Stop whining and get the job done

I’ve been meaning to do something systematic about losing my overweight for some time. last Thursday I started the process by seeing an endocrinologist who specializes in weight management.

After some discussion, we developed a treatment plan that surprised me not at all. I’m having my TSH levels checked to see if the hypothyroidism I was diagnosed with about a year ago is undertreated. It is quite possible that increasing my levothyroxin dose will correct my basal metabolic rate to something closer to the burn-food-like-a-plasma-torch level it had when I was younger, and I’ll shed pounds that way.

The other part is going on a low-starch, high protein calorie-reduction diet, aiming for intake of less than 1500 calories a day. Been doing that for nine days now. Have lost, according to my bathroom scale, about ten pounds.

I’d have done this sooner if I knew it was so easy. And that’s what I’m here to blog about today.

I’ve spent my entire life listening to jokes, folklore, and sob stories about dieting. If you leave out the obvious marketing hype, the message is always the same: it’s difficult, most people can’t stick to it, if you try you’ll be beset by grouchiness and food cravings, and too often it doesn’t actually work no matter how hard you try.

But here I am. Nine days in, nine pounds off (allowing for measurement uncertainty).

Here’s what I’m doing:

* Counting calories. My wife and I have been auditing my regular meals – and the recurring specials like steak night at the Outback – for calorie count. The top-level aim is to keep my daily calorie intake below 1500.

* Reducing my simple-carb intake. Less bread. Less chocolate. (Alas, my custom of a bedtime cup of hot dark-chocolate cocoa is no more – it’s the only major casualty of the new routine.)

* Reducing portion sizes. One less strip of bacon in the morning. Half a pan-fried boneless pork chop last night instead of the whole thing. On biweekly streak night, a half portion of fries, and grilled asparagus rather than a dressed salad.

* Less snacking. When I’m feeling peckish I have usually dealt with it by munching a small handful of mixed nuts or pistachios. I still do that, but – consciously – less often now.

* Staying a little hungry. I don’t let myself eat to repletion any more; instead I go for 80% full, and skip meals if I think I can get through to the next without serious physical discomfort.

* But: when my blood sugar craters, I eat something – as soon as possible, actually, so the reaction will be less likely to draw me into eating calories I don’t need. I’m not dieting to beat myself up; controlling my intake is a means, not an end.

* Planning ahead. Yesterday some senior people at my kung fu school met for brunch at a local place called “Bacon Me Crazy”. I know what I like to eat there – a bacon sandwich on toasted sourdough bread. Yes, a calorie bomb. I compensated by trimming my early breakfast to just two eggs, skipping the usual bacon and toast; problem solved.

What I’m not doing is attempting a big-bang change to my eating routine, because I don’t think that would be sustainable. Endocrinologist-dude would have me off bread and potatoes entirely; I’ve decided to view that as a tactic rather than the strategy and relax about it as long as I get my overall calorie reduction.

Now here is the part that is kind of pissing me off. This is not difficult.

I asked Cathy to give me a heads up if she thought I was getting grouchy or withdrawn due to undereating; she consistently reports that this has not occurred. I don’t have food cravings or constant distraction by thoughts of eating. While I don’t exactly like feeling slightly hungry most of the time, I’ve become used to it; it’s no big deal.

I’m pretty sure I can keep this up long enough to get back into size 42 pants. (Stretch goal is 40.) So, why have I been hearing all my life that dieting is a gauntlet of hell?

Admittedly it helps that I eat a relatively high-protein, low-starch diet by choice even when I’m not dieting, because I like it. Still, I have to ask… What is wrong with you people out there? Have most of you not got the willpower of overcooked spaghetti? Are a majority of you too stupid to do calorie counts and intelligent adaptation?

The only thing my diet is making me grouchy about is other dieters. Stop whining and get the job done!

122 thoughts on “Stop whining and get the job done

  1. I think you are correct in thinking that a drastic change in diet would have made it harder for you.

    I have seen a few people diet near me, and you have now made me rethink success rates in terms of an inverse of the delta between their usual diet and their weight loss diet.

    Bigger change, worse process. I have seen it in the same person, changing from “this is hard” (traditional nutritionist mandated diet) to “this is OK” (keto diet). Happens that keto is closer to regular diet for that person.

    Most people have a high carb & high starch diet. Makes sense that they’ll have it harder because docs tend to have a one size fits all (similar) cases, where they don’t account for taste and existing dietary habits into the difference. At least they don’t seem to tell patients they take that into account, and the resulting diets I have seen are too much alike to account for it.

    This reminds me people arent good at changing their habits drastically. It is possible that incremental dietary changes are a better bet.

    Mood changes also male me think that eating could be fulfilling a mood correction effect for some people – and ypu’re not in that demographic. I have long suspected that some people use food as a stress reliever among other things. Withdrawal?

    • > eating could be fulfilling a mood correction effect for some people

      Definitely true for me. Just had a tough meeting at work? Oatmeal biscuit. Struggled to locate stubborn bug all evening & failed? Handful of dates & walnuts at bedtime. I mostly eat good stuff, but more of it than I need, and that’s a major reason.

  2. Ten pounds in ten days might be too fast of a speed if sustained. If.

    Water content alone causes a certain amount of fluctuation. So the swing in weight measurement due to normal variation means a certain amount of uncertainty. Basically the same as why sampling rate is important in measuring periodic electrical signals. In weight control, the fix is a lot of data points. Ten measurements in ten days probably doesn’t count as significant for judging trends.

    Controlling portion size can do quite significant things. In my case, part of my problem was not bothering, and part a health condition causing pain leading to comfort eating. Remedy the condition, mostly stop the comfort eating, and I’m much lighter.

    I probably am too stupid to do calorie counts and intelligent adaptation. Or at least, too disorganized. I’m addressing my organizational issues, and am maintaining a stable amount of weight lost, but haven’t gotten myself together for losing additional weight that I can probably safely lose.

  3. This is the easy part. This is the part that WW and slimfast use to hook people.

    The hard part is maintenance, where weighing yourself every day and using a bang-bang controller (Under target? Eat anything you like! Over target? 1500 kcal day!) is exhausting to the will. It can’t be planned for as easily, right?

  4. I’m gonna go with something similar to what @Brian said…

    I’ve done a pseudo-keto/low carb diet and the first few weeks was surprisingly easy. Then somewhere about the month to six weeks it all crashed. Overnight seemed to turn into an unbearable chore.

    And you better slow down the weight loss; go for 1-2 pounds per week. Prolly it will slow down on its own. But 1500 cal is pretty low for an average size guy.

  5. Still, I have to ask… What is wrong with you people out there? Have most of you not got the willpower of overcooked spaghetti? Are a majority of you too stupid to do calorie counts and intelligent adaptation?

    May I respectfully suggest that you have, compared with nearly all other people I know (including both myself and some other very intelligent people), enormous willpower and self-discipline. This gives you a “seekret sooper-power” that most of us lack – I suspect you don’t realize how difficult it is for most of us to do what we know is right when it is hard or uncomfortable.

    I also agree with Irving Rivas that the prevailing method is to (attempt to) drastically alter ones’ diet all at once, with the all-too-predictable result that “It’s too hard!”

  6. What kind of diet works (or not) seems to depend a lot on the individual.

    What really worked for me is “intermittent fasting”. Here you don’t change the stuff you eat, you just dont eat anything for 16 hours of the. During the remaining hours you can eat normally.

    This means skipping breakfast or dinner whatevet works better for you and then stick to this routine.

    To me the logic behind this sounds good: you try to keep a low insulin level for the 16 hours (which avoids getting an increasing tolerance to insulin which may lead to diabetes)…

    • “What kind of diet works (or not) seems to depend a lot on the individual.”

      THIS!

      My wife is trying intermittent fasting, and it’s not doing anything for her.

      I have a pet theory that over the course of the next decade or two, we’re going to find out that our gut microbiome (which may be alterable) plays a much greater than currently understood role in metabolic levels and weight maintenance.

      • Gut biome matters some, personal genetics matters a lot. People from lands that were civilized 500+ years ago often do better on starch rich diets without fasting than people whose ancestors were hunter gatherers 100 years ago. The downside is they are less likely to lose weight just by changing when they eat.

        • Define “civilized”.
          Where I live has been permanently settled for centuries. My Native American ancestors farmed berries, apples and various vegetables. They also farmed maize. That was the only grain they farmed and was only a very small portion of their diet.
          Later, British colonists found our settlement. Some stayed. As a result, farming expanded to include cattle and chickens – and, necessarily, other grains. Our records say that while there was an increase in meat consumption, as well as introduction of cow’s milk, my ancestors gradually went back to the prior level of meat consumption. Just less venison to offset the use of cattle and chickens for meat.
          We don’t eat much starch.
          Also, usually, breakfast is our largest meal. Then lunch. With dinner as the smallest meal. In my observation, this is significant. My boyfriend and other non-natives who joined our community have found weight management much easier once they adjusted to our meal schedule. (My boyfriend had gained about 50 lbs while in college. He fairly quickly lost that extra weight after moving here with me. Others had similar experiences.)

