I'm a fattie. I may not be terribly overweight at the time of writing, but
the designation of fattie is more a description of a behaviour than a jacket
size. Over the course of my twenties I went from 140 lbs to 310 lbs. I've
been down and up a little since then. I was a fattie when I was born, and
I'll be a fattie the day I die. Whether you consider fat people to be born
or made, the sad truth for me is that I am fattie for life. The trick is
to realise that I may be a fattie in my brain, but I don't need to be fat in
The legal bit
The advice given in this article reflects the author's experiences and is
provided for information purposes and general reference only. It is not intended
to be a substitute for medical or psychological advice or counselling. Therefore,
you should consult a doctor or mental health professional regarding your
individual physical and mental health needs before following any of the advice
or techniques used here. The long and short of it, if you do what I say and get
ill or die, then you hereby agree that it's your own fault, not mine!
Let's not get hung up on the rudeness of calling ourselves fatties. We only
get upset when skinnies call us fatties. The word is laden with connotations,
like lazy, stupid, immoral, out-of-control, lack-of-discipline, ugly, hopeless,
loser, outcast. None of these are fair, or universally applicable. The dark
truth is that we often think them about other fat people, and in our darkest
moments, about ourselves too.
The fatty-skinny balance board
It's often said that we shouldn't shape ourselves to society's expectations
of perfection. That way leads to the madness of celebrity anorexia, size zero,
and all that weird stuff which is one end of a line going from skinny to fat.
With other behaviours, dead centre should be the balance point of any sort of
behaviour. Geeks and Dunces are similar for 'smartness' - it's no fun being
at the extreme end of either, the ideal point is near the centre. And the
same is true for body size.
That's just the way it is
Unfortunately, our society favours the skinny side of the balance board. You
might be puking into your handbag on the hour, but as long as you have tight
buns, that's seen as a mere side-effect, tolerated for the rest of it. And
let's be honest, on the geek-dunce scale, who on earth wants to be a dunce?
It's human nature to take perfectly balanced distributions of features, with
equal numbers of people each side of the average, and decide for or against
one of the sides. That's just the way it is. It might be unfair, but just
whining about it doesn't change human nature one bit.
I give up
That's just plain wrong, though. Most skinny people are naturally skinny,
they have a biological predisposition to be skinny. Why should they get all
this adulation, honours and preferential treatment? They're no different
from me, just lucky to have their genes. Or else they're killing themselves
to stay slim, damaging their health and continuing the culture of walking
skeletons, harming future generations... yadda yadda, blah blah...
Off your chest
Now you have that off your chest, we can continue. Everything you said is
true, but so what? Does it move you one inch closer to your goal? Yes, it's
unfair. But no more unfair than the paraplegic at the Special Olympics, or
any number of people who overcome physical problems to achieve the best they
can, sometimes in arenas where they are told they cannot even exist. Douglas
Bader flew with tin legs. History is full of stories of people who had to
fight against unfair physical disadvantage to come out top of their game.
What you have to get straight from the start is that you shouldn't have to
do any of this stuff. If life was fair. It should be natural and easy like
it is for others. But it's not. Once you've had a little whine and sob
about the unfairness of it all, you're left with a decision. You can use
the unfairness of it all as a reason not to do anything, or you could look
at the unfairness, accept it, and then draw a line under it. It won't go
away, but you'll just no longer talk about it. From now on we take the
unfairness of it as read, and carry on.
What fatness is in a nutshell
Forget all those things about childhood traumas, poor self-esteem, compulsive
eating disorders etc. They may indeed have a bearing on the 'why', but they
have no bearing whatsoever on the 'what', and knowing why something happens
doesn't help you tackle the what, especially if it's something that happened
years ago, or is out of your direct control. Fatness is a disease which has
two primary causes with the same effect - the first cause is a dependency on
food for mood control. The second is a habitual sedentary lifestyle.
An interesting idea
I have a theory that fat people mix up the sensation of fear and the sensation
of hunger. In fact these sensations may be so similar so that our ancestors
would give the procurement of food the same sort of importance as any other
sort of low-level anxiety, such as the fear of being eaten or the fear of
falling. Fear and hunger both produce a queasy feeling in the guts, and my
personal theory is that fat people are trying to get rid of this sensation
the only way they can. if it's true, then perhaps we only need to force
ourselves to become unafraid of feeling hungry to succeed. Using food to
take away an anxiety is not a million miles away from the concept of using
food as a mood control, as many psychologists would have it.
Get your fix
If you can't face the idea that you use food to control your moods, then you
better stop reading now. I wasn't too keen on it when it was first pointed
out to me, but examining my eating habits over many years, I've come to the
conclusion that is exactly how I use it. Eating tasty food makes me feel
better, for a little while at least. Most most addicting substances, the
effects are temporary, and I need to eat some more to get them back again.
I use food the same way a depressive uses medication, or an alcoholic uses
hard liquor, or a junkie uses heroin. This is why traditional ideas of
willpower fail for us fatties - we aren't choosing to eat too much, as most
popular skinny belief would have it. Try asking an alcoholic to just sip
one glass of whisky a day but no more. Or a junkie to have just a tiny bit
of heroin but no more.
This is a good thing
While it sounds bad at first to admit you are dependent on the chemical
effects of a substance which you are truly addicted to, the realisation
that your behaviour is an addiction, rather than a choice, is a release.
You no longer have to blame yourself for every lapse, you should shift
your blaming energy onto how you got into the addiction in the first
place, and more importantly, how you are going to get out of it.
The second cause
Whilst being addicted to food is the primary cause of your fatness, the
second cause is a sedentary lifestyle. Stop right there, I'm not going
to tell you to pull on those trainers and run 10 miles a day! When I
say sedentary lifestyle, I'm not talking about one huge magnificent act
of personal strength - I'm talking the small things, even the tiny things
like using a TV remote control. Just be sure right now that you can lose
weight quite easily by doing no extra formal sport or exercise at all.
It really annoys me when you see health shows on the telly insisting you
have to do exercise to lose weight - it's total rubbish. Weight loss is
95% food control and 5% exercise - this means you can get 95% of your
potential weight loss doing no formal exercise at all. We'll come back
to this important issue later.
Willpower as a personality trait
Conventional weight loss programmes and health professionals tell us that
all you need is willpower to succeed at a weight loss programme. Ask them
what the mean by that, and you'll get some waffle about it's a personality
trait, a quality, something you were born with, or something you can choose
to grow and nurture. I think this is where the big moral judgement comes
from regarding fatties - they have no willpower and therefore are degenerate,
immoral and lazy. They equate willpower with an ill-defined quality of
personality. But nobody can tell you what willpower is, apart from it being
an ability to starve yourself and force yourself out for early morning runs.
Why do skinny people prefer to see willpower as a positive personality trait?
Because they have it in spades, so it strokes their egos to think so.
What willpower really is
As a lifelong sufferer of food-dependency, I've examined my own willpower
over many years. I have managed to stick at many things in my life, jobs,
a university degree, marriage, hobbies, etc. So I'm not short of what some
people consider conventional willpower. So why can't I apply it to weight
loss? The answer is that willpower isn't so much a quality that you either
own or don't own. Willpower is simply a set of techniques and strategies
to help you get what you want. The reason fatties don't have willpower
about their eating addiction is that nobody has ever shown them a good set
of techniques to counter it. Over the years I have built up a set of
working techniques to keep you at it - then you will have willpower. Not
the mysterious quality of personality that some people believe in, but a
real and provable set of techniques you will see working.
What you will need to buy
Unlike most weight programmes, I am not selling anything. I have no book,
I have no weight loss food products, no clothing line. You do need a few
items to carry around with you, but you can make them yourself from paper
or card, and they will cost you nothing except your time and imagination.
At the end of this essay, I have a provided a step by step summary of what
physical items you need to gather and use in your day to day battle to lose
weight. Please don't skip to the end now, because what you will find there
will be meaningless without reading all the words between here and there.
