Eating Myself Slim


I’m working on a book about my weight loss (150 lbs. over the past two years), and have been going over pictures that illustrate how I looked from my peak to where I am now.

Actually, I am still losing, but stabilizing.  Keeping off is not a problem.  Most things people think are problems are not problems, if people would gather knowledge and actually think about it.  They don’t.  They listen to friends  and women’s magazines.

Obama eating

Thinnest President Since Lincoln?

Weight is a tough problem.  It is “multi-factorial.”  There are physiological things, genetic things, environmental things, and lots (I mean lots) of psychological things that are part of this.  I think of them not as tricks or tips but as factors, real factors.  I do not think people should pick and choose what seems “easy;” rather, they should focus on doing what works.

Probably every dieter has heard at least once that people who eat breakfast find it easier to lose weight, and that meals should not be skipped.  I remember a long time ago this was a big one with Jane Fonda, who extolled the virtues of going to bed hungry and having a big breakfast in the morning. She has, to her credit, a powerful internet presence. She is a guru who does not look her age and sells fitness programs. I am a doctor who figured it out, and a scientist still.

Whether you look at life historically or cross-culturally, this three-meal-a-day thing is sociocultural and not physiological.  I think people should indeed question or challenge it if it does not work for them.  As I look back, it never really worked for me.

Here is a decent if simplified summary of the digestion of foods; what happens, and how. The take-home thing they talk little about here is that the time it takes is variable.  Some people are always hungry, a pretty sure bet they won’t stick to their diet. They talk not at all about one of my favorite topics, the specific dynamic action of foods.

Any time you eat food (the assumption here being that it is something that actually has nutritional value) your body produces heat.  Indeed, some folks call this the “thermic” action of foods. Maybe you are old enough, like me, to remember the counting of calories.  Well, a calorie, to “real” scientists, is a unit of heat production. You increase your metabolism when you eat.  Hmmm.

Now this is something that can work in our favor if we plan a bit, although I agree with the article that counting on a negative caloric balance for grapefruit and celery is not only chancy because of the lack of research.  You can get pretty damned sick of something as acidic as grapefruit.  You can get sick of celery even faster, even if you can manage to chew it.

Since the thermal effect of proteins is greater than other kinds of food,they have measured the thermic action of such foods in great detail, and determined this is of no help to the obese or normal weight. However. This “thermic effect” comes immediately after a meal with no “latent time.”

Yes, you can use this to your advantage. Eat more meals and make them tiny.  You may not be able to manipulate the contents of your meal to increase the amount of calories you expend with each meal you eat.  But you can expend calories digesting food more times each day if you break up what you eat.

I am aware of two anecdotal references to the practical application of this thermal or specific dynamic action of foods phenomenon.

One is something I used to hear a little about, called “Geisha soup.” It was said that when the women whose business depended upon attractiveness needed to lose a bit of weight, they would eat a soup made up of vegetables that took more calories to digest than they provided.  I remember references to onions and cabbage; I do not remember the others. The only references I can find now seem to be for a soup served to customers.

The other is a professor in medical school — yes, back at University of Picardie now Jules Verne University back in France.  He said he had published on this matter, but I never found it.  He was maybe a tad overweight but not obese, and was known as a jolly fellow found of red wine, and cracked jokes in class, and was generally liked.

He explained that every time you started eating, you expended 60 or 70 calories at least in your specific dynamic action (action dynamique specifique) of foods.  Since that was about the number of calories in a medium size egg, and he was one of the people smart enough to know that the cholesterol contained in food has pretty much nothing to do with raising your blood cholesterol, he said that he advised his patients that a medium hard boiled egg was a perfect snack, as long as they were not eaten more frequently than once every two hours or so. He thought it would work better, then, at the beginning of a meal than at the end.

He had some “informal” experiments.  He had some animals.  He said that eating in spread out bits, maybe leaning a little on the protein, was obviously the way to fly. He said that in his entire long practice he had never managed to convince any patient (except himself) to actually do this, mainly because it was “socially weird.”  He did not think Frenchmen and women, at least of his generation, would ever get beyond large meals with red wine.

There are several commercial studies of diets that include eating 5 or 7 times daily, that incorporate “medical foods” and special “supplements” and with these diets, even when the calories are fairly liberally high, people lose weight.  Of course, the commercial and proprietary elements of such diets don’t make a damn bit of difference.

So there you are.

The enemy, of course, is “society” and “civilization.”  The dinner parties.  The computations of time lost from work.  The power breakfasts.  The corporate lunches. One trick is to simply organize meetings at different times, with different activities, if you have the power to do. It is not “willpower,” but a snack (cheese or egg) a little bit beforehand that can make the (generally cardboard like) food at corporate functions lose whatever interest it may have.

Here is one place where it is great to stop the social and physiological “norming” and find your own “distant drummer,” with the tempo you follow.

For me, when I was losing, a mid-morning snack of maybe bread and cheese, a mid afternoon one, and kind of meals.  I mean, you are not going to get time for five meals a day from any business or employer. Snarfing on the side may make a difference.  You can get in a little more calories. Of course, mathematically, if you have the same amount of calories there may not be any particular advantage. The key is to find out what works for you.  Some will work better than others.
Me, I like a little breakfast, just some “tastes” of things on the weekend, before going back to sleep with a smile on my face knowing somewhere between 10% and 15% of the calories will go up in heat.
I feel much better when I snack or even graze.  I do not ever get compulsively and ritualistically hungry for my next meal, something I did an awful lot of before. Best of all, in my currently pretty stable period, in the mid afternoon (maybe about 5 pm, like the French gouter) I usually enjoy a little cheese, a little chocolate, yesterday a McFlurry*.  I prefer mine with Reese’s Pieces* but now I am at a decent weight I do not have to worry about it screwing up my blood sugar or migrating to my hips.

A few days ago, in a similar time slot, I really enjoyed a  ginger beer float with vanilla ice cream (at an idiosyncratic place in San Diego’s bohemian district).

I enjoyed it with perfect equanimity.  I offered one to my friend and companion, who refused in horror.  She is slender and figure conscious and claims she respects my knowledge, but she seems to get all of her knowledge from women’s magazines.  She does have a long-ago history of anorexia, which I think was never adequately treated. People make their own choices.  It is an undeniable advantage to know the facts.

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