The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 3: The Actual Diet

(This is Part 3 of a three-part series. You don’t have to read Part 1 or Part 2 to get this, but it doesn’t hurt.)

Scale 3
So how, exactly, have I been going about losing weight?

In the last 10 months, I’ve lost 50 pounds. And in the last couple of days, I’ve been writing about the process: the emotional ups and downs, the letting go of old neuroses and the adjustments to a whole set of new ones, the arguments I’ve been having in my head with the fat-positive movement and with the skeptics who are battling the fat-positive movement.

But I haven’t talked yet about how, exactly, I’ve been losing the weight. Which I realize is a little cruel of me. After all, when anyone talks about weight loss, that’s what most people want to know: “How did you do it?”

So here, at last, is the actual “diet” part of the Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet. It’s not a diet, per se; I’m not going to tell you that I eat twelve meals a day every two hours, or that I limit myself to six servings of pork a week, or that I only eat plankton and spelt and a vodka martini on the full moon. What I’m going to talk about is practical strategies that have helped me lose weight… and emotional/ psychological strategies that have helped me stay on track with the practical strategies.

I should spell out before I begin: None of this is meant to be prescriptive. I’m not an expert: I’m not a physiologist or a nutritionist or a researcher on weight loss. I’m a lay person who’s found some things that are working for me. Some of it may work for you. Take what you need; leave the rest; pay attention to the current research; talk to other people about what works for them.

(A little of this, by the way, is stuff I’ve written before. I apologize to regular readers for the repetition; but it seemed like a good idea to have it all in one place.)


I’m basing my weight-loss program on some relatively recent research done in the last few years. As anyone knows who follows the science on weight loss, losing weight and keeping it off is difficult and rare. Regardless of the specific weight loss plan — high-protein, low-protein, high-carb, low-carb, the Fruit, Bourbon, and Astroglide Diet, whatever — only about ten percent of people who try to lose weight succeed in doing so and in keeping it off for more than a year.

So some researchers decided to reverse engineer the process. Instead of asking, “Why don’t these weight loss plans work for most of the people who use them?”, the creators of the National Weight Control Registry asked, “What, if anything, do those ten percent of people have in common? Is there anything the success stories are all doing — regardless of which particular plan they’re following?”

The answer was “Yes.” And the things the success stories had in common turned out to be almost embarrassingly straightforward. They are:

Counting calories.
Keeping a food diary.
Measuring food.
Eating a low-fat diet.
Not skipping meals — in particular, not skipping breakfast.
Losing the weight slowly — no more than two pounds a week.
Exercising regularly.
Weighing yourself regularly.
Getting support from family and friends.
Making all this a permanent lifestyle change — not just pursuing weight loss as a one-time thing and then going back to old eating and exercise patterns, but continuing to do all these things even when the weight is lost.

It sounds so easy. The devil, if I believed in one, is in the details.

So let’s talk about the details — both the finer points of these basics, and some of the psychological and emotional tricks for keeping the basics on track.


Counting calories. This does not mean “counting calories” as an idiom for “trying to eat less.” This means literally counting calories — keeping track of the calories of everything you eat, and keeping those calories within a daily budget.

“Calories in, calories out” is something of an oversimplification of the mechanics of weight loss. For one thing, if it were true, crash diets would work — and they really, really don’t. But there’s a big chunk of truth to it. To lose weight, the main thing you have to do is take in fewer calories than you expend; to maintain weight, the main thing you have to do is take in the same amount of calories that you expend.

And every study I’ve seen or heard of shows that people — pretty much all people — are terrible at estimating how much they eat… both how large their portions are, and how calorically rich the foods they eat are. (When I started counting calories, I had some serious sticker shock about some of the foods I ate on a regular basis. Nuts? Bagels? Snickers Bars? Cornbread? Oh, my God! I had no idea! But the flip side of that is also true; donuts and chocolate chip cookies aren’t nearly as calorically rich as I’d have thought, and I incorporate them into my food budget on a fairly regular basis.) What’s more, studies show that fat people — which includes me — are worse at estimating their food intake than other people. Counting calories — not trying to reduce my calories, not trying to eat a low-calorie diet, but literally counting the damn things as they go into my mouth — is essential.

Which leads me to the next two parts:

Keeping a food diary. This serves the obvious function of being the way I count calories. But it serves some other functions as well. Mainly, it helps keep me conscious of what I’m eating. Writing down everything I eat makes me think carefully about whether I really want to eat it. It also gives me an objective picture of my eating habits, so my rationalizations and other cognitive errors don’t take over. And it helps me figure out my food budget. If I know I’m going to be having a rich dinner that night, I can do more than just make a hopeful attempt to eat a light breakfast and lunch — I can actually make it happen, by writing it all down. (This works on a weekly basis as well as a daily one; if I know I have a super-rich meal coming later that week, I’ll make an effort to go a little below my daily food budget for a couple/ few days beforehand, so I can eat the rich meal and not worry about it.)

And in a weird irony, keeping a food diary is a way of keeping myself from obsessing over food. In the past, when I was trying to do “natural” eating and just follow my “natural” hunger cues, I’d get seriously hung up on whether what I was eating was right for me or not, or whether I even was hungry for it. I have finally accepted that my “natural” appetites and hunger cues are idiots. They think that I’m living in the African savannah 100,000 years ago back when our species evolved, and that I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, and that if I don’t eat this entire gazelle right now I might starve to death. The food diary keeps me much more sane. With the food diary, I plan what I’m going to eat; I write it down; I fit what I’m eating into my budget; I don’t eat what doesn’t fit. And then I forget about it, and go do something else.

I do my food diary on a free iPhone app called LoseIt, which I passionately love, since it does the math for me. But you can just write it down in a notebook (or get an electronic calorie counter). And the Internet makes this a lot easier, since you can look up the calorie count of virtually every food anyone has ever eaten in the history of the world.

Measuring cups and spoons
Measuring food. Like I said above: Studies consistently show that people are terrible at estimating how big their portion sizes are. Ask someone to tell you how many cups of cereal are in their bowl, how many teaspoons of butter are on their bread, and they — we — will give you answers ranging from too low to absurdly low. And again, fat people — including me — are worse at this than non-fat people.

So when I eat at home — and when I prepare my lunch to eat at work — I measure. Everything. My cereal, the milk on my cereal; my yogurt, the honey on my yogurt; my pasta, the sauce on my pasta, the Parmesan cheese on the sauce on my pasta.

It sounds like a hassle, I know. But I got used to it very quickly. And now that I’ve been doing this for almost a year, I’ve gotten better at estimating food quantities when I can’t measure (when I’m eating at a restaurant or at someone else’s house).

Eating a low fat diet. I’m not going to talk about this much, since I personally haven’t been paying much attention to it. The LoseIt iPhone app tracks nutrients like fat and fiber, as well as calories… and I’m finding that if I stay within my calorie budget and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, my fat intake stays pretty low just of its own accord. But the National Weight Control Registry research shows that this a low fat diet is a common factor of people who successfully lose weight and keep it off. So it’d be irresponsible for me to not at least mention it.

