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The no Diet Diet

Normal weight forever – and why diet may not matter: A dietless weight-control plan

From size 24-1/2-wide to 12-petite, and never gained the weight back – she’s still sure she’s dreaming, but no, when she tries on a pair of her old slacks all of her fits into just one leg – her whole entire body.

Instead of following a diet, she’s simply learned to “act like” people of normal weight.

But what does that mean – how do normal people act? The answers come from the science of behavior modification, which simply means modifying, or changing, your behavior. Since behaving a certain way is determined by our attitudes you also have to change some attitudes. But just think: if you’ve always been a nice normal weight but start feeling about food and acting toward food like people who are overweight, you’ll soon be overweight too – it works both ways. But notice this is not about changing what you eat. It’s about changing almost silly little things.

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (and elsewhere) had begun to wonder if perhaps normal-weight people had deeply different attitudes toward food, and if so, it ought to show up in habits. Habits would be something that could be observed, and when pinned down, the habits of those of normal weight could perhaps be taught to people with weight problems. After years of studies this was proven by a habit-training program they developed that did help overweight people reach a healthy weight – and stay there for life.

Since it’s safe and not hard to understand you can do this on your own, though it may help to attend behavior-modification classes. But first, stop dieting. Focusing on food may be the number one habit that you need to break, and dieting keeps you focused on food. Stop, stop, stop focusing on food. Of course if you need to follow a doctor-prescribed plan like the diabetic diet then do so; but at the same time learn to eat like those who had never have a weight problem in their lives.

A word here about hormone imbalances or other physical causes of weight gain. While these may be real indeed (like weight gain with cortisone treatments), nevertheless, we know that during famines there simply are no fat people, isn’t that true? Take the Irish. In 1845-1851 a severe famine killed over a million people. The dead often had green stains around their mouths from eating the very grass of the fields. Not one overweight person could be found, so end of argument – there are no fat people in a famine. Let’s face it, we eat too much; we just wish we could blame it on something else.

How normal habits are learned and bad habits unlearned

In one behavior-modification course based on this research, at the first session the instructor (a research physician) asks the class if anyone ever eats standing up. Invariably, every chubby hand in the class is raised. But what’s wrong with that? Strangely, the studies showed there’s a lot wrong with that.

Because one habit it helps to learn is separating the act of eating from all, all, other activities, but if you’re cramming your mouth standing up you’re probably thinking about something else – a pot about to boil or errands you’re dashing off to or if you’re at work a meeting about to begin. But overweight people need to re-train their “appestats” to register what they’ve eaten. Casual snacking while standing around just doesn’t register. It’s like being a sleepwalker who doesn’t know he has gotten out of bed and walked down the street.

But there’s a more important reason to not eat standing up: If you’ve formed the habit of taking a bite in the kitchen, then every time you go in the kitchen an automatic trigger will go off and command you to EAT, EAT. You’ll be like an actor whose actions are guided by cues. Simply being in the kitchen is the cue to put something in your mouth.

Eating while watching TV will do the same thing. So never eat when occupied with anything else (except pleasant mealtime conversation). Hence habit number one: Separate eating from all other activities. This includes standing around.

Another habit: Don’t skip meals. Let’s say you habitually stuff yourself from supper until bedtime, then at breakfast, naturally, you have no appetite. Nevertheless, you have to eat something because you need to hear yourself say deep within your mind, “I have had breakfast.” Remember we’re talking about what normal-weight people do?

Now the most important habit: Eat only after setting a place at the table, no matter how informal, and arranging whatever you’re about to eat on an actual plate. Do this even if it’s just a sandwich. At work do the same. Keep paper plates at work and put your lunch on a plate. Then you pull up a chair and eat – but only after you’ve set the food out on your plate. You need to look at it first. Your eyes need to really see it.

And eat sloowwlly – another key. And exactly how do you eat slowly? (Those researchers analyzed everything!) You put a forkful in your mouth and then you lay down the fork, or take a bite of your sandwich and lay down the sandwich. You chew. You take a sip of water. The point is, delay. Only then do you take the next bite. It sounds like nonsense but again there are two reasons. One, time spent gazing at the food, all yours, everything on that plate, makes the fact that you’re eating register and this seems to make people feel satisfied sooner. After a bite you have time to see how much is still to go. Two, and the most important, is that when you eat slowly there’s time for the food already in your stomach to signal your appestat that you have eaten that amount. Learn what “full” feels like – it’s something you certainly did know as a baby. But chronically-overweight people have deadened these natural signals by constantly ignoring them, so what you’re doing is repairing your out-of-whack appestat until you regain that normal response to food. Then the minute you sense that you’re almost satisfied, stop.

Think about it this way: If you’ve ever hurriedly crammed down two or three candy bars or donuts, you didn’t feel the least bit full after the first one or two, did you? You still had the craving and went ahead and reached for the third! This is why form the habit of eating slowly.

There’s more to the program, but put just this much of it into action and see what happens. Practice the following attitudes and behaviors of normal people:

1. Eat only from a plate sitting at a table.

2. Before you start put everything you’re about to eat on that plate, even if it’s a dozen donuts, horrors! Pile it all up so you can see what you’re about to eat.

3. Concentrate on sensing the first instant you begin to feel satisfied and stop right there, no matter how much is left. You want to deliberately re-train your appestat.

4. To delete automatic eating triggers, never be involved in anything else while eating, especially TV, the computer, or a book. If you do, the trigger will fire every single time you watch TV.

5. Do engage in good conversation if you have someone to share meals with. It’s the only mealtime distraction you should permit yourself because it may help you eat more slowly. If by yourself, simply eat. You may get bored and want to leave the table and that’s exactly what you want; you want to be bored with food. Bored like normal-weight people.

6. Eat slowly and you may be shocked to find that after only five or six bites you do feel full. That’s good. That’s normal. Your body is telling you it’s simply all you need – that you’ve put too-big portions on your plate for the normal-size person hidden under that fat.

7. Eat something at mealtime no matter how little. If you’re not hungry at breakfast, do you snack until bedtime, killing your morning appetite? If so either change that habit or accept that you may be fat for life. Keep on cutting back late-afternoon and nighttime food until you’re ravenously hungry for breakfast every day. Don’t worry, you’re not depriving yourself. You’re gaining the pleasure of eating all you want and anything you want for breakfast.

8. Between meals have nothing whatsoever but water, and this includes a diet drink, a one-bite snack, a little glass of juice, and everything else. But again it’s not that you’re depriving yourself – you simply set it aside and have it with your next meal.

After the first 20 or 30 pounds are gone you may feel up to going for a walk now and then, and the way to talk yourself into it is say to yourself, I’ll just walk for five minutes – just five. You may even decide to replace some starches and sweets with vegetables. But first start “acting like” normal-weight people. There’s magic in it.