My eating habits and weight loss experiment
As promised, I’m beginning my life experiments series and using myself as the guinea pig. My first experiment will be about a topic that seems commonplace: how to lose weight. Losing weight doesn’t seem like rocket science. Isn’t it a simple matter of eating less and exercising more? Since most people struggle with losing weight, I’m going to say, “No, it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories out.”
In this experiment, I will explore how to lose weight by actually doing nothing. I won’t tell myself what to eat or how much to eat. I won’t add in hours of exercise every day to offset my calories. I’ll still have treats. Perhaps the only thing I will actively be doing is being mindful of what I eat. I could call this the Mindfulness Diet, but that doesn’t sound nearly as much as fun as the Do-Nothing Diet. Besides, I actually want to turn this all into a habit, so I don’t even have to think about it. I literally want to do nothing.
First off, a caveat: Even though I have read a pile of nutrition books, I’m not an expert, and I’m not giving advice; however, I will be sharing the advice that I am giving myself and putting to the test. This article is also the beginning of a larger idea about how to optimize life. There is a hidden thread in this article — Can you find it? — that I will reveal later.
The basic idea — a Mindfulness Diet put on automatic.
If I were to write a diet book, I would call it “The Do-Nothing Diet” with the tagline “Lose weight by doing absolutely nothing!” Who wouldn’t want to read that book?
This idea may sound ludicrous, but one of my biggest life goals, whether work, exercise, diet or education, is to make it part of a lifelong enjoyable lifestyle. There is no way I am giving up beer or cheese forever. So, I need to find a way to make drinking beer and eating cheese part of a sustainable lifestyle.
Too often, I have set unrealistic goals that eventually lead to a backlash. You’ve probably heard of yo-yo diets backfiring. Did you ever see that show The Biggest Loser? Most of them are worse off than when they started. See the chart in this famous New York Times article. Yo-yo exercising can be even worse. Like when I started jogging. Instead of starting at a leisurely, enjoyable pace, I decided to jog until I was exhausted. To me, being exhausted was a sign of a good workout. But I injured my ankle. So, instead of getting fit and losing weight, I couldn’t walk and gained weight. Even years later, my ankle still bothers me.
So, those become the basic tenents of the Do-Nothing Diet: do NOT diet and do NOT overexercise. In this case, diet means restricting calories. (Nutrition is a separate matter.) It especially means don’t starve myself. I have discovered skipping meals always backfires. My experience of cycling around the world has taught me that I can lose weight by actually eating more. In that case, of course, I was exercising like a madman. In this case, I think it is possible to lose weight and still eat the same food but eat it differently. For example, eat slower and enjoy my food. Another rule that I love is: Eat bad food with your left hand. It really makes eating a bag of chips frustrating.
I’ve been testing these ideas and more, and they are working! Now, it’s time to go big.
My weight-loss challenge
For the record, I was, as my doctor described, beyond an ultra-endurance athlete. I could ride a fully-loaded bicycle 100 miles in a day, sometimes day after day. The difficulty is relative. My goal usually was only 50 miles, and that could be just as hard given the weather and terrain and lugging about 40-80 pounds of gear, food and water. My most challenging day ever was only a couple of miles. What I’m trying to say is a couple of things:
- My body seems to be very efficient. That includes gaining weight, too. I needed to consume, digest and store huge amounts of energy to power that bike
- I got tired and bored of grinding out the miles. So, my physical activity has declined.
- I wore out my body, and since then, I have been paying the price with nagging injuries. And, perhaps my metabolism has changed.
If I would have spread out all that exercise over my whole life, I would be quite fit. I don’t think I got lazy, but I don’t want to torture myself anymore. And, honestly, I’m scared of riding my bicycle in Cincinnati. Also, I’m just exhausted at the end of my workday. It is said that thinking burns more calories than jogging! So, it seems I am still doing marathon days just sitting here writing stories. Worse yet, I have had one injury after another. Talk about demotivating. So, I need to begin another journey back to fitness. I haven’t admitted it yet, because frankly, it’s embarrassing to have been at peak performance level, like an Olympic athlete, and now be below average. However, I have noticed that a lot of athletes age poorly. It’s hard on the body! If I ever meet Nietzsche in the afterlife, I’ll tell him he was wrong about this one: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
For now, I’m going to skip the current fat Scott picture and leave you with this old fat Scott picture. I vowed I’d never get fat again. But here I am. Life. Ugh! :(
Taking the die out of diet
Developing good eating habits
I’ve been collecting these ideas since at least 2007. In fact, in 2009, I shared them with my dad. Back then, I called it “Taking the die out of diet.” My dad went on to lose over 100 pounds and keep it off! He didn’t follow my guidelines, but I like to think it was a good inspiration. He actually followed a diet and exercise plan that he created after reading dozens of books and watching hundreds of hours of videos. (See the picture at the top.) He came to the conclusion that no one understands nutrition. How could they? Every book was different. And every body is different.