Skinners raisin bran
Not skipping meals. We have to eat. Really. Our bodies demand it. Skipping meals is a terrible, terrible way to lose weight. It’s a great way to screw up how our bodies process food, and how our brains process hunger. It’s a great way to make ourselves really hungry… and when we’re really hungry, we tend to make unhealthy food choices, like bingeing on rich or starchy food. It’s a great way to make ourselves miserable as well. And it’s not sustainable. (Skipping breakfast seems to be an especially bad idea — and it seems to be especially common.)

So I eat already. Regularly, throughout the day. Including breakfast. (See “Eating multiple small meals” below.)

Losing weight slowly. I’m not 100% sure about the physiology of this. Some researchers think that losing weight too fast shocks our bodies into thinking that they’re starving… and as a result, our bodies start to store fat more efficiently. Losing weight too fast may also fuck up our hunger triggers, making us more hungry. But whatever the reason, losing weight too fast is an excellent recipe for gaining it back again… and maybe gaining even more. With the exception of the morbidly obese, one to two pounds a week is as fast as weight loss should go.

I found this very demoralizing when I first started losing weight. “One to two pounds a week? That’s going to take forever!” But I was startled at how fast this really is. Two pounds a week means ten pounds in a little more than a month. And a weight loss of ten pounds is where most people start noticing a difference in how they look and feel.

Exercising regularly. This is the other side of “calories in, calories out.” The less you eat, the more weight you’ll lose (again, as long as you’re doing it slowly). But the more you exercise, the more weight you’ll also lose. And the more you exercise, the more you can eat.

An acquaintance of mine put this in a way that I love: “I like to eat — so I exercise a lot.” That’s me in a nutshell. I love to eat: I’m a sensualist, and food is one of the great sensual pleasures life has to offer. I’m willing to eat my rich treats less often and in smaller portions… but I’m not willing to eat nothing but brown rice and vegetables for the rest of my life. So I exercise.

I don’t give a shit what kind of exercise you do. Some weight control experts insist that you have to exercise for at least half an hour at a time to get any benefit, or that you have to do a combination of cardio and weight training, or that you have to exercise in the morning. Fuck that noise. The best exercise is the one that you’ll do. Baseball or ballroom dancing or bocce; walking or weightlifting or water polo. Find a physical activity you like to do, and do it.

That being said, there is something to be said for making exercise a daily or near-daily habit. There are almost certainly physiological reasons for this (in fact, daily exercise is very high indeed on the National Weight Control Registry’s list of stuff that successful weight losers have in common.). But for me, the main reason is psychological. When I was working out twice a week, it was much easier to convince myself that it was okay to blow it off. Now that I exercise every day (or almost every day — five or six days a week most weeks), it feels like more like brushing my teeth: a part of my daily routine, one that I don’t blow off unless there’s a really, really good reason.

Regular exercise does a whole lot more than just help me lose weight. It improves my energy, my mental focus, my sleep, my tendency towards depression, my libido. There are lots of excellent reasons to get regular exercise… even if you don’t lose weight. But it’s a pretty essential part of weight loss as well. (When I don’t feel like doing it, I always try to remember that I never, ever, ever have been sorry that I worked out. Well, except for two or three times when I was seriously sleep-deprived. No matter how crummy I felt when I headed to the gym, I have always felt better afterwards.)

Digital scale
Weighing myself regularly. This is one of the basics that the research has shown to be essential. And in my experience, it makes perfect sense. If I just go by how I feel or how I look, I’m not necessarily going to notice if my weight starts creeping back up. It’s too easy to rationalize and fool myself. I need an external metric — one that doesn’t lie.

Once a week works really well for me. If I weighed myself every day, I’d get obsessed and freaked out over every minor meaningless fluctuation. Once a week keeps me aware of where my weight is and what its broad trends are, without freaking out over minor changes (see below). If I’ve gained weight for more than a couple weeks in a row, or if my weight loss has plateaued for more than a couple/ few weeks, that tells me that I need to change something: I need to dial down my calorie budget, or step up my exercise, or be more rigorous about keeping my food diary. (Or do some fucking cardio already instead of just doing my beloved weights all the time.)

Now, “once a week” is an area where I’m departing somewhat from what the research suggests. The research suggests that weighing yourself every day is correlated with successful weight loss and maintenance. But I know myself, and I know that it would take me to the bad place. So as long as what I’m doing is working, I’m not going to stress out over this one small modification to the program. And what the research most strongly suggests is that, however often you weigh yourself during weight loss, the important part is to keep doing it that often once you’re on maintenance. Consistency seems to be key.

Helping hands
Getting support from family and friends. I cannot emphasize this enough. Doing this with Ingrid has been what has made this possible. If you asked me which part of all this process I’d be willing to drop if I had to, the part where I talk about it with Ingrid would be at the absolute bottom of that list. I would sooner quit working out than quit talking about this with Ingrid. Having someone to strategize with, to process the emotional ups and downs with, to celebrate with when it’s working, to vent with when it sucks…it’s huge. I don’t know how I could do it without her.

It doesn’t have to be a spouse or a lover; it can be a friend or a family member or a support group. (Although some sort of support from people you live with is obviously a big, big help.) But getting support from other people who are also working on weight management seems to be one of the most central factors in doing it successfully. And it also helps to get support from the other people in your life who aren’t necessarily losing weight but are supporting you in your efforts. (If for no other reason, it helps to not have well-intentioned people pressing rich food on you because they don’t know that you’re trying not to eat it.)

Road ahead
Making all this a permanent lifestyle change. I can’t yet speak about this from experience. Everything I’ve read about weight control is that loss is the easy part; the hard part is maintaining the new weight. And I’m not there yet — I still have another 10 or 15 pounds to go before I’m done with this — so I can’t yet talk from experience about how to do this.

But according to the research I’ve seen, the key to maintenance is to keep up all these patterns once the weight is lost. The mistake that too many people make is to see weight loss as a one-time thing, something you get over with so you can get back to your old eating habits. That doesn’t work. I’m going to have to keep counting calories, keep measuring my food, keep up the food diary, keep exercising, keep weighing myself… for the rest of my life.

Again, I can’t speak about maintenance yet. (Assuming I do keep the weight off, I’ll give another update.) But I’m assuming that once I’ve reached my target weight, very little is going to change about how I manage my food and exercise and whatnot. My calorie budget will go up somewhat. That’s going to be the only practical difference.

So those are the fundamentals.

How do I make it work?

Talking to a health care provider first. If I’d tried to figure out for myself what a reasonable calorie budget was, I’d have had no idea where to even begin. But I have Kaiser, and Kaiser has an online weight management program that can give you, not only pointers on how to lose weight, but a reasonable, medical, evidence-based assessment of what a sane weight-loss goal is… and what a sane calorie budget is to reach that goal, based on your current weight and activity level. (BTW, that budget is going to change as you lose weight; more on that in a bit.) If you don’t have Kaiser, talk to your doctor or other evidence-based medical provider. (And if anyone tells you that your calorie budget should be less than 1,200 calories a day, head for the hills. Nobody should be eating less than 1,200 calories a day. As of this writing, my own daily calorie budget is 1,700.)