          • Civilized means living in cities, and is distinct from settled. Generally is means having an agricultural area around the permanent settlement which supplies food, usually grains. Cities also usually had grain storage sufficient for at least the winter, and often enough to survive a crop failure. Plus roads connecting to other cities, which further regulated the supply of grains.

            I’m not surprised that people adopting what you consider a normal diet find weight management relatively easy. I’d argue that it is the reduction in starch more than the change in mealtime that matters (for Europeans especially), but I suspect it would be difficult to determine that one way or the other with a high degree of certainty.

  7. Try “The Obesity Code” from Dr. Fung.https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24945404-the-obesity-code

    Much of the information on nutrition is based on sketchy science, or sort of scientific studies. There are many biases built into the system that make it very hard for people to change.

    Don’t forget, you are the weird one here. You have written books and enjoy solving complex problems in software. You’re not average among fellow Americans.

  8. Congratulations. But ten pounds is trivial. Let us know when you get to 50. And again after you’ve kept it off for a year.

    As for the calorie counts you’re putting your faith in… read up on where those figures come from. And note that they change over time, following whatever the latest nutrition/dietary fads promote. You’d do almost as well determining your calorie values by using the foods’ colors.

  9. Got a bit of a shock last Monday that my weight had gone up to it’s highest ever … managed 10lbs in 7 days on one of these ‘milk shake’ diet plans so just need the willpower to keep it up.

    • It’s quite easy to lose weight in the first week or two – it’s not real body mass that is lost, it is the remaining food in your intestines. The diet people refer to it as “water weight.”

  10. I recommend The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. He takes a very geeky and knowledgable approach to the task.

    I agree with the commenters who point out that the real test is long-term.

    I’m very much a Pareto principle guy, so I like minor things that can help. Drink water before meals or when you need a snack. Standing rather than sitting turns out to burn calories (and not from small movements; it’s a different effect). Don’t eat late at night: the longer you can go between dinner calories and breakfast calories, the more of a microfasting effect you’ll get. And note that celery has negative calories: it burns more to chew and digest it than you get from it.

  11. Jerry Pournelle was fond of popcorn with a butter flavor Pam spray for a sustained low calorie snack. I look forward to hearing long term results. Any thoughts on Gary Taube?

    • >Any thoughts on Gary Taube?

      I found his theory very interesting and plausible. But a large-scale study instigated by him to check them seens to have yielded equivocal to mildly negative results, so it doesn’t look like reality is confirming.

      • On the contrary, “a large-scale study instigated by him to check them seens to have yielded …” extremely POSITIVE results, published in BMJ just a few days ago:

        “Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial”

        BMJ 2018; 363 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k4583 (Published 14 November 2018)

        Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4583
        (FULL TEXT OPEN FREE) https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k4583

        “Conclusions Consistent with the carbohydrate-insulin model, lowering dietary carbohydrate increased energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance. This metabolic effect may improve the success of obesity treatment, especially among those with high insulin secretion.”

        “Funding: This work was conducted with grants from Nutrition Science Initiative …” [co-founded by Gary Taubes]

        Representative press coverage: New York Times, “How a Low Carb Diet MIght Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight”, By Anahad O’Connor, 14 Nov 2018;
        https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/well/eat/how-a-low-carb-diet-might-help-you-maintain-a-healthy-weight.html

        “… a large new study published on Wednesday in the journal BMJ challenges the conventional wisdom. It found that overweight adults who cut carbohydrates from their diets and replaced them with fat sharply increased their metabolisms. After five months on the diet, their bodies burned roughly 250 calories more per day than people who ate a high-carb, low-fat diet, suggesting that restricting carb intake could help people maintain their weight loss more easily.”

        “The new research is unlikely to end the decades-long debate over the best diet for weight loss. But it provides strong new evidence that all calories are not metabolically alike to the body. And it suggests that the popular advice on weight loss promoted by health authorities — count calories, reduce portion sizes and lower your fat intake — might be outdated.”

        ” “This study confirms that, remarkably, diets higher in starch and sugar change the body’s burn rate after weight loss, lowering metabolism,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who was not involved in the research. “The observed metabolic difference was large, more than enough to explain the yo-yo effect so often experienced by people trying to lose weight.” “

        • >On the contrary, “a large-scale study instigated by him to check them seens to have yielded …” extremely POSITIVE results, published in BMJ just a few days ago:

          More recent than the last report I heard.

          Thanks – I had been a little disappointed when it looked like Taubes’s insulin-regulation theory was headed down the crapper. Nice to know it’s still in play.

          I won’t take this as final conformation yet, because…frankly it would be damn convenient for me if the Taubes/keto/Atkins people turn out to be right, because their ideal diet is pretty close to my natural preferences. I don’t like a lot of sugar and starch in my diet; I do like eggs and red meat and a moderate amount of fat.

          Because Taubes being right would be so convenient for me, I feel required to exercise more skepticism to counter possible confirmation bias.

          • I think Taube’s contribution is more about how the mainstream theory is wrong than necessarily in providing a correct one.

            I’ve often said you can tell how few people have read Good Calories, Bad Calories, because the book is not primarily about diet or science at all; by bulk it’s a history book about how the mainstream theory became the mainstream theory, and very few people discuss it in those terms.

            He may also turn out to be correct about the optimal diet, but I’m less optimistic about that, because as others have said, I suspect individual variation is going to play at least a medium-sized role.

  12. Most people struggle because of long work hours and reliance on fast foods man. Dieting is extremely easy when working from home.

    • Was going to make the same observation. I managed to lose 30 pounds and keep it off for the past 2 years by making similar changes to Eric (attention to portion size and avoiding refined carbs) although I did it over six months, but I work from home, as does my wife, and we cook most of our food from scratch.

      • I lose pudge when I cook from scratch. I’ve noticed that the act of cooking suppresses my appetite, whether because it’s distracting me from the hunger or because I’m dining on the smell, and I am satisfied with a small portion once it’s done. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that it is also nutritionally more balanced. I’ve a suspicion there may be something to the hypothesis that people unconsciously overeat because they’re malnourished despite being overweight.

        • > I’ve noticed that the act of cooking suppresses my appetite, whether because it’s distracting me from the hunger or because I’m dining on the smell, and I am satisfied …

          Interesting observations. I suspect that something about extending the expectation / inevitability of eating is something like how stretching out a fast is pretty easy.

          As I had heard: The British had problems with impatience and unhappiness with their transit system. The solution that worked for them wasn’t to put more trains on the tracks, but to put clocks on every platform, and adhere strictly to timing. It turns out that if a person knows they will be waiting 15 minutes most will be perfectly fine in the meantime, even compared to a probably-10 minute wait.

          I am also reminded (again, as I heard) of the (initial) failure of instant cake mixes. It was add-water-only, but it was a shocking failure because people didn’t feel they contributed in making the cake. It was walked back to needing milk and eggs and became a success. Something about investing our time into things makes it more satisfying.

          There is definitely something psychological to hunger and our satisfaction with meal choices, ingredients and portions.

          • I cook a lot on the weekends, and I experience the same thing. It seems the longer it takes to prepare something the less hungry I am when it’s done. And it’s not caused by eating while preparing the food because I very seldom do that.

    • Right. Now try holding a job where you spend many hours a week either driving a car, flying, or otherwise cannot exercise and are away from your home kitchen.

      I have successfully dropped 20 lbs and kept it off for years, but it’s now back and more, and I really doubt I can change that until I quit this job.

      I have noticed that new retirees often lose a lot of weight quickly and look much better. Having control of your time and diet cannot be overstated.

  13. Here’s the theory for why dieting doesn’t work.

    When you eat at a calorie deficit, your body responds by lowering your metabolism. I don’t know why it does that – but it does, and it fucks everything up. You’ll have to continuously lower your calorie intake to continue losing weight. At some point, you’ll have to stop and eat normally – at which point, the difference between your calorie intake and your calorie expenditure is so high that all the fat comes back on. To make it worse, you’ve also burned some of your muscle; so you’ll end up worse than you started.

    I’m putting on a small amount of fat slowly, and it’s driving me up the fucking wall. I used to be very skinny. I haven’t reduced my calorie intake yet because I’m trying to reach certain strength goals in the gym. But I anticipate dieting will be much worse than strength training, where every little mistake will reset your progress down to zero.