The mechanism for weight gain
You eat too much!
The idea that overweight people must eat a lot is a common misconception.
The truth is that overweight people eat around the average calorie intake,
which is about 2000kcals for women, and 2500kcals for men. So what is
different between overweight people and people who maintain their weight?
There are two answers, both surprising: TV remote controls, and one slice
of white bread.
An average man consumes 2500kcals a day, and burns off 2500kcals. Over
time he eats no more calories than he burns, and so his weight remains
the same over a long period of time. This doesn't mean he doesn't go
over the 2500kcals on some days, perhaps at a party of a family meal at
a restaurant. But the average person takes it easy on other days, for
the 1000kcals over he did at the restaurant, he perhaps has a light supper
or skips a meal on the following day. His average remains around the
2500kcals mark across an average week.
Imagine this average man eats an extra slice of white bread a day, every
day of the week. A slice of bread, with a little butter on is around
100kcals, not very much. It's less than a packet of crisps. It's less
than a third of a small bar of chocolate. Compared with 2500kcals, it's
only 4% extra.
One slice of white bread and butter is an extra 100kcals per day.
This is 700kcals extra per week.
This is 3,033kcals extra per month.
This is 36,400kcals extra per year.
So how much weight will this man put on?
Research has shown that 3,500kcals equals around one pound of body fat.
This means that he man will put on 10.4 pounds over the course of the year
when he's eating a slice of bread extra per day. Over the course of ten
years, by eating only 4% more calories than he burns, he will put on 100
That's how easy it is
You don't have to be a glutton to become overweight. Even if you don't eat
any more than your average, the change in lifestyle that people experience
as they move from their teens to their twenties and thirties can account
for 100kcals a day easily. A simple thing like having to stand up and
change the TV channel 20 times in a night can make a major dent in that
100kcals. Standing up from a seat burns 1/2 a calorie. Simply standing
instead of sitting burns an extra 2 calories per minute. Walking at an
average speed burns 5 calories per minute.
The mid-life creep
The overweight man starts out his life as average, and he eats his 2500kcals
a day like the average man. When he is a young man, without a car, he walks
to work, or walks to the bus stop. He thinks nothing of walking into town
on a Friday night when he goes out. He rarely eats out at restaurants.
Perhaps he plays sports. He can also eat and drink what he likes. Perhaps
he's eating 3000kcals a day, but the extra exercise means he's burning it all.
Over time he doesn't gain any weight. As he moves into his 20s, he gets a job
which means he's sitting down most of the day. Perhaps he buys a car, so he
walks less. On nights out, he is far more likely to take a taxi or drive door
to door. He can afford to eat out more often. So he's eating more, and
burning less. As we have shown, this difference only needs to be 100kcals
over a long period of time for him to put on a lot of weight over the years.
Let it happen
The problem is that people generally do not monitor their weight closely
enough to see trends and deficits developing. By the time you notice it,
you are already 20 or 30 pounds overweight. Or if you are unlucky, and
distracted or depressed, it may be 100 pounds before you decide to do
something about it.
The only strategy that works
The expert opinion
If your car starts backfiring on the way to work, you don't take it to a
Zen Buddhist. You don't stick pins in it. You don't look back through
the log-book, looking for trauma in its past to explain why it's sick now.
You take it to a mechanic. And when you realise your addiction to food is
a sickness, you may be tempted to take it to a 'health mechanic', which is
usually your doctor, or perhaps a fitness or nutrition expert. I've been
down this road, and while I won't ever tell someone to avoid their doctor,
just in case they are really ill, I've found that when it comes to advice
on losing weight, they toe the company line: eat less, exercise more. They
are correct, but it's a bit like telling a heroin addict that the way to
beat their addiction is to stop taking drugs. It doesn't explain HOW to
do it, so it's pretty useless. My doctor once told me to stop having
milk in my tea when I was over 300 lbs.
You're not gonna like it
The sad truth is that the same useless advice is the only way to lose weight.
You are going to have to eat less and possibly exercise more in order to
achieve any reasonable weight loss. We all know that, in our hearts. What
this traditional advice fails to do is tell us how to go about it. If it
was a "simple matter" to "just eat less" then there would be no fat people.
It's obvious from the number of fat people around, and the low numbers of
people who used to be fat who are now skinny, that it's incredibly hard, if
not almost impossible to "simply eat less" and lose weight. We would all do
it if it was that easy.
The nitty gritty
I have a set of techniques which you can employ to help you carry out this
task. I know they work, because I use them myself, and in 2005, I used them
to successfully take 80 pounds off in 4 months. You have two main goals.
First and foremost, you have to cut down on the quantities and calories of
what you eat and drink on a daily basis. This is the most difficult task to
achieve long term, because while you may be riled up to go near the start
of your diet, as the weeks wear on, without careful application of this
plan, you will slip as your concentration goes. The second goal is to up
your metabolic burn during the day - don't let this one worry you too much,
as I said earlier, there will be no marathons or dawn jogging here. There
are many ways to up your metabolism apart from formal exercise.
Fad diets and regimes
I would love to tell you that this is going to be easy. Many plans do, and
I've tried lots of them. I expect they do this so as not to dent your
enthusiasm at the get go, so you get off to a flying start, full of optimism
and enthusiasm. The problem is, as anyone else who's been on such fad diets
and regimes knows, as soon as reality hits, how hard it becomes after the
first week is a major downer. It saps your will to continue, and I believe
the psychological effects of such a nasty surprise actually affects the loss
of weight you experience - too many people who desperately want to lose
weight and who desperately want the regime to work, report that it "stops
working" after a while, even though they apparently stick to it. I think
the con job at the start is the culprit. If I told you this was easy, then
I'd be dooming you to the same fate as with other plans.
How hard will it be?
Very. The other trouble with starting a diet is that it's mood-driven. As I
hinted at earlier, you use food to counter low feelings, as a mood-enhancer.
When you start a diet, you are full of optimism that this one will work, and
for a while it does. You make stupendous sacrifices, such as skipping meals,
and forgoing treats. What you fail to realise is that these sacrifices are
fuelled by your optimism and good feeling. Moods change, and a week later, or
a month,or sometime down the line, you get get depressed about something, work
family, money, your car or whatever. You will find that the good feeling that
was keeping your motivation up is sapping away, and you will feel the need to
revert to your old familiar mood enhancer again. This is why you need more
than your mood to fuel your regime.
Test your thinking
The trick is that you have to be prepared to make the same difficult decisions
on day 100 as you do on day 1. There is a good way to test your thinking on
this. The first is to imagine you were planning to start your new diet on a
certain day, say the Monday of next week. Fatties like doing this, because it
gives them a few days grace to binge before the harsh regime starts. Now you
are going home on the Friday evening from a hard days work, your last weekend
of 'freedom' ahead of you. Suddenly you decide not to start the diet after
the weekend, you will start right then instead. All the 'planned eating' you
were looking forward to - you have just opted to give it a miss. A tough
decision. If you are unwilling, in your imagination, to start the diet right
that very second, than I guarantee you will fail in the long term. If you say
to yourself before a diet "I'll start next week" or "after Christmas" or any
time dependency, then you are going to fail again. If you can't start right
now, then don't start on another doomed diet.
Have what it takes
The whole point of that exercise is to illustrate how difficult it will be to
make the right choice. We always imagine it will get easier in time, we'll
get used to the new harsher regime, and we will be able to stop concentrating
so hard. This is a fallacy. Like an alcoholic, you're now at risk for life,
you are only on the wagon by being extremely careful each and every day. The
decision process won't get any easier - this is why people put back on any
weight they may take off on diets - when we 'relax' and stop concentrating, we
tart making poor decisions again. To do this successfully, we need to commit
to making good decisions forever.
Does it get any easier?
Making the right decision is as hard 100 days down the line as it is on day 1.