Eating multiple small meals. If I let myself get too hungry, I get hungry for richer food: fatty proteins, big carbs. But if I eat every couple of hours, an apple or some veggies and hummus will be enough to make me happy. So on a typical day, I have three decent-sized but not huge meals, and a whole bunch of little healthy snacks (fruit, raw veggies, whole wheat crackers, etc.) every couple of hours in between. (And usually one small not-so-healthy snack. But I’m getting to that.)

Small plates. There’s actual science behind this. (That is, if Food Detectives was telling the truth.) Apparently we feel fuller and more satisfied with the same amount of food if it’s served on a smaller plate. And the converse is true: whatever size plate we have, we tend to fill up. Ingrid and I almost never use dinner plates anymore; we almost always eat dinner on the little lunch plates. If it’s not enough and we’re still hungry in an hour, we can always get some more.

Which reminds me:

Waiting. This was hard to learn — but it’s huge, and it got a lot easier with time. If I’ve had one of my planned and budgeted meals, and I still feel hungry… I wait.

The part of our brains that tells us “That’s enough food” has a delay — about 20 minutes, the last time I read the research. (And while I don’t know this for sure, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this is slower for fat people.) Like I wrote in Part 2: Our appetites evolved on the African savannah 100,000 years ago, in an environment of scarcity. Our appetites evolved to get us to eat as much food as is available, whenever it’s available. Our appetites have not yet figured out that we live in an environment where food is easily and cheaply available on every street corner. Our appetites are dumb.

So if I’ve eaten what I’ve budgeted for, and I’m still hungry in 20 minutes, I wait. If I’m still hungry after that, I have a glass of water. If I’m still hungry after that… then I eat already. That’s not fake hunger, that’s real hunger, and I have a piece of fruit or something. But ninety percent of the time, waiting and water does the trick.

Avoiding hunger cues. Again, our appetites evolved on the African savannah 100,000 years ago, in an environment of scarcity. We evolved, among other things, to get hungry whenever we see food. Which, in America, can easily be about forty times a day. (More if you count ads. See below.)

So when I’m at a party, I try not to sit within eyeshot and arm’s reach of the food table. When I’m at a buffet, I try to sit with my back to it. When I’m in any sort of place with an essentially unlimited supply of food, I browse first, looking over the options to see what I really want; I put the things I want on a small plate; and I go hang out somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind.

Oh, and speaking of which:

Avoiding TV commercials. I almost never watch TV now without TiVoing it first and skipping the ads. There are food ads on TV approximately every seven seconds. Ads for foods that make the food industry rich — not foods that keep us healthy. Ads that are carefully designed to manipulate our hunger triggers and our psychology about food. So TiVo your TV if you can; reduce your TV watching if you can’t, and try to read or leave the room or something during the food ads.

In defense of food
Eat food that’s, you know, food. This is the Michael Pollan diet, and while it doesn’t work for weight loss — I still need to count calories — it does give me a good guideline as to what to fill that calorie budget with. Fruit; vegetables; meat; eggs; nuts; rice; beans; cheese; bread; tofu… you get the gist. None (or almost none) of what Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances.” This is the food our bodies evolved to eat… and it’s the food that nourishes us and makes us feel satisfied.

If you’re a big lefty pinko freak like me, it may help to think of this as a political issue. Fat positivism may feel like a big “Fuck You” to body fascism… but eating healthy can feel like a big “Fuck You” to the purveyors of quadruple- patty hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick.

Packing on muscle. If you can stand it, building muscle is one of the best things you can do to help lose weight. Muscle eats more calories than fat — so if you have more muscle mass, you’ll use up more calories just sleeping or watching TV.

If you hate weightlifting, don’t do it. I am, as I said, a huge advocate of doing whatever form of exercise you enjoy and will stick with. But if you can find a form of exercise that will put on muscle as well as burning calories, go for it. (And don’t assume you’ll hate weightlifting if you haven’t tried it. I’m having a ball with it. It has become one of the great sensual pleasures of my life.)

Not freaking out over minor fluctuations. I wish I’d realized this earlier in my weight loss program. A couple of weeks into it, I had a major upset when I gained a pound. I was like, “This is already so hard, and now I have to make it harder to make it work?” No. Not necessarily. Minor weight fluctuations are going to happen. Even if you magically ate the exact same amount of calories and expended the exact same amount of calories in exercise every single day of your life, your weight would still probably fluctuate a bit: depending on what time of day it is, how much water you’ve been drinking, how recently you went to the bathroom, your menstrual cycle if you have one.

I did an experiment a few months ago. When I was at the gym, I weighed myself at the beginning of my workout, and again at the end of it. And I found, very much to my surprise, that I’d gained half a pound. (I think it was the massive amount of water I drink when I work out.) If I can gain half a pound in an hour and a half workout, it makes no sense to get all worked up if I gain half a pound in a week. If I keep gaining half a pound week after week — or if I don’t lose anything week after week when I’m trying to lose — that’s something to pay attention to. I might need to step up my workouts or dial back my calorie budget. But if it just happens one week, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing… and see what happens.

Avoiding moral language about food. I make a conscious point of not saying that I’m “bad” when I eat high-calorie food, or talking about “wicked,” “sinful,” or “forbidden” food. (Or for that matter, “virtuous” food.) Human brains are weird: as soon as we’re told we can’t have something, that becomes the thing we want more than anything. Even if it’s us doing the telling. And since I do include treats in my eating program (see below), I don’t want to feel bad about them. I want to thoroughly enjoy them.

Instead, the metaphors Ingrid and I have been using are about money. We have food budgets. We call high-calorie foods expensive; low-calorie foods are cheap. I can spend or save my daily budget as I like: I can spend my calories on a donut if I’m willing to have a light lunch, or I can save my day’s calories if I know I’m going to have a rich dinner out.

I don’t think of high-calorie foods as a forbidden sin that I’m a bad person for wanting. I think of them as expensive luxuries that I can treat myself to if I save up.

Dynamo donuts
Not being a perfectionist. If I’d tried a weight-loss program where I never got to eat chocolate or butter or donuts (mmmm, donuts), I wouldn’t last a month. Even if I did last a month, I’d be so miserable that it wouldn’t be worth it. I’d be so obsessed with the things I couldn’t eat, I’d be thinking about them more than I if I actually ate them. For me, it’s just not sustainable in the long run.

So instead of saying, “I can never have butter or chocolate or donuts again,” I say, “I can have butter and chocolate and donuts if I can fit them into my food budget.” I can have butter if I have small portions; I can have chocolate if I had a fairly light dinner and have room in my food budget at the end of the day; I can have a donut if I’m willing to skip my end- of- the- day chocolate.

