Planning Meals     Perfect Weight Forever

Losing Weight

Ninety percent of this game is half mental.

—Yogi Berra

At last, we're ready to turn to the task of losing weight. We've studied the mechanics of the body to learn how it gains and loses weight. We've modeled the body as a feedback system to understand why we have trouble controlling our weight while others don't. We've found a way, starting from simple daily weight measurements, to determine the true course of the body's weight and the fragile balance between the calories that go in to the rubber bag and what gets burned. Engineering has given us the tools of weight control; we possess a power we didn't before. Now we must grasp those tools and use that power to manage a successful program of weight loss and permanent weight control.

Closing the loop

It's time to pull together all the seemingly disjoint threads in the previous chapters into a unified whole. We already know what we need: a proportional control negative feedback system that tells how much to eat. All the pieces of that system are now in hand. We need only hook them up into this; the solution to the problem of weight control.

As you'd expect, the system forms a closed loop. Many of the words are familiar. Let's take a detailed look at how it fits together.

Estimate Calories

You start with an initial estimate of the number of calories per day your body burns. This doesn't have to be particularly accurate, since feedback will soon establish your own actual rate. Make an estimate using the daily calories burned tables based on your height, build, and sex. If you're active physically, use a number toward the high end of the range, and if your daily workout consists of changing channels, guess closer to the lower number. Don't worry about the exact number—it's nothing more than a guess.

If your goal is maintaining a constant weight, use the number directly from the table. If you wish to lose or gain weight, subtract or add the number of calories specified by your diet plan.

Plan Meals

With the calorie number in hand, you can plan a variety of meals, that regulate what goes in to that number of calories per day. As long as you follow the meal plan, you'll be guaranteed to receive the intended number of calories every day: no more, no less.

Log Weight

With your calorie intake—what goes in—under control, the effect should be reflected in your weight. Log your weight every day. As you collect daily weight information, you amass data that contain the truth about the balance of calories in and calories burned.

Compute Trend

Once you've collected a couple of weeks of daily weight readings you can compute the weight trend, chart the progress of the trend, and interpret the chart. We began with a rough estimate of the number of calories to achieve an intended weight goal. The trend figures and chart express reality: what actually happened. By fitting a straight line to the trend, you obtain the actual calorie shortfall or excess, based on your own body's true rate of burning calories, not a number picked from some table.

Adjust Calories

With the true calorie balance now known, adjust your calorie target to match your body's burn rate. Suppose you started assuming your body burned 2200 calories a day and planning to eat 1700 calories a day in order to lose a pound a week. After the first month of the diet, you examine the trend chart and discover you actually lost weight faster than you planned: at the rate of 1 1/4 pounds a week, evidence of a daily shortfall of 600 calories instead of the 500 you intended.

As long as you're carefully following the meal plan you know your calorie intake is close to 1700. The only possible cause of the discrepancy, then, is that you're actually burning 2300 calories a day rather than the 2200 you guessed. Now you get to choose; if you feel fine losing 1 1/4 pounds a week and prefer to get the diet over with so much the quicker, stay with your original meal plan. If, on the other hand, the extra calorie shortfall is bothering you, simply adjust your meal plan to supply 1800 calories a day: the 2300 you really burn minus 500 for the planned weight loss. In a couple more weeks, you should see a trend line that's falling one pound a week.

And around we go…

Surely, what we have here is a feedback system, and like any feedback system, it just keeps on going. Information: daily weight, the trend calculated from it, and the actual calorie balance determined from the trend, leads to action: controlling calories eaten by adjusting your meal plan. Feedback is negative since, when you discover too few calories going in, you compensate by adding calories to the meal plan and vice versa. Control is proportional because adjustments to the meal plan are incremental, based on the degree to which reality, reflected in the trend line, diverges from the goal. (A bang bang diet would, by contrast, let you eat anything you liked as long as you were within 10 pounds of your goal. When the scale cried “tilt,” you'd have to stop eating lunch until you got back to the goal. Some people actually do this, but it's stressful to the body and hardly a way to enjoy life.)

The most important aspect of our proportional negative feedback system is the one we've come to expect, it works. It is robust, reliable, stable, and self-adjusting. Since we have a closed feedback loop, even changes that would otherwise require careful compensation are accounted for automatically.

Suppose you take up jogging and run a couple of miles every other day. The number of calories you burn increases and, with meal planning holding calories eaten constant, shows up before long as a falling trend line. How many extra calories are you burning by jogging? Just look at the trend chart! The calorie deficit calculated from the trend tells you precisely how much more to eat now that you're more active.

If, on the other hand, you have lunch every day at Chez Maintenant, the trendy gourmet drive-thru joint and, unbeknownst to you, Chef Bubba starts making his secret sauce for the Escargot Burger with two tablespoons of mayonnaise instead of one, the extra hundred calories that crept past your meal plan will soon engender a slow, steady rise in the trend line. Even if you don't know what changed, the course of action is clear: cut back 100 calories somewhere. If the rest of your meals are pretty predictable, you may even be able to finger the culprit and switch to the tasty yet less filling Slug Nuggets.

Assured stability

From everything we've learned about feedback systems you might remark, “Well, of course it works! How could it possibly fail?” And of course it can't, as long as each link in the feedback loop continues to function. Once you implement this plan, the only way you will ever substantially diverge from whatever weight goal you set for yourself is by eating more or fewer calories than your meal plan prescribes, or ceasing to calculate your weight trend and adjust your meal plan based upon it.

You may have some trouble getting used to this plan and you will certainly endure some hunger if you're currently overweight and cut way back on calories to reduce, but as long as you continue to let the feedback of the trend line guide what you eat, you will never gain or lose weight unexpectedly or uncontrollably. Think about that. For the price of calculating the trend and planning meals, you will have purchased total freedom in the kinds of food you eat, your meal schedule, and how much or how little you choose to exercise. As long as you keep the calories where the meal plan dictates and continue to adjust them as the trend varies, no change will cause your weight to creep very far from where you want it.

This is truly worth it. Eat what you like, not what somebody says you “should.” Schedule meals around your life, not your life around some “permanent weight maintenance plan.” As your activity changes from season to season and year to year, don't worry about your weight creeping out of control. Any change is automatically corrected, long before it reaches the point where anybody else notices, and the correction requires only a small adjustment to your meal plan. You are free. Free to experiment with food, meal schedules, exercise, or anything else; free to find what works for you: what makes you feel good, have the most energy, and enhances the enjoyment of your life.

As engineers, we discovered the underlying cause of weight gain, a broken feedback system, and found a fix for it. As managers, we developed mechanisms and procedures to apply the tools of engineering to forever banish overweight from our lives. And now, having not just a fix, not just a plan for coping, but a real solution, we can go to work in earnest on losing weight.

