The SECRET to weight LOSS

I feel that this needs a special banner, as it's probably the secret the most people in the West want to know (lucky us: in Venezuela and North Korea, among other disastrous regimes, most people want to know how they can be well-fed again). 

I'm interested in nutrition fads and diet trends, and everything to do with how we live well, mind and body. It's sort of an occasional hobby. With a certain usually amused detachment I have watched our health gurus condemn salt, butter, bacon, eggs (or more precisely, yolks), alcohol, white bread, refined wheat in general, chicken skins and saturated fats, and of course, sugar. With the partial exception of the latter, these are all foods that I have enjoyed in abundance -- in fact, they belong in the core of my diet. (In my case the preferred alcohol is wine, apart from the beer or gin & tonic I indulge in during the summer). Anyway, the demons of diet come and go, according to current notions of what ails us, and depending on how flawed the scientific research that supposedly supports these notions. And the weirdest, most amusing current notion of the moment is that you can't lose weight by severely restricting calories, also known as going hungry. If you go hungry for a significant part of each day, you are 'starving' yourself, and your body goes into 'starvation mode'. This mode doesn't help you because your body puts up defences against starvation and so this is no way to lose fat. To which my response is 'HUH?'.

If you're desperate to lose weight, try mountain-climbing. The lack of oxygen -- or 'thin air' --  causes thinness in people, as well .

If you're desperate to lose weight, try mountain-climbing. The lack of oxygen -- or 'thin air' -- causes thinness in people, as well.

I understand that the body is amazingly complex, and that it finds ways to compensate for many deficiencies. I also understand that there are cascades of physiological mechanisms that make certain goals more difficult for some people than for others. We all have different hormone ratios and responses, and different gut flora, and we are each of us walking individual micro-biomes. Understood. That said, the idea that there is a 'starvation mode' just waiting to foil you is bonkers. (Apparently this idea derives from an early 20th-century experiment involving a tiny group of unrepresentative and disadvantaged men. On such thin reeds do we lean so many of our theories.) I'll say that again: BONKERS. There is a reason why Paul McCartney wrote 'Too many hungry people losing weight' and not, for instance, 'All the hungry people -- where DOES the fat come from?'!

Apart from the emaciated condition that previously healthy people are found in when they die of hunger (like the lost woman in her bivouac off the Appalachian trail), the whole world knew until yesterday that if you don't eat much, you shrink. Mountaineers regularly lose weight while on expedition, and it's not just because they're burning tons of calories in 16-hour climbs. The fact is, once they get past base camp, they don't eat. As Ed Viesturs says more than once in his book, No Shortcuts To The Top, at high altitudes the climbers lose their appetite. They melt snow for drinking, as they simply must try to keep hydrated, but they might eat only a couple of Snickers bars (quality for a handful of days doesn't seem to matter). I suppose it's just as well, and much more convenient, that precisely where the climbers can't carry food and can't cook it even if they wanted to, they also have no desire to eat it. So they don't. And guess what: they lose weight. I'm sure that many mountain climbers bulk up by eating bigger portions of everything shortly before an expedition, just so that they can be a reasonably similar weight when they return. One thing is for sure: a fat-loss diet is not on their minds. But by not eating, they embark on one anyway.

So that's the secret to fat loss, folks. If you want to lose fat, don't eat as much. If you want to smooth out those bulges, cut your food intake. If you want a flat belly, get hungry. If you want to be lean, go for several daylight hours without eating. In short, dramatically reduce your calories. That doesn't mean you have to be a calorie-counter, please note. I believe that one should learn what sort of calorie counts apply to various foods: almonds, for instance, have a high calorie count per volume -- or to put it another way, they are a calorie-dense high-energy food. Cucumbers, mushrooms, green onions and lettuces, by contrast, are low-calorie foods. The specific calorie count per item is not really important. It's more helpful to think in terms of low-cal, mid-cal, and high-cal, and to plan so that most of your meals are being rounded out by low-and-mid-cal foods. It's also more important to think in terms of veg and protein, with low-and-mid-cal veg being your top priority. Another tip is not to think in terms of meals but rather to think of 'food combinations': that piece of pumpernickel bread, that green onion, that handful of olives. It's not a meal, like a stew, casserole, or a titled dish: it's merely a grouping of foods on a plate. If you approach your food in this way, you're much more likely to eat things that are close to or at their natural state. The closer your food to its original condition, the fewer additional calories you'll consume, and the smaller your portions are likely to remain.

Instead of counting up the calories, all you really need to do is know that each calorie counts. So say to yourself: 'This thing I'm eating has calories. Do I want these particular calories? If I take another bite, will it be surplus to requirements? What if I don't take that extra bite, and instead put those calories down?' Does that mean you'll feel a little hungry? Yes, probably. Hunger is the body telling you that if you don't go for new calories, it will have no option but to take from its reserves. And that's exactly what you want it to do. The first trick, then, is to receive the hunger signal, note it, and ride it out. The second trick is not to binge on the re-feed when you finally do put food in your mouth. Just enough, and no more: if you are honest with yourself, you'll come to know what that means.