And once a month, I give myself a meal where I don’t count calories at all, and just eat whatever I want. Again: If I never let myself relax and just fucking eat already, I’d go nuts. Every time I counted calories, I’d be wishing that I didn’t have to, and longing for the old days when I wasn’t. But I know that I can forget the calories once a month… so it’s not that big a deal. (Twice a month in December. I let December be a maintenance month: as long as I didn’t gain weight, I wasn’t going to stress out if I didn’t lose any.)

Caution tape
Now, I will say that this is a tricky one. More than anything else I’m doing to manage my weight, it falls squarely into the This Works For Me But Doesn’t Work For Everybody category. Different people have very different psychologies/ hunger triggers/ etc. about food. Some people are more like me: they can enjoy rich, high-calorie foods as an occasional part of an overall balanced and healthy diet. For other people, this is too hard to manage: a small amount of high-calorie food will trigger out- of- control hunger and bingeing. These folks need to treat high-calorie food more the way recovering alcoholics treat booze. For them, the way I do it would be too hard. And the stuff I’d find impossible — refusing to eat even a small amount of rich food, ever — they find much easier.

But if you’re like me, and the thought of a life without butter and chocolate and donuts scarcely seems worth living, this is at least worth trying.

Breaking rocks
Breaking my goals up into chunks. When I first started losing weight, my health care provider told me that, for maximum good health, I should lose 60 pounds. That seemed completely impossible to me. So I broke that up. I said I’d lose 20 pounds… and see how it went, and re-evaluate.

It went great. It went faster and easier than I’d ever expected. So I kept going. But if I’d started out thinking that my goal was to lose 60 pounds, I think I would have gotten very discouraged, and might have even given up. 20 pounds seemed achievable. (And in fact, when I lost the 20 and decided to keep going, I again said “I’m going to lose another 20… and then re-assess.”)

Cracker on plate
Being extremely rigorous at first, and more relaxed as the process continued. When I first started counting calories, I was extremely rigorous about getting it exactly right. If it went in my mouth, it went in my food diary. If I couldn’t find the exact food I was eating in my calorie-counting app, I’d look it up on the Internet. If I went to a party, I’d calorie-count every single hors d’oeuvre I ate.

And I think that was the right thing to do. I needed to completely change my habits — not just the ways I ate, but the ways I thought about food and eating. I needed to think about food as something I always keep track of. And my instincts and guesses about how large a serving was, or how much was in a cup or an ounce or a tablespoon, were way, way off. Not to mention my instincts and guesses about how calorically expensive certain foods were.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m a little more relaxed about it. I have a better sense of what things cost, and I know which foods I really need to keep rigorous track of and which ones I can guesstimate. I’m more likely to do rough equivalents: if I can’t find sweet potato pie in my calorie counting app, I don’t bother to look it up on the Internet — I just call it pumpkin pie, and call it a day. I’m more likely to collapse all my hors’ d’oeuvres into one or two that are pretty similar. And I’m less likely to bother writing it down if I have just one bite of something.

Which is where weighing myself regularly comes in. See above. If I start gaining weight again, I’ll know that I’m slacking too much, and need to get more rigorous.

Framing weight loss as a stress management technique. According to everything I’ve read, one of the hardest thing about weight loss and weight management is maintaining it under stress. Stress can be an appetite trigger, making you physically hungry; it can make you want to eat comfort food, which tends to be high-calorie; and it can make you put things like exercise and calorie counting on the back burner, as a low priority.

I know all that’s so. But last year was among the most stressful in my memory. I won’t bore you with the details; suffice to say that it sucked beyond my powers of telling it. And I was still able to lose weight.

I was able to do it, I think, because forewarned is forearmed. I knew that stress could be a hunger trigger — so I learned to tell the difference between stress hunger and real hunger. And I was able to do it by reframing. Instead of saying, “I’m having a bad week/ month/ year, I deserve those six donuts,” I said, “I’m having a bad week/ month/ year — and weight loss is one of the few things in my life that’s working. It’s one of the few things I’m being successful at. It’s one of the few things that’s making me feel better. It’s one of the few things that I have some degree of control over.” And, of course, being in good health and eating a good diet and getting regular exercise are all excellent stress-management techniques. So I framed weight loss, not as something that was adding to my stress, but as something that was alleviating it.

Remembering other behavior changes I’ve successfully done. One of the things that kept me from trying to lose weight for so long was the depressing research about how rare it is. Behavior changes in general are extremely difficult for human beings to maintain… and weight loss involves multiple major behavior changes. I kept thinking, “Sheesh, only 10% of people who try to lose weight succeed. You have a better chance of quitting smoking or drinking or drugs, and staying quit, than you do of losing weight and keeping it off.”

But as Ingrid reminded me: I have quit smoking. I quit drinking caffeinated coffee. I quit eating pork (well, mostly). I started a writing regimen that I’ve stuck with. I learned to be a better housekeeper when Ingrid and I moved in together (and believe me, that was a major behavior change). Behavior change may be hard… but I seem to be someone who’s reasonably good at it. And in fact, many of the strategies I used to change those behaviors are ones I’ve applied to weight loss.

If you’ve made other behavior changes in your past, and have stuck with them… remember that. Use the memory to bolster your confidence. And think about what you did to make it work.

Reframing previous “failures” as practice. One of the things that made me reluctant to try weight loss was the simple fact that I’d tried it before, and failed. Which made it seem impossible.

But as everyone knows who’s studied behavior changes — from quitting smoking to quitting heroin to quitting leaving disgusting piles of dishes in the kitchen sink — setbacks and slips are often part of the process. Setbacks and slips are part of how we learn what does and doesn’t work. And the reality is that when I was trying to lose weight before, this new research about weight loss wasn’t available (or if it was, I didn’t know about it). So when I started this new weight loss program, I started reframing my previous failed attempts, not as evidence that weight loss was impossible, but as part of the process of learning what does and doesn’t work.

Making peace with the times that it’s hard. Even with all these strategies, there are times when this is hard. I have days when there’s rich, delicious food being offered to me that I hate to turn down. I have days when I don’t have much control over what I eat, and staying within my budget is extremely difficult. (Travelling especially can be a weight loss nightmare.) I have days when I realize that, no matter how much weight I lose, I’m still never going to look like the cultural ideal of female beauty, or even like my own personal ideal of it. I have days when my food budget just doesn’t make me feel full. (Rarely anymore, but I do occasionally have them.)

And in one of the cruelest ironies of weight loss: As you lose weight, you need to reduce your calorie budget. It takes fewer calories to maintain a lower body weight than it does to maintain a higher one. When I started, my daily calorie budget was about 1,850; it’s now just under 1,700. And every time I’ve had to dial down my budget, I’ve had a bad week or two, before my body and my hunger triggers adjusted to the new allotment. And that was especially true the very first time I had to dial down my budget — the first couple of weeks of the program.

