Preface     The Eat Watch


About losing weight

There's an old Wall Street tale: a tyro asks an old-timer, “How do you make money in the market.” The wise man answers, “Nothing could be simpler: buy low, sell high.” The beginner asks, “How can I learn to do that?” The sage responds, “Ahhhh…that takes a lifetime.” Simple doesn't mean easy.

There is no magic secret to losing weight and keeping it off, just as there is no hidden key to instant wealth. Nonetheless, every year another crop of “magic diet” and “secrets of investing” books appear on already-creaking shelves. The human capacity to ignore inconvenient facts and avoid unpleasantness is immense. Success in any endeavour requires coming to terms with the true nature of the task at hand and, if the goal is worth the effort, getting on with it.

“How can I lose weight?” “Simple, eat less food than your body burns.” “How can I learn to do that?” Read this book.

About this book

This book is about…How to… It's a how-to book, but not a cookbook. Everybody's different, and no one diet is right for all. This book will help you find a diet plan that works for you.

…lose weight… Lose weight rapidly, and keep it off permanently. Losing weight isn't pleasant, and it's far better to get it over with quickly, and never have to do it again.

…and hair… Just kidding. Actually, it seems to me the life of a middle aged male is a race between hair falling out of its own accord and getting ripped out over stress and irritation. Women have it harder—they have to rip it all out.

…through stress… Stress is an unavoidable consequence of living in our fast-paced, high-tech culture, yet few of us are willing to sacrifice its stimulation and excitement to recapture the placid and serene life of simpler times. Stress is a primary cause of overeating and weight gain. You'll learn how to break the cycle of stress-induced eating and how to actually turn stress into an ally in achieving your ideal weight.

…and poor nutrition. There is one, simple, unavoidable fact of dieting. To lose weight you have to eat less food than your body needs. Only by doing so can you cause your body to burn its reserves of fat and thereby shed excess weight. If nutrition is about meeting your body's needs, losing weight involves deliberately shortchanging those needs—in a word, starving. This isn't a pleasant or inherently healthy process, but it's better than carrying around all that extra weight. You'll see how to reduce your food intake intelligently, so you don't end up with scurvy or something else unpleasant or embarrassing.

About you

This book is written for successful, intelligent, and motivated people who happen to be overweight. Whether you've always been overweight, have been on a roller coaster of dieting and regaining, or have just recently added some excess poundage, the key resources you need to achieve and maintain whatever weight and health goals you set for yourself are the same as you need to accomplish anything else worthwhile in life:

I don't mean this to be facetious; vaulting any of life's hurdles, whether success in school, business, sports, the arts, or personal relationships requires the will and the willingness to do what's necessary, recognising that the achievement will more than repay the investment of time and energy you make.

This is the very key to success in anything—to be able to defer immediate gratification in pursuit of a more permanent and worthwhile future goal.

This is precisely what losing weight involves. If you're successful in the things that matter to you but overweight, all you need to lose that weight is to make accomplishing your weight and health goals matter just as much, then approach weight loss and control just like any other important project: by developing and carrying out a rational plan for success based on an understanding of what's involved in achieving it.

This book isn't written for people who are or wish to become obsessed with their health. I consider weight control and fitness like any other aspect of life that's important enough to do, but hardly my reason for being. It's like balancing the checkbook, going grocery shopping, or getting the car tuned up. The goal is to get the job done, and done right, as quickly as possible and with the minimum effort.

About me

I've been overweight most of my life.

In 1987, not yet forty years old, I achieved the material goals I'd been working for all my life. The company I founded, Autodesk, Inc., had achieved a commanding position in its industry, enriching me beyond the bounds of even my perfervid imagination. I'd handed the management over to willing and capable people and returned full-time to the work I love most, programming and writing. I'd moved to a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, shared with my intelligent, resourceful, and attractive wife.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, I was fat as a hawg and in lousy shape. I hadn't exercised since high school. I'd lost some weight once in the mid 1970s, but put it all back on in less than a year.

Life has a way of evening things out. And, I figured, dropping dead before forty would balance out a great deal of the success I'd clawed from the flinty soil of life. What a drag.

So, there was nothing for it but to shed all those pounds I'd packed on through the stressful years of starting, growing, and running a company. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I'm an engineer. I decided to approach weight loss as an engineering problem.