    • Scott Abel (bodybuilding coach to the stars) has discussed this in detail. Once his clients reach a level where they are starting to feel some hunger, a persistent interest in food, he starts them on the once a week cheat days. This stops the metabolism from downregulating so you can sustain weight loss.

      From personal experience, 10 pounds in one week is easy to do when you first start out. When you fall off the wagon and try to get back on it is MUCH MUCH harder.

      Eric, if you look up coach Scott Abel, he could probably be of great benefit to help you do this sustainably. He’s helped a lot of people of all ages take weight off and keep it off without all the neuroses that comes from long term dieting.

      • >he starts them on the once a week cheat days. This stops the metabolism from downregulating so you can sustain weight loss.

        Interesting. I was aware of the downregulation problem, indeed one reason I’ve never dieted before was that I hadn’t heard of any convincing proposal to prevent it or mitigate the effect. But Abel’s proposal sounds pretty plausible.

        I will discuss it with my specialist. If he doesn’t piss all over the idea I’ll probably try Abel’s cheat-day tactic once I get to the point where “persistent interest in food” starts to be a problem. It’ll be easy because I have a natural cheat-day candidate; Fridays, when my wife and I go to game night and customarily eat at a diner or restaurant near the game store.

        • Do you think seeing a specialist is a good idea if you’re trying to lose fat? I imagine it’s expensive.

          And what kind of specialist?

          • >Do you think seeing a specialist is a good idea if you’re trying to lose fat? I imagine it’s expensive.

            We’re on a health plan that covers this guy because Cathy is a Type 1 diabetic and one of his patches is diabetes management. Weight loss is another. They’re coupled through the fact that his core specialty is endocrinology.

    • That’s a major reason diets fail: the human body has an aversion to starving to death (:-)) and so drops its willingness to exercise. If the signal works, meaning the human isn’t in the process of running away from a sabre-toothed tiger, they will reduce their energy expenditure to try and keep the same amount of reserve energy on hand.

      In the form of fat…
      Bummer!

      • > the human body has an aversion to starving to death (:-))

        I actually meant how, not why. The why is obvious.

        > and so drops its willingness to exercise

        More details about this?

  14. I think the only people who can maintain a diet are either genuinely happy or masochistic.

    Food is delicious in a way that makes it seem like we’d starve if we weren’t coaxed into eating. Dieting is denying yourself the fullest extent of the periodic joy of eating, whether it’s by limiting what you eat or how much. That’s rather minor if aren’t using food as a crutch and your dietary changes don’t decrease your happiness otherwise by alienating yourself (in a real or imagined way) from groups or social situations. When dietary changes are such a burden like they are for so many people, you’re liable to celebrate by undoing your progress both in losing weight and reforming your habits.

    I’ve done what you’re talking about. I lost 50 lbs, 6 inches off my waist, gained muscle, and started running half marathons on top of that. People were surprised, particularly because I made it look easy, didn’t make a big deal of it, and there was no trick – just discipline. The problem is that its a lifestyle. You’re either lucky and asking yourself “why would I stop?” or unlucky and asking “why am I still doing this?”. That stays with you even after you’ve reached all of your goals. The only answer you can really give yourself is that you enjoy the state you’re in more than what you’ve given up.

    • Thank you, that’s exactly how I would put this. Had the same experience quitting smoking and structuring my time (doing this for the first time; I’m in my early twenties).
      Any change not motivated by a desire to abandon old habits permanently, is likely to fail. Habits, especially unsought ones, rarely form, unless the person in question is particularly vulnerable to them. Changing one’s lifestyle requires a degree of self-knowledge, to be able to simultaneously orient away from destructive pleasure, and towards a constructive form of it.
      Or something along these lines :/

    • >Care to offer a wager, operationalized in terms of your weight loss one year from now?

      Er, what would I be trying to prove by this?

      • That you put your money where your mouth is. It would also be an incentive. You would also get money if your models are better than those of whomever accepted your bet.
        Mostly, I am not interested in taking it, but in seeing what your post cashes out to.
        I got the impression that you do seem ready to discuss the topic of weight in public, my apologies if that is not wholly the case. Similarly, I may have come across as confrontational, though I am merely curious.

  15. Cooking is the key. When you cook, you know (and control) the calorie content.

    It also means you can make good things like salade nicoise or grilled chicken thighs with gazpacho, or flamenco eggs, instead of those lame-ass dishes the chefs at Weight Watchers come up with.

  16. My experience is that the *first* time you try dieting it seems easy. The homeostatic mechanisms whereby your body stops letting you lose weight (by making you hungrier or more sluggish or both) takes much MORE THAN A WEEK to really kick in. In fact, for me dieting seemed easy for much more than a month. Most diets “work” for most people if you only track for three months and many “work” if you track for 6 months. The hard part is;
    (A) losing ALL the weight you want to (not just the first ten, but also the LAST ten.
    (B) KEEPING it off for two or three years or more.

    Hopefully your three month and three year are exactly in line with the one-week result because you’re just lucky like that, but one week is too soon to tell if that will be the case

    Good luck!

    • Good point. Not to sound like a shill, but Scott Abel has written some books where he discusses this extensively. He has helped a lot of people take off the last ten pounds. It can be done.

      On another note, macro-nutrient ratios may not be too important. I’ve done the potato diet, and I lost 20 pounds in one month without ever feeling hungry. And yet I still craved regular food; mono diets have their own wandering-in-the-desert mental effects. And with the potato diet, the pounds take a long time to come back, unlike every other diet I tried. Eric has Cathy supporting him. If you have an environment where people are not supportive, and always trying to tempt you to eat what they are eating, the willpower level goes way up. In such case, a large part of dieting isn’t the actual food; it is being away from other people.

      To echo the earlier commenter who was gaining weight on milkshakes, my fastest weight gain was 20 pounds in 20 days, when I was eating two avocados a day, and getting the rest of my calories from cream. The weight gain was so rapid and dramatic people said it was physically impossible. To which I say, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…”

  17. What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?

    What you described for yourself is a “flipped food pyramid” which I’ve heard from others, but I’ve been considering a fast that’s broken by strictly protein-only (no sauces even) with a day-finisher that has carbs and veggies.

    I’m concerned with more than weight, but also with sleep, mood and testosterone improvement.

    I also need to hop on an exercise bike (the only way I know how to do cardio) so I’m going to do that before eating.

    • >What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?

      I’ve had advice, which I’m taking, that I should not eat after dinner, and move my breakfast later in the morning. That way the night fast lasts longer; a friend I trust to be knowledgeable about such things says there is clinical confirmation that this helps with weight loss.

      • I tried Intermittent Fasting, but I found out that my mind tends to grow restive and less focused in the fasting window, to the point of not being able either to code or to write coherent articles. (Am a strange mixture of programmer and author, slowly moving my career from computers to writing.)

        • Anecdotal, but my experience with intermittent fasting (which I’ve been trying since my last physical, about 6 months ago) is the opposite: I find it easier to focus during the fasting window. That might be because during that time I’m free of the cognitive burden of keeping track of what I eat.

        • That’s why it’s a good thing to extend the natural night fast – a few hours before you sleep, plus sleep, plus a few hours after waking up can easily put you on a 14- to 16-hour fast.
          Because the goal is insulin production regulation, it works whether asleep or awake.

        • I did 16-hour fasting for about 6 weeks this summer. I dropped 4 pounds the first week, and 4 pounds the second week and that was it. After that my weight didn’t change. I finally got tired of being miserable in the morning (I was eating from noon to 8), but I think part of that is that I’m dealing with a job that doesn’t engage me. I definitely get hungry more often when I’m bored. I’m looking to fix _that_ problem.

    • Worth noting that the food pyramid is more like the death pyramid. Or possibly the ‘diabetes and heart disease’ pyramid.

  18. I had some success with HIIT, the Tabata protocol.

    E.g. 20 seconds of really hard exercise (90 % max heartrate), 10 seconds very slight effort (almost rest), do this for a few minutes 3-4 times a week, never on two consecutive days.

    This increased by BMR so much that I was very hungry and ate like lumberjack, only to lose weight.

    Of course, N ==1, YMMV.

    • >As a board-certified Italian grandmother, I can assure you that if changing your eating habits was this easy, you’re not really into food.

      That theory is inconsistent with previous evidence.

      I don’t identify as a foodie, because they tend to exhibit a degree of snobbery up with which I will not put. But I have definite foodie tendencies, oh yes I do.

      • Oh…I’m a foodie, for real…the rest of those skinny jean avocado toast faggots are just a bunch of ignorant fakers.

        Laugh heartily at them. ;)

      • Well, that post about The Breakfast makes me water just by remembering it.
        Anyone who can be so eloquent about a meal sure loves food.