The food or drink hasn't become any less tasty, and our desire for it hasn't
gone away. The situations in life where food presents itself have not gone
away either: you will still be asked to lunch, you'll still be presented with
a plate of biscuits when visiting people, you'll still pass by the fast food
place. You'll still have birthdays, Christmases and friends and relatives
turning up, expecting to be fed. You have to make the right choices each day.
But one thing will begin to happen - you will start getting a good feeling
when you start making the right choices. In time you'll relish the chance to
put your new-found resolve to the test. Turning down the chance of food will
give you a buzz which doesn't quite cancel out the effects, but gives you
something to hang your hat on. But not at first, unfortunately. At first
you will be on your own.
Types of Eating - Binges
Know thine enemy
We'll now begin to examine practical ways to achieve your goals. Before we
discuss how to fight the cravings and lapses, it's a good idea to look at the
ways that we fall victim to them in the first place. Food is a stupid enemy.
It isn't clever, but it is everywhere and it never stops. Food doesn't trick
you into eating it. Instead it wears you down, it waits until you are feeling
down or unwell or unhappy. It waits quietly for a lapse in your concentration.
Once it has a foothold, unless you work doubly hard, it will take over. I'll
now go through the various scenarios you will encounter, hopefully you'll be
able to recognise some or all of them.
Compensation or reward eating
From personal experience, this is the most common type of eating. Work has
been hard all day, and the car didn't start, and it was raining, so I simply
deserve a treat, because life shouldn't have to be this hard. And who can
argue with that? The more insidious version of compensation eating is the
one where you tell yourself you deserve a treat because you've 'been good all
day' and not eaten much of anything. This food bender just undoes all the
good work you achieved all day by abstaining. You just gained 2 lbs - did
you deserve that?
I also refer to this one as emotional eating. Someone argues with you, or
you hear you might lose your job, or some tiles come off the roof, or your dog
bit a neighbour. These are times when your emotions run high, and as a food
addict, you turn to your drug of choice to control your emotions. I have had
times where later on, I've considered that I probably engineered the crisis
simply in order to justify the binge, or else overplayed a minor crisis just
so I could have a food binge.
I get this one a lot. With a sugar-low in late afternoon, I sometimes get into
unexplainable arguments with those around me. I realize I'm getting cranky or
depressed, and my immediately reaction is to counter the sugar-low with some
easy food. And it works, for a while at least. The same way a nip of whisky
helps an alcoholic calm down, and a toot on a cigarette helps a smoker calm
down. When examined this way, it's clear you are seeking to control a mood
swing with your usual drug of choice. If you are totally honest with yourself,
how many times do you exaggerate your crankiness to justify a binge?
This is the one where you feel ill, and it usually happens conveniently close
to the burger joint or the caf�, and while you'd normally be only too happy to
diet, since this is a medical emergency, it would be foolhardy to risk some
sort of collapse by not having something to eat immediately. I mean, dieting
is all right, but no point risking your health and maybe even your life. Sound
familiar? I once knew a fattie who used to stop every day at a burger place
because he felt ill. The little brother to the medical emergency one, is the
day when you really are ill, and decide to "ease up" on the diet, just for a
day. Then you eat like a trooper for 24 hours or more.
This is a difficult one for me. It's human nature to bond with your loved ones
over food. It's a basic human instinct to share food with those around you,
and life truly is a little more boring without these shared mealtimes, doing
something you both enjoy. It's just not the same sitting with a bowl of salad
or a single sandwich. They don't call it a "hearty" meal for nothing - for us
humans, eating a nice quantity of tasty food with a loved one is a natural
bonding experience, and if you are not careful, relationships can suffer for
lack of it. Most of my personal over-eating has been in this capacity, sharing
nice tasty meals with my wife, and not noticing that over the years, my share
had gotten bigger.
This is the general version of bonding eating, where you like to go out with
friends and colleagues and share a nice meal. I've found some people become
intimidated when you don't want to share in the eating. One acquaintance told
me once that I should have left the table and gone for a walk while they all
ate, since the sight of me abstaining put them off! In social groups, people
like to join in with the prevailing activity, and sitting there not eating
makes people think you're making a big point about it, showing off, or trying
to hog the limelight. Or worse still, that you are judging them for taking part,
being the martyr, making a point. Under these circumstances, it's easy to cave
in to peer pressure and share the meal to keep the peace.
This is the one where you "always have a curry on a Saturday night" - seems
harmless at first, but it's part of the whole habitual addiction problem. Try
not having a curry on a Saturday night and you'll see all the crankiness, all
the lack of bonding, and even the signs of serious life-threatening illness
described above. My personal habit is always having some snack to eat in the
middle of the evening with my wife, to go with our favourite TV shows. This
was a combination of habitual eating and bonding eating, so was a double whammy.
Always going to the fast-food place on a Saturday afternoon, or always having
a nice lunch on a Friday are all symptoms of this planned habitual eating. The
trouble is that the number of planned eating instances always grows, never
This is the birthday or the Christmas day, or the long-lost relative visiting
from Australia. Surely you can leave off the diet for just this one time?
When will you ever get another chance to share a pizza with uncle Mario from
Italy? When will be the next time you can have a kebab and a few beers with
your old school friend, only in the country for a weekend? And Christmas day
would not be worth having if you couldn't have all the trimmings and a few
mince pies. This is another difficult one to deal with, because it involves
a social or bonding aspect coupled with the feeling that there's some sort
of time constraint.
This is a tough one, and I experience it a lot. You can be weeks into a diet
and starting to feel quite smug with how well you're doing. Your trousers
feel a bit slacker, and you know you're shedding the pounds, so onwards and
upwards. Suddenly you find a sandwich half-eaten in your hand, or a packet
of biscuits half chomped. What the hell happened? It's not as if it was on
your mind, you were glad to be dieting. It's as if you blacked out, or a mist
came down. The biggest tragedy of this type of eating is not the calories
you consume when it happens, but the damage it does to your longer term diet.
A bad impulse binge can demoralize you into coming off a diet altogether, the
thinking being that if you can't control yourself, what hope is there?
This one is related to impulse eating, but is more easily explainable in terms
of the taboo. Human nature doesn't like to be told what to do, even by itself.
We all like to break or bend the rules, even when we know its for our own good.
People drive cars over the speed limit, we cycle without a helmet, we eat and
drink and smoke things we know are bad for us. Some people err on their tax
returns, or keep a cat in a rental apartment when they're not allowed. Show me
one person who sticks to all the rules and I'll show you a liar. Sometimes, we
get sick of all the rules, and the rules of dieting are no different. Now and
again, we deliberately flout our diet regime just for the hell of it.
This is a crossover of the social eating and the bonding eating. If you have a
partner or group of friends, or a single friend, who enjoys eating, they may
agree to abstain while you are dieting. Their resolve may not be as great as
yours, so when they fall off the diet, they may encourage you to join them.
This is not always direct, they may not ask you to, but you may become so
anxious about their depression about it that you come off your own diet in
order to make them feel better.
Types of Eating - Behaviours
The above types describe single instances of eating, or what I call binges.
When you are "off-diet" these binges come frequently and in no particular order.
You plan eating, and succumb to unplanned eating and impulsive eating. You
probably have no need of the illness or stress eating, since you don't have to
justify your eating in any way, so don't need excuses. You simply binge as
and when you want. And you want to. A lot. If you were previously on a diet,
or are planning to go back on one in the near future, your sense of deprivation
can make this effect even worse. This is why people yo-yo on and off diets.
One swallow does not a summer make
When you are on a diet, the way these binges happen is very different. If they
just happened singly and in isolation, it would be relatively easy to counter
them. But single binges aren't the real problem - so you eat 1000 calories
extra one day, easily countered the next. Unlike when "off-diet", where they
come randomly, the pressure of being on a regime means they come in well-formed
patters, some of which I'll go into here. The overriding theme of these diet
failures is the idea that you "ruin" the diet, as if it's some perfect score
that cannot sustain the odd lapse.