So, if nutrition is at best an individual matter, is there a way to lose weight — Should I say, get in shape? — without focusing on what you eat or overexercising? My answer is yes. Rather than focus on what I eat, I am just going to focus on how I eat. Recently, this concept seems to have entered the mainstream consciousness and labeled “eating habits.” It’s one of the better ideas to go viral.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not planning on eating garbage. I understand the basics of nutrition. And, I like to grow my own food. Sometimes I trade it with my neighbors for their homegrown chicken eggs or honey. But I do love my treats. And I tend to overeat. My body seems to think I am still riding a bicycle. Or at least, it wants me to ride a bicycle.
I think the hard part will be making all this stuff a habit. In part, that is why I am running the experiment. And I am stating my intentions out loud so that I can be held accountable. Embarrassment is a terrible punishment. It also gives me a reason to refine my list and improve my ideas. Please, leave a comment below with comments or criticisms.
The Do-Nothing Diet top seven simple rules
This post could be a book long if I were to explain everything in scientificky language. (Besides, after my posts on oxygen, I’m exhausted explaining things.) For now, I’ll give my top six rules and a brief explanation. If you find any of them interesting, a quick search online will reveal a lot more information. If I’m successful at following these rules, I will add more to the list and explain more. None of this stuff is rocket science, but how often do I do it? Not enough, obviously.
1) Do NOT diet!
As I mentioned in the introduction, when I say “diet,” I mean restricting calories. Again, my goal is to lose weight by establishing enjoyable lifelong eating habits. Restricting calories has never worked for me. Besides, it takes the joy out of life.
More importantly, I believe my body is smarter than I am, and eventually, it will rebel. My body will think it is dying — stuck in a famine without end — and go into emergency survival mode. And one of the things a body does to survive is gain weight. Think of the fat around your belly like your emergency food supply. Besides, just because I reach my target weight doesn’t mean I’ll be healthy. You can still be skinny and fat!
Another risk is malnourishment. I think a lot of hunger is caused not by missing calories but by a missing vitamin or mineral. So, by listening to my body and eating a wide variety of food, I will be preempting any bad cravings.
2) Chew my food.
In other words, eat slow and give my body time to digest. Twenty minutes is how long it takes for the brain to recognize it is full. So, if I can take 20 minutes to eat my meal, rather than the 10 minutes it usually takes, maybe I will feel satisfied with only half the amount. A health nut once told me, “Chew your water. Drink your food.”
And isn’t part of the fun of eating the chewing and the crunch? Have you ever gone wine tasting and spit your wine out? Same flavor but no fun!
3) Enjoy my food.
I can’t tell you how many times I drank a beer and didn’t even notice, or ate an extra helping without thinking, or demolished a bowl of potato chips while talking to a friend. So, if I want a beer or dessert, I’ll get the best one I can afford and go all-in on the enjoyment.
4) Say grace.
Saying grace or being grateful about my food makes me feel connected to my body, the food and where it comes from in the world. It slows me down and makes me question what I am putting in my mouth.
5) Drink a lot of ice water.
Water contains a lot of dissolved minerals. If your body is missing any of those, it gets hungry. Water is also essential to keep your metabolism running, like oil in a car. Now, throw some ice cubes in it and — voila — I’ll get a free workout as my body warms the water.
6) Don’t stress.
Stress causes weight gain. Yes, a cruel irony of life is that the harder you try, the worse you do. Stress floods the body with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and they wreak havoc on your metabolism. When you are feeling stressed, you are basically in fight-or-flight mode. So, once again, the body will go into emergency survival mode. Another cruel irony of life is that the body will often use muscle rather than fat as its fuel, especially if you are under stress. It’s easier and faster to metabolism protein.
I know that telling myself “Don’t stress” is easier said than done, but on the Do-Nothing Diet, one of my goals is to do nothing by relaxing. I also plan to have some treats. I don’t want to binge. But having some comfort food every once in a while tells my body. “Hey, don’t worry.”
7) Eat bad food with my left hand.
As mentioned, this is my favorite rule. One of my biggest challenges is not paying attention to what I’m eating. I have been experimenting with eating bad food with my non-dominate hand for a long time. It can be very frustrating to get those chips in my mouth. Not only does this slow me down, but following this simple rule has turned every mouthful into a conscious act.
So far, this is all obvious stuff, but I’ve selected things that are about how to eat, not what to eat. In a way, I am doing nothing. I am not telling myself what I can and can’t eat. I am not restricting my calories or any type of food. I am not adding an hour of exercise to my day. And I am not preventing myself from having any fun. I still get to do all the things I usually do. The only thing I am doing, perhaps, is being mindful of the act of eating.
Sounds simple so far, right? I have a lot more rules. But I’ll start with these and see how it goes. In about a month, I’ll check back in and let you know if that scale moved.