          • I actually made Eggs a la ESR one morning, substituting ground chorizo (from the Boulder Sausage Company) for the andouille. I enjoyed it, but it was too spicy for my partner.

            • >I actually made Eggs a la ESR one morning, substituting ground chorizo (from the Boulder Sausage Company) for the andouille. I enjoyed it, but it was too spicy for my partner.

              ESR approves that substitution. :-)

  19. I haven’t read the above, but from experience and enough anecdotes, see

    dietdoctor.com

    Low carb, paleo, ketoisis, is the way to go, is measurable (you can easily tell when your body is burning ketones, not Glucose), you seem to think clearer and have more energy in ketosis.

    That is my experience.

    I see you cutting fries, but also salads. Try cutting all carbs for 2 weeks, get a ketone blood meter, get into ketosis and see if you are ever hungry, low energy, unfocused (after the 2 weeks to get past carb flu). Do treat your thyroid though.

    • >see if you are ever hungry, low energy, unfocused

      No issues with “low energy” yet. Well, not as of last night, about which Cathy observes “Not that I’ve noticed”…

      No lack of focus, either.

      >Do treat your thyroid though.

      Have been doing; levothyroxin every morning. Cathy, I, and endocrinologist-doc unanimously suspect that the dose needs to go up, we’ll see when the bloodwork comes back.

    • Please don’t do this. Your brain basically gets 2 choices of fuel, glucose and ketone bodies. If you run yourself out of glucose for your brain, you start making ketone bodies from fat and dumping that into your bloodstream. The problem with ketone bodies is they break down in the bloodstream into acetone, which has a high enough vapour pressure to come out through your lungs. Sure, you’ll lose weight, but it’s bad for you.

      • Hmm. Without actually spending more than 60 seconds researching this, I have to say it sounds implausible to me. It’s perfectly obvious that the whole point of fat is to provide you with a reserve fuel for the lean times. We did not have a steady supply of glucose in the ancestral environment (by which I mean fish’s or lizard’s AE). While it could well be that there is no metabolically good alternative to glucose, and fat burning is the least terrible backstop, my impression is that evolution is a little more creative than that.

        • Even today, there isn’t much glucose readily available in the food supply (corn syrup aside). There are, however, things readily convertible into glucose, such as starch, sucrose, or protein. Also, your body can convert fat into sugar, but the process is somewhat slow and cannot be started on demand. Ketone bodies are the least terrible alternative to dying when you don’t have enough sugar for your brain. Your body also does other things in that starvation circumstance. It transcribes proteins that can harvest other sugars (e.g. galactose) that normally help maintain a healthy gut biome. It starts breaking down muscle, since that reduces the calorie requirements and provides more sugar (via protein). When it can’t do these things, and can’t dump ketone bodies well enough, you get a diabetic coma.

          I hope I’m being clear enough, since I know this is a fairly complex system (took me about a semester and a half to learn it). If there’s something that doesn’t make sense, I’m happy to explain, or hunt down some references if you need them.

    • Low carb may have helped you, tz, but it was very bad for me. I used keto stix to confirm I had entered ketosis. I stayed in ketosis for 20 days. In those 20 days I gained 20 pounds . It was all visceral belly fat which, 3 years later, I still haven’t completely gotten rid of. Ketosis, as a limited intervention can help some people. But it can be a real mean and nasty trick to play on someone.

      The potato diet, on the other hand, has been gentle and effective for me. Boiled potatoes in fat-free broth. The pounds drop away as fast as ketosis put them on.

  20. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no sign that the so called experts, the nutritionists and dieticians, actually understand the chemistry involved.

    The very brief version is that there is a 3-way equilibrium involving glucose, amino acids, and fat (amino acids are simple pieces of proteins, glucose is ‘blood sugar’). All three get turned into all three, all the time, with varying rates. The rate that sugar and protein interconvert is very high, and can be quickly changed (seconds). The rate of interconversion with fat is generally much lower, and the fat-to-other rate can only be changed slowly (weeks).

    In starvation conditions, you can dump ketone bodies made from fat into the blood, but that’s bad for you. Unless you do that, any weight loss in the first week (2 realistically) cannot be from fat loss. It usually will be water, but is often muscle too.

    Le Chatelier’s principle tells us how to influence the 3-way equilibrium. If we want to convert more fat to sugar, we need to reduce the amount of sugar (eat less of it, exercise more) or increase the amount of free (dietary) fat. And we need to be patient, as the rate changes only slowly.

    Note that this is not a ‘keto’ diet, we don’t want to end up in ketoacidosis. Your brain needs about 90 grams of glucose a day, and you want to make sure to get that. Getting that via starch is perfectly fine. Getting it via protein is ok, if your kidneys can handle the extra ammonia. It’s the bulk of the rest of your calories-for-burning that should come from fat.

  21. If hypothyroidism is a factor in your health, you might want to look into avoiding dairy casein-A1.

    Many stores carry a brand of milk called “A2”

    Goat milk is also an option to avoid casein-A1

    As for cheeses, there are lots of choices to satisfy all tastes …. from goat and sheep cheese….many varieties that are actually more flavorful than conventional holstein cheeses.

  22. Strength training and a daily walk of about 40 minutes also will help the process along quite a bit. I have ulcerative colitis so my situation is a bit different but one other thing that helps is adding apple cider vinegar prior to each meal. I make a small drink of two tables spoons of apple cider vinegar, one table spoon of lemon juice, and 1.5 teaspoons of honey mixed with about 10 oz of water. Drinking this before every meal increases my satiety and also helps with digestion etc. Also, another trick is to eat proteins first, followed by your vegetables. If youre still hungry, then go for the carbs.

  23. At 9 days in you are in the state the alcoholic is in after he has made the decision to get sober
    – he is motivated and happy and feeling like he has a new lease on life and feels physically great without the poison wreaking havoc in his body (assuming the delerium tremens have subsided.)

    Then weeks and months go by and everything is good. It’s still fresh in the mind – I’m not drinking! hooray! What weaklings, those who relapse! he says.

    And then life happens. Fluctuations in stress levels, disturbance of routine and habits. Out to dinner with new colleagues – wow you guys drink a lot of beer! Wife is ill, we’re going broke – oh I could use a drink!

    You are about to get hit by Thanksgiving and the holidays – that means parties, big dinners, and aunt Sally will be offended if you don’t try her pumpkin pie.

    Good luck! :-)

  24. At last a discussion of one of the two subjects on which I definitely
    have more experience than you. (The other, unfortunately, is the
    criminal justice system.)

    You have about 40 pound-days of maintained weight loss. I have about
    1.5 million of them (about 140 pounds kept off for about 30 years).
    (This is the week for talking about units, right? I assume you’ve
    been following the fascinating recent news about the redefined
    kilogram, ampere, mole, etc.)

    First, the dismal statistics come from doctors, so there’s a strong
    selection bias. Those who lose weight without help from doctors don’t
    show up in the statistics. As such, your consulting a doctor was not
    a good first step.

    Second, that quick and easy weight loss due to cutting out carbs,
    hence also fiber, is almost certainly due to loss of fecal bulk
    and water. Water correlates with fecal bulk, with glycogen (which
    correlates with carbs), and with sodium (which you’ve probably
    also cut down on whether you intended to or not).

    Since what you presumably want to lose is fat, I suggest cutting down
    on fat, not carbs. It worked for me. The human body isn’t evolved
    for a high protein diet; it stresses the kidneys. It also causes
    malnutrition. Look up “rabbit starvation.”

    I also suggest giving equal attention to exercise. In the past 30
    years I’ve bicycled about 50,000 miles and walked about 50,000 more,
    i.e. about four times the circumference of the Earth, or almost
    halfway to the moon, most of it on hilly terrain. (Much of the
    credit goes to Metrorail, for totally sucking, and for being the most
    expensive system of its kind in the US, perhaps in the world.) Also
    I do all the yard work at my brother’s house, all of it without power
    tools. I’ll spend much of tomorrow raking there. When I moved house
    four years ago, I did most of it by hand truck, and I have rather a
    lot of books. Next weekend I’ll be going to Chessiecon, where I will
    be helping with setup and teardown, i.e. lots of heavy lifting. I’ve
    helped several friends move house. And I avoid elevators whenever
    possible. To keep warm at outdoor Metro stations I walk in place up
    a down escalator for sometimes as long as an hour. (Trains don’t run
    very frequently at night.)

    As for blood sugar, you’ve claimed for years to have hypoglycemia,
    but last I heard you’d never measured it, even though your wife has
    the necessary equipment. In your place I’d want to track it, to see
    whether it was real or metaphorical hypoglycemia. It seems to be
    one of those fad universal diagnoses in fandom, along with ADHD,
    Asperger’s, and Incel. (Incel isn’t an official diagnosis? Well,
    neither is Asperger’s since DSM-5 came out five years ago.)

