so good." We have to believe Rogen had his cheeseburgers without the bread. As for Pasternak, he proudly proclaims of Rogen, "I took him from a doughy stoner to a handsome, fit superhero." Pasternak advises his clients to eat three light meals and two snacks a day of low-fat protein and whole-grain rice.
Seems these versatile funnymen don't want to be pushed into a comedy fat-man corner like predecessors Chris Farley and John Candy, who never slimmed down (and died young). Farley feared he wouldn't be funny if he lost weight.
When The Zone Diet took center stage around 1995, guys who needed to drop pounds fast consumed quantities of steaks, cheese and eggs. That seemed a more masculine way to shed pounds -- but utterly unhealthy and possibly dangerous to one's heart. Diets such as Atkins, Ornish and South Beach followed. These days, all the rage is what's known as the Paleo or Hunter-Gatherer Diet, which restricts food to what early man ate thousands of years ago: meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts -- forbidding dairy, grains (even quinoa), potatoes, processed sugar and beans. You have to admit, our forefathers didn't suffer from hypertension, diabetes and arthritis very much -- and they certainly were macho.
Experts caution against fad diets and that overall calorie count is what matters. A new study, out Jan. 3 from the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that a high-protein diet isn't more likely to lead to weight loss than any other diet. "So many fad diets claim that if you eat more protein, you will lose weight faster because protein doesn't turn to fat very easily," says NBC4 L.A. chief medical editor Bruce Hensel. "That's not the whole story. The truth is that a gram of fat has nine calories, while a gram of protein has four calories. So if you eat a lot of protein, you may think that it's the protein that's doing that to your metabolism. It's really that you are just eating fewer calories."
With expense accounts shrinking these days, it is easier for men in the industry to forgo big lunches and dinners. "In restaurants, men need to stay away from the bread bowl," advises Wiatt. "Fill up on a salad or a non-cream-based soup before the main meal. Choose a dish of six ounces of lean protein and lots of vegetables. And most importantly, men need to be portion-savvy. Restaurant portions are huge! Women know this and usually order appetizers and no entrees."
Of course, there are downsides to downsizing. The already-svelte Michael Fassbender went on a 600-calorie-a-day diet during a 10-week period to play IRA member Bobby Sands, who went on a hunger strike, in 2008's Hunger. "People thought I had cancer," Fassbender has admitted. "And my libido disappeared for about six weeks. It felt very liberating. You don't realize how distracting all that stuff can be. Your body streamlines and focuses on what's important. I suppose that's why monks and religious people do it."
Seems a lot of men are starting to realize what women learned long ago: Compliments are more fulfilling than food. The Kate Moss adage "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" seems to have crossed the sex barrier. Finally, Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler have some company.