Many of us live the life of Oscar or at least know somebody like him. Oscar's always on a diet. ``Gotta take off five pounds'' he chants, like a mantra, although he usually runs about twenty pounds overweight. Funny thing is, every time you go out to eat with Oscar, he seems to eat less than anybody. He is, after all, dieting.
Skinny Sam is a gentleman and a scholar and would never countenance such thoughts but Lanky Lunkhead, having never read this book, frequently suggests behind Oscar's back that perhaps the odd midnight indulgence in peanut butter, salami, swiss cheese, avocado, fried egg, onion, and tomato sandwiches accounts for Oscar's perennial weight problem. Notwithstanding Lanky's sublimated craving for such delicacies, Oscar is simply struggling with a different feedback system.
Oscar has the very same feedback curve as Sam, but his is shifted a little to the right, toward eating too much. One day Sam eats slightly more than he needs, and the next day slightly less. But since feedback keeps him within the range his metabolism can adjust to, Sam's weight stays the same. When Oscar eats slightly too much, though, he's pushed immediately into the region where he packs on weight. The next day, like Sam, he may eat less but, since that's within the flat part where metabolism compensates, he keeps all the weight he packs on whenever he eats a little too much.
The shift in Oscar's feedback curve with respect to his body's need for calories acts as a ratchet; each excess runs his weight up, but equivalent shortfalls don't burn off the excess weight. Over time, Oscar begins to see the evidence of this on the scale and in how his clothes fit. Having lived with this condition all his life, Oscar knows there's only one solution: peel off the pounds. So, for the umpty-umpth time he embarks on a diet: perhaps a sure-fire plan that's worked before, or maybe the current rage all the celebrities are swearing by. ``Peach fuzz, eh? Sounds promising....''
Reducing is miserable for Oscar. In order to lose weight, he must reduce what goes in far enough to get into the ``Lose weight'' area of the curve. But that means the ball on the feedback chart has to climb well into the ``I'm hungry!'' region and stay there for an extended time. Over the years, Oscar has integrated this viewpoint into his self-image, ``If I eat reasonably, I gain weight. Then I have to endure hunger just to get back where I started.'' What Oscar doesn't realise is that his problem is simply poor feedback from the calories he needs to his appetite. If he got accurate feedback, as Sam does, he'd never eat too much, feel hungry, or be forced to endure hunger to take off extra weight. Oscar's built-in eat watch is simply set 5 minutes too fast. Oscar needs to wear an accurate eat watch to put an end to his oscillations.
By John Walker