    • >As for blood sugar, you’ve claimed for years to have hypoglycemia,
      but last I heard you’d never measured it, even though your wife has
      the necessary equipment.

      Huh. Interesting idea. I should try that.

      I didn’t self-diagnose the hypoglycemia, by the way. I used to live with a nurse – she called it after observing my behavior for months. I remember the crux point well – we were in Penn Station in Philly traveling somewhere (probably to an SF con), I was feeling grouchy and irritable, she gave me a narrow-eyed look then shoved a Snickers bar in my face, saying “Eat this” in her best I-am-the-nurse-and-I-will-brook-no-nonsense tone.

      (You might remember Nessa, you’ve known me long enough. Cast your mind back to the early Eighties. Drop-dead gorgeous woman, figure like a Playboy centerfold, glossy black hair, milk-pale skin, blue eyes. I was once privileged to see her literally stop traffic by bopping down a Philly sidewalk towards me in a T-shirt and shorts. Ukrainian Jewish with a second-generation faint trace of shtetl accent. That ring any bells? She eventually ran away with a musician; didn’t work out very well for him, either.)

      I consumed the Snickers, did immediately start to feel better, and she gave me The Lecture on blood-sugar management for hypoglycemics. Made a lot of retrospective sense; even as a kid I used to scrape the frosting off my cake, which I now grok was an unconsciously learned response to avoid the spike-and-crash effect.

      I get moderate exercise; kung fu three hours a week, occasional two-hour sword classes on weekends.

      You’re not the first person to report high-protein diet stressing the kidneys, but it happens that I went through the full diagnostic battery for kidney disease a year ago after something looked a little off in my blood work. False alarm, thank goodness. My high-protein eating habits – only slightly intensified now – do not seem to have been an issue.

      • Sorry, I never met Nessa, and I didn’t know you in the early ’80s. I
        first read email from you on September 9, 1987 (a post to SF-LOVERS).
        I first emailed you on July 11, 1988, when I said (among much else)
        “I always save my old messages forever.” We first met in person at
        Nolacon in September of that year, shortly before I started losing
        weight. I first visited your home, where you were already living with
        Cathy though you two weren’t married yet, in November 1989, by which
        time I had lost 150 pounds.

        Yes, I’ve kept detailed records for a long time. One of the worst
        things about my wrongful arrest and conviction 41 years ago was that
        the cops seized my (hardcopy) journals, either in a futile search for
        incriminating information or in a successful attempt to keep me from
        using them to establish an alibi. On finding nothing, instead of
        returning them to me or a designee, they destroyed them in a fit of
        pique. One of the few things I really like about the 21st century
        is that data storage is compact, inexpensive, reliable, and durable.
        When I attend Chessiecon this weekend, I will have six copies of this
        blog post and its replies, along with a vast number of other blog
        posts, Usenet posts, emails, etc., dating back more than a quarter of
        the way to the Civil War (yes, I’ve been online for a while), in four
        US states, including one I’ve never set foot in.

        Chocolate is a stimulant, especially to people who seldom consume it.
        With the help of con-suite chocolate, I’m able to stay up all weekend
        at cons, rather than paying for a shared room. So being stimulated by
        chocolate isn’t evidence of hypoglycemia.

        Speaking of cons, I haven’t seen you at one, or anywhere else, in a
        long time. Do you no longer attend Balticon?

        To clarify, I wasn’t claiming that I had had a bad reaction to a high
        protein diet. I’ve never tried a high protein diet, both because of
        the expense and because I know that it’s hard on the body. We aren’t
        evolved to deal with more than about 100 grams of protein per day,
        which would only be about 400 Calories. I’ve always been in excellent
        health, except for poor eyesight, cold intolerance, and a suspicious
        spot on my forehead, probably some form of sun damage. And it’s a
        good thing, since I’m uninsured. Another thing I’m thankful for is
        that Obamacare is no longer mandatory. The cheapest policy I could
        find would have cost me more than everything else put together, and
        would have quickly burned through my life savings. If I become
        injured or ill, I’ll either get better without medical help, or I
        won’t. I refuse to incur debts unless I’m certain I’ll be able to
        pay them off.

        For a few years I did have what I thought was probably rosacea, but I
        now believe was a deficiency of essential fatty acids due to my very
        low fat diet. My diet is still almost totally vegan, high on complex
        carbohydrates and low on fat and protein, but it’s no longer extremely
        low on fats, except for saturated fats. And, like all Americans now
        that it’s been banned, extremely low in trans fats.

        Medicine’s dirty secret is that adult medical care only adds about a
        month to life expectancy on average. It makes no sense to me to spend
        a decade’s income for an extra month of life, especially a month I’d
        probably be much too sick to enjoy.

        • >Speaking of cons, I haven’t seen you at one, or anywhere else, in a long time. Do you no longer attend Balticon?

          Some years. But East Coast cons got to be depressing because regional fandom here didn’t do a very good job of recruiting youngsters when it should have, e,g. 20 years ago. Balticon isn’t as bad off is Philcon that way, but the only SF con we make every year now is Penguicon in Detroit. For whatever reason Midwest fandom has kept a healthier age distribution.

          Also we go to World Boardgaming Championships rather than the Worldcon or NASFIC now. To some extent (though not entirely) regional boardgame conventions have displaced SF cons in our schedule.

  25. I suggest that the usual complaint about the difficulty of dieting refers to the long term. Nine days is not a long term. I would love to see you revisit this post after nine weeks and then nine months.

  26. I did something similar. I cut out all sugar and starch completely. Fewer than 25g per day. I dropped from 285 to 242 fairly quickly. I ate like a pig to ensure I wasn’t calorie starved, so I was able to stick with the new way of eating. I never felt deprived.

    Now I am still 245 or so, and it’s not a diet (verb), it’s a diet(noun). I still don’t eat sugar or grains, but I have added root vegetables and beans back into the meals, which were a no-no during the initial phase.

    Not for everyone, but it worked well for me. My cholesterol and triglycerides have dropped back into normal people levels from their previous, elevated numbers. My knees thank me.

  27. Meal planning (low carb, moderate protein, high fat) and restricting my eating to an 8 hour window helped me immensely with losing weight. I also found daily weigh ins helpful for tracking weight loss, and adjusting the diet if I get a bit off track. I know some recommend weekly weigh ins, but I just find there is way too much variability in water weight to accurately assess whether the diet is working. It is extremely amazing how little you have to eat to maintain a healthy weight. I have managed to stay at a healthy weight for 2 years now, with any extra weight loss essentially being for vanity.

    I’m still trying to figure out how my dad eats out so often, and remains slim. He does excessively train for over 60 bike races. But, he never put much weight on even when he was working all day at investment firms.

    Exercise definitely helps, but that’s more for getting girls.

  28. Ref. many comments above, I’m rather shocked to see Eric, of all people, find that something is “easy” for him and then blithely assume he’s the general case and that it’s therefore “easy” for everyone (even discounting the genetic and gut biome issues) – especially after a sample period of a week and a half, for a long-term project.

    Eric wouldn’t, I assume, tell us that everyone should naturally make excellent progress as a martial artist, right?

    Or that everyone on Earth would just be A Great Programmer if they simply thought hard about it?

    What makes “dieting” different from the previous two examples?

  29. I was trying to lose weight at least three times – or maybe two, because one was incidental to just trying the hunger regime (I’ve read about the health effects of long fast and I become fascinated. I couldn’t go more than week without eating, though. Poor will).

    The last time, for half a year because I was fed up with my large belly – my overall weight is not that bad, I just want to lose the fat belt. I was counting calories, low-carbon, lots of fruit, doing exercises… I was going around constantly hungry and I DID lose ten kilos – but I’ve lost them everywhere EXCEPT my belly, which was as big as ever. So I gave up. I will try once again next spring, though.This time I will try other strategies. Maybe more running and trying switching to breakfast being the main meal.

    My daughter joked that it must’ve been losing more hair than fat.

    • Please look into the potato diet. When I lost weight on the potato diet, I didn’t weigh myself, because the weight loss was so fast. The weight loss came mostly from my belly. In one month I went down 2 inches in belt size, and another 2 inches the next month. They say the belly fat is the last to go, but that isn’t what happened on the potato diet.

    • Your belly is the last to go, for the majority of people. It takes a lot, and I mean a lot of fat loss to get rid of your belly.

      I remember that by the time I got rid of my belly, I was in 30″ jeans, down from 36″ jeans. And that didn’t mean that I had 6 pack abs, no, it meant that my belly was smaller than my chest, but it still had enough fat to hide my abs.

