After researching and writing three novels about the obesity epidemic, it’s a wonder to me that all of us Americans aren’t all morbidly obese by now. Over the course of writing them, I kind of fell into these ten rules to keep my weight down. They work together and following #1 makes the rest much easier, especially after I have a rule-breaking incident. Your mileage may vary, of course.
- Quit sugar. Sugar does a lot of bad stuff: it ages the body faster, it weakens the immune system, it puts my brain in a coma. In the long-run it may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and various cancers. However, even worse than all that is that it ruins my taste buds. If fresh veggies taste like they’ve been boiled with old shoes or cold tap water tastes bad, I stop eating sugar. When I do, in a short while natural foods and water taste good again. I have experienced this dozens of times when I am unable or unwilling to avoid sugar. To paraphrase Mark Twain, quitting sugar is easy; I’ve done it thousands of times. And I will continue.
- Quit fake sugar. Diet soda is just as bad as regular soda for taste bud management. All sweeteners prime us to want more sweet and salty foods, and to eat more. McDonald’s knows this which is why they don’t care if you order a diet soda. I despise diet soda, but the newer sweeteners don’t all taste like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. Watch out for them.
- Drink water. In any form that has no calories: tea, seltzer, etc. No sugar, fake sugar, alcohol, honey, milk, or cream. When plain water tastes bad, that’s a sign my tongue is hooked on sugar again and I refer to #1. I arrived at this rule to avoid more kidney stones. (What about alcohol? Alcohol is sugar to the third power. And to me, it tastes like a cocktail of one part Robitussin and two parts rancid gasoline.)
- The minimal game. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says that one third of the food on your plate is for you and the rest is for your doctor. In that spirit, I play a game by asking myself: how little can I eat and no longer be hungry? What is the minimum effective amount? I have never lost.
- Have thirds. If eating takeout or at a restaurant, I don’t eat a full entree. Get two appetizers, split an entree/meal with someone, or split the entree into thirds and save two thirds for two other meals. A good rule of thumb for me is an entire meal should fit inside a cereal bowl.
- Psych. Our psychological wiring tricks us into eating more than we should. These weaknesses include overeating because of deeply-wired uncertainty of when the next meal may come, forgetting what we ate earlier, eating everything on a plate no matter how big the plate is, rationalizing eating more than we should, etc. I use turn those tricks to my advantage: use the smallest possible plate, eat healthy food early in the day so there’s no bad food to forget later, and know what my next meal is so I don’t load up for famine on this one.
- Scale the scale. The feedback loop of a scale is tremendous. My feelings, opinions, and memories of my eating don’t matter. The scale is a cold and unfeeling bastard. I use it in the morning when water weight is lowest. I fear the scale, I worship the scale, I am always surprised by the scale. It jogs my memory on all that food I forgot I ate.
- Rule of three. Have at most three meals a day. If one consists of just a piece of luscious birthday cake at an office party, fine. Skip the next meal I would have had.
- Deglorify food. I have downgraded food’s importance to me. So many social, cultural, and emotional ties are made to food, mostly bad food. Comfort eating, eating badly on holidays, eating certain foods with certain people, and so on. I tell myself: eating a certain thing has nothing to do with an event’s importance or the people I’m with. If food is simply fuel, it loses the social and emotional attachments I used to wrap around it. That thinking led me to…
- Masticate privately. Another name for eating is mastication. And like masturbation and defecation, mastication is probably best done privately. When I masticate at home, it tends to be healthier, home-cooked food in smaller portions. A birth class teacher once joked that the only family who should be in the delivery room are the people who were there for the conception. Maybe we should adapt that to eating: only masticate food with the people you expect to be around when you defecate. It may not be the cultural change we want, but maybe it’s the cultural change we need.
I have used these rules and they work. I have also failed to use these rules (and will continue to fail) and seen my weight jump. But like bilge pumps cranking away on a ship that always takes on water, I have to follow these rules most of the time. And as I age, my ship seems to suddenly take on water faster, especially at ages 18, 25, 30, and 40 (so far).