Remember the days when a man's beer belly was a proud symbol of his laddishness? Alas, that spare tyre is now surplus to requirements. Roger Dobson reports on the diet books that hit a chap where it hurts (his vanity) and explains how men can lose weight effectively
THERE WAS ONCE a time when the only misery that followed nights out with the lads were the morning-after headaches.

But not any more. New man is increasingly getting distressed about an altogether different type of hangover - the beer gut, that jelly-like protuberance that bulges around the gut of what was once the lean figure of youth.

For generations, men have accepted the sudden arrival of this spare-tyre flab as a puzzling but inevitable fact of life that was largely irreversible. Some, it's suspected, have even seen it as a trophy, a physical momento of the countless gallons of lager downed in the cause of being a lad. Now, however, things are changing. Men are increasingly joining the fight to slim and lose weight, an activity previously regarded as an exclusively female preoccupation. Worried about their health and concerned about appearance, men are getting serious about dieting.

The misfortune that is largely responsible for this sea change in attitude is that over the last three decades men have lost their traditional ways of keeping slim and fit. Heavy manual work has largely disappeared and labour saving devices have taken the effort out of most things, from rotovators for the garden to the electric windows now fitted to most cars.

The result is that, with one in three men in Britain now classed as fat, the era of the male weight watchers has arrived with a vengeance. And it has been heralded, as new phenomenon tend to be, by a glut of books tackling the issue, from Men's Health Matters to No More Mr Fat Guy.

All approach the topic in different ways, but the message they have in common is that men are different and that their approach to losing weight and getting fit needs to be tailored to them.

As Dr Peter Rogers, head of psycho-biology at the Institute of Food Research points out, men and women are as different as apples and pears: "Men and women put on weight in different places. Women are like pears and tend to fatten up around the thighs, while men are like apples and put on weight around the gut. We tend to call it a beer gut, but it is not necessarily caused by drinking beer; it's simply the place where men put on weight,'' he says.

For most men, the beer gut is the first and most prominent evidence of being overweight, popping up in the twenties and thirties, reaching an all round maturity in the next two decades.

"As a man grows older, the support for the small bowel loses its elasticity, and because the male pelvis is very narrow, the gut can't drop comfortably into the pelvic cavity as it can with a woman, so it bulges outwards as what we call a beer gut,'' says Professor Greg McLatchie, professor of sports medicine at the University of Sunderland.

Unfortunately for men, there is increasing evidence that this fat around the gut is implicated in heart disease and high blood pressure to a greater degree than the fat that collects at other areas of the body. One possibility here is that the body finds the fat in the beer more difficulty to break down.

It's now accepted that different tactics and techniques are needed in fighting flab in men. Different psychological approaches are necessary too, because while women are up front about why they want to lose weight - to get a better body shape - men prefer to hide behind macho talk of fitness, muscle toning, circuit training and the like.

"The language of men and women is quite different. While women talk about slimness, fitness and body shape and image, men talk about muscles, body toning, exercise regimes and so on. Any attempt to persuade men to lose weight has to recognise that,'' says Dr Lance Workman, University of Glamorgan psychologist.

This fitness as opposed to slimming approach is echoed by the authors of No More Mr Fat Guy who point out in the language of Lad-speak: "The book is not just about getting thin, it's about getting to your correct weight, being physically fitter and feeling good about yourself. It's about putting you in control of your body. Scary, huh?''

And there is evidence too, that men who want to lose weight are drawn not just more to exercise than to diets, but that they are especially lured by new gadgets like rowing machines, treadmills, and weights. Hi- tech gadgets are seen as a more macho "no-pain, no-gain" way of losing weight than simply dieting.

It's common knowledge women have traditionally been under greater pressure to maintain a slim body shape but, according to Dr Rogers, men are now beginning to feel the pinch. "There is increasing pressure on men to achieve what is perceived as an attractive and desirable body shape," he says. "Among young people particularly, factors associated with attractiveness are linked to weight loss. There has always been pressure on young women, and now it is catching up with young men too.''

Most men who are tackling the problem of being overweight, are doing so through a kind of holistic approach, combining exercise with diet. Perhaps not coincidentally, this regime is being increasingly used by male role models like professional sportsmen, with England manager Glenn Hoddle and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger among the more evangelical of the advocates.

"Diet, weight and performance are very closely related and everyone's muscle performance is different, because we have different muscle fibres and they need different fuels. Women have a different way of metabolizing fat, but for men the general rule is to have a low fat, high carbohydrate, high fibre diet, with lots of fruit portions a day, combined with plenty of exercise,'' says Professor McLatchie.

Men wanting to diet, of course, face another major problem in keeping to the straight and narrow - mates. While mates can be fine when you're all lads together, knocking back beer and kebabs, step out of line and you're under fire.

"They'll poke fun and they'll make a big point of ostracising you for not eating the same or not drinking loads of alcohol. And the ones that make the most noise will be the fattest ones,'' write the authors of No More Mr Fat Guy.

There is, however, evidence that men on diets and fitness regimes may be less inclined to yo-yo between being fat and being thin than those who diet alone. One theory is that this is because some men are more likely to combine their quest for fitness as part of a social activity at a gym or leisure centre where they are kept on course by peer group pressure to be fit.

But whatever the regime adopted, actually motivating men to do something that women have been lampooned for doing for generations, can still be difficult. Some of the new genre of books aimed at male tubbies try to achieve this motivation using a macho style, even weaving talk of aggression into the art of losing weight. As one of the authors of No More Mr Fat Guy says as he extols the virtues of being fit: "One of the truck drivers was picking on me. It got to the point where I really needed to smack him in the mouth. I went down to the gym and punched seven bells out of a punch bag instead.''

'Men's Health Matters' by Nikki Bradford, Vermilion, pounds 10.99;

'No More Mr Fat Guy' by Jonathon Savill and Richard Smedley, Vermilion, pounds 6.99

Boys - if you want to lose those love handles...

1. Cut down on beer and wine, ideally to weekends only. Pub once a week.

2. Exercise with regular aerobic work, like walking a couple of miles under 27 minutes, or cycling six miles, three times a week.

3. 30 minutes of muscle-flexing and stretching exercises, three or our times a week.

4. Short distance sprinting three times a week, weaving around hurdles (better than longer distance running).

5. Reduce red meat intake and eat two vegetarian meals a week.

6. Mixed diet should include two white meat or oily fish meals a week with plenty of green vegetables. Rice, pasta, mashed potato, skimmed milk and low fat yoghurt are also preferred foods.

7. Leave out elevenses and tea-time snacks.

8. Set a target of 60 per cent energy intake from carbohydrates. This means more bread and less butter, more pas ta and less bolognese.

9. Five fruit intakes a day starting with fruit juice for breakfast.

10. Maintain vitamin levels.