The anticipatory binge
You decide you're going on a diet on Monday. You psych yourself up about it,
you know this is going to be the one you stick at, you are going to be so
damned impressive, and by summer you will be your goal weight. You feel great
and in control, you impress yourself with your resolve and intention. In fact,
you are so sure this one will work, you may as well reward yourself with one
or two final binges before Monday. So you pack in more eating and drinking
into that final weekend than you would on a whole week. You deserve it,
considering what you're about to do. Enjoy yourself.
The false start
So, Monday comes around and your diet has begun. Day One, the big one, this is
the one, this will be it. Unfortunately, something comes up, and you fall at
the first hurdle. This is a particularly galling type of failure, full of
self-recrimination. You can't even manage one day, how are you going to last
6 months? The failure is usually so acute that you will postpone the diet
until the following Monday, and then you indulge in anticipatory binging for
another whole week. So the good intention of dieting has turned into ten days
of binging. And once you've allowed yourself the luxury of postponement once,
you are at higher risk of doing it again, and again.
If you get past the false start, you are usually good to go for a week or two.
Even the weakest of wills can muddle through for a fortnight, and if you are
monitoring your weight during this time, you will see a sharp bit of weight
loss, as your body sheds water during the initial burn. I've seen my weight
drop as much as 10 lbs in the first week. This is fantastic for the morale
and keeps you going through the first week or two. Then the danger week comes.
Your can't lose any more water, you're onto fat burn, which is much slower.
Also, with such rapid drops in previous weeks, your body plateaus for a week
or so, as it gets used to the new regime. Your bathroom scales no longer
provide motivation, and your original optimism wanes. The draw of your drug
seems to loom menacingly. This is the week you'll have a stress binge.
The ramp up
If you haven't fallen at the danger week (and most of the diets I've ever done
in the past don't get past week three, which is my personal danger week) then
sooner or later you will run up against a special occasion. In the past, this
has been an opportunity for a bout of Occasion Eating. On its own, this is
not a bad thing, but when you are on a diet, a strange phenomenon happens. In
the lead up to the event, your resolve goes. I think the thought process goes
along the lines of: I'm going to have a binge on Friday anyway, and that will
"ruin" the diet for this week, so I may as well ease off this week, what's the
point? So you start small at first, but gradually build up your extra eating
as a ramp up to the special day.
The day itself
You've been dieting, but probably not long enough for it to show, so your
friends and family don't say anything. Or worse still, they will lie to you
and say they can see you're thinner as a patronising form of encouragement.
This is meant as a nice gesture, but it only serves to make you more anxious.
You've not been drinking or eating recently, so the first hit of either is
like a pure shot or heroin in your bloodstream. If you're not careful, you
binge and binge, the excuse of the actual occasion long forgotten in a frenzy
of binging. You may find yourself fake-refusing things because "you're on
a diet" but you still manage to eat way more than you should.
Next day you are full of regret for what you've done. There was no need to
eat quite so much, and now you've "ruined" the diet. A milder form of the
anticipatory binge comes into play - the hangover binge. You say to yourself
"well the diet is ruined for this week anyway" and use that as a justification
for continuing to eat unwisely for a couple more days. "I'll go back on the
diet again next week." One day where you might have allowed yourself to come
off the diet has now become over a week of binging. All the salt and sugar
means your body has swelled up again, retaining all the water you lost, so
you will find yourself back at your previous pre-diet weight or thereabouts.
You will complain at the injustice that "one day off the diet" means you've
put it all back on. Diet failure is imminent.
Diets unravel slowly at first. Usually after danger week, during that time
when you are losing a nice bit of weight, slowly but steadily. It no longer
excites you any more. People have noticed you're losing weight, but those
compliments have passed. There's nothing new on the horizon except weeks of
boring dieting. This is more dangerous than the danger week. What usually
happens is that you decide that you know how to do this, and that means you
don't have to be so strict. Weight loss is only a couple of pounds a week
anyway, a biscuit here or there, or a drink in the evening isn't going to
impact that very much. I also call this the "look ma no hands" period. You
are super confident in your ability, and lose concentration. Before you know
it, you're "allowing" yourself stuff that stops your weight loss dead, or slows
it. The creeping pace of your weight loss demotivates you. It's "stopped
working". Extra salt or sugar makes you retain water, so you may even see
your weight go up again. Demotivation and diet failure follow.
Coming "off-diet" is an exhilarating experience at first. Tinged with regret
and disappointment, this self-loathing fuels a series of binges as you descend
into a succession of red mists, trying to escape your disappointment. You will
probably salve your conscience by saying that you'll try again soon. Deep down
you know this is yet another diet failure, and why should the next one be any
different? These bad feelings and high emotions need calming, and your drug
of choice is readily available and cheap. Numb that pain.
The obvious motivations
Everybody who wants to lose weight has their own personal reasons for doing so,
finding love, a career, getting fit for a sport they love, looking good. Fatties
are judged harshly in society, and nobody wants to be considered stupid or ugly
when there's a chance they can change people's perceptions of them. There's
also the health aspects - overweight people are more prone to serious diseases,
such as diabetes, cancers, heart disease, and respiratory disease. Minor ailments
such as chafed skin, cellulite, sore joints, digestive problems can make a fat
person's life a misery. Always being sore or feeling unwell adds to the desire
to feel better by turning to their drug of choice, in a self stoking cycle.
It's obvious the sensible reasons for dieting aren't really enough to overcome
the difficulties of dieting. Relying on some far-off goal of being slim is
not going to help you when you're still 6 months or a year away from it. People
who need to lose 10 lbs or so can easily be motivated by such goals, because
to them it's achievable in the short term. They are not enough for people who
are 50 plus pounds heavier than their ideal. Also, if you've been overweight
for many years, even for life, then you have no idea what it feels like to be
slim and healthy. While you can imagine the look of it, you have no way to
imagine the feeling of it, and it's the feeling that will motivate you, not
the mere image.
Personal and vivid
What you have to do is generate a personal and vivid mind-picture of what you
will feel like when you are thin. This may be difficult, if you've never been
thin, or it was a long time ago, but bear with me. Think of all the traits and
behaviours you may exhibit now - greed, laziness, bad temper. The new image
will be the opposite of those bad traits. The future you will do all the things
you don't do now - you will skip meals without even thinking about it, you
will choose to walk to work or to the shops for a change. You will find time
away from the television to play sports, and you will enjoy meeting people and
consequently people will enjoy meeting you. You will like having your photo
taken. You will enjoy wearing clothes which show off your arms or legs. Your
clothes will be well-fitting and well-made. You will be more successful as a
Lie down, close your eyes, and think of this future you as often as you can, at
least twice a day - when you wake up and when you go to bed. Imagine this person
living across the street from you. Ask yourself, what will they be doing today
or tomorrow? Who will they be meeting? What will they be wearing and what will
they be doing? More importantly, consider the choices this future you person
will make as they go through the day, about food and everything else. You will
notice that future you simply doesn't have enough hours in the day to waste them
worrying about food or watching TV or sitting around doing nothing. Future you
isn't hiding away at home, waiting for life to begin.
Write it down
I've found in the past that writing down a day in the life of future you helps.
This is your fantasy, so you can have them do whatever you want. Perhaps the
future you is a local sporting hero, or is a hit with the opposite sex, or is
immensely successful at work. Perhaps future you is a dedicated family person
and spends a lot of time helping family and friends, or doing work for charity.
Do not be embarrassed about making this future you the best person you could
ever hope to meet. Don't weigh them down with faults, even likeable ones. If
you want the future you to be attractive, don't make them shy, even if you think
it's a good thing. Try confident instead. If you want them to be rich and
successful and well-dressed, don't make them showy - let them wear their success
with ease. You have to like this person. Write down what happens to this
future you from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. Keep
this little story and read it once a week or so.
