Back in October 2016 I did a follow-up on my diet. Four or so months on, my weight still hasn’t changed despite making no real effort to control intake or exercise.
I’m proud of this diet I’ve created, not only because it works so well, but because I created it by doing what I do best: analysing a problem, breaking it down to its most basic principles, and finding a radical solution informed by those insights.
Radical comes from radix, meaning root. So a radical solution is one that goes to the roots of the problem.
When it comes to being overweight, the root of the problem is excessive intake of food. People eat for many different reasons, but the only truly essential reason – the purpose of eating – is to sustain us physically.
Being overweight is typically the result of eating for reasons other than sustenance. Eating for pleasure, for escape from unpleasant feelings, for camaraderie, or just out of long-established habits. These behaviours distort our sense of hunger, loading it with emotional needs that go beyond the simple goal of having enough energy to live.
When we consistently overeat, we forget what it is like to feel genuine hunger. Between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and various snacks, our digestive systems are never really empty. We overeat at every opportunity.
What we really need is to calibrate our sense of hunger, emptiness and fullness. Calibrate it by going without food for a while. Eat nothing until you begin to feel physically tired, a bit shaky, a bit irritable, a bit weak.
That’s your new set-point of hunger.
When you feel that weakness, tiredness, failure to concentrate and irritability, you can eat something. You can eat one bite of something.
One bite is all you’ll need to stave off the hunger and replenish your energy.
Thus the one rule of my diet: only eat enough at any given time to stave off the symptoms of actual hunger.
Can I keep going?
So you’re feeling a little hungry, you’re starting to experience the physical symptoms, and you’re considering eating something.
Before you do that, ask yourself “Can I keep going?”
Often the answer is “Yes”. Our reserves are much greater than we think, especially if we are already overweight.
This doesn’t mean we should keep going to the point of exhaustion. No, the whole point is to sustain our energy levels throughout the day so we can maintain a sound performance in our daily activities.
If your daily activity is sitting at a computer, you probably don’t need much to sustain you. If your daily activity is working in a factory or digging ditches, you’re going to need a bit more.
You don’t want to reach a stage where you physically can’t function. But nor do you want to use the first sign of tiredness or boredom as an excuse to eat something.
Imagine your body is like a furnace. You want to keep it running efficiently by adding fuel as needed to maintain it at a constant temperature. You don’t want to overload it with too much fuel, nor do you want to wait until it nearly dies out before you add more fuel.
Your body will get the message
When you start to calibrate yourself according to the rule, you’ll find that your body responds positively to your new behaviour.
If you stop eating for entertainment, for escapism, to avoid waste, or to clean out the fridge of leftovers, your body will change.
There’s something powerful about declining food you would usually eat, declining it not because you’re stuffed full, not because you’re trying to force yourself to meet some arbitrary dietary regime, but because you recognise that your body doesn’t need it – and any other reason for eating is not good enough.
If you adhere to the rule, you’ll find that losing weight happens quickly and quietly.
Every diet has a catch, a hidden difficulty or challenge. In some diets you can eat whatever you want, but you have to carefully control portions. In other diets you can eat as much as you want of certain foods. These diets appeal to different aspects of our appetite and for some people they work.
The catch in my diet is that you’ll quickly discover the hidden emotional causes behind your normal eating habits. There are reasons why we eat more than we need to. The moment you decide to follow the rule of my diet, you’ll find yourself assailed by whatever fears and negative emotions usually motivate you to eat.
Perhaps you’ll experience an awful feeling of emptiness and pointlessness that you usually fill with food. Maybe you’ll discover you’re lonely, or bored, or depressed, or that you just don’t have enough sources of enjoyment in your life other than food.
It’s going to be painful. But at least you’ll know that it’s painful, why it’s painful, and that eating is not the answer. Even if you succumb to these feelings and overeat, you’ll do so knowing that you’re eating for emotional reasons, not real hunger.
Gradually you’ll learn to recategorise things. You’ll see that what you used to experience as “hunger” is actually boredom, fear, emptiness, sadness, or similar.
In this sense, my diet is more demanding than others. But at least the demands are clear.