But the bad times pass. I can move on from the birthday cake I’m not going to have… and enjoy the conversation I am having. I’ll have a day where I go over budget due to circumstances beyond my control… and then I’ll be back on my budget the next day. I’ll have a moment of regret over my body not being what I want it to be… and then I’ll get back into feeling how much pleasure I’m getting from it now. I’ll feel a little hungry for a week when I have to dial my calorie budget down… and then I’ll adjust, and be fine.

It can be hard.

But it gets easier.

At least, it does for me.


So how does this work for you? If you’ve lost weight successfully… what have you done to make it work? And if you’ve been unsuccessful at weight loss… what made it hard? And what do you think might make it easier if you try again?

The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 3: The Actual Diet

30 thoughts on “The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 3: The Actual Diet

  1. JL

    Hmm, perhaps my comment on the previous entry should have been here.
    “‘I like to eat — so I exercise a lot.’ That’s me in a nutshell. I love to eat: I’m a sensualist, and food is one of the great sensual pleasures life has to offer.”
    That’s me in a nutshell as well (I am often puzzled that many people who are so non-Puritan about sex are so Puritan about food). And for me, it’s a big key to weight maintenance – to keeping it off. I admit, when I lose weight, the adjustments that I make to my food aren’t permanent…because they’re primarily about calorie level rather than content (because I start out with a pretty balanced diet – this is a “works for me, not for everybody” thing). When I stop the weight loss plan, my caloric intake goes up. And so I exercise, a lot, to keep the weight off.
    I like exercising – I’m from a family of athletes. I like eating, and have a bigger appetite than most women. I exercise more, and it allows me to eat in a way that makes me happier. Win-win!
    To avoid going overboard with the eating, I do a budgeting sort of thing – a day of really heavy eating gets followed by a day of light eating.

  2. 2

    This year I’ve regained 15 pounds I thought I’d lost for good. Last week, I started over, tracking everything in and getting back to ceili and starting exercises in downtime. Wheedling exercise into downtime seems to be key for me. While reading this blog, I was lifting handweights at my desk. I don’t have to give up time and go-to-the-gym if I use the time I’m already wasting. Similarly, I make a deal with myself to only watch tv if I’m on the eliptical trainer at home. An hour of tv (in 42 minutes with Tivo!) and 40 minutes of exercise and I feel accomplished rather than just lazy. I love food too much, so I have to exercise a lot, just like you said.

  3. vel

    What makes weight loss hardest for me is my hypoglycemia. I get mean and stupid when my blood sugar drops which is far too often (I did find these ExtendBars which actually seem to work, especially overnight.) So lots of small meals for me.
    When I dropped 30 pounds in 3 months in prep to joining the USAF (which didn’t quite work out), I ate one serving spoon of whatever my mother made for the meal, but only one. I drank ridiculous amounts of A&W diet cream soda to control my sweet tooth and I walked *everywhere*, not as conveniet as it might have been living in the country where coal trucks had right of way no matter what.
    The weight did come back and now I’m trying again. Now quite bit older, I ache every flippin’ time I walk, lift weights (I agree with Greta, love that), etc. But I still keep at it.

  4. 4

    Thank you for these posts. I have been feeling very downhearted by my own struggles and to see someone talking sense about it is not only refreshing but inspiring.
    I like how you have approached this intelligently. I was on a major weight loss program and it drove me up a wall when every one of their pamphlets or newsletter talked to women like idiots who have never heard of nutrition in their lives.
    I’ve since dropped that program which didn’t do much for me and I’m going to try my own thing using Livestrong’s calorie and food tracking system. However, I may also just think of that Astroglide diet you mentioned and have no interest in food. I can’t think of many things that taste worse than that lubricant *gag*.

  5. sav

    I’ve lost quite a bit of weight before and eventually gained much of it back (but not all–so that’s a positive). What I learned from the first time I lost a lot of weight is that before I started losing it, I was eating until gorged all the time. Every meal. I couldn’t believe it. I lost all that weight almost ten years ago, and I am proud to say I have not once since then ever gorged myself, even when I was gaining back weight.
    I gained the weight back because I stopped counting calories, stopped exercising regularly, and gave into my obsession with particular foods, such as ice cream.
    I do pretty much everything you describe. That’s what worked for me before, so I know it’ll work again. The only thing is that this time I need to maintain. I feel confident that I can.
    I use Lose It, too, and I fucking love it.

  6. 6

    Just wanted to echo a thanks for these posts. They are a nice mix of a practical way to improve health and an analysis of fat as a feminist issue.

  7. 7

    Of course, I do all of this and maintain a steady weight of about 300 pounds (I also had thyroid cancer and have ongoing thyroid issues which is probably interfering with weight loss). For me, this ordering is to do with not binge-eating rather than weight loss, and works fine (though obviously someone with a different kind of eating disorder could find this idea extremely inappopriate and triggering). All of this is perfectly good advice for living, not necessarily for weight loss.

  8. 8

    This note is to tell you about an approach I am using, which may (or may not) interest you. Very different from the approach you wrote about.
    It is based on two books.
    EAT, DRINK, AND BE HEALTHY by Walter C. Willett, M.D., The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating
    THE CHEATER’S DIET by Paul Rivas, M.D., Lose Weight By Taking Weekends Off
    Willett is an academic researcher, dean of the dept. of nutrition at the Harvard Medical School. Rivas is in clinical practice, helping obese people lose weight.
    Summary of THE CHEATER’S DIET:
    Many diets work, for a few months and for taking off 20 lbs, but then they fail, people go off the diet and gain the weight back, usually gain a bit more. Diets fail for two reasons. First, diets are boring, and people get tired of them, can’t face staying on them forever. Second, fat is your body’s defense against the risk of starvation. If you eat a low-calorie diet for months, your body says “Gee, times are lean, there doesn’t seem to be much food out there. I’d better adjust the thermostat, hang onto the fat I have and add more every chance I get.” So when dieting, after a few months people hit a plateau, and even if they are very strict, they just cant…lose…another…POUND! And if they cheat even once, one three-ounce donut, BANG, they gain three ounces. SO, Rivas has found a trick that has worked for his patients. They follow a diet strictly during the week, but for 1&1/2 days each week, from 9AM Saturday to 9PM Sunday, they are allowed to eat whatever they want, (within reason, i.e. don’t binge.) Not merely allowed but encouraged to eat extra food and high-calorie food; for those who count calories, an extra 1500 calories for the weekend. This does two things: it relieves the boredom- you don’t have to keep to your diet FOREVER, you just have to keep to it until Saturday. And it keeps your body guessing about how much food is out there. “Gee, pie a’la mode! Times aren’t as lean as I had feared. I guess I don’t have to adjust the thermostat just yet.”
    Using this approach, you will lose weight more slowly than you would on stricter diets, but it is hoped (Rivas has had experience with 15000 patients) that you won’t get bored and won’t hit a plateau.
    So, what does “Following a diet strictly during the week” mean? I take that from Willett. He bases his views on huge, long-term studies, tracking large populations over decades. Summary of EAT, DRINK, AND BE HEALTHY: see the websites
    My own quick summary:
    – some kind of exercise daily
    – Foods you can eat in unlimited quantities: Raw leafy greens, vegetables (fresh or frozen), fresh fruit, beans and legumes (peas, lentils). (I personally also add, unlimited diet sodas and unlimited diet Lipton tea.)
    – Foods you can eat in limited and measured quantities: Whole grain foods (whole-grain breads, brown rice, whole-grain cereals, etc) 1 cup per day. Liquid vegetable oils, 1 or 2 tablespoons per day. Lean poultry, fish, eggs, 1 or 2 servings per day. Nuts and seeds, max 1 handful per day. Lowfat dairy, 1 or 2 servings per day. Wine, one glass per day.
    – Foods you should eat sparingly and occasionally: starches and sugars (white rice, white bread, potatoes, pasta, sweets. Squashes and pumpkins are starchier than other vegetables. Bananas are both sweeter and starchier than most other fruit, be sparing with them also.) Red meat, solid fats (animal fats, butter, veg oils that have been hydrogenated to make them stiffer, coconut oil).
    Note that it’s a very EASY diet. I don’t have to count calories, keep a journal, confess before a crowd. I don’t have to sweat, never have to be hungry, don’t have to swear off chocolate or other “comfort foods”. During the week, there’s a great variety of foods and dishes that are fair game; weekends I can eat whatever.
    My own personal experience with this approach doesn’t mean much yet, I haven’t been on it long enough. I’ve been doing this for 14 weeks and I’ve lost 10 lbs. But, hey, that’s fast enough, if I can stay on it more or less permanently, in a year or so I’ll be lean.