Stay with it
I know that all sounds a bit airy-fairy, but it has a purpose. Part of the
problem with a long-term diet is that you sometimes lose sight of the direction
you are travelling. You know the long term goals, but if you're adrift in
the middle, still far from your goal, sometimes you can lose heart. It's a
sort of loneliness. You are on a long journey, and even though you may have
friends and family right there with you, you are still very much alone on the
road. Even if you meet up with fellow dieters, such as at organised weight-loss
clubs, there is still a vague separation in play, you can sympathise but not
really share in each other's journeys. This is because the battles of weight
loss are not fought in a church hall or social club. They are fought when
you're apart from your fellow dieters, all alone. Weight loss clubs simply
talk about the war, when the fighting begins, you're on your own.
What you're doing by making this future you image is giving yourself someone
you can ask for advice. If you spend a long time imagining them, you will
know instinctively how future you will react to any given situation. If you
are faced with a moment of temptation - an old friend drops in and wants to
go to lunch - you can imagine future you in the same situation, and ask what
they would do in that circumstance. Perhaps future you would suggest a long
walk in the park instead? Or perhaps future you would be delighted to go,
but only have a starter or a light salad. The future you is wiser than you
are, because not only do they know everything you know, they know a lot more,
because they've already lost the weight and changed their lives. Listen to
their advice. The more you follow the advice of future you, the more like
them you will become, and eventually you will be that person.
Carrot and stick
Dog trainers often say that positive reinforcement is more effective than
punishment as a way to train animals. This may be true for animals, but I'm
afraid we humans are less eager to please our trainers, and more likely to
slack off. As well as there being many good reasons for getting slim, it's
worth considering the reasons why we cannot stay as we are. This will give
us more motivation to change into the people we want to become.
Fat people are ugly. As mentioned in the introduction, this might be purely
an arbitrary judgement made by society, and as such is mostly unfair. But
that doesn't help us get very far - it may be an unfair judgement by society,
but unfortunately for us, we all live in that society, and its views aren't
about to change any time soon. So you can either fight it or go with it.
Remember, we're drawing a line under any issues of unfairness, so no more
whining. If being ugly is a matter of opinion, and most people's opinion is
that fat people are ugly, then I'm afraid we ARE ugly. Big and Beautiful,
and Fat and Proud etc. are all ways we pretend it isn't so. If truth be told,
we have found ourselves thinking "look at that fat pig" and then stop with
a guilty gasp. Ask future you what they think of fat people. I'm sure the
future you will try to be kind, but you'll know what they really think.
Fat people are generally in poorer health than their thin counterparts. Some
of these ailments are longer term, such as heart disease and joint problems,
so a 20 year old fattie may not be bothered by them as yet. But they are in
the post. As mentioned previously, there are numerous minor complaints which
fat people suffer from, most of which would clear up with the lost weight. I
used to suffer from very bad asthma when I was overweight, I was on a steroid
inhaler as well as a normal ventolin one. When I lost the 80 lbs, my asthma
cleared up completely, no inhalers required. Breathing problems, as well as
ailments of the digestive tract, such as heartburn, constipation, piles,
Irritable Bowel Syndrome are all symptoms of excess weight and many of which
will clear up almost totally with weight loss. Fat people have more skin area
and tend to sweat more, and they find it harder to keep extremities clean. The
ultimate is the 600 lb, lying on my side on a bed in a hospital being fed
hamburgers by loving but ultimately stupid relatives, as you see on many TV
shows about the subject. You might not be that bad, but each one of them was
once the weight you are, so don't get complacent.
Lazy or stupid
This one hurts the most, but fat people are lazy or stupid. Or maybe both.
As a person with several university degrees, this one used to rankle with me
a lot. I know I'm not stupid, so I must be lazy. Or maybe I am stupid and
don't know it. Look at it from their point of view: If a man takes a large
stone and hits himself on the head repeatedly until he's sore, ill and on
the way to an early grave you would tell him to stop it. If he keeps on
doing it, you would consider him a dangerous cretin. Remember that society
doesn't accept that eating is a food addiction, it's just something we can
all choose to do more or less of. If you are choosing to endanger your own
health, then you're no better than that man smacking himself with rocks.
I work in a professional environment, and when I've been fat, I've had to
work twice and hard and be twice as smart as everybody else, just to get
my fair share of recognition. Such is life, stop complaining, or get thin!
This one is more of a consequence rather than a cause. When society makes ot
clear that it hates you, then you tend not to want too much to do with society.
Fattism is the new racism, people feel free and even justified to shout things
and be rude to fat people, in much the same way as people used to shout racist
abuse at certain minorities. This may well change in time, but the upshot is
that many fat people just don't think it's worth the bother. Many don't like
to eat in public, and many cannot find well-fitting clothes in their size, so
do not feel like going out in the elasticated waists and tent-like blousons that
fit them. Instead they tend to sit at home on the internet or watching TV,
and this fuels the idea that they are boring. But in reality it's just a
withdrawal from a harsh society.
Extending the image
I have developed several thought experiments in this vein to help you get
motivated. One of them is bound to resonate with you. Try to imagine one
or more people in your past who loved you and thought the world of you. It
has to be someone you can't see now, perhaps you lost touch or they passed
away. This person had great hopes for you, and would love to see you the
success they always hoped for you. For me, there was a particular teacher
in primary school who considered me something of a child prodigy. She would
tell me that I would go far at University. Perhaps for you it would be a nice
teacher from school, a grandparent, or a childhood friend or sweetheart. It
may be your best friend from childhood who you never see any more. It has
to be someone you don't see any more and who doesn't know you are fat.
The flip side
Now imagine someone from your past you thought disapproved of you, again it
has to be someone you don't see any more. This may have been a stern teacher,
some people from your class who didn't like you. Maybe even a parent or other
relative who always thought you'd turn out bad or useless. They would just
love to see you turned out to be a fat slob, it would make their day. For me,
I went to a strict religious school, where I was a little bit lazy and often
had teachers who disliked me make dire proclamations made about my future.
There were kids who had taken against me for some reason, and meeting them in
my fat state would be a living nightmare - they'd have grown up and become
less openly cruel, but you would know what they were thinking.
Running the gauntlet
Now you have to imagine yourself going to a special birthday party. It's a
surprise party, so you haven't had time to shower or dress. You have food
stains on your shirt and your hair needs cut. You walk into a room and
suddenly it's balloons and streamers and everybody shouting "surprise!".
As well as all your current friends and family, in this imaginary party,
the people you imagined above are all there. There people who loved you,
and the people who hated you. You are standing there in the middle of the
room, looking a state. In your imagining, look into the eyes of the people
who loved you and hoped for great things for you, and look at the sense of
sadness and disappointment in their eyes. You have let them down. Now turn
to those who hated you and look into their eyes. They are smirking at how
you've lived down to their expectations. You have delighted them.
As others see us
The more vivid you can imagine this the better. Part of the problem with
being fat is that we can't see ourselves very much, and as long as we stay
away from full-length mirrors and cameras, we can continue to not see what
we really look like to people. By exposing our true present self to the
people we wish to delight, and the people we dread to delight, it becomes
intolerable to remain as we are. If you felt tearful when you imagined your
kindly grandmother or helpful schoolteacher seeing you for the first time
in years, then you are moving in the right direction. If you felt rage when
you saw those who hated you smirking and ridiculing you, then you have
already begun to muster your energies. Not all of the people you imagined
have passed on. You might meet them tomorrow. Prepare now.
A sense of urgency
Urgency is the watchword, because there really is not much time to spare.
Your life is ticking away, and every month you spend overweight is one less
month to enjoy the life that the imaginary future you lives. You may be due
to meet the love of your life in 6 months time, or you get the chance to
interview for the job of your dreams. Perhaps you get a chance to travel,
or perhaps you are in the newspaper or TV for something, and everybody you
ever knew says "Oh I knew them years ago, look how fat they've turned out."