Getting ready

Before embarking on a program of weight loss, it's wise to spend a couple of months monitoring your daily weight, keeping a weight log, and producing the charts at the end of each month. You'll become accustomed to the procedures and, more important, familiar with how your weight behaves from day to day and the trend from week to week. You'll be in a better position then to appreciate the changes that occur when you cut back on calories. If you decide to try the exercise program, it makes sense to start right away and get a couple of months of slow progress under your (ample) belt before beginning weight loss. Why? Because it will give you a base line for the shape you were in before losing weight and a powerful incentive to continue weight loss once you discover how much relatively small reductions in weight contribute to your fitness and stamina, seen directly in your reaction to exercise and the rate you advance from rung to rung. Also, exercising stimulates the growth of muscle tissue. As you diet, the body can consume muscles as well as fat to meet its calorie needs. Exercise not only protects and increases your muscle strength during a diet, it causes more rapid loss of fat. Since you're adding muscle tissue, not burning it, fat remains the only source of energy and is consumed all the more rapidly.

Before embarking on any project, it's important to have a plan. A plan is a statement of goals and expectations, not a straitjacket; plans can be changed as events unfold. But without a plan, there's no standard against which to measure your progress, and consequently no feeling of accomplishment as you approach the goal.

Weight goals

What should you weigh? No two people are the same. You can't look up an “ideal weight” in a table and conclude you're a fatty if you're above it or wasting away if you're slightly below some magic number.

The following tables provide general weight guidelines for men and women. The height in these tables is measured barefoot, and the weights assume no clothes.

“Frame” is a measure of how robustly you're built. If your nickname is “Spider,” you probably have a small frame; if “Magilla,” you're likely a large. In any case the overlap between the categories is so large and the variation from person to person so great there's no reason to worry precisely which category you fall into.

There's really no such thing as an “ideal weight” for anybody. The human body is highly adaptable; as long as you're within five or ten pounds of the optimum you'll be fine. It's far more important to find a weight at which you feel good, one you have no trouble maintaining, than to struggle for a number printed in a table, churned out by an equation in all likelihood, that has nothing to do with your own body.

Optimum weight: Men

Height Frame
Feet Inches Small Medium Large

5 1 111–119 119–130 126–141
5 2 115–123 122–134 130–145
5 3 118–126 125–137 133–149
5 4 122–130 128–141 137–153
5 5 126–134 132–144 140–157
5 6 129–138 135–148 144–162
5 7 133–142 139–152 148–166
5 8 137–146 143–157 152–170
5 9 141–151 147–161 156–175
5 10 145–155 151–166 161–180
5 11 149–159 155–170 165–185
6 0 153–163 160–175 169–190
6 1 157–168 165–180 174–195
6 2 161–172 169–186 179–200
6 3 165–177 174–191 183–205
6 4 170–181 179–197 188–211

Optimum weight: Women

Height Frame
Feet Inches Small Medium Large

4 8 90–97 94–105 103–117
4 9 92–100 97–108 106–120
4 10 95–103 100–112 109–123
4 11 98–106 103–115 112–127
5 0 101–109 106–119 115–130
5 1 104–112 110–122 118–134
5 2 107–116 113–126 122–138
5 3 110–119 117–130 125–142
5 4 114–123 120–134 129–146
5 5 118–127 124–138 133–150
5 6 122–131 128–142 136–154
5 7 126–136 132–147 140–159
5 8 130–140 136–151 145–164
5 9 134–145 140–156 149–168
5 10 139–150 144–160 153–173
5 11 144–155 148–165 158–178
6 0 149–161 153–170 162–184

My own experience taught me to be skeptical of recommended weight tables. When I began my diet in 1988, my goal was 165, my weight in those halcyon college days of fitness and the bottom of my diet in the 1970s. This is close to the middle of the published range for a person of my height and build. When I reached 165, I still felt fat; I was obviously packing fat in all the usual places. Plus, I was having no trouble continuing the diet and weight loss was proceeding at a steady pace. So…I decided to continue until the inner tube was deflated.

It wasn't until I reached 155 that I began to feel the fat monster capitulate. At 155 I had no obvious paunch and the difference of 10 pounds, much more perceptible than 10 pounds between, say, 195 and 205, made me feel much better. I was advancing through the exercise program by then and I could feel how the additional weight reduction contributed to my fitness.

I initially tried to stabilise my weight at 155, but I discovered a tendency to creep upward from that point. It seemed I had to constantly watch my diet on a daily basis to remain at 155. Feedback systems often have points of natural stability. Experience had taught me that 165 was such a stable point, but I didn't feel good there. I'd learned that 155 was unstable. So, I decided to see if there was a stable point below 155 I could be happy with. In due course, I arrived at 145. That was it. I haven't deviated from that weight by more than five pounds for over two years.

I'm sure you're not interested in the details of my weight, but the story is worth recounting because it points out how you, as I, must find your own individual weight goal in the process of reducing and maintaining your weight. I'm a person who'd tended to overweight all his life, with an average build, and yet I settled at a weight slightly below the published recommended minimum for a small framed person my height.

Choose your goal, but prepare for refinements as you approach it and discover where you feel the best. Watching the trend line will help you find a goal that's easy to live with.

Diet planning

You know what you weigh now. Given an initial target weight, either from the tables above or from your own past (“I want to be able to fit into my old football uniform”), it's easy to plot the course of a diet to get from here to there.

An Excel worksheet for diet planning is supplied in the file FORECAST.XLS. When you load this worksheet you're presented with the following screen:

Enter your current weight and goal on the indicated lines. If you measure your weight in kilograms instead of pounds, enter 0 in the cell that shows “Pounds” to the right of the “Initial weight”; for stones, enter −1 in this cell. You can then try various values in the “Daily calorie deficit” cell and observe the predicted length of the diet and completion date, assuming you started the diet today. Instructions for manually calculating the duration of a diet are given in the Pencil and Paper chapter.

As you experiment with various calorie deficits, remember that a deficit of 500 calories a day translates to a loss of 52 pounds per year. If you're patient, you can lose all the weight you want to at that rate. Larger deficits peel the weight off faster but extract a greater price in hunger along the way. As the diet progresses you'll see the actual calorie shortfall based on the trend and compare it to the plan. Once you're into the diet and begin to observe a consistent calorie shortfall and weekly weight loss, you can revise the forecast based on the actual numbers you're observing, or adjust your meal plan to achieve the intended rate of reduction.

Ask the doctor

Every diet book implores you not to begin any diet without first consulting, then proceeding under the supervision of a physician. This is excellent advice. First, we who write diet books don't want to get sued for gazillions of dollars if you drop dead two days into the diet, whatever the reason. But seriously, you're about to put your body through a significant period of organic stress and it's wise to make sure you're up to it. Further, doctors are in the business of maintaining the human body, and explaining your goals and plans to somebody who's seen it all before many times is well worth the time and money of a visit to the doc.

I'll be honest and admit I didn't follow my own advice here. Doctors…brrrrrr…can't stand 'em. But please do the reasonable thing: as I say, not as I did.

Important. If you've been, or think you may have been exposed to toxic chemicals such as pesticides, defoliants, or industrial chemicals, don't begin this or any other diet without consulting a doctor. Toxic chemicals accumulate in fat cells and cause no harm as long as they're immured there, but if you rapidly lose weight they can be released faster than your body can dispose of them and can lead to serious problems. Fortunately, most hackers have been exposed only to tetchy computers and flaky software which rot the mind, not the flesh.