  9. 9

    I’m happy that you are happy about your weight loss; and I’m also happy that you say what you’ve done because it looks like sensible and good advice that may well work for a lot of people, but I’m alsoalso happy that you say it doesn’t work for everyone.
    I’ve tried these things, and I know where they go – where they go is exhaustion and insomnia.
    Most recently I bought a WiiFit (because I thought it might be fun, and it is) I lost a small amount of weight (4-5lbs) in a reasonable time (4-5 weeks) by increasing my working-out slightly without changing my eating. I wasn’t perpetually hungry at all (but I screwed up my hungry-ness with disordered eating as a teen anyway) but I just got more and more tired and less and less able to get enough sleep. Just like last time I tried to loose weight. I can’t work through that like I could work through hunger pains, or the ache of “yes, you did some exercise yesterday”, I just turn into a zombie.
    Some days I hate being me, but most days I figure that I’m stuck with me and I’ll just have to live with never being 120lbs (supposedly my “ideal” weight).

  10. 10

    John B Hodges: I tried something very much like that. I wasn’t counting calories or keeping track of my food: I was just trying to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and less rich, calorie-dense food.
    It didn’t work for me at all. I mean, it worked in the sense of improving my health somewhat — but it didn’t work to help me lose weight. My instincts and guesses about what’s “enough” fruits and vegetables and whole grains and so on and what’s “too much” rich food are just not functional. I can’t guesstimate. I have to measure and count.
    But if this works for you, that’s excellent. And I do agree that standard “diets” aren’t sustainable in the long run because, among things, they’re boring. (Even the fruit, bourbon, and Astroglide diet would get tedious after a while…) A variety of foods, with occasional treats, has definitely been key to making this work so far.

  11. vel

    naath, with you mentioning “exhaustion and insomnia.” I hope you might try those bars I mentioned. I had what you had plus constant nightmares when I could sleep. They did help me a lot and they offer a trial run of them (, not affiliated but happy)

  12. 12

    Wow. I’m really baffled by the folks who are reporting that increasing their exercise led to “exhaustion and insomnia.” That goes against everything we know about the physiology of exercise. All I can say is that maybe this is happening at first, because your body isn’t used to that level of activity, but I would expect that with time you would see improved sleep and energy level as your body adjusted to your new routine.
    Also, perhaps looking at what time of day you exercise would make a difference. And, of course, making sure that you’re not trying to increase your exercise too much right away, or cutting your food intake too low. Good luck!

  13. 13

    For what it’s worth, I’d recommend weighing daily but keeping a moving average. Don’t pay any attention to the daily numbers, and watch the moving average instead.
    The Wikipedia page on “Moving average” has some math-y bits on the different kinds of moving average that are out there, but an easy one is the exponential moving average. To keep one of those up to day, you simply take [0.90 times yesterday’s moving average] and add it to [0.10 times today’s weight]. “Exponential” makes it sound complicated, but it’s really grade-school math.
    It turns out that, if you use those multipliers (0.90 and 0.10), then data from today is roughly twice as important as data from one week ago. This means the average is always fairly up-to-date, mostly based on the last few days, but today’s data can’t move the average very much by itself. Only a real, sustained trend over multiple days (in either direction) can budge the average. That lets you ignore the stress over daily ups-and-downs, and concentrate on the actual trends.

  14. 14

    I’m in line with Greta Christina on this one. I’m a little less conscientious about the exercise due to rotating 14 hour shifts – I don’t get formal exercise on those days, but I do get it in on the other 3 or 4 days as a 40-60 minute cardiovascular session. I walk the dog daily, 20-30 min. I have outside chores, seasonally – on the other hand, I’ve learned that rural life that is not 100% rural = more butt-sitting sometimes. I don’t consciously balance macro-nutrients, but I seem to end up with a consistent 35%+ from protein. I also do not eat an especially low-fat diet, it seems, at least not in the colder months – but I live in a very, very cold climate (it is -5 degrees F right now), and that may make a difference. Lots of whole grains, as my recipes all use them – and as, when calorie intake goes down, so does… output… and I rapidly learned that I needed anything I could get to reduce constipation, even when active.
    But the food tracking, and the regular weighing – these are -crucial.- I use daily weighing. Because weight does fluctuate so very much, weekly weight can be somewhat demoralizing on the ‘off’ days.
    I’d add “LOTS of water” as an key element. Not for any “flush out the toxin” bs reason – the word “toxin” being one that is, of course, somewhat suspect – but because 1) I feel better and 2) as it turns out, there’s some interesting literature on increased water consumption and weight loss (see PMID 19661958 and related articles.)
    And every couple of months… I give myself a week off from that 1.5# per week intended energy deficit. Planned starvation is hard on the body. So I have an energy-neutral week, maybe gain a pound, run around a lot – and then back we go, and it seems to jump start everything.
    Thus far, 90ish# in 18 months. On a 62″ frame, it adds up.
    My job involves a fair amount of health education. People ask me how I lost the weight. I’m not preachy (or whatever the atheist equivalent is), and I certainly don’t bring it up. When I describe it, they say they can’t do that. OK. What would you like to do instead?
    I spend a lot of time on motivational interviewing.
    As it turns out, many patients can do some part of this for a week, and then they come back and we talk about what worked and we look at it and build on it.
    People are very resistant to the food diary in particular. “Oh, no, I can’t do that.” We talk about resistance and we get into the “being caught being bad” beliefs and the moral beliefs about good/bad food/body.
    I think that if we don’t start there, we may not get further.
    Online food diaries kick ass, because they can be deleted, I point out. Also because patient does not have to look at the whole week. (I use the DailyPlate one too.)
    Most people will do a 24h recall with me in the office, will agree to try it for a week and then we could go over it later in office.
    The phone trackers help tremendously.
    I also recommend the Judith Beck books – even if they have the word Diet in the titles – as they help people address distorted thoughts about food and eating. Extra helpful with the good/bad and “I have to” and deprivation thoughts, I think – also helpful if there’s some emotional eating in there. As there is for, like, all of us, I think. OK, at least me. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’ve tried the strategy of eat ad lib healthy stuff, and it’s definitely better, but not sufficient. I have an energy seeking brain, apparently. I will, by gum, survive any famines that arise.