You're not ready to do these things now, so you put them on hold, and on
hold, and on hold, and your life is slipping away waiting around. Get
started now so that you are already future-you by the time you get there.
If you'd started 6 months ago, you might be there by now. And in 6 months
time, you will really regret that you had the chance and missed it.
Fire with fire
So now you're fired up and ready to go. You understand what kinds of binge
eating you indulge in, and you understand why you fall off diets. You also
can use your imagination to muster up motivation by visualising the future
person you want to be. You can summon courage by imagining your feelings when
what you are now meets influential people from your past. You know you may
not have much time before one of these meetings comes true, so you know you
need to act now. Now you know what you want to do, you need to know how to
arm yourself to do it. Every time you've failed in the past it's not been
through lack of grit or courage, but for lack of weapons.
Big start - big nothing
The secret of fighting your overall inability to stick with a diet is to
ignore the bigger picture altogether. People going on a diet make a big fuss
about the "start" of the diet, as if the first day had a special significance.
The assumption is that the act of starting the diet is the most difficult
decision you will have to make is plain wrong. Deciding to diet is easy.
Starting to diet is easy, because you're not hungry yet. The first day you
are fuelled by pure excitement, it's easy to diet (false start binges excepted)
Don't make a fuss about the start, since it's the easiest day of your diet
in many ways. My advice is not to even tell people you are on a diet until
at least a month in. Some people say the "shame factor" of making it public
will help keep them on it, but any serial dieter will know that is rubbish.
Get more excited
So ignore the big picture, the start is just one day of many. You need to
make every day you stick to the diet a special day. If you start a diet
on the Monday, the Friday afterwards is much much more special than the
start day. And the following Wednesday is more special still. Celebrate
diet anniversaries, the first week, the first fortnight, the first month.
Make a deal of them to yourself. Tick the days off a calendar, the longer
the stream of ticks, the more of an achiever you are. Recording successful
days like this helps you to keep track of the bigger picture so you don't
have to think about it when dealing with the day to day toughness of the
dieting regime. Allow yourself to become more excited the longer you last.
Wait not weight
I would advise against using weight loss as a measure of your success. I
know weight is measured in kilogrammes or pounds, and how can you tell how
much of it you've lost unless you measure it? My problem with this is
twofold. Firstly, dieters become obsessed with the weight, down to the
ounce, and any obsession is dangerous for motivation. Secondly, the human
body isn't a ten gallon drum, and dieting doesn't just gradually empty it.
Weight can fluctuate, by up to 2.2 lbs per day, depending on the time of
day you measure it. Also, levels of sugar and salt in the blood will
determine how much water your cells retain. This can make the swings
much bigger on a daily basis, I've experienced as much as 8 lbs in a
single day due to water retention. This sort of blip in the obsessive
daily weigh-in can be devastating to the morale and motivation. Measure
your success in terms of waistband inches, days on the diet, money you
save from not snacking or drinking. Weigh yourself infrequently, by all
means, perhaps once a fortnight or once a month, but it's not as important
as how you are feeling. The actual pounds lost is more to do with the
big overall picture, not the day to day nitty gritty.
Nip it in the bud
Now we don't have to think about the long arc from here to there, we can
concentrate on fighting the binges on a day to day basis. As we saw above,
one binge can be the catalyst for days or even weeks of associated binging.
If you can control the binge for that one day, then the rest will stop too.
The simple secret to stopping each and every variety of binge is to realize
the binge can only happen if you decide to let it, and you can nip it in the
bud. Up until now, you've fallen back on the excuse that you could not
control your binging, but the truth is you make a conscious decision to
allow it to take over. This you must stop - and as early in the process as
Ding Ding - next round
This sounds obvious at first, but it represents the single most gruelling
battle you will fight, because after you win the bare-knuckle fight with a
binge, you will have to go back and do it again, and again. Forever. If
you let one binge get the better of you, then it will lead to another. And
once you succumb to one binge, all its friends know you are a sucker and
come knocking at your door. One lapse on a Friday lunchtime at the pub
with friends will almost certainly lead to a weekend of gluttony, and then
you may as well wait until next week to get back on the diet again. You know
this is true. So fight each and every one of them, and fight to win. If you
do get beaten by a surprise sucker punch, grit your teeth and don't let it
Nipping in the bud sounds easy, but it's not. It requires practice and skill.
Each type of binge requires its own methods of nipping in the bud, but they
all rely to some extent or other on the concept of insertion and distraction.
In summary, these are two techniques you train yourself to use to put something
in between you and temptation. Insertion puts in a time delay in between a
need and a satisfaction of that need. Distraction is where you deliberately
flip your thinking to some unrelated subject and remove yourself from the
arena of combat.
This is a hard-to-learn technique, but you can apply it to lots of areas of
your life, not just to binging. I first learned the technique from a book by
Richard Carlson called "Stop Thinking, Start Living". He discusses it in
relation to the unhappy thoughts that come along when you are depressed. In
a surprising departure from ordinary psychoanalysis, which makes you dwell
on your problems and hang-ups, he says the best way to deal with bad thoughts
you don't want is to let them go immediately. Thoughts come and go, and you
can't control them, what you can control is which ones you choose to react to.
When a thought of eating comes along, make the decision to ignore it. Force
your brain to think of something completely different for 10 seconds, think
of your favourite TV star lying on a beach, think about a great goal you saw
at a football match, think about a long ladder you saw a window cleaner up
once a long time ago. Think about anything EXCEPT the food thought, and I
guarantee in 10 seconds, with practise, it will have flown away. The more
you do it, the easier it becomes.
Have a go
Try it now. As a food addict, you probably think about food all the time.
Just sit quietly for 10 minutes, letting your mind wander. Sooner or later
you'll wonder what you are having for dinner tonight, or think about the
new takeaway down the street, or the chocolate bar you have in the desk drawer.
As soon as you feel the thought coming and see it as a food thought, then
immediately think about something else. Have a selection of vivid distracting
images ready beforehand, perhaps a huge explosion, a building collapsing, a
naked lady (or a naked man), a house of cards collapsing, a balloon bursting,
a drummer doing a final drum solo on a song. Anything which is vivid and you
can grab onto a focus on with all your might. At first you may find the food
though trying to sneak in around the edges, but get violent with it. Use a
big Al Capone gun to blow it away, squirt it with a hose, zap it with a
Ghostbusters proton collider. Jump on a huge roller-coaster and shoot away
from it. Practice this technique over and over, it really works. Soon you
will automatically switch to distracting images every time something dangerous
comes into your mind.
Insertion is an old method. Have you ever been told "count to ten" when some
thing or someone has irritated you? This is insertion. Most high emotions
are fuelled by a sudden release of adrenalin into your bloodstream, in years
gone by this was to provide extra energy for muscles in the "fight or flight"
response. If a lion jumped out on you, you had to either fight it off, or run
away, and the rush of adrenalin is for this purpose. When in a high emotional
state in the modern world, we rarely need the energy, but the adrenalin still
comes and puts us on edge when we are stressed. Fortunately, the adrenalin
drains out of the blood fairly quickly, so the idea of insertion is to give
yourself some time before you make a decision to follow an eating instinct.
Most of the time, half a minute later you are suitably relaxed to make the
right choice again. Next time you feel stressed and want to snack, try it.
Binge scenarios revisited
Let's go through the binge scenarios again, this time showing how you can use
the twin swords of distraction and insertion to beat them.
Compensation or reward eating
You had a lousy day, and you hardly ate a thing. You deserve a reward. And yes
you do. But what you don't deserve is to lose all your hard won progress in one
bout of self-pitying greed. If reward eating is your gig (and it certainly is
mine) then you need to find some other way of rewarding yourself, quick smart.
For this one, the sword of distraction is your weapon of choice, you need to
take your mind off the acquisition of food and onto some other enjoyable thing.
This might be an early night with your partner, it might be a trip to the cinema.
You might treat yourself to a new book. What you consider a treat has to be a
your choice. Think back to before you became obsessed and addicted to food.