Take a “before” picture

As you lose weight, the changes in how you look and feel occur so gradually you're apt not to notice them from day to day. Weight charts help you see how far you've come, but there's nothing like comparing your appearance before your diet with your present shape to make your progress obvious. Ask somebody to snap a couple of pictures of you before you start your diet. In addition to a mug shot, get a full-length picture and, if you can stomach the thought, a profile. These don't have to be portrait quality; snapshots will do.

As your diet progresses and you feel, on occasion, a need for encouragement and a sense you're making progress, pull out the “before” pictures and compare them with how you look in the mirror. What you're going through may not be the greatest of fun, but the payoff will be right before your eyes. Even after you're through dieting and accustomed to slenderness and stable weight, keep that “before” picture around. Hide it, if you wish, beneath those neckties Uncle Fred has given you for Christmas every year since 1965, but keep it. Every now and then the years you spent overweight and feeling powerless will seem like a dream and the minor annoyance of controlling your weight no longer necessary. Whenever that happens, pull out those pictures. Then you'll remember.

Before long, folks will forget your former appearance. A “before” picture remains your own private link to the past, a reminder that being thin is much better and well worth the minor effort to maintain. (Yes, I have a “before” picture, and I look at it occasionally. Unfortunately, so can you. Business Week kindly featured my “before” picture in the issue of May 25, 1987. Sigh. Still, it does show what you can do with a wide angle lens.)

The initial plunge

Well, the first days are the hardest days,
Don't you worry any more.
'Cause when life looks like Easy Street,
There is danger at your door.

—The Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band

No matter how long or severe your diet, the first 72 hours are the worst. This unfortunate fact leads many people to abandon diets which, if continued, would soon yield sustainable weight loss without undue discomfort. Once you've surmounted the difficult period at the start of a diet, you can be assured the worst is behind you; it's unlikely you'll experience anything that bad for the rest of its course. Humans may have a limitless ability to ignore unpleasant facts, but we're also able to endure truly awful realities: high school, boot camp, root canals, going public, life—as long as we know it's only for a while and we'll never have to do it again.

Planning a diet from an understanding of how weight loss really works gives you a handle on how long you'll have to endure its unpleasantness. Knowing how feedback can control your weight equips you with at least intellectual confidence that once you've lost weight you'll never have to go through that again. As you see the trend line in action, your initial confidence will increase as experience confirms theory, logic, and calculation.

In this section we'll look at the mechanics of getting a diet underway, why the first days are the hardest days, and how to get through them to the easier part beyond.

Breaking down (fat) is hard to do

The reason it's so tough to start a diet follows directly from our understanding of the rubber bag, how fat cells store and release calories, and the relationship between calorie intake, weight gain or loss, and hunger as shown by Skinny Stable Sam's chart. Regardless of the shape of your own feedback curve, if you tend to overweight it's certain the left side of the curve, the hunger signal when you eat too little, looks much like the one in that graph.

In order to lose weight, you have to reduce your calories sufficiently to move beyond the flat part of the curve where your body compensates by adjusting metabolism into the downslope at the left where you're actually losing weight. This follows from understanding the simple world of a fat cell. There's no central control in your body that tells cells what to do metabolically. You can think all the right thoughts for as long as you want, but the only thing that's going to cause your fat cells to start tapping their reserves is lowering blood sugar, the ultimate product of the food you eat, below a given level. As the fat cells, one by one, detect low blood sugar, they cease banking excess calories or sitting on the sidelines and begin breaking down fat and releasing energy into the bloodstream. This is what's happening as you move from the flat part of the curve onto the downslope: the fat cells are beginning to make up the shortage of food and, as they do, your weight begins to fall.

Once that happens, you're in “burn mode.” Part of your daily need for calories is now being met by breaking down fat, and as long as that continues your blood sugar won't drop to the very low levels that trigger severe hunger. Unfortunately, first you have to get into that mode, and that's what makes the start of a diet so trying. To begin losing weight, you have to cut back substantially on calories, enough to move beyond what metabolism can adjust for, to trigger the fat cells to make up the shortage. But, as you can see from the feedback chart, that requires going well into the region where hunger urges you to eat more. Further, there's a delay between the time you reduce your calorie intake and when blood sugar falls low enough for the fat cells to react. Even more time elapses before substantial calories from breaking down fat reach the bloodstream. Unfortunately, hunger has no such delay.

This explains the rocky start every dieter must endure. There is a delay, usually between 48 and 72 hours, between the time you cut back on calories and when fat burning begins in earnest. In those hours, you will experience the most severe shortage of nutrition in the entire course of your diet. You'll feel cold, weak, irritable, tired yet prone to sleep poorly, and a constant, gnawing hunger that urges you toward the refrigerator and implores you to rethink your resolve to lose weight. Yes, it really is that bad, and I'm not going to try to sugar coat it as many diet books do; better to face it squarely and know what you're in for and that it's worth enduring.

First, some perspective: the first two or three days of a diet are rough but, all in all, you won't feel anything close to as miserable as when you catch a winter cold, nor will you suffer as long or feel the lingering effects of a cold. A cold makes you feel really awful and leaves you in worse shape. Starting a diet makes you feel less miserable for fewer days than a cold and it's the first step toward much better health. Only the fact that it's self-inflicted makes it harder to live through. After all, you don't voluntarily catch a cold and you don't have the option of ending it at will. I view what must be endured in the first few days of a diet as an investment that will pay off in reduced suffering later on. As I mentioned in conjunction with exercise, it's worth comparing the undeniable aggravation of dieting with the inestimably less enjoyable sequelæ of excess weight: heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. If you think of a balance sheet with three days of hunger on one side and six weeks of recuperation from a coronary on the other, it's a lot easier to get through the first days into the long haul where dieting becomes at most a nuisance to be tolerated.

When to start

Plan to start your diet at a time when you have at least two weeks, ideally a month, of “normal life,” what you do in a typical day, ahead of you. It's hard enough to make the initial adaptation to losing weight without trying to fit it around a vacation, the holidays, extensive travel, lots of entertaining, and the like. All of these events can be taken in stride once you're used to managing a diet, but it's best to hit your stride before dealing with the distractions, complications, and temptations they present. Starting a diet in a period that's representative of your normal life helps you adapt your diet to a typical day, not an odd special case.

Start your diet at the beginning of a work week: Monday for most of us. As your body initially reacts to reduced calories and makes the shift into burning fat to make up the deficit, you're going to feel hungry. If you're just sitting around with nothing else to think about, the hunger may dominate your thoughts to the extent you're tempted to give up the diet. But, if instead you're busy, trying to get a lot of things done in a limited amount of time, your thoughts will be focused on the task at hand and hunger, while still present, will recede from the centre of your attention. In fact, keeping busy is one of the very best ways to get over the initial hump in dieting. If you anticipate a particularly difficult and stressful week coming up at work, that's an excellent time to plan to start your diet.