I studied the human body the way I'd tackle a misbehaving electronic circuit or computer program: develop a model of how it works, identify the controls that affect it, and finally adjust those controls to set things aright.

It worked. In less than a year, totally under my own direction and without any drugs or gimmicks, I went from 215 pounds to 145 and achieved physical fitness. Since then, I've kept my weight right where I want it with none of the yoyo swings I'd suffered in the past. All of this was accomplished in less than 15 minutes a day, and without any significant changes in the way I choose to live my life.

What's more, I came to understand the game of weight control. Confidence, founded in understanding and confirmed by success, makes maintaining an ideal weight far more likely. What I discovered was so simple, so obvious, yet so profound and useful I decided to make the tools that worked for me available to everybody. So I wrote this book.

I lost weight recently enough to remember clearly what dieting involves but long enough ago to be confident I have a way to avoid gaining it back. I understand what you've gone through trying to lose weight previously. I know what lies ahead. I've been there. It's worth it.

About the computer tools

I'm a computer freak, so the first thing I did when I started thinking about losing weight was develop a bunch of computer-based tools to help me understand, monitor, and control the process. Collecting the data, analysing it with a computer, then applying the insights I gained taught me more about losing and gaining weight, and how the body works in general than a lifetime of failed diets and a truckload of diet books. This book not only explains what I've learned, it describes how to use the tools to understand how your own body works.

The tools are all spreadsheets based on Microsoft Excel. Please refer to the README.DOC file which accompanies the tools for information about the hardware and software they require. In addition to the spreadsheets that let you plan, track, and chart your weight loss, many of the tables in this book are also supplied as Excel files so you can experiment with them and incorporate them into other health management tools. Each table in the text supplied in Excel form specifies the file name in computer type (for example, “WEIGHT.XLS”) at the top of the table. The Excel spreadsheets that accompany this book are available for downloading from the Computer Tools download page as a ZIP compressed archive.

You don't need a computer to lose weight. Every technique in this book can be applied just as effectively with pencil and paper, in little additional time. The computer tools produce spiffier looking graphs, allow you to play around with the data in amusing ways, and let you experiment with “what-if” calculations without pencil pushing. If you have a computer, you'll appreciate the convenience it affords, but it won't determine whether you succeed or fail in losing weight.

“Pencil and paper” methods equivalent to each computer-based calculation are described in a chapter at the end. In addition to making the techniques accessible to those without proper computers, these sections also explain how the spreadsheets work and are worth reading if you're interested in modifying them.

About pounds and inches

I usually use the metric system, but in this book I've stuck to English units throughout. Even scientists who work all day in metric units think of themselves as “five eleven, one-sixty.” Metric units would only confuse U.S. readers and make the essential techniques in the book less accessible. I apologise to readers in more enlightened areas of the world. I've also conformed to the somewhat sloppy practice in most nutrition books of using “calorie” to mean what is more precisely termed “kilogram calorie” or “kcal”—the energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. The “gram calorie,” 1000 times smaller, is cumbersome when discussing the energy content of food. In Europe, food energy value is frequently given in kilojoules (kJ), the metric unit of energy. To convert kilojoules to kilogram calories (“food calories”), divide by 4.184.

The Excel spreadsheets allow you to specify whether weight is measured in pounds, kilograms, or stones; each spreadsheet which uses weight measurements contains a cell near the top which specifies the unit of weight. If set to 1 (as supplied), weights are in pounds. If you change the cell to 0, weights are in kilograms. If you set it to −1, weights are measured in stones. Also included is UNITS.XLS, an Excel worksheet providing conversion factors among all the odd English units encountered in connection with food (teaspoons per cup, for example), plus their metric system equivalents.

About time!

Enough tedious preliminaries—let's get on with it! The sooner you start, the sooner you can put the overweight, out of shape part of your life behind you.

You've probably already decided you don't want to be overweight. Otherwise, why read a diet book? You're about to learn what's involved in achieving your goal. Mastering and applying the tools for weight and health management in this book will allow you to succeed, probably within the next 12 months. By this time next year, then, having reduced a nagging lifelong problem to a few minutes a day of minor effort, you'll look forward to many additional healthy years replete with all the joys life has to offer.

Preface     The Eat Watch