You must have had interests, things which really stoked you. Perhaps it was
music, or watching sport or the theatre. My personal one was to go for a drive
all alone in the evening, windows down, stereo up like some teenager. I'm sure
there is something Freudian about that, but I enjoy driving. And if you worry
that you can't afford a book or a movie ticket, think of the money you saved
by not buying that go-large meal from the takeaway. Future you would be proud.
Your emotions are running high, and as a food addict, that cannot be allowed to
happen - you must have a food fix, now! There is no way mere distraction will
deter you from your frenzied demands for food. The secret is to become unafraid
of the sensation of hunger - learn to love it, it means you are burning fat! If
it feels like fear and anxiety, remind yourself that's just a quirk of evolution.
Your weapon for emotional highs is insertion. Emotions are like nettle stings,
they hurt like mad at the time, and you'd do anything to get rid of the sensation.
But if you wait a little while, the pain subsides. If you find yourself
absolutely needing that food in order to stay sane at a stressful situation,
don't try to deny yourself it. Instead, admit you need your fix, but bargain
with yourself that you will wait for half an hour before having it. If you still
have an absolute need to have it after the half-hour, then you can have it.
Nine times out of ten, by the time you've waited, you've calmed down, and you
realize that it would have been a big mistake to eat right then. For the one
out of ten times you still need a frenzied meal, then have it, but make it
snappy. You can chalk today down to extreme circumstances, and you can live
with the guilt and the stern stares of future you, watching over your shoulder.
Beating the mid afternoon sugar low is a simple matter, and it's a distraction
technique, but it involves eating. Cranky sugar lows tend to happen about 4
hours after eating, so are more prevalent about 4 in the afternoon. So every
day at 3pm, you eat a medium sized apple. Fructose is a natural unrefined sugar,
and will absorb more slowly into your blood, reducing the "sugar hit" effect
that a biscuit or other refined snack would give you. Sugar hits are bad because
as insulin is released to deal with the sugar, it reduces your blood sugar to
even lower than it was before, leading to more crankiness half an hour after a
sugary snack. A piece of fruit smooths over the rough edges. Try it.
I feel ill, I shouldn't risk my health by dieting when I'm ill. Logic can let
you overcome this one. Unless you are a diagnosed diabetic, there is no danger
in reducing calories when you're ill. Look at the extra weight you're carrying,
you have enough reserves for a year! If you were truly unwell, then you wouldn't
be able to face a meal, and that's the logic you should use to beat this one.
If you're already ill, you're probably sitting around doing nothing, so you can
get away with less energy anyway. Don't use it as an excuse to binge, because
you are only kidding yourself.
This is related to the reward eating, in that the solution to the loss of these
bonding moments with your nearest and dearest is to come up with some alternatives.
There are more ways to bond with someone than just sharing a meal. Going for a
walk together, making up limericks together, have sex, taking up a pastime together.
Whatever floats your boat as a couple should be exploited as a way of bonding. Try
to find pastimes you both like, or agree to do one each of what the other likes
if you cannot. make sure the pastime involves close interaction, so salsa dance
class is better than painting, for instance. Find a TV show you both enjoy, and
buy the series on DVD and watch them and discuss them whenever you need to bond.
You may find that sharing this time more profitably with someone increases your
sense of bond far more than sharing takeaway pizza with them ever did.
This is one of the few times when you will not be able to simply avoid temptation
by not going to the restaurant. Sometimes you need to go to the lunch, if it's
a business lunch, for instance. For this one you need to fall back on your image
of yourself which you developed earlier. The people you are going with know you
are fat, and they are expecting you to order large, because people like their
preconceptions confirmed - it gives them a warm glow to see their expectations
are correct. How would future you look at you, if they came along to the lunch?
What would future you whisper in your ear as you waited to order? "Just have
the starter!" perhaps? Surprise your colleagues. If they ask what's up, just
say you're not very hungry but the starter was delicious. Don't boast about the
diet, don't mention it at all. Be enigmatic and interesting.
Habit eating is difficult to break, because as soon as you try to change the
habit, it morphs from a habit eating binge to a stress eating binge. Now that
you are saying you can't have your usual Saturday night pizza, suddenly that's
the only thing you can think about, and you simply must have it! You have to
use distraction techniques to counter it. If it's an evening habit, then try
to make it until bedtime, suggest an early night if you can, watch a movie.
Anything to get through the hours. If your habit is during the day, then have
a drink instead, tea or water. Don't drink too much coffee, since it has been
shown to interfere with fat burning in large quantities. Try to tell yourself
you only have a certain limited time to last, bedtime for evenings, or home time
for work. Closing the time frame down to a couple of hours, and then distracting
yourself can help you last.
You cannot really avoid eating at an occasion, without looking like a spoilsport.
The trick is to eat as little as possible. The alternative is to work out your
extra calorie count, and then cut if off each of the following days allowances.
Some weight clubs use this theory in reverse, you save up spare calories from
the days of the week to allow a small indulgence at the weekend, so it's a proven
method. Again, try to bag yourself up with liquids rather than solids, as people
are less likely to notice you under-indulging if they see you with a drink in your
hand. Avoid postprandial snacking - claim you are stuffed if mice pies or a
dessert are offered - people are less likely to feel offended if they think you
are satiated, rather than abstaining. Imagine what future you would do.
Honesty is the main weapon in the fight against impulse binging. It's sometimes
convenient for fatties to claim they could not control themselves, but the truth
is at some conscious level, a decision is made to allow it to happen. I call this
the 'mist', there is a split second of time after the idea of eating comes into
your mind, and you have a choice whether to follow it or ignore it. By habit,
fatties tend to follow it, and allow it to take them over - the 'mist'. By being
ruthless in dismissing the thought as it happens, and being honest about the
decision you make to follow it, you can with practise stop impulsive eating.
Distraction is used in getting rid of the bad thought.
You're only cheating yourself, and the trick is to realise this early on. Before
allowing yourself to follow your taboo eating binge, just remind yourself that
you are the lawmaker, they are your rules. Nowhere in this diet plan have I said
you categorically cannot eat what you want. You just have to see that by eating,
you are only stealing calories from yourself. If you eat now, then you won't lose
weight this week, or you may have to curtail eating for the rest of the week to make
up for the binge. Future you wouldn't do it, so why should you?
You have to be strong for all of you, and also ruthless with yourself about your
motivations. Your good intentions to cheer up a hungry partner or friend may just
be you trying to justify your own lapse in the name of someone else. I've found
in the past that you cannot be responsible either for their own diet regime, or
indeed any low feelings they are having because of it. If they insist they need
a feed to cheer up, agree with them, go along to the restaurant or take-away place,
and let them buy what they want. If you have to pretend you will share in it, then
do so, but you know from the outset you are not going to have anything. This
requires a bit of strength and ruthlessness.
Walk the line
Being on a diet is a bit like walking along the ridge of a mountain. For the
beginner mountaineer, it's best to stick rigidly to the path along the ridge. As
you get more experienced you can venture to the right or left of the path, where
the ground starts to slope away a little. But even then, the farther you get from
the path, the steeper it gets until you plummet into the valley. Dieters sometimes
give themselves a break, cut themselves some slack, a week or two into the diet, but
this is far too early to be taking such risks, one trip and you're gone. 10 weeks
into the diet, perhaps you can step away from the path a little, because you will be
used to the risks and your experience will keep you safe. But never far.
As well as these specific situations, eating opportunities can come up at any time.
If you follow these general rules, you should be safe:
- Avoid having stockpiles of any food or drink in the house
- Don't carry pocket money when you are outside or at work
- Make a pact with yourself not to eat any food you haven't prepared yourself
- Always try to leave 1/3 of any meal you eat
- When going into a restaurant, always consider a starter instead of a main meal
- Drink water when hungry, and with every meal to bulk it out
- Do not deliberately put yourself into temptation's way
- Get into the habit of not changing your mind, you say no and stick with it
- Learn to dismiss any thought to do with food, all the time
- It's never too late to stop, catch yourself at the fridge door
- Every time you eat, ask yourself if future you would do it
I hate exercise
Here's a surprising admission, I hate exercise. It's tedious and it hurts.