This is one of the ways stress actually helps you lose weight. Being on a diet doesn't help you handle stress; indeed, it reduces your energy somewhat and will probably make you more irritable than usual. (The latter isn't altogether a liability in high-stress environments. In P. G. Wodehouse's story “The Juice Of an Orange” the dieting hero tames a wild animal and gets the girl thanks to this very irascibility. My personal experience is less dramatic, but I have won some arguments I'd likely have lost otherwise.) However, stress and preoccupation with difficult and numerous tasks does help you diet. On many occasions you've probably become immersed in a thorny problem and worked right through your usual mealtime, noticing only hours later. The same thing happens when dieting. Not that you should delay or skip meals: a regular schedule is particularly important in the early days of a diet. But the same absorption that leads to skipping meals beforehand can keep you from counting the seconds until the next meal once a diet is underway.

Planning to start a diet on a quiet weekend at home is unwise, and scheduling it to begin during a restful vacation is an absolutely wretched idea. Not only will you manage to wreck what would otherwise be a blessed period of serene relaxation, you'll have to deal with the very worst part of dieting, the few days of hunger when you start, in an environment where the minutes pass ever…so…slowly, and the next meal seems something of legend, receding forever into the misty future. By getting the diet underway at the start of the work week, by the time the weekend arrives you'll be well adapted and, in all likelihood, the hunger you experience will be minor and readily tolerated.

Planning and scheduling meals

A really rigid meal plan and schedule makes the early days of a diet much easier to stomach. I'd suggest, before you start, sitting down and working out the first five days' menus in complete detail, based on the meal plan you've developed. That way, when you do feel hungry, you're at least certain when your next meal is coming and what it will consist of—just pull out the plan and look. If you space your meals evenly through the day and balance the calories among them, a glance at the plan assures you that, however hungry you feel at the moment, you don't have that long to go before you can eat something to assuage your hunger.

In addition, a rigid plan protects you against one of the most dangerous temptations in dieting: the tendency, when preparing or ordering a meal whilst really hungry, to add a little more food. The plan helps you overcome this ever-present danger of the first and hardest days. Trust the plan, follow it to the letter, and in a few days you'll find most of the hunger and temptation behind you.

Make a special effort to eat your meals at regular times for the first week. If random delays result in your meals coming at odd times, your calorie balance around the day will be uneven. This will almost certainly cause worse than usual hunger during the longer gaps between meals. It's bad enough waiting for the next meal without the uncertainty of not knowing when it will arrive. When you start your diet, do whatever's necessary to make your meal schedule regular: pack a lunch, eat frozen food, and decline dinner invitations that would skew your mealtime. Once you're firmly on the course of weight loss you can relax these constraints, but a regular schedule at the beginning is well worth it for the peace of mind in knowing when you'll get to eat next.

The fast track

By far the simplest and most healthy way to get your diet underway is to start directly on the meal plan you've laid out for the duration of the diet, choosing when you begin as described above. Grit your teeth, reassure yourself that in three or four days you'll be feeling fine, and get it over with.

There is, however, an alternative. I don't recommend it, but I have done it myself, and if you find it impossible to get through the first few days of dieting on the regular meal plan, you might consider it. The idea is to start your diet by drastically cutting your calorie intake for the first few days: to engage in a partial fast. “Huh? I'm hungry and you're telling me to eat less?”

There are couple of reasons to try it if all else fails. Remember, what makes the first few days of a diet tough is the delay between your cutting back on calories, the consequent fall in blood sugar, and the eventual transition to burning fat to make up the shortfall. If you gradually reduce calories, your body will tend to adjust metabolism downward rather than tap its fat reserves. That's why you need a substantial calorie deficit like 500 calories a day to get a diet underway. An even larger shortfall will cause a more precipitous plunge in blood sugar and should trigger the transition to burning fat more quickly. Starting your diet with a radical cutback in calories may reduce the length of the transition from three days to two or even fewer.

Second, fasting often induces a kind of “beyond hunger” state in many people. You may find this easier to endure for a day or two than the consequences of a smaller calorie shortage. Your reaction may be different, but many people find they don't feel much worse on 500 calories a day for one or two days than on 1200. If you're going to feel hungry, better to minimise the duration and wring the maximum weight loss from it.

If frustration with getting into a diet leads you to try this approach, be reasonable. Don't consider going totally off the feed. Instead, plan a calorie intake of 500 to 600 calories for each of the first two days of your diet, then move on to the regular meal plan. Since you'll be eating very little, concentrate on foods with lots of bulk but few calories. For example:

Food Calories
Low-fat cottage cheese (1 cup) 164
Hard boiled egg 82
Low-fat cottage cheese (1 cup) 164
Salad, consisting of:
   Iceberg lettuce (1 cup) 7
   Chopped onion (1/2 cup) 33
   Diced tomato (1 tomato) 26
   Italian dressing (1 tbsp.) 69
Total 545

You can season any of these foods with salt, pepper, or any other spices that are essentially free of calories. Along with these food items, drink plenty of liquids: at least three quarts a day. As we'll see below, you need to keep plenty of fluid flowing through the rubber bag for the duration of your diet to dilute and flush out the nasty chemical by-products of breaking down fat. This is especially important when you're administering a shock to the system by fasting. You're trying to get the fat cells to start burning earlier and quicker, and you need even more water to wash out the gunk they'll spew as they come on line. Further, having your stomach filled with anything, even water that's just passing through, helps counter the immediate desire to eat; polishing off a tall glass of your favourite (non calorie bearing) beverage is at least putting something in your mouth when you'd rather be eating. And yes, in case you didn't know, and, like most hackers, are a confirmed guzzler of diet soft drinks and aren't overly obsessed with organic this and natural that, be aware that caffeine is a highly effective appetite suppressant.

I don't recommend this kind of gung-ho start to a diet, but if you really have trouble getting past the first few days on your regular meal plan, you may want to give it a shot. I've done it both ways, and I must say that if, for some reason, I ever needed to lose a lot of weight again I would start off with a two day 500–600 calorie fast.

The long haul

After two or three days, the worst part of your diet is behind you, receding into the past if never completely forgotten. You've adjusted to reduced calorie intake, fat is being consumed to make up most of the difference between the calories you're eating and what you're burning, and the weight is coming off, although it will take a little while for the trend to clearly reflect this. Now you're into the main part of the diet, where you'll stay until you arrive at your weight goal. As the weeks pass, you'll probably find the diet becomes less and less of a bother; your body continues to slowly adapt to burning fat more efficiently, you become accustomed to eating less, and, before long, you'll start to notice the difference in how you look and feel. Once the changes in your waistline and weight become obvious, you're into the payoff period: where the benefits so obviously outweigh whatever discomfort you experience that abandoning the diet becomes unthinkable.

Trend tracking and monthly adjustment

Continue to record your weight every day, compute the trend number from it, and chart the trend at the end of every month. In the first few weeks of your diet, you may want to calculate the trend and plot the weight chart weekly or even daily. If you're using Excel, you can enter weights as frequently or infrequently as you like. Excel will produce charts of partial as well as complete months; just select a cell in the current month, even if the remaining days are blank, and pick WEIGHT MONTHLY CHART. A chart showing the month to date will be generated, complete with trend analysis of the days so far.

Partial month charts are an interesting way to watch the trend begin to drop initially and then settle into a steady decline, but don't attach too much significance to the first couple of weeks or try to adjust your meal plan based on every week's change in the trend. After a month, look at the trend chart, compare the weekly weight loss rate and daily calorie deficit with what you planned, and make the appropriate adjustments to your meal plan or diet plan.