      This was me both eating less and lifting regularly, to get to this point, over a 2 year time frame. But I didn’t feel like I could see abs until I got to my current 28″ jeans, which took another 4 years.

      Essentially, you need to get abs by getting down to 24 BMI via diet and weight lifting. If you don’t weight lift regularly, you’ll need a lower BMI. That is, packing on chest muscles makes your belly look smaller, which requires regular upper body weight lifting. Without big chest muscles, you have to compensate by losing even more weight.

  30. Since this is a blog for intelligent thinkers, can I point out that the calories in – calories out theory is actually a bit bogus. The number of calories in food is based on the heat energy they generate when burned in abundant oxygen, but that is nothing like how our bodies actually use food. In a sense what matters is calories converted into useful work – calories consumed producing work multiplied by the percentage of those that are not excreted, but those are far harder to measure. Moreover, equally important is the question of where those calories are actually stored in your body.

    Let me offer a few examples:

    1. Dietary fiber — as you know is composed entirely of carbohydrates. However, none of it is actually used by the body, it is pooped out. That is why you’ll often hear about “net carbs” being carbs – fiber. But the fact that we have a concept like “net carbs” completely undermines the fundamental model of calories in – calories out.

    2. Cold water — Let’s say you drink a liter of ice cold water. How many calories is that? Well in fact it is negative calories. When that water is evacuated in your urine it is at about 37 degrees Celsius. So somehow that water has increase in temp by 37 degrees. So by my math a liter of ice water contains negative 37 kilocalories. How is that factored in?

    3. Moreover one has to wonder how is this water heated up? Well it is partly by direct heating using the body’s normal mechanisms such as shivering, but also it is just from cooling off exothermic reactions that would be cooled via the bodies cooling mechanisms. These are not factors that are considered (in fact they are probably very hard to characterize and measure) in the cal in – cal out equation.

    4. The cal out is just as unreliable. In truth the real benefit of exercise is not the calories burned on the treadmill but rather the increase in your basal metabolic rate, especially so when the muscles of your body increase in size. So the cal out is just as bogus as the cal in.

    5. It also depends a lot what your body DOES with the calories. For example, when you exercise it depletes the glucose and ATP in your muscles’ cytoplasm, so if you eat immediately after then a particular cascade occurs (blood glucose spikes your insulin, insulin stimulates your GLUT receptors which opens a transport channel to allow glucose to flow into your cells, and more specifically your muscle cells, liver cells and fat cells.) However, if you have exercised the lower concentrations of glucose in your muscle cells increases the osmotic pressure gradient meaning that the glucose is preferentially taken up by your muscles over other cell types. So, depending on how and when you eat, you either get fatter or stronger. (Which of course is why body builders often abuse injected insulin.)

    So really, in summary, calories in – calories out is very unreliable. It is easy to measure, for sure, but it is like looking for your car keys under the lamp-post because there is more light there.

    As to your thoughts about dieting — I think, as others have said, you need to wait a bit. Remember that your body is not designed to diet, it is designed to store fat for leaner times. And you have evolved mechanisms for making that happen. For example, if you eat a really low calorie diet your metabolism will kick down a gear. From my experience that change happens really suddenly, and all of a sudden what had worked for weeks just doesn’t work anymore (and you feel like shit.) FWIW, when you hit that, usually the best solution, counter-intuitively, is to pig out. This tricks you metabolism into thinking you are feasting rather than fasting, and kicks up your BMR again. Obviously, this is not something that aligns with the prevailing cal in minus cal out model. But that is because your body’s metabolism is not stateless, it is in fact extremely stateful.

    So, you are a bit too new to be declaring all the failed dieters a bunch of weanies just yet.

  31. Eric, I commend you for speaking out on this topic and also for inspiring others to follow this path toward better health and happiness. From my own personal experience, I would offer the following ideas for consideration. First, long term dietary success is about changing bad habits into good habits; which is difficult to accomplish and takes about 4 weeks minimum to rewire the brain. Repetition is the key ingredient to success and positive feedback helps greatly. As an example, I sacrifice my taste buds for a low-cal breakfast and lunch, but then enjoy a tasty dinner as my reward. Second, I find that walking erases food craving and reflexively head out the door whenever my hindbrain aims me at a bad food snack. I wish you great success with your new diet. Please keep us up to date on your progress.

  32. You’re not “on a diet”, you are “changing your diet”. The former is a cyclic mode of thinking with a built in failure mode known as “going off the diet”. Whereas the latter, “changing your diet” implies a permanent state of success that requires just a once only change of habit. All human habits can be changed within 90 days. Most sold for profit diet programs are less than or up to – you guessed it – 90 days! Now why is that? Perhaps they don’t want you to “change your diet” because that would only bring in money once. But if we can get you “onto a diet” and off again and repeat that cycle, well now. There’s a revenue stream! Be “changing your diet”! Make it permanent. Check back in 90 days from now. Then again at 180 and 360. Good diet!

  33. Eric – fellow GTer here. Congrats on your first week of precipitous weight loss. About 10 years ago, I lost 105 lbs over the course of 54 weeks; just under 2 lbs. a week, which I found to be quite sustainable. Here’s what worked for me:
    * First of all, I had a physical exam to make sure nothing precluded me from doing this.
    * Through work (a large, west-coast pharma company), found a dietician on contract to the employee health service. Set up a series of weekly appointments for face-to-face consultation.
    * Reduce caloric intake to be ~500 less than caloric expenditure. 10 years ago, this was an approximate deal; 1750 calories a day in, half carbs, one quarter fats, one quarter proteins. 500 calories a day is 3500 a week; one pound of weight loss guaranteed.
    * Signed up for a web-based food tracker, and logged every damn thing I ate for those 54 weeks. Everything. Now, I use a phone app from FitBit to keep these records.
    * I drank 8+ cups of cold water a day. This did three things: Made me get up to pee about once an hour; washed out the excess ketones from fat loss, and expended a few calories (see comments, above) heating up the water to body temperature.
    * Got going with daily exercise. In my case, “light” days were 10K steps (about 4.5 miles), interspersed with 2-3 heavy days per week, 20-30K steps, 9-15 mile hikes. Yes, this took time. I used a pedometer then; until recently I used step counter on my phone. Now I use a FitBit.
    * To tighten up the belly skin loosened by dropping 10 inches off my waistline, I did 3 yoga sessions a week. No excess belly skin!
    * To keep all of this up, I found a group of people to socialize my goals with. I’m still the leader of a hiking group with a hundred or so regular attendees, all of whom I’ve enlisted in reinforcing my goals and providing positive feedback.

    Since retiring four years ago, one by one, I dropped a few of these activities (I continued hiking frequently). This resulted in me re-gaining about 50 lbs. Once I “woke up” to this, I started adding back in the actions, one by one, including the dietician (now remote, and paid for and encouraged by my health insurance). I’m now back down 30 lbs, and have roughly another 15 to go before I stop.

    Best of luck. Enjoy the results!

  34. I was once 40 lbs heavier, wearing 36″ jeans and dropped to 28″ jeans, most of that over a 2 year period, and kept it off for the past 8 years.

    The big keys:

    1. Change your diet permanently.

    If you cannot change your diet permanently, you’ll go back to your old way of eating, and regain all your lost weight. So the only prevention is to make sure a lot of the changes you make to your diet are permanent.

    Big changes failed for me. I had to go with lots of small changes, see which ones stuck, and then go with additional small changes. But small permanent changes on top of small permanent changes adds up. To the point where I eat around 30% less than before (something that really cannot be done all at once, at least not for me).

    2. Find some type of strength exercise that you enjoy.

    I started with weight lifting, also did some fencing (HEMA), but I’m currently an aerial acrobatics guy, a wannabe Cirque du Soleil performer. Strength workout makes sure you drop more fat than muscle. Without the strength workout, you end up losing a lot of muscle mass too, or at least far more than you want.

    The key is to enjoy the physical activity, or else you won’t do it regularly.

  35. I lost 85 pounds about 3 years ago. My method was based on Penn Jillette’s success via Joel Fuhrman’s books–whole plants, very little salt, sugar, refined grains or oil. Wasn’t as hard as I expected, I don’t restrict how much I can eat or count calories, and it is easier for me to avoid deciding on reasonable amounts. Instead I have unreasonable amounts of very low calorie food. Now that I’m stable, I occasionally (about 3 or 4 times a month) have days of normal eating.
    I’ve seen “95% diet failure rate, and long term success is even lower”–but I’ve also read that is based on a single very old study with a single method. We need a lot better information on what works for which people.