Spending an hour on a treadmill in a sweaty gym to burn off the equivalent of a
Mars Bar is not my idea of fun. I'd rather just not eat the Mars Bar. This
highlights one of the sad facts about exercise that doctors and healthcare
professionals always fail to point out: it's not very efficient. It's FAR more
efficient to simply not eat the calories than it is to burn them off. But we're
told and told that we have to get active in order to lose weight, until it's
a mindless mantra.
How much weight does it lose
As we saw when considering the slice of bread, 3,500kcals equals around one pound
of body fat. A fat person doing jogging will burn up about 500kcals on a 45 mins
jog. So doing that 45 min jog every day will burn off an extra 1 pound per week.
Can you imagine running for 45 mins a day and only losing a single pound for your
trouble? This is why I don't like exercise, it sucks on a pound for pain basis.
If I want lose a pound, I skip the 500 kcals a day - the equivalent of a shop
bought sandwich and a can of cola. That's got to be less painful.
Not the whole story
What we haven't considered here is metabolic rate. A lot of fatties claim they
have a "slow metabolism" which they think means that fewer calories means more fat
than ordinary people. Research has shown that fat people's metabolic rates are
pretty much average compared with the population, so that myth won't fly. In
reality a 45 min jog will burn 500kcals during the run, but for the next 24 hours,
your base metabolic rate rises, and you will burn at least another 500kcals over
and above your normal metabolic rate. This is a freebie for fatties, since as
you become fitter, this effect diminishes. It's a two for one offer.
Even so, it's still pretty lame, and if you are like me, you really hate formal
exercise. So is there another way to burn extra calories without pulling on
training shoes? Thankfully there is. Have you ever noticed thin people fidget?
They can't keep still, they tap their feet when they're sitting, twirl pencils,
get up and walk about when they're on the phone. Compare and contrast with the
average fattie - we can sit almost motionless for hours, be it in front of
the TV or the computer. The only time you see us moving is when the pizza
delivery arrives, and boy can we move then!
Calories for free
What we need to develop is a fidget habit. And we need to start doing the little
things under our own steam again. Remember way back at the start I said the
main difference between fat people and skinny people was a slice of bread and a
TV remote control? What I was getting at was the way we have become adapted to
doing everything from a seated position. If you got up and changed the TV channel
10 times a night you would burn 30 calories simply standing up. Walking at 3mph
burns 8 calories per minute, so walking 10 minutes to the local shop and then 10
minutes back instead of driving gets you an extra 160 kcals. Using the stairs
burns 13 kcal per minute. You don't have to make major changes to your life and
you could be burning upwards of 200 or 300 extra calories a day - that's the same
as a half hour jog - but without a smelly sand shoe in sight!
It all adds up
Because you're not having to take time out of your day to do it, this is all free,
and while it may be small beer on a day to day basis, it all adds up. So how much
weight would 200 kcals burned walking in a day get you over a month? 200 a day is
1400 a week, which is 2 lbs a month extra weight loss you didn't have to strain a
muscle for. Over 6 months that is almost a whole stone for just using the stairs
at work. And remember, it all adds up - this is in addition to any dieting you
But you can choose not to do it, and all that happens is you need to diet a little
bit longer or harder to get the same effect. It's completely up to you. But just
ask future you how they got in such good shape. You know it makes sense. I can
categorically state that you can lose exactly the same amount of weight with no
formal exercise. But you will get there a little bit quicker if you do a little.
Mind over matter
One of the most difficult things about dieting is that it's a purely intellectual
intention which has to be manifested in the physical world. By that I mean it's
mind over matter - hunger and eating are purely physical phenomenon, and you have
to use a fleeting untouchable power of mind to control it. You can't see your
mind, it can't reach out and physically slap on you the wrist when it sees you
reaching for the fridge door. This means it's easy to ignore if you don't bring
some of your mind into matter.
Make it real
One tried and tested way of representing mental constructs in the physical is by
way of a memory aid. This used to be by tying a knot in your handkerchief, so that
when you took our your hankie to blow your nose, you'd be reminded of the thing
you hoped to remember. In the same way you can litter the physical with reminders
of your intention.
Your guardian pamphlet
One way which can help is to carry around with you a small memento of what you
are trying to achieve. It has to be small enough to be carried around in your
wallet, purse or top pocket, because the idea is that you whip it out when you
are feeling stressed or tempted. On this memento you should have empowering
images and words which remind you why you are doing what you do.
Take a piece of card or thick paper and cut it so that when folded once, it makes
a credit card sized pamphlet. To get the size and shape, trace around two credit
cards lying on your paper/card edge to edge. You can have it opening on the long
edge or the short edge, whatever you prefer. This gives you a small secret opening
book where you can put two lists.
Left page - Carrot
The left page is your encouragement, the carrot. List here all the good reasons
for not eating. Mention the people who want to see you succeed, including the
people from your thought experiment who have passed on or you don't see any more.
You also put your encouraging ideals here, what you'll do when you're thin, the
sorts of things future you will do and go, etc.
Right page - Stick
On the right, you put the people who would love to see you fail, those bullies who
would have a good snigger at seeing you in your current state. You put down all
the bad things about being the weight you are, the aches, pains, the tent-like clothes,
feeling self-conscious all the time. I used to have a small photograph of myself
with a bare torso, rolls of fat everywhere. It would do the trick.
On the front page - instant effect
The front is for instant effect - if you have a wallet or purse with a photo window,
you can stick your pamphlet in there and just have this photo showing. You should
cut out and stick a photograph of the image which represents the future you the
closest - no words allowed - it may be a photograph of a dream you, a pop star or
movie star, or it may be the photograph of someone from your list, good or bad. It
may be an image of a lifestyle you seek, a car you want, a place you want to visit
as future you.
Back page - useful advice
On the back page, you should list your top ten encouraging advice. This should be
personal to you, but should include advice on how to deal with stress eating, how
to distract yourself when you feel tempted etc. The techniques you develop for
insertion and distraction will be personal to you, so only you know what words will
The idea is that when you feel low, hungry or anxious, you can take out your pamphlet
and read it over, and this reminds you what you agreed on day one. If you forget to
take it out, give yourself a memento for your memento, a post-it note on the fridge
door, or I used to scribble on the back of my hand where I'd be sure to see it when
I reached for something. After a while, I didn't have to even take the pamphlet out,
the reminder of it was enough to remind me what it said inside. And remember to
read your "future you" story every so often.
Recording your progress
At the start, I advised against weighing yourself all the time, and that is still
good advice. Once a week or once a fortnight is OK, and perhaps you will want to
draw up a weight loss chart to note your progress on. If you have Wii Fit, then it
will record your weight and BMI for you. A much better way of recording your way
through this regime is to buy one of those large wall-planners with every day of
the year as a square, then with a green and red marker pen, hash out each day you
are on the diet, in green if you were good or red if you lapsed. As well as letting
you see how long you've been on it (which is a far greater achievement than the
pounds lost) you can see how few times you actually fall off the diet, and gives
you a sense that any particular 'bad day' doesn't have to 'ruin' the whole arc of
the weight loss.
When you get there
At some point, you'll decide you've lost enough weight. I know this seems like
a distant dream at the moment, but I've been there. I took off 80 lbs in about
4 months, and I had a great couple of years - started running again, travelled
to America on the plane in their economy seats, bought off-the-shelf clothes. Over
time I forgot these principles, and I've put most of it back on again over the last
4 years. So while you may think I've been smug all the way through this, I'm not.
I'm back at day 1 with you, so good luck to you - and to myself!
Drop me a line
, or leave a comment below, let me know if this helps you.