When you adjust your meal plan to increase or decrease calorie intake, don't expect to see the change reflected immediately in the trend line; remember, it lags behind. Give any change at least two weeks to show up in the trend or, better, wait until the next monthly review of your plan. Since the effect of changes is subtle and slow to emerge in the trend, monthly adjustment is adequate and keeps you from constantly fiddling with your meal plan.

Pernicious painful plateaus and baneful bounces

One reason to plot the trend daily or weekly is to overcome the psychological punishment day to day variations in weight would otherwise mete out: the awful week-long plateaus and day to day zig-zags in weight that reflect nothing more than how much water happens to be in the rubber bag. As we saw in the chronicle of Dexter's diet, you'll go nuts if you concentrate on daily weight. Focus exclusively on the trend to reveal the slow, inexorable progress of your diet.

If you encounter periods when your weight seems painted on the scale, or if one morning you wake up hungry as a cave bear yet five pounds heavier than yesterday, examine the trend line on the chart. As long as the trend line is falling, you're continuing to lose weight. As long as your daily weight, whatever it may be, is below the trend, it's continuing to drag the trend line downward. Recalling these simple facts and taking the time to plot a trend chart so you can see them in action lets you bypass the torture that drives most dieters to despair.

Every few months you may encounter a stronger kind of plateau: a period where the trend line itself falls more slowly or even remains constant for a few days. As we've discussed in connection with finding a permanent weight goal, there are certain weights where the body seems especially stable. I think these plateaus in the trend indicate you're passing through one of those stable points. If you're taking off lots of weight, it stands to reason there will be periods when the body pauses, adjusts to all the changes going on, then resumes losing weight. Stay with the diet and in a few more days the trend will resume its decline, usually at the same rate as before or steeper, making up for lost time. The simple arithmetic of the rubber bag always wins out in the end; as long as you're eating less than you burn, your weight will continue to fall at a rate determined by the calorie deficit.

If you encounter a plateau in the trend that's on the verge of driving you nuts you might, as a last resort, consider a one- or two-day fast. That may be enough to break the temporary equilibrium and start the trend downward again. On the other hand, simple patience will certainly have the same effect in at most a few more days. The best way to treat these rare plateaus in the trend is philosophically and with patience; think of them as a preview of the stability you seek when you reach your weight goal. When the body settles in around the goal and you increase your calories to balance what you burn, you can expect a trend line that stays almost flat month after month.

Fatty Metabolite and the Ketones

These dudes aren't a forgotten early sixties doo-wop band; they're a nasty bunch of chemicals that wind up in your bloodstream, menacingly swinging their carbon chains, as an unavoidable consequence of losing weight. Losing weight means burning fat. Burning fat means individual fat cells tapping their reserves, breaking down the complex fat molecules into the simple molecules you burn. Chemical plants produce waste products, and fat cells are no exception. Instead of pumping nasty stuff into the river at midnight that makes aluminium canoes fizz, fat cells dump their waste into the bloodstream in broad daylight, right along with the useful products of breaking down fat.

Most prominent among the waste products of burning fat are a group of chemicals called ketones. As long as you're burning fat, your body will be subjected to a constant dose of extra ketones in the blood, a condition referred to as ketosis. Ketones are, in the contemporary argot, toxic waste, and the prospect of subjecting yourself to a long-term dose of them is off-putting to anybody contemplating a diet.

But the alternative, not losing weight, is much less healthy. With a little knowledge and a simple trick, ketones can be conquered. First, while ketones are toxic, they're only slightly so. Dieting won't make you see huge hairy bats (unless, of course, you saw huge hairy bats before). Second, the waste products of burning fat aren't insidious—they don't accumulate in the body like heavy metals or some organic toxins. Instead, they get swept out of the bloodstream by the kidneys and liver and are excreted in fairly short order. This lets us cope with the problem by a very simple expedient.

Drink lots of liquids

As you burn fat, various waste products are released into your bloodstream. One way to minimise the impact of these chemicals is to dilute them in the bloodstream and, at the same time, crank up the rate at which the kidneys remove waste and dispose of it. This is easy to do; turn up the throttle on the bottle—drink more liquids every day.

For the duration of your diet, you should drink at least two quarts of liquid per day. “Liquid” means water or any non-caloric beverage you enjoy: diet soft drinks, artificially sweetened lemonade, Coiled Springs reduced benzene designer seltzer, etc. “Liquid” does not mean milk, beer, or Classic Coke, unless you're willing to subtract the calories they contain from the food you eat.

The best way to ensure you drink enough liquid every day is to make up a two quart pitcher of your beverage of choice, or buy a two quart (or two litre—they're about the same) bottle of your favourite commercial swill, then make sure you empty it by the end of the day. That way you won't have to keep a mental total, adding up every little cup and glass; as long as you empty the pitcher, you're cool.

That's “at least two quarts,” by the way. Go ahead and drink any other liquids you like, whenever you feel like it, but make sure you guzzle the two quart minimum every day. It's hard to err in the direction of too much. As we've seen, the body is a very efficient water pump; the more you put in, the more that comes out. And come out it will. Yes, increasing the number of trips to the bathroom every day is annoying, but with every visit you make to the temple of the porcelain goddess, you're flushing out chemicals released from burning fat that would otherwise continue to circulate in your blood, gumming up the works.


Many things change as you lose weight. You're eating fewer calories than before, drinking more liquids to help flush the system, and your entire body is adapting to a different size and shape. The body is an organic whole, not a bunch of loosely coupled pieces Frankenstitched together. When you burn fat, you change the body's centre of gravity, you adopt a different posture to compensate, you reduce the amount of insulation, spurring increased metabolism to maintain your body temperature; these and many other adjustments occur, mostly unnoticed as the pounds peel off.

Cells are torn down and others are built. All this dynamism in your body shifts its normal chemical balance. Some of these changes manifest themselves in odd ways you should be aware of. Remember that “what goes out” of the rubber bag isn't entirely a matter of what transpires in the bathroom. A substantial amount of water, for example, transpires through your skin—it is released as water vapour even when you aren't obviously sweating. Additional water is released as moisture in the air you exhale, and still more if you drool.

The ketones that result from burning fat may show up in your breath as well as your blood. If it starts to seem like Monsanto's moved in among your molars, endure it for the moment—it's a sure sign you're burning fat.

As your body chemistry adjusts, other curious things may happen. One day, trapped in a tedious meeting, I began to emit an odor evocative of a roadkill skunk marinated in ratpiss. My esteemed colleagues were either too polite to remark upon this phenomenon, or (more likely) unsure of the culprit, so I managed to escape to the open air unfingered as the malodorous miscreant. This situation persisted for about two weeks, after which it disappeared for good as suddenly as its onset.

Should these or other side-effects of losing weight afflict you, take comfort in the knowledge they will pass. In the meanwhile, you can resort to any of the widely marketed remedies for these embarrassing problems. In my experience, they work adequately. You may not, as the advertising suggests, be dragged off to Lovers' Lane, but at least you won't be mistaken for Love Canal.

I, Klingon?

