In January I wrote a couple of posts on dieting, in an attempt to make clear my own thoughts on losing weight and maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
Someone left an appreciative comment on part 2, so I thought I should post an update on how my idiosyncratic approach to dieting has fared in the nine months since I wrote those posts.
In short, it has been very successful. I’ve lost nearly 20 kgs, and I’ve found it easy to maintain my current weight.
The most effective part of the diet was to complete the link between how I felt about being overweight, and the eating behaviours that were making me overweight in the first place. It might sound a bit harsh, but if you feel miserable when you look in the mirror, hold onto that misery for the rest of the day and use it to diminish your appetite.
But it helps to do so with the conviction that if you eat less you will definitely lose weight. There are a lot of conflicting messages about obesity, including the idea that some people simply cannot lose weight, or that there are hormonal, genetic, psychological, environmental, and social causes for obesity that make attempts at weight loss futile.
Or how about this one: “I have a friend who eats more than I do, but they never put on weight!” The (weak) implication is that weight is therefore not directly related to food intake.
I countered these conflicting messages with the simple conclusion that regardless of how overweight people might be, if we starved to death we would all lose weight before we die.
We are all products of our biology, culture, family, society, and environment; but we are still free to change our behaviour, provided we can understand where things are going wrong, the cause and effect of our unwanted circumstances.
Before my diet, my motivations for eating were often compounded: I would eat at meal-times because of habit, I would eat snacks because of boredom, I would use the process of eating as a kind of escapism, I would seek the sensory feedback of a full stomach to distract from other negative feelings including dissatisfaction at being overweight.
Now my attitude to food at any given point in time is dominated by wanting to avoid the dissatisfaction of being overweight, and wanting to maintain the benefits of a healthy weight. But other motives have gradually accrued: new habits of not eating for most of the day, the feeling of an empty stomach as the new normal, avoiding the heaviness and distraction of being full of food.
In practical terms, I know that I need very little food to maintain my current weight, and for personal reasons I prefer to eat as little as possible until the end of the day. So in any given day I’ll most likely eat nothing until dinnertime.
I’ll eat more if I have a lot of work to do and need the energy. Sometimes I’ll eat more if there’s a celebration or party. There’s a lot of latitude when you know you can easily not eat for most of the following days.
I usually have one or two espresso coffees with milk, which is a kind of substitution for eating during the morning. I could probably do without them, but coffee and tea aren’t a big deal.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. I avoid eating when I’m not genuinely hungry, and I used my negative emotions about being overweight to help me achieve this new approach. I cut through uncertainty about the causes of being overweight by looking to the bottom line of food intake versus expenditure. And as I lost weight, it became easier to continue than to stop.
One final point: I didn’t chart the progression of weight loss, but subjectively it was very rapid. At the time I wondered whether there was some kind of psycho-physiological system at work – that by diminishing my appetite and strictly controlling my intake I had somehow ‘told’ my body to change how it was storing energy and processing food.
That’s highly speculative. It’s equally possible that the weight loss seemed rapid because I wasn’t keeping track of it, and because I knew that it was really just a symptom or outcome of the processes of escapist eating I have described in the earlier posts. In other words, I wasn’t dieting to lose weight. I was putting a stop to an escapist dynamic of which weight gain was the unwanted side-effect. It may have seemed rapid because my mind was elsewhere.
My diet isn’t perfect. Perhaps I would feel better if I ate breakfast and skipped dinner. Or ate smaller portions throughout the day. I’m guessing that the way I eat at present is the path of least resistance to diminishing overall intake. Perhaps the next challenge should be to vary the routine and see what benefits and limitations the changes bring?
Regardless, it’s good to have the psychological freedom to even consider changing the approach, because I know and understand the mechanism that drove my weight change in the first place.