  36. Some changes to my diet have proven easy and sustainable. For example, I drank mostly juice when I was younger, and swapping that for water affected me very little. However, a 1500 calorie diet would be hell for me, because even cuts much less drastic than that have proven difficult. This may be a function of diet – I should try the high-protein thing, although most of my staples are carby enough it’d be a big change – but it may also be personal differences. Suffice it to say, I found the willpower required to be pretty substantial. And if everyone else feels more like me than like you, it may just be that you’re unusual.

  37. Have you considered that maybe you are not normal? I’m sure it would be easy for all the other people who have created major paradigm shifts in cutting-edge technology culture to lose a few pounds… Where does that leave the rest of us?

  38. I sometimes wonder if I should pay more attention to what I eat.

    I’ve been the same way all my life – just eat whatever the hell I think I’m craving. My conscious limitation would probably make you cringe: I have a “$2.50 per pound” rule at the market. That’s pretty much it. I make exceptions, such as ground beef, but I’m very aware of them. This might have the biggest impact on my diet, as it means I can’t do most packaged foods such as frozen pre-made dinners, or junk food such as candy or potato chips; instead, I’m mostly getting produce. (Two common dishes for me: yellow squash, zucchini, and cheap sausage with a little olive oil and sage; ramen with broccoli and a little ginger root and lemon juice.) I’m also vaguely aware that I need more protein one day, or more veggies the next. I abhor wasting food (lower middle class upbringing), so I only make or order what I can eat.

    I can run a mile without stopping, or do 40-50 pushups; more of both if I actually exercise a bit more assiduously. I haven’t needed to even see a doctor in… 25 years. (Seriously. If I had to get a GP or PCP tomorrow, I’d have to ask around for recommendations.)

    I’m not perfect. I probably can’t run two miles without slowing to a walk. I can’t reliably sprint without straining something in my left calf. I can drive without glasses, but could probably use lasik. I’m finally starting to go bald on top. My knees complain somewhat more when I take stairs two at a time.

    Still, I keep wondering what happened gene-wise that lets me do stuff that other people my age constantly complain about not being able to do. The only obvious odd thing about me is that I’m half Scots-Brit, half Vietnamese.

  39. >What is wrong with you people out there?

    Addiction. That is what is wrong. The old model of addiction – that only certain chemicals have addictive properties – is wrong. Once we understood that gambling can absolutely be addictive without the need of any chemicals, that addiction is the internal dopamine system getting used to frequent spikes, it is clear that sugar is a very widespread form of addiction, like taking soda hits every hour or so. You always kept your sugar/carb intake low enough to never get addicted to it, calories may have been high, but it was good calories (fat, not carb).

    Marc Lewis’ The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not An Illness was a real eye-opener for me. The basic idea is that for the brain there is no difference kind, only quantity, between really liking to gamble vs. being addicted to it. Normal life is about making longer-term plans and getting pleasant dopamine hikes when we fulfill them. All the things that lead to short-term dopamine hikes have addictive potential, it doesn’t really matter if it is heroine, booze, gambling, pot or masturbation. Or sugar. As people keep pushing the quick reward button, the brain rewires itself to focus on short-term rewards, at the expense of longer-term planning and the kind if willpower required to fulfill them.

    So the crappy and somewhat scary part is that even if we invent a completely healthy and harmless quick reward button, I think it is sometimes called “lotus-eating” from the Odusseia, and “wireheading” among the more sci-fi oriented, with no negative effects in itself, it will still fuck us up by getting addicted to it and neglecting things with longer-term effects like work, school, family, or relationships. Or resist all the other kind of temptations, from booze to gambling. One addiction leads to the other because precisely that long-term planning and willpower that would resist the second one was sabotaged by the first one. And of course it also follows that addiction is a scale, not binary.

    So it is perfectly possible that for most of the sugar-addicts it is not their first. Perhaps TV, social media, or something alike already predisposed them to focus more on short-term, as opposed to long-term pleasures.

    On a more philosophical note, that is the issue with hedonism, there is a mechanism for a slippery slope (thereby making it non-fallacious), because if we want fun why not want it right now and more of it? Which slope leads to the super-addicted lab mouse frantically pushing the button that sends jolts of pleasure through the wire connected to the reward system in its brain, neglecting to eat, drink and quickly dying. The wise hedonist is a long-term hedonist, but I think that works mostly if one distracts himself from hedonism, thus defining goals in a non-hedonistic way, and the hedonistic reward for reaching them being more of a side-effect.

    • “Addiction. That is what is wrong.”

      I am afraid this goes even deeper. The body has a system that will prevent you from stopping breathing. You simply cannot suffocate yourself by willfully not breathing. A step lower is thirst. You will literally go mad from thirst and at some point, you will drink battery acid if that is the only liquid around.

      Hunger is yet another step up, but not by much. Your whole system is designed to eat enough, where “enough” is set by your gut and some hormones. The internal standard has a tendency to creep up in life if you eat too much. However, this internal standard is not likely to go down as easy when you eat less.

      While you can fast for some time, in the end, the urge to eat will creep up notch by notch. Most people (95% and more) will not be able to sustain a weight below their internal standard in the long run if there is enough food.

      But this is not just an addiction. If you do a gastric bypass, this will reduce your appetite so much that keeping a healthy weight becomes a real problem. That is not something you will see with any “real addiction”.

      • I don’t believe that 95% statistic. See .
        I wrote it nearly a quarter century ago, but have seen no need to modify it.

        As for thirst driving people to drink any liquid, even battery acid,
        I don’t believe that either. The majority of people who have died of
        thirst at sea did not attempt to drink seawater. Perhaps this myth
        came from the movie — sorry, I forget its name — in which someone is
        deliberately stranded in a desert, given a can of motor oil, and told
        that when they get thirsty enough they’ll drink it. It’s later stated
        or implied that they did in fact drink it before they died.

        Holding your breath until you die isn’t possible, but only because
        you’ll pass out and automatically resume breathing. Plenty of people
        have committed suicide by putting a plastic bag over their head.

        The concept of addiction is unfalsifiable. If anyone quits a drug or
        habit without treatment, that is said to prove that they were never
        addicted. Nobody has been able to name a drug or habit that nobody
        has ever quit without treatment. Conversely, no addiction treatment
        has ever cured the majority of patients it was used on. My conclusion
        is that it’s not a medical condition, but a matter of free will.

        The latest XKCD cartoon is on the subject of falsifiability.

  40. Losing ten pounds the first week or two of a low carb diet is a well known phenomenon. It is mostly water loss, losing fat is a slower process.

  41. In “The Hacker’s Diet” ( https://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/ ), John Walker hypothesized that some people had trouble with weight gain because their body was overly sensitive to hunger (that is, they felt hungry with more food in their stomach than other people). His solution was to count calories. I think the cultural belief that weight loss is hard and unpleasant comes from the difficulty of replacing “eat when your hungry” with some other rule that gives better results.

    You don’t seem to be fighting the same problem. Instead, you’re fighting a metabolic change. Incidentally, Walker mentioned that problem as well ( https://www.fourmilab.ch/fourmilog/archives/2006-07/000726.html ), which also requires replacing “eat when your hungry” with calorie counting. But I believe it requires a smaller change in behavior.

    In other words, your experience may not be completely typical.

  42. Let’s do a little math here. I have a pint jar of coconut oil (1 pound of fat) in my cabinet. It’s 3600 calories. 1 pound of fat = 3600 calories more or less. FDA recommends 2,000 calories a day or so. 10 pounds of fat is 18 days worth of energy.

    The treadmill tells me that running for 1 hour uses 900-1000 calories (at my pace). That pint jar of fat could power a marathon. 10 marathons in 9 days?

    I’m glad your doing something and I suspect you have the willpower to do it but I think you’re underestimating the energy density of fat.

    • Indeed, a “standard” bar of chocolate powers a 20 min run. However, exercising builds up muscle mass. And muscles will burn calories even when in rest. So, you will need more calories even if you do not exercise. But it also means you should NOT compensate for all that running by eating an extra chocolate bar.

      In the end, the exercise does not help a lot in losing weight. But it is needed anyway because your body will burn up your muscles before it will start burning your fat reserves. Exercise is needed to keep your strength.

      • > However, exercising builds up muscle mass.

        Resistance exercise (and some body weight exercises) build muscle mass.

        Traditional “aerobic” exercise–even bicycling and swimming–don’t build much, and that building usually stops pretty quickly.

        This is one of the reasons that weightlifting is so good for you–you burn calories doing the workout, then you continue to build calories building the muscle and you burn calories sustaining the muscle.

  43. One thing I have found that helps me a lot with dieting is realizing that a lot of my weight issues stem from cravings. I have discovered that replacing an item for a healthier item helps me a *LOT*. I do not count calories myself as I know where I need to cut back, soda. I am currently trying different replacements for soda and I hope to find something soon.