As you lose weight, the padding beneath your skin impolitely referred to as fat disappears. This can lead to some surprises, particularly if you're working your way up the exercise ladder at the same time. As you exercise, you build muscles and increase the performance of the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) that delivers matter and energy throughout your body. New blood vessels grow to fuel the muscles you're adding and more blood flows through the arteries upstream. This, combined with less fat to hide the machinery, may result in your regarding your body one day, especially just after exercising, and wondering if you're in the midst of transmogrifying into a bad guy from one of the lower budget episodes of the original Star Trek. In particular, you may develop bulging blue veins, particularly on your arms and legs.

Unlikely as it may seem, this is a good sign. It indicates you're building muscles and that your heart is increasing in capacity to support them. Before long, everything will re-equilibrate and you'll resemble a human being once again.

Solid waste

When you diet, you eat less. Not just fewer calories, but less in terms of total bulk. Over the years your body has adjusted to the quantity of food you've been eating. When you abruptly reduce the volume of food, you're apt to disrupt the normal pace that solids move through the body. In other words, you may wind up full of shit. This isn't pleasant to think about or discuss, but it's even less pleasant when it happens to you unexpectedly, so it merits a brief discussion of how to avoid the problem.

Ideally, what you'd like to do is maintain the same volume of food you were eating before the diet while reducing its calorie content to the level in your diet plan. If you could manage this, you'd never have a problem, since the flow through your digestive system is driven by volume, not calories. Unfortunately, it's rarely possible to achieve this unless you were eating extremely high-calorie, low-residue foods before your diet, but you can come close. What you're looking for is foods with a high fibre content and relatively few calories, and this basically brings us to the vegetable aisle in the supermarket. A whole cup of raw cabbage, shredded, has only 17 calories but the bulk, mostly fibre, fills four ounces of volume. An entire artichoke, thorns and all, comes in at only 67 calories. A head of iceberg lettuce is just 70 calories, for Heaven's sake! Or consider green peppers, just 16 calories apiece.

The best way to avoid clogged pipes and green skin is to include lots of the leafy green stuff in your diet. You get a large amount of bulk per calorie, and not only does it make the digestive system move right along, it also makes for large, satisfying meals because there's lots of volume to munch down at every sitting. Including salads and lots of vegetables is by far the best way to increase the bulk in your diet. In addition, vegetables are rich in nutrients and slow to digest, meaning they'll satisfy you longer after each meal.

If the problem persists, sterner measures may be called for. Some people swear by adding bran to their food, and it may work for you; consider trying it. Personally, I find it gritty and unpalatable as sawdust (which it basically is—both are mostly cellulose). In addition, a one ounce serving of bran (six tablespoons) contains 90 calories, almost as much as Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes (110 calories per ounce). Beyond bran lie a multitude of heavily advertised remedies, most of which are reasonably effective and harmless if used in moderation and infrequently.

Starving and health

Always bear in mind that dieting is the polite term for “deliberate starvation.” Starvation in the interest of improved long-term health, to be sure, but starvation nonetheless. A balanced diet and a daily multivitamin guard against the obvious risks of starvation. Still, it's prudent to remember that burning fat is neither as efficient nor as healthy a way of fueling your body as eating a diet that matches your calorie needs, and to recognise that your defences will be lowered to some degree for the duration of your diet.

Burning fat makes up some of the deficit in calories, but not all. (It's an ongoing deficit that causes fat to continue to be burned.) Your metabolism reacts by slowing down, and in addition you'll have less fat to insulate against heat loss. You'll tend to get chilled more easily and, at the same time, your resistance to infection will be reduced. Play it safe: dress warmly, avoid getting chilled and, if possible, try to limit your exposure to people at the office who are passing around this season's cold. The middle of a diet is no time to be singin' in the rain, especially if it's chilly. If there's a really nasty 'flu going around or predicted for the season, you might ask your doctor about getting vaccinated against it.

The kind of moderate, pound a week diet we're talking about doesn't pose a serious health risk and in any case the benefits far outweigh the increased odds of ending up with a King Hell cold for a week, one you'd probably have caught anyway. But why take chances? It's in that vein you might consider putting down a 500 milligram Vitamin C tablet every day along with a regular multivitamin. In all likelihood the whole Vitamin C business is utterly bogus and ascorbic acid no more effective in preventing colds than peach fuzz. So if the suggestion seems appalling, ignore it. I'll confess to embracing this particular fad for a decade, but then what do I know? I haven't had a cold to speak of in ten years.

Why don't they notice?

After you've lost a substantial amount of weight: 10 to 15 pounds, you'll really notice the difference in how you feel. The changes in your appearance will be obvious without pulling out the “before” picture and comparing. You may be surprised and/or disappointed to discover that people you encounter every day don't remark on the dramatic change you perceive. There are several reasons for this, and it's nothing to get upset about.

It's hard to notice slow, gradual changes. You have the advantage of being inside your body. You can feel the difference in how you move, how your clothes fit, and how much energy you have. Others have only your appearance to go by, and that's often limited to your face and hands. While the difference would be obvious if they compared a picture from a few months ago with your present self, your slow, steady progress may go unnoticed until some day somebody looks at you, startled, and exclaims, “Hey! Didn't you used to be fat?”

When people do notice a change, many will react in the time proven and honourable manner of minding their own business and keeping their mouths shut. Politeness and consideration are usually the motivation. How would you feel if you noticed a friend seemed to be slimmer and you blurted out at lunch, “Hey, haven't you lost some weight?” And then he quietly said, eyes averted, “Well, no actually, I haven't.”

Don't worry, eventually they will notice.

Late night, hungry, and alone

A hungry stomach will not allow its owner to forget it, whatever his cares and sorrows.

—Homer, The Odyssey, c. 800 B.C.

The generally smooth and steady progress of a diet, like the course of a life, is occasionally punctuated by “bad days.” Throughout this book I've tried to concentrate on facts and methods instead of persuasion and motivation. I believe that, ultimately, success in anything requires motivation from within; that the person undertaking a task believes in its worth and values accomplishing it above whatever effort is required to that end. Still, a little encouragement along the way helps, especially when unexpected difficulties crop up or fatigue begins to take its toll. This section is intended to provide a little encouragement when the inevitable bad day comes along, to remind you of the reasons you decided to lose weight in the first place, and the enduring reasons to stay the course.

The worst times in a diet often occur late at night. You've eaten the last meal of the day, and a few hours later you're hungry again. You may not be able to get to sleep for hunger, or you may have awakened, stomach growling, “Feed me.” It's just you and the hunger, alone, in the middle of the night. But even if you're in a room full of people in the afternoon, you are still truly alone.

You're alone because only you have the power to stay on your meal plan. If you confide your hunger to anybody, they'll either react by thinking “Why is he bothering me with this?” or, more often, by saying, “Well, that's simple. Go eat something!” Neither helps. For if you go and have a snack, you've taken the first step toward pitching out the meal plan. The next time, it probably won't take quite as bad a day, and before long the meal plan will lie abandoned, the diet in shambles, and your weight trend on an upward climb, probably no longer being watched. What helps in these rare but trying times is reflection on precisely why you got yourself into this mess in the first place and soberly weighing your present discomfort against achieving the goal you're striving for.

Why am I doing this to myself?