  15. 15

    Congratulations on your success.
    The 1 to 2 pounds a week thing is because 1 pound is ~4000 calories. If you think about weekly calorie consumption, to permanently and consistently delete more than 4-8000 calories from your baseline week is nearly impossible.
    I participate in the National Weight Loss Registry since I lost >30 pounds a few years ago. The facts that come out of such a huge database would, indeed, seem to trump all the weight loss anecdotes out there.

  16. 16

    “And every couple of months… I give myself a week off from that 1.5# per week intended energy deficit. Planned starvation is hard on the body. So I have an energy-neutral week, maybe gain a pound, run around a lot – and then back we go, and it seems to jump start everything.”
    Yepรขย€ยš it does. Body builders call it zig-zag.
    I got here because of the Pollan reference. His “real food” mantra resonated to DH and I, so we ditched all the “low-fat” engineered “food” and notice that we didn’t only lose weight but we felt satisfied eating less food. I don’t know if we predisposed ourselves to believing that; but whenever we have eat-outs we do get hungrier faster and eat way more food than when we cook our meals.
    BTW, most FA leaders despise Pollan because he’s an “elitist, white male that dislikes freedom”…or something along those lines.

  17. 17

    Following Greta’s advice I have lost 23 pounds since January, so, yeah, this works pretty well.
    Interestingly, though, it has not been as hard for me as what Greta describes; well, there was no crying on my part, although there was a lot of longing for just another byte.

  18. 18

    I’ve lost 105 pounds, and next month will be the 3rd anniversary of reaching my goal. My processes are pretty much like yours, only I came to exercise a lot later than you–I really didn’t want to do it. Now, it’s part of my routine, like brushing my teeth and flossing. But maintaining is doable, and I’m living proof. Hang in there. It sounds like you made a good start.

  19. 19

    GREAT post!
    It’s true that different things work for different people. I don’t think I could have even started with a goal like ‘lose 20 pounds’. My goal was ‘lose at least 30 kg’ right from the start, and if I wouldn’t have thought that was possible, I wouldn’t have felt motivated to even try. What, diet and still be fat? No way!
    I’ve lost almost 35 kg with Alternate Day Calorie Restriction. My way of ‘breaking things up into chunks’ was just working on the calorie restriction in the beginning. All I did was make sure I didn’t eat too much on the ‘down days’. Only later did I start to pay more attention to eating healthier food, and only recently, now I have been at my goal weight for a few months, have I started adding exercise (lifting weights and walking up the stairs to the office (19 floors), in addition to bicycling to work which I’ve always done).
    What I learned from regaining all the weight I’d lost before, was that I must be very very careful not to be a perfectionist. Back then, I restricted my calories every day (instead of every other day like now), and I kept a food journal religiously. If I’d just kept track of the calories (I used Fitday), that would probably have been fine. But I started to track all the nutrients, and entering all the trace elements of every food I ate even once, and that just took too much time to keep up indefinitely.
    Same thing with weight lifting. I had a nice book with simple exercises, and I followed that, and it worked. But then, I started to read other books, and using different weights for different bodyparts (the first book just had you use the same weights for every exercise), and keeping a journal with the amount of weight I was lifting, and the number of reps, etc.
    Truly they say in my country that ‘the better is the enemy of the good’.

  20. 20

    As you lose weight, you need to reduce your calorie budget. It takes fewer calories to maintain a lower body weight than it does to maintain a higher one. When I started, my daily calorie budget was about 1,850; it’s now just under 1,700.
    Are you losing muscle? Using something like the Cunningham equation (, losing body fat doesn’t affect your resting metabolic rate; only the difference in non-fat body mass does. So, for instance, if you’re gaining muscle (possible, given that you’re lifting weights), you’d need to eat more to maintain the new muscle mass. Tracking body composition isn’t as easy or obvious as tracking weight (measuring your body fat percentage takes a tape measure and about five minutes), but it maps much better to health and fitness than BMI does.
    The method is clearly working for you, so the difference is probably minimal. For me, at least, finding out that I should be eating around 3400 calories a day to maintain my weight was a bit of an eye-opener. (I am not a small man, but still…)

  21. 21

    Well, with all the positive feedback, I hate to be a negative nancy, but damn, that all sounds really hard and unpleasant. I hate to admit it, but I found this post discouraging. heh, sorry…
    Luckily I’ve been losing some weight recently just as a factor of being really damn busy, which means both a) more physical activity, and b) less time for recreational eating. I think also having an infant son is helping, because in addition to also making me more physical active, I tend to share my portions with him.
    I’m really, really really hoping I can parlay that into long-term lifestyle changes. I don’t see a lot of hope otherwise, because I know myself well enough at this point to know that the odds of me successfully keeping a food diary for more than two weeks or so, for example, are essentially zero. I mean, I can’t even manage to keep those kinds of disciplined records about things I am passionate about, e.g. I have tried and failed multiple times to start a wine diary.

  22. 22

    James: It is hard. I won’t deny that. And it is definitely harder for some people than it is for others, due to life differences and just differences in temperament.
    What I will say is this:
    1) It’s hard — but it’s not as hard as I would have thought. And it’s gotten easier with time. Keeping the food diary in particular is something I never would have thought I could sustain… but it’s now become second nature. (Having the iPhone app helps tremendously, I will say. If you don’t have an iPhone and are motivated to try this, they do sell dedicated electronic calorie counting gizmos.)
    2) You have to answer the question for yourself of whether the benefits outweigh the costs. And I mean that entirely sincerely. I’m not an evangelist for weight loss for everyone. For me, the benefits have been enormous, and have far outweighed what a pain in the butt it sometimes is. But that equation isn’t the same for everyone. You have to decide for yourself what you want more.

  23. Dee

    Thank you. I need to lose about 100-150 pounds for health reasons and not only do I feel overwhelmed by the amount, I’ve had those “am I still a feminist if I try to lose weight” moments too. Thank you for your honesty and clarity.