    • >One thing I have found that helps me a lot with dieting is realizing that a lot of my weight issues stem from cravings.

      Not having any real cravings issues. I get hungry, but I don’t get a jones for any particular food.

      Mind you, I suspect things might be different if I weren’t still eating small amounts of dark chocolate semi-regularly. My diet guy actually approves of this, and I think his reason is the same I originally cultivated a taste for the stuff – dark chocolate fills needs that might otherwise pull me into eating junky, sugar-loaded crap.

    • You can find flavored, unsweetened seltzer water in the supermarket. It has zero calories without having that sweet-but-wrong flavor that artificial sweeteners give things. In fact, it’s not sweet at all. You might find the dryness offputting relative to the sweetness of soda, but it’s certainly less boring than water and less loaded with sugar than water or fruit juice.

      • I have a SodaStream soda water maker, and I find (after experimentation with some of the available flavoriings) that I actually like unflavored soda water best. I enjoy the carbonation, but I don’t have to worry about calories or artificial tasting flavorings…it really helps me get a good amount of water in a day.

  44. Meat is warrior food.
    Dieting on a warrior diet is easy. (<= why 'dieting' is a terrible word.) But, it makes you less tractable, because your health improves. This means any government-funded institution will sharply recoil from recommending a warrior diet. It's amazing it's received any study grants at all.

    If you like skipping meals, the thing to do is remove the potatoes and stuff entirely. It's possible to eat once a day with no significant hunger sensation. It's also worth trying the full program and removing stuff like milk and carrots.

  45. Further on the brain and bad habits. Hyperbolic discounting theory sounds correct and useful to me. http://picoeconomics.org/HTarticles/Bkdn_Precis/Precis.html and the practical advice seems to be to treat or choices as test cases predicting future choices. Years ago someone reported on LW weight loss success by changing his mindset from the usual eat this pizza vs. lose 400 kcal worth of fat to be generally the kind of guy who rarely eats pizza but is fit and slim. So making a choice not for the case at that time but a choice between two long-term future outcomes / behaviors.

    “Experiments in both humans and rats have verified the predicted anti-impulsive effect of bundling choices together. Kirby and Guastello reported that students who faced five weekly choices of a small short term amount of money immediately or a large long term amount one week later picked the long term larger amounts substantially more if they had to choose for all five weeks at once than if they chose individually each week (2001). ”

    Which sounds like a commitment device. It sounds very much like the difference between people who succeed at stuff like diets vs. who don’t. If you can find a way to not make a choice, a decision about your next meal but somehow commit, bind yourself to a choice for your next 1000 meals (a year, roughly), you will like to make a good choice as on that timescale the reward of being slimmer is large, while if just choosing the next meal the reward for the healthy-choice is not noticable.

    ESR, do you have some sort of a commitment, self-binding method?

    I like the concept of bundling choices. Normal that is how life works, that you choose lifestyle packages, not individual modules. For example if you want to spend a lot of money on gourmet food but spend very little money on your clothes, your might find that your cheap clothes make you unwelcome in the gourmet restaurant. So choices in lifestyle usually come in bundles…

    • >ESR, do you have some sort of a commitment, self-binding method?

      No.

      I think what I have instead is a very powerful sense that I would be betraying myself if I failed at the willpower required to make the good long-term choice by heedlessly eating the tasty things in front of me.

      I have long been aware that there is a broad streak of asceticism in my nature. But other than a couple of large choices (no alcohol, no tobacco, no recreational drugs) it was mostly a theoretical thing; there was no reality that I had to make overtly anti-hedonic choices every day. Now I am proving that I really am the guy who can do that when my forebrain says I should, and that makes me happy. Happier than more food would.

    • >Hyperbolic discounting theory sounds correct and useful to me.

      That is a fascinating paper. I agree that it sounds both correct and useful.

      So what seems to be going on in my head is that I experience decisions not to collect a short-term hedonic reward over longer-term goals as themselves rewarding, and this equips me well for dieting. I am not immune to slips; occasionally I will eat a small handful of nuts, or a bit of dark chocolate, or (last night) some sticky rice when I know I probably shouldn’t from a reduction-diet point of view (“probably” because calorie-counting is not an exact science).

      But when this happens it is because I am actually, physically hungry – as in, my stomach hurts or I feel blurry in the way I’ve learned means my blood sugar has crashed. One of the ways I maintain my calorie-reduction diet is by allowing myself to eat when hunger passes a certain threshold of physical discomfort. There is a very solid reason for this; I fear the metabolic-downregulation trap.

      The human body reacts to starvation by lowering basal metabolic rate. This is why losing weight gets more difficult the more often one pushes it. What I do not want to do is fall into the lose-weight/regain-weight cycle that afflicts so many people. So I need to reassure my BMR regulation that I’m not starving. Which means my eat-that-or-not decision actually has three hyperbolically-discounted reward scales: (a) eating it tastes good now, (b) not eating it is good for the calorie reduction goal, (c) eating it anyway may be smart if I’m hungry enough, to avoid BRM downregulation.

      What I’m trying to do is trade away some velocity of weight loss in the medium term so that I don’t get mugged by BMR downregulation in the longer term. To that end, part of my plan is that one day a week (Friday) is official cheat day). On Friday I eat until I’m full. I don’t go all stupid like eating lots of sugar and simple carbs, but I then I tended to avoid that even before I was dieting.

      The dance I have to do is not let the short-term reward spoof me into thinking I’m serving the longest-term anti-downregulation goal when I’m actually being akrasic. I think I’ve been managing this pretty well, so far, but the only proof will be if I succeed in holding my calorie intake down for a really extended period, like months or years.

      I am consistently eating a lot less food now. That I am not in any doubt about, and I have a gimlet-eyed wife assisting the reality checks.

      • > What I’m trying to do is trade away some velocity of weight loss in the medium term so that I don’t get mugged by BMR downregulation in the longer term.

        I’ve never met someone who has successfully lost weight and kept it off over years, who was able to avoid BMR downregulation entirely. Myself included. Best we’ve done is minimize it as much as we could.

        Compared to when I used to weigh as much as I do now, about 5 years post college, where I weighed nearly the same for 5 years, I eat at least 20% less calories.

        From the research I’ve seen, the age difference accounts for 10-15%, so the other 5-10% comes from my body overcompensating for the weight loss.

        I too thought I could get around it, by doing a slower weight loss (most of it over 2 years) and by regularly lifting weights and exercising (2/wk in gym, 1/wk sports) but the BMR downregulation still hit me.

        And pretty much everyone I know who’s successfully lost weight and kept it off has a similar story.

  46. By my count, you are now at T+21 days. What’s your weight count now, Eric? I infer from your recent posts that you’re still feeling fine, and that it’s about as hard as you expect.

    • >By my count, you are now at T+21 days. What’s your weight count now, Eric? I infer from your recent posts that you’re still feeling fine, and that it’s about as hard as you expect.

      Inference is correct, but actual weight loss has stalled. None above measurement noise since the first ten days.

      I guess that means the water weight is gone and I’m into the hard part.

      • I’d be curious to know how this is going in the future, whether that’s just plain updates to weight loss, changes to the regimen, related amusing anecdotes, insights gained, or difficulties/gotchas/etc you overcame that you think might be instructional for others to know.

        Would you be willing to post (semi-)regular updates on your weight loss efforts? Say, every 30 or 60 days?

        • >Would you be willing to post (semi-)regular updates on your weight loss efforts? Say, every 30 or 60 days?

          As I think of it. No guarantee of a regular schedule, though.

  47. @ESR I don’t understand your reaction. Why isn’t this is the obvious theory that your naturally super high metabolism, which allowed you to eat whatever you want, has declined somewhat to a still very high metabolism, which allows you to lose weight more easily than most.

    • >which allows you to lose weight more easily than most.

      It’s not yet established that I can lose weight more easily than most – the initial improvement may have been water weight.

      What I was reacting to in the original OP was more the prevalent beliefs that dieting is agonizingly difficult, food cravings are nigh-uncontrollable, etc. Silly whiners. It’s not pleasant – I miss my morning toast – but it’s not that difficult either.

  48. Dieting is a quack treatment for long-term substantial weight loss, both useless and dangerous. The effective treatment for substantial weight loss (100 lb in my case) sustained over years (six in my case) is bariatric surgery. I wasn’t one of the 50% of lucky people whose type II diabetes is outright cured by this: if I had gotten operated thirty years earlier, I might have been. But it has been 100% effective in getting weight off (it took a little less than a year) and keeping it off.

    This is roux-en-Y surgery I’m talking about. I considered gastric banding, but my surgeon talked me out of it, and he was right. There is nothing to make you more aversive to overeating than the vomiting and diarrhea it triggers.

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