Only you know precisely why you decided to lose weight, but let's tick off some of the likely reasons.

Live longer

Fat men are more likely to die suddenly than the slender.

—Hippocrates, Aphorisms, c. 400 B.C.

Every day you see plenty of fat people and lots of old people, but have you noticed how few old, fat people you see? All those geezers who make it into their eighties and nineties and call it the “prime of life” seem to be the lean, wiry type, don't they? This isn't because people suddenly feel compelled to lose weight sometime in their fifth or sixth decades. As the original hipster pointed out 2400 years ago, it's because the fat ones are dying off early.

This is the most fundamental reason to lose weight: to live longer. Whatever you value in life, you can't enjoy it if you're dead! What's the trade-off between a few bad days in the course of a diet, or even low-level irritation for several months, against living for five or ten more years? Of seeing your grandchildren grow up? Of seeing your life's work serve as the foundation for the next generation? Of finally getting the money out of your IRA? Of a happy retirement on the Moon? Whatever…death disqualifies you from every activity.

Dieting is unpleasant and bad days are wretched, but dropping dead is worse. Tomorrow will be better.

Better health

Feed by measure and defy the physician.

—John Heywood, Proverbs, 1546

Even if excess weight doesn't shorten your life, you're far more likely to suffer a variety of medical problems that will make the years you live less enjoyable. These range from really big annoyances like heart attacks to lesser maladies such as habitual shortness of breath and muscle aches and pains. A few years ago I went through a couple of weeks where I'd haul a 75 pound computer printer home, use it for a day or so, have it break, haul it to the shop, pick it up, and so on. As I recall, I ended up hauling the sucker back and forth about six times before I finally junked it. Every time I wrestled that beast into the car and out again, I woke up the next day with my muscles screaming for mercy. And yet for years, I walked around with the equivalent of that printer strapped around my middle, day in and day out. No wonder I felt awful! You can get accustomed to almost anything. If you've been overweight for a long time, it's hard to know what it's costing you not just in terms of potential health problems down the road, but in how you feel every day. The only way to find out how great you'll feel without the excess ballast is to see the diet through and experience its happy conclusion for yourself.

If a bad day comes a month or two into the diet, think back to the beginning. Think beyond the hunger to how you feel physically and what you've accomplished so far. And remember that your present situation pales before how much you'll enjoy finally achieving the goal.

Accomplish more

Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of anything else that is great.

—Henry IV of France (1553–1610)

There's a not-so-subtle discrimination against overweight people in most organisations, and it's based on the flip side of the argument that finally convinced me to lose weight. It's easy to imagine the following thoughts passing through the mind of a person considering promoting an overweight employee to a position of greater responsibility. “Andy's bright, trustworthy, loyal, and one of the hardest-working people I've ever met—in short in matters intellectual, social, and professional he is the very model of a modern middle manager. But I have to consider the whole picture. This is a management job, not a technical position. I'm betting a large budget, an important project, and more than a little of my own reputation on whoever I pick. Do I really want to bet all that on somebody who can't even manage his weight…?” The prejudice is normally far more subtle than this line of reasoning, but don't doubt for a minute it's there. Another barrier blocking the advancement of overweight people is the perception they aren't “dynamic” and don't have the energy and stamina to see through difficult tasks.

In my experience this discrimination against the overweight is totally unjustified, but that doesn't keep it from happening every day. As we've seen, most overweight people don't suffer from flaws in character or weakness of will; they just have a broken feedback system. But if others assume there's something wrong with them, the consequences will be no less severe for being unjustified and unfair.

Can I learn from being hungry?

Do you want to eat, or to stop the hunger? There is an important distinction between these desires. Most of the times we eat, we're not actually hungry. We eat because it's our regular meal time or because we associate eating with a given activity (“It just isn't a movie without the popcorn”). We eat because it's part of social ritual, or a respite from the press of events. And why not? Eating is one of the most physically enjoyable things you can do in public.

Hunger is something very different. Hunger is a command, not a request. Hunger is looking at your dog curled up sleeping on the rug and thinking, “I wonder how much meat there is beneath all that fur?” True hunger, although part of the daily life of billions of people on this planet, is rare in Western industrialised countries except among the very poor and those engaged in dieting. One thing you learn from the worst moments in a diet is what hunger really is. Not only does it help one appreciate the suffering of those deprived of food by circumstances rather than choice, it also teaches an important lesson about why we eat.

After you've truly experienced hunger once or twice in the course of a diet, you realise that most of the times people say, “I'm really hungry” they're nothing of the sort. In all likelihood they're motivated to eat by something entirely distinct from hunger. Getting to know hunger first hand teaches you how unrelated the motivation to eat is from your need for calories and how important it is, therefore, to control what you eat by some means other than instinct.

How will I feel right after I eat?

Think about how you'll feel if you do go and wolf down something to slake your hunger. Yes, the hunger will be gone, but will what replaces it be an improvement? You've invested a great deal of effort in getting to this point of your diet, and at this very moment it's all on the line. All the monitoring, all the calculation, all the analysis of the trend and the carefully crafted feedback systems are for nought if you ignore the meal plan whenever it proves uncomfortable. Weigh the immediate surcease of hunger with the feeling of accomplishment you'll have after the next regular meal in knowing you weathered a difficult time and emerged still on course.

What food is worth it?

When hunger strikes, you're already undoubtedly thinking of food, so why not put in concrete terms? Turn to the table of calories and look up the foods you're tempted to wolf down. Think about their calories compared to the calorie deficit in your meal plan, and work out, in your mind, how much longer your diet will run if you add such a food every day. Rather than increasing your focus on food, that may let you balance the food you're craving in a purely numerical way against the forecast length of your diet and the knowledge that once the diet is done your weight problem will be solved and you'll never have to endure hunger like this again.

Secret weapons

If thinking about all these things doesn't work, or makes you dwell even more on the hunger, there are more substantial ways of dealing with the problem.

Liquids Try filling up on liquid. Often putting something, anything, in your stomach will quiet the hunger monster long enough to get to the next meal.

Caffeine Next higher in yield among tactical weapons is diet soft drinks with caffeine. Caffeine is an appetite suppressing chemical which hits the bloodstream quickly and takes effect almost immediately. I'm not suggesting you get addicted to the stuff in order to diet, but odds are you're hardly a stranger to it already. Since none of these beverages have any calories, if you can get through a hunger attack with them, you're home free.

Bouillon Crossing the strategic threshold ever so slightly brings us to a mug of piping hot bouillon. Two bouillon cubes make eight fluid ounces but contain only 8 calories, almost negligible. Not only is it rich and salty, it's hot, which counteracts the chilliness that often accompanies hunger.

If none of these work, and your diet is really on the line, it's time to push the button and launch the heavy stuff. Consider the following alternatives.

Sauerkraut This is my personal favourite. A cup runs about 45 calories, and it's good either cold or heated in the microwave to banish the shivers.

Dill pickles For megatons per calorie, these little green warheads are hard to top. Each medium size pickle runs about 7 calories, which means you can eat four of them and still only bust the plan by about 30 calories. Of course this is so because they're basically crunchy water.