  24. Nio

    Oh my God, this series is brilliant. I love your intelligent, thoughtful, feminist approach to this stuff. Thankyou so much for taking the time to share what you’ve learned here – please oh please make this a book someday – a feminist guide to dieting. Seriously, this is the first time I’ve ever read about a diet and felt comfortable – the language, the empowered, self aware attitude. This is really good stuff.

  25. 25

    I want to thank you. I found your blog about five days ago, and read all of your posts about weight loss. I’ve tried to lose weight in the past, which didn’t stick but did teach me the facts about weight loss. For the last couple of years I have become very fat-positive and comfortable with myself, but recently have decided I need to lose weight, for more energy and more condidence. Stumbling on your blog came at the perfect time: I’m on break from school, and a family member gave me his old iPod touch. I’ve been using LoseIt as you suggest and it’s surprisingly fun and empowering being aware of my food and exercise! Many of your tips and suggestions in the comments have given me new ways of thinking, and I feel like I can do this. Thank you!

  26. 26

    Wow, I come here looking for atheism and I get encouraged to try to lose weight again (it helps that this past weekend I was playing with my parents’ Wii and it told me how much I weigh and I was 25lb over the weight I’d maintained from the end of high school until more recently. (Not that the previously maintained weight was a good one, I have been obese for much of my life, but 25lb more was a shock.)
    So, thank you for sharing this, I’ll possibly be trying it again (it is similar to something I’ve done in the past, just didn’t stick with it)!

  27. Pat

    Have only just read the three parts of your weight losing in April 2011. Just to thanks for your very wise and gentle words–openhearted, I’d say, acknowledging the difficulties, the psychological and political and personal and social implications of weight loss particularly for women. Thanks, Greta.

  28. 28

    This this this. A thousand times this!
    Exactly what I’ve been doing to lose weight (and a few things I should probably start doing)! I’m so glad to hear that these methods really do work, and that I’m doing something right. I’m a food sensualist as well, and once I stopped thinking of my favorite foods as “taboo” and more as “luxuries”, it’s been so much easier to manage my intake.
    I’ve lost about thirty pounds in 6 months. I didn’t even notice it at first. I wasn’t weighing myself every day, and I wasn’t even intentionally “dieting” at first. I was just writing down the stuff I ate and walking more, trying to make the daily, hilly trek to work a little less miserable for my fat self. Then I bought a scale and the LoseIt app for my iPod touch (which is the best app ever), and I am slimmer and healthier than I’ve been since high school. Still about 10-15 lbs shy of my ultimate goal, and I’m currently on maintenance mode because I’m recovering from a serious illness, but I intend to get back into the calorie budgeting more vigorously within the next few months.
    This article is a real eye-opener. I can certainly vouch for the effectiveness of these methods. Changing your whole perspective and habits is hard, but it’s possible, and it’s really the only sustainable way to lose the weight and keep it off. There is no quick fix. It takes diligence and hard work, but by golly, it is WORTH IT in the end!
    This whole post just spoke to me on such a warm, friendly level. You really nailed it, lady! I’ll be sure to check out the rest of this blog. <3

  29. 29

    Hi, Greta. Browsing your archives, I found this gem. Since you ask, here are my thoughts.

    I am male, 43, 6’0″, and lost 46 lbs last year, Feb – Dec, 2010, starting from 226 and ending at 180. 10 months later, I am at 182.2, according to the scale this morning. Since Dec, I’ve been as low as 177.6 and as high as 186, according to

    My path was something like this: vaguely want to lose weight -> start using LoseIt! on my iPhone -> “friend” my buddy in LoseIt!, see he’d already lost 36 lbs, get inspired -> read the book Body By Science -> start exercising -> read the book Good Calories, Bad Calories -> stop being afraid of fat, stop eating carbs and grains -> keep it up for 11 months.

    I agree with most of what you wrote. Spousal involvement was very important. (My wife lost 50-odd pounds in the same time period.) Education was very important (see those two books I mentioned). A community was important: see and /r/loseit,, and (These were both community and educational, of course.) Making long term changes that we can keep up over a lifetime was important. Most of your points were very good.

    I disagree with a few points: I think eating low carb is probably an easier way to lose weight without hunger than low fat. I think “healthy grains” is a contradiction. I think skipping meals, as part of a larger plan, can work for some (they call it “intermittent fasting”). I think eating multiple small meals a day is a bad idea: Eat like a predator. (I didn’t make all this up; see the books I mentioned, and the websites I cited.)

    But I’m not an expert either, and as you say about exercise, the bottom line is, the most effective plan is the one that you’ll follow. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love “avoid moral language about food”. My wife and I also talked about food as cheap or expensive. With a twist: she’s allergic to some artificial sweeteners, so we also talk about many “foods” as “poison”. (How hard is it to skip that nice yummy drink of hemlock?)

    For my part, when I look at a lot of “foods” (donuts, corn chips, candy, random crap-in-a-bag/box; basically almost everything you might find in a convenience store), I try to imagine piles of sugar in their place, since most of them metabolize more-or-less directly to glucose or fructose, and have similar nutritional value (i.e. not very much).

    Anyway, I’ve been weight stable (+/- 5lbs :)) for going on ten months; so far so good. I’ve not read your blog for very long, so I hope you’ve been able to maintain your body in the way that you want it. Keep up the good work, and keep writing about whatever interests you; a lot of it interests me, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    I read this a bit late, but this is a very fantastic article on weight lose; this is mostly because it’s a sane approach to weight and human bodies. My own dealings with weight have had several long chapters and odd stages, but I feel like I came upon the answer to weight loss at a really long age. I was an over-weight child, so I was bullied, and then, I became anorexic. So, I was dealing with the wash of compliments about weight loss and, at the same time, understanding that something was really fucked up. I knew it, my closer friends knew it, and my family refused to realize it as long as I ate at holidays. I feel lucky that I never found the strength to binge/purge. I remember the day I felt confronted with that option, and I thought, ‘fuck it. I’m just not going to do this any more.’ So, I traded anorexia for vegetarianism, which gave me an excuse to not eat as much food or fat as my peers. It took me a while to figure out how to eat well as a vegetarian, but eight years later, I’ve figured out that, a lot of what is one this list, is completely true. I would add three things. I can’t agree with you how much understanding portions will contribute to weight lose AND maintenance. I learned how to cook and bake at the end of high school and through college, and I can estimate exactly how many calories I’m eating now. I would like to point out that most American foods are WAY too carb heavy. I would say I aim to eat a ration of 1:1 veggies to carbs in a ‘real’ meal. And two, redefine what is a meal to you. I realize the conception of what Americans consider a meal is WAY off from what a meal should be if you want to be healthy. If my meal is over 700 calories (and that is for a LARGE ‘I’m way under what I need to eat today’ meal), I know I’m doing it wrong. Finally, drink plenty of mostly water, no sugar drinks. When I drink plenty, I know when I’m body is actually hungry, or when it is ‘hungry’ because I’m just thirsty. Don’t try that ‘diet’ thing where you drink all the time but never eat. Your body needs food, and all the water in the world can’t make that go away.

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