I stumbled across Tim Ferriss’ interesting article on How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise at his blog, http://fourhourworkweek.com/blog/. Usually I quickly review then ignore articles like this that approach eating from a “reach your goal” diet as opposed to “lifestyle change”. Personally, I feel most people are destined for failure when following “reach your goal” diets – unless you’re a body builder, actor or some other person that has a specific need to drop some weight but you otherwise already live a healthy life, a “reach your goal” diet encourages a roller-coaster approach to eating and fitness – you diet and exercise until you reach your goal, then return to your normal eating habits. When you gain weight, you re-dedicate yourself to a diet and exercise routine until you reach your goal weight, then once again return to eating “normally.” Each time you gain weight, you make a new choice to re-dedicate yourself to fitness, usually only temporarily.
How many of us follow this pattern when making New Year’s resolutions? Who wants to live a life dedicated to a string of failed fitness resolutions? Much better, in my opinion, to make one decision to dedicate your life to fitness, become aware of daily choices you make that prevent fitness and modify those choices, then maintain the new choices until they become habit. The weight still comes off, and as opposed to dieting – it stays off. Instead of bouncing between normal life and “diet life”, you live your diet.
Tim’s article, however, is different – even though it appears to approach eating from a dieting approach, there’s some good information that, with some tweaking, can apply to healthy lifestyle eating as well. Below, I’ll list his rules, a synopsis of how he describes each rule, and my suggested modifications for making each rule a part of your healthy lifestyle.
Rule #1: Avoid “white” carbohydrates
Tim suggests avoiding “any carbohydrate that is — or can be — white”, including “bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, and fried food with breading.” I completely agree – no tweaking here.
Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again
Tim makes several suggestions in this rule, starting with his assertion that “the most successful dieters, regardless of whether their goal is muscle gain or fat loss, eat the same few meals over and over again. Mix and match, constructing each meal with one from each of the three following groups: proteins, legumes and vegetables.” He further recommends that you “eat as much as you like of the above food items. Just remember: keep it simple. Pick three or four meals and repeat them”. I both agree and disagree.
When I finally decided to lose weight, I recognized it would take something drastic and shocking to detox my body out of my food addiction. I think stimulus narrowing is a fantastic method of detox – by narrowing down the foods you allow yourself to eat, you make less food-related choices, which in turn helps stop food-related thoughts and impulse cravings. Food becomes less a comfort and more a fuel for your body.
My own personal stimulus-narrowing came in the form of a 3-month liquid diet through Optifast. Before Optifast, my entire eating schedule revolved around satisfying emotional needs, impulses and cravings – celebrating with chocolate, drowning stress or depression in carb-rich comfort foods and tackling boredom with greasy snack foods. Following Optifast, I now plan meals around what nutrients my body needs and satisfy emotional needs in other, more honest ways. I recognize Optifast isn’t for everyone, and neither is any form or duration of fasting. If fasting isn’t for you, Tim provides a great alternative – limit your food to pre-planned meals.
Pre-planning meals not only prevents food choices based on response to emotional cravings and impulses, it also promotes awareness of what you eat – primarily, learning what nutrients your body needs and where to find them. Pre-planned meals also have the fantastic side-effect of cutting out all restaurant and fast-food choices, which prey on emotional and impulse-based eating. However, I disagree with Tim’s recommendation to eat as much as you want – portion control is every bit as important as impulse control. Part of proper stimulus narrowing is learning when your body has consumed sufficient fuel versus when you feel “satisfied” or “full.” Learning suggested portion sizes, the general caloric value of foods and developing an awareness of your body’s physical versus emotional satisfaction – all are important to healthy eating in the real world.
Tim also makes a fantastic observation – “most people who go on “low” carbohydrate diets complain of low energy and quit, not because such diets can’t work, but because they consume insufficient calories.” While I disagree with his recommendation of eating only 4x a day (by eating 5-6 times a day, you prevent hunger and binging), I think his observation is spot-on – calculating and regulating your daily caloric intake is an important part of healthy living. Eating too few calories is just as unhealthy as eating too many, and blindly limiting instead of properly regulating daily caloric intake sets you up for failure.
Rule #3: Don’t drink calories
Tim suggests the following:
“Drink massive quantities of water and as much unsweetened iced tea, tea, diet sodas, coffee (without white cream), or other no-calorie/low-calorie beverages as you like. Do not drink milk, normal soft drinks, or fruit juice.”
I strongly agree with the need to be aware of what you drink. As Dave mentioned before, weight-loss and weight-gain are simple mathematical equations:
calories consumed < calories expended = weight loss
calories consumed > calories expended = weight gain
This is true no matter where the calories come from - the calories in hamburgers and french fries don't make us any fatter than the calories in Gatorade and Vitamin Water. Unfortunately, we tend to forget or discount the calories in our drinks - the sodas and teas, the cream and sugar in our coffee - and when you can walk out of Starbucks with 720 calories swimming in your coffee cup (the equivelant of 1 and 1/3 Big Macs!), discounting your beverages is a dangerous proposition. Studies are even starting to show that we regularly discount calories consumed through beverages and the weight-gain that results. As an example, here's some commonly consumed beverages and their caloric values:
- Gatorade: 310 calories per 12 fl oz
- Propel: 30 calories per 8 fl oz
- Coke: 97 calories per 8 fl oz
- Vitamin Water: 50 calories per 8 fl oz
Take into account a "serving" is normally 20oz-ish bottle, and that several bottles are consumed a day - those calories quickly add up. In my own opinion, diet drinks aren't any better - there may not be a scientific study that shows artificial sweeteners are harmful, but it doesn't take a chemist to know that loading up on chemicals can't be healthy. Furthermore, diuretic drinks like tea and caffeinated sodas increase the rate of urination, requiring more water consumption. Best case scenario - stick to water. Don't like the "taste" of water? Here's some tips: filtering, flavoring, agave and more.
Rule #4: Take one day off per week
Tim suggests the following:
"I recommend Saturdays as your "Dieters Gone Wild" day. I am allowed to eat whatever I want on Saturdays, and I go out of my way to eat ice cream, Snickers, Take 5, and all of my other vices in excess. I make myself a little sick and don’t want to look at any of it for the rest of the week. Paradoxically, dramatically spiking caloric intake in this way once per week increases fat loss by ensuring that your metabolic rate (thyroid function, etc.) doesn’t downregulate from extended caloric restriction. That’s right: eating pure crap can help you lose fat. Welcome to Utopia."
I hear this a lot, and from personal experience I strongly disagree with this point. Nothing screams fad diet or unhealthy eating louder than the phrases "eat what you want" and "take a day off." Healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a job - you don't get days off. You're certainly not likely to eat salads for the rest of your life - I know I make the choice to eat at restaurants or occasionally indulge in dessert. However, by setting aside a "time off" day, you give yourself a reason to eat unhealthily and unconsciously - much better to consciously budget for a dessert in your daily caloric intake by changing your snack foods or exercising more that day. Binging, no matter what the reason, is not healthy eating.
I want to thank Tim for his excellent and informative article - great food for thought.