Gynecomastia, enlarged male mammaries, also known as” man boobs” or “moobs”, can be a tricky condition both physically and psychologically. If you “carrying extra baggage on the top floor”, as Seinfeld’s Kramer would say, read on.
This condition is complex and its origins are difficult to pin down; man boobs happen for many different reasons and different stages of a male’s life.
TIME attributes the condition to aging and also to hormones in adolescent boys, stating, “Nearly half of all men will experience it at some point in their lives, and not necessarily at the end. In fact, it’s most common during adolescence; 65% of boys have it at the age of 13 or 14.”
There are three stages in a male’s life when breasts can develop: infancy, when breast tissue is stimulated by high levels of estradiol and progesterone produced by the mother during pregnancy; in puberty, where hormones are completely out of whack as estrogen levels increase and jockey for position with testosterone; and as men’s testosterone levels decline and body fat increases as he ages, men over 60 experience increased estrogen which may be a factor in developing gynecomastia.
Endotext, a resource for endocrinology (hormone) professionals, explains that a “significant percentage of gynecomastia is caused by medications or exogenous chemicals that result in increased estrogen effect.” This includes some psychoactive drugs (e.g. Diazepam), cardiac and anti-hypertensive medications, drugs for infectious diseases (e.g. Indinavir, for HIV/AIDS antiretroviral therapy), and illicit drugs like heroin.
No matter what the cause, enlarged mammaries can be psychologically difficult for men and boys to deal with. For some, man boobs can be nothing short of mortifying. I just tried searching “man boobs emotional/social support”, and I get pages of “how to get rid of man boobs” instead of how to reconcile them.
Am I surprised? Not at all. Am I saddened by the lack of support for boobed men? Absolutely.
Plastic surgery is a drastic option for minimizing man boobs. The procedure removes tissue, scars, and causes pain. It should be the last resort.
According to Muscle & Fitness, part of the moob solution is in diet – easing up on estrogen-producing foods like wheat and grains and instead consuming foods high in monounsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil to produce testosterone. Zinc supplements are also recommended. Talk to a dietitian or a doctor about it.
I asked lifelong athlete and certified personal trainer, Patrick Marano, for exercises men can do to banish the moobs. Patrick suggests three main exercises that focus on building the pectorals, and recommends starting your training with lower weights and higher repetitions, increasing the weight as you get stronger:
1. Bench press: Lie on your back on a weight bench and a lift bar bell up and down slowly. As you move into heavier weights, always have someone “spot” you so there are no accidents!
2. Pectoral fly: Or the “Pec Deck” as Patrick calls it. The act of squeezing the pectorals helps strengthen them. This exercise is done on a weight machine.
3. Classic push up: Be sure you’re in proper form with a straight line from your head through your back to your heels, hands under shoulders. Patrick says to do “as many as you can” and repeat for 3 – 5 sets. Lower slowly and push up slowly. If this is too challenging, push up from your knees instead of your feet.
Dressing the man boob
Obesity is also a major factor in gynecomastia, but not all heavy men have man boobs. A couple of differently shaped clients of mine have man boobs: one is heavy, rotund, and very confident, and the other is medium-sized, active, and very aware of his moobs (that are smaller in real life than they are in his head).
My job as an image consultant is to help my guys feel and look good in their clothes, so instead of resorting to the outright lie of compression garments to flatten your chest, try these dressing tips:
- Avoid clingy fabrics that outline and accentuate your bumps and lumps;
- Avoid heavy cotton sweaters – these tend to “fold” around man boobs when you’re sitting;
- Wear patterned shirts that move the eye around, but avoid horizontal stripes if you’re a larger man;
- Jackets, cardigans, and vests do well to cover your chest excess;
- Wear clothes that are your correct size – wearing too-big shirts to hide behind won’t do you any favours;
- Wear a well-fit sleeveless undershirt alone in hot weather or under your shirt to smooth you out and hold you in (yes, men with boobs could use some support too without resorting to “The Bro” or the “Man-sseir”).