Popcorn Popcorn????? Yes, popcorn. To make this work you need one of those air poppers and a little restraint. You may be startled to learn that one cup of air-popped popcorn is only 25 calories. This means you can make two cups of the stuff, 8 ounces by volume, and still only go 50 calories over the plan. Remember, I'm talking about air-popped popcorn without butter (you can salt to your heart's [ahem] content), and that's two cups popped, not the trashbag full you get from popping two cups of kernels.

The morning after

I mention these secret weapon foods not to tempt you but to provide alternatives less damaging than chucking the whole diet and ordering out pizza. Any of these choices will still leave you with a calorie shortfall for the day and keep you losing weight. However, remember that if you feast on one of these treats late at night, your weight in the morning may show a dismaying increase because the food's still sitting in the rubber bag. Ignore it, trust the trend, and stay on the plan.

These secret weapon foods should remain secure in the arsenal except in times of crisis. If you want to include a midnight snack in your meal plan, fine; allocate a reasonable number of calories to it (not too many, as you don't want lots of calories in the system while you're sleeping), and make a list of alternatives with about that number of calories. But if you find a frequent need for an emergency buck-you-up, it's a sign your calorie balance over the day is uneven or you're trying to lose weight too quickly (see below). These problems should be addressed by revising the diet and/or meal plans, not by frequently resorting to unplanned snacks, however low calorie.

Too many bad days

I don't mean to imply by dwelling on bad days that you'll experience them frequently or that extreme measures are needed to survive them. In my experience, really difficult times happened no more frequently than every other month, and never lasted beyond the next meal. If you find you're suffering real hunger (as opposed to the desire to eat—learn to distinguish them) on a frequent or regular basis, it's time to revise your meal or diet plan. If hunger occurs at the same time every day, try shifting calories from another meal to the meal that precedes the problem period. Often a few shuffles of calories among meals can match the calories you eat to when you need them during the day and eliminate hunger attacks.

You can also try removing calories from a largish meal and allocating them to a planned snack in the middle of the problem interval. This moves in the direction of more meals with fewer calories apiece which many people find helps them minimise hunger. As long as your meal plan adds up to the same calories per day, any schedule is fine. Experiment until you find what works best for you.

If no amount of shifting calories from meal to meal or fiddling with your meal schedule works, if you still experience frequent attacks of serious hunger (as opposed to the “Gee, I wish it were time for dinner” that's normal whilst dieting), it's time to revisit your original diet plan—you may be trying to lose weight too rapidly. If your calorie deficit, calculated from the trend, is substantially above 500 calories per day this is particularly likely. Adjust your meal plan to bring the daily calorie shortfall down to the vicinity of 500. You won't lose weight as fast, but neither will you suffer hunger attacks that may prompt you to abandon the diet entirely. Also, remember there's nothing magic about a 500 calorie per day shortfall; it's convenient to talk about since it translates into a pound a week which many people find tolerable, but recall the wide variation in individual calorie requirements. A 500 calorie per day cutback reduces the food intake of a five foot tall, lightly built woman by more than a third but it's only one fifth the daily requirement of a robust six foot man. Clearly, the woman is going to miss those 500 calories a lot more than the man, and should probably choose a more gradual rate of weight loss to minimise hunger. Refer to the directions for planning the calorie cutback and diet duration, explore several alternatives, then revise your meal plan to achieve the new calorie target.

Success and stability

Eventually, your weight will approach the goal. Having successfully managed weight loss, you must now crown that achievement with a smooth transition to stable weight. The next chapter will discuss keeping your weight close to the goal permanently. But first, you need to move from losing weight to stability, and there are a few tricks associated with that process.

Safety margin or natural stability

Plan for a “safety margin” of 2 or 3 pounds, measured by the trend, below your original target. If you were aiming for 165 and have no trouble continuing the diet, take the trend line down to 163 or 162 before beginning the transition to stable weight. That way, if you bounce up a little in the process (as frequently happens), you won't wind up above the goal wondering whether you should start dieting again.

You may be lucky and discover a natural goal right near the end of your diet. If you're aiming for 165 pounds and you get to 168 and hit a plateau where the trend line just stays there, day after day, and you seem more bothered by hunger than for a long time, you've probably found a weight you'll have little trouble maintaining; in all likelihood it's one of those points of natural stability. Don't go nuts trying to get past it. In all probability, even if you did, you'd wind up back at the stable point in a few months anyway.

Increase calories gradually

At the end of your diet, don't just take the calorie deficit from your last month's trend chart and immediately add that number to your meal plan. That's a guaranteed prescription for a disheartening bounce upward in weight. All the time you've been dieting, your body has become more and more efficient at using the limited number of calories you've been supplying and accustomed to meeting its needs by burning fat. Remember how difficult it was getting the body to start burning fat at the start of the diet—those awful first few days? At the end of your diet it also takes a while to shift from burning fat to meeting all your calorie needs from food. Fortunately, there's no discomfort associated with this process.

The best way to make the transition is gradually, over four to six weeks. By the end of your diet, you'll have a very accurate idea of your daily calorie shortfall, calculated from the trend line. Eventually, you want to increase your food intake to bring the shortfall to zero, but not all at once. If you suddenly added back the entire shortfall, you'd gain weight because your fat cells continued to pump calories into the bloodstream and your metabolism remained adjusted for a lower calorie intake.

Instead, divide the calorie shortfall over a number of weeks, and each week add that number of calories to your meal plan. For example, suppose the trend chart for the last full month of your diet indicated a shortfall of 560 calories a day. For a four week transition you'd divide that number by 4, obtaining 140 calories. Add that number of calories to your meal plan each week of the transition period. If you'd planned meals for 1720 calories a day in the last month of the diet, you'd plan the four weeks of transition as follows.

Week     Calories
1 1860
2 2000
3 2140
4 2280

You'll arrive, at the end of the four weeks, at a food intake equal to the calories you were burning during the last month of your diet.

Allow for some settling

Your weight may wander around a bit during the transition period. After all, as you gradually bring your calorie intake up to equal what you burn, you're making the most substantial change since you began the diet. A variation of three pounds above or below your initial goal is normal during the transition period. If the trend line turns up, crosses the goal, and keeps on rising, you're probably adding calories too quickly. Drop the calories back by one week's allotment (140 in the example above), let things stabilise, then try adding the next step in a couple of weeks.

Here's a chart of the transition to stability at the end of my diet in 1988. I began the transition at the end of the first week of November and added calories at a steady rate, week by week, throughout the month. You can see how the trend line, which had been declining 1.7 pounds per week over the entire diet, halted its fall, leveled out, and declined only slightly over the rest of the November. Since I intended to take my weight two or three pounds below my goal of 145 as a safety margin, the gradual decline during the first three weeks of the transition didn't concern me.

Soft landing

After four to eight weeks of gradually adding calories to your meal plan, watching the trend line, and adjusting to the increased calorie intake, your weight should have settled within three pounds of the goal and the trend line should be close to flat. Daily weights will be coming in above and below the trend line with roughly equal frequency.

And that's it: no fireworks, no sirens, no flashing lights. Your diet is finished. Your weight problem is history. The discomfort is at an end. In the next chapter we shall see how to guarantee you will never gain back the weight you have just managed to lose.

Planning Meals     Perfect Weight Forever