How we get thin

“We discussed earlier how we get fat, and how to lose weight. One more post on the mechanics of weight loss can’t hurt, can it? This time let’s deal with the standard advice: “Eat less, move more.”

Great advice… one problem with it, though – it doesn’t work. Attempt to follow it produces a short-lived result, followed by a dreaded plateau and a bounce – and that bounce often takes a dieter all the way back and then some. If it sounds familiar, it should; an overwhelming majority of people trying this approach experience just that. Here is why.

Fighting it

Imagine a room where a thermostat is set to maintain 30 C (86 F). Too hot, you think, and open a window. Doesn’t help much, so you turn a ceiling fan on. Nope, still too hot. There is a window air conditioner, so as a last measure you deploy that, energy savings be damned. It helps a bit as the temperature comes down initially, but the noise and added electricity expense make it a temporary and difficult to sustain measure. Sooner or later you won’t be able to keep going – and a thermostat eventually wins. This obviously is a lost battle.

That’s exactly what happens when you try to lose weight purely by cutting calories and exercising. Your body has a so-called weight set point; it will fight back to restore the balance and return to that point, just as the thermostat does. It will trigger strong hunger to make you eat more, and that’s not a kind of hunger you can resist for too long – no self-discipline can overcome hormonal demands. You will feel tired all the time as a result of your body’s attempt to make you save energy. It will slow down your metabolism, and that’s not exactly something you can regulate by sheer will. And eventually, just as that thermostat, it will win. It’s a survival mechanism; good luck fighting it.

Mastering it

By now you probably can’t help but wonder: why on Earth would I do all that, instead of simply resetting the thermostat to a comfortable 22 C (71,6 F)? Bingo! Changing body weight set point will make it stop fighting back; you won’t feel hungry, tired, and craving food soon after eating. Changing hormonal balance works, while fighting it fails.

thermostat

If the pattern described at the beginning is familiar to you, try this little experiment for a week or two. Change the composition of your meals by:

  1. Increasing nuts, full-fat dairy, avocado, peanut butter (providing you have no allergy to it of course), fatty fish, butter, generous portion of olive oil with your vegetables. And you know what? Do add some dark chocolate and enjoy it;
  2. Adding some protein – eggs, meat (actual meat, not the processed sausages or frozen pizzas);
  3. Cutting back on sweets, cereal, pasta, potato, rice, bread. Don’t necessary eliminate them, just cut them to a minimum.

Don’t pay attention to calories during this experiment. Observe your levels of energy, notice the changes in your mood, food cravings etc. My bet is, two weeks later you find out that your energy level is up, you don’t feel tired all the time, you feel full for much longer after you eat, your sleep is better, and most likely you are a few pounds lighter. Your clothes feel a tad looser, too.

Two things are likely to pleasantly surprise you. One is going to be the ease with which all these changes occur, especially comparing to all the restrictive diets you may have tried in the past. By now you know why. That’s because you are simply turning the thermostat knob instead of fighting it. That’s right, this kind of eating regimen resets your body set point, resulting in easy and natural weight loss. Your hormones now work for you instead of fighting you (Remember, we spoke of insulin levels and resistance earlier? That’s exactly the thermostat that establishes the body set point).

Another surprise is even more curious and encouraging. You are likely to notice that your very sensation of the taste is changing. You no longer crave or even enjoy some of the unhealthy things that used to be oh-so-tempting. This is a fantastic sign – not only does it indicate that the hormonal re-balancing occurs (meaning, your thermostat is being reset), it also guarantees that the changes are going to be sustainable. The absence of cravings for an unhealthy food and enjoyment of healthy dishes – what could possibly be better?

As an aside, this interesting effect has been remarked on by many patients undergoing bariatric surgery. This is from a recent article in NY Times:

“Most people believe that the operation simply forces people to eat less by making their stomachs smaller, but scientists have discovered that it actually causes profound changes in patients’ physiology, altering the activity of thousands of genes in the human body as well as the complex hormonal signaling from the gut to the brain. It often leads to astonishing changes in the way things taste, making cravings for a rich slice of chocolate cake or a bag of White Castle hamburgers simply vanish. Those who have the surgery naturally settle at a lower weight.”

Another story published this very morning states:

“I loved salt and sugar and often used candy to revive me when I felt lethargic,” Mr. Adams confessed. “But I discovered the human palate is amazingly adaptable, and after two weeks without salt or sugar, I no longer craved them.” With his new lifestyle, he said he has so much energy he no longer needs an edible midday pick-me-up.”

This is exactly the kind of effect you experience when going on low carb and/or intermittent fasting regimen. It’s not clear why the same effect is observed with this type of diet and the surgery, but I’ll take it thankfully. Compare it with this quote from The Time Machine Diet and marvel at the similarity of experience:

 “Do you like chocolate cake? So do I. In one of the local stores there was the chocolate cake of chocolate cakes. King of chocolate cakes. They don’t get any chocolatier. It was called Chocolate Eruption, and it was a massive bomb. Real chocolate cream, rich and smooth; chocolate layers of different colors and varying consistency with pieces of hard chocolate to provide a crunch. Did I mention it was also full of chocolate?

At the beginning of our new weight loss regime we put two large pieces of it aside, to reward ourselves for some significant achievement should such occasion present itself. For two months we felt a great temptation walking past the baking section in that store and seeing that cake on display. We waited patiently for the time when we would deserve the prize. Finally, in mid-May, that moment came. They were rather large pieces, mind you – the reward should be generous and leave you fully satisfied, not craving for more. We ate it all… and were surprised by just how incredibly sweet it was, beyond the sweetness that would have been pleasant. We were cured; walking past that section has become, well… a piece of cake!”

Finally, a similar experience is reported as recently as a week ago by one of my book readers. As you try this experiment, feel free to post your impressions!

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