Meal planning requires total control over not just what you eat, but also how much. This is more difficult in practice than it might seem at first glance, particularly when you're sharing home cooking with the rest of your family. Assume that Doris managed to lose the weight she set out to, and now she's back eating the 1770 calories a day that keeps her weight stable. After a few months of stable weight, Doris decides to put the annoyance of planning meals and charting weight behind her and rely on her judgement.
One night, there's a little left-over mashed potatoes. Both Doris and her husband Larry hate leftovers, and the kids... forget it! Larry scans the table, ``Who's gonna make these mashed potatoes go away?'' After two small faces disappear beneath the tabletop and the earnest supplications of Slobbers the Dawg go unheeded, Larry and Doris agree to split it. Doris ends up with an extra cup of the lumpy white and, to make it palatable, plops a pat of butter on the top. Hardly yummy, but at least it won't be staring out from the refrigerator tomorrow morning. Instead, it will be working its way to Doris' waistline. The extra helping of mashed potatoes and butter adds up to 173 calories and represents, all by itself, a 10% increase over the number of calories Doris needs to eat for steady weight.
If this isn't an isolated incident, but instead the next day Doris ``has to have'' another drumstick, or treats herself to a glass of milk before bedtime, a slight shift has occurred in the balance between calories in and calories burned. If Doris had continued to plan her meals, it would never have happened. If Doris were still charting her weight and plotting the trend, it wouldn't go unnoticed. But she is doing neither, having concluded from her success in losing weight that she's developed a natural sense of weight control.
If the balance slips by as little as 150 calories a day--a glass of whole milk, an ounce of Fritos, a cup of plain yogurt, a bagel: Doris may start slipping from her stable weight. And the change will be so subtle, initially, that she won't even notice. The weight gain will be less than a third of a pound a week. This would show up quickly as a rising trend line, but it disappears in the several pound day to day variations in weight. Even after a month, Doris has only gained a pound and a quarter and doesn't notice it, either on the scale, in how her clothes fit, or how she looks and feels.
And since the change is so gradual, she continues not to notice as her weight creeps upward for a couple more months: tasting the gravy while making Thanksgiving dinner, polishing off the Chinese food in the restaurant to avoid asking for a doggie bag, ``you can't go the ball game and not have a hot dog,'' and so on. Finally, Doris does notice. By that time, she's tacked on five or ten pounds, and now she really feels awful: not just fat, but persecuted and powerless. ``I didn't change anything,'' she laments. ``I haven't gone back to my old chocolate sundae pig-outs or pizza binges, and here I go gaining weight again!''
And all from one extra helping of mashed potatoes a day. Doris was overweight most of her life because she wasn't born with a built-in eat watch. She lost weight when she remedied that shortcoming by planning her meals around the number of calories she burned, guided by the trend of her weight. After becoming slender for the first time since grade school, she made the mistake of removing the eat watch. She fell back on her body's feedback mechanism to tell her how much to eat, and it continued to deceive her. To maintain her weight, Doris needs the continuing guidance of the eat watch. There's no need for meal planning to be obtrusive or interfere with Doris' enjoyment of meals. Indeed, in time, guided by the trend line and her experience with different meals, she'll probably be able to adjust up and down without ever adding up another calorie. But that skill takes time to acquire, and it works only in conjunction with the safety net of the trend chart to warn you of problems before they get too big and depressing to remedy.
By John Walker