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Diet Science in 2014 - Dilbert Blog

Diet Science in 2014

I can accurately predict whether you will meet your weight loss goals by the way you talk about it.

I mean that literally. I think I could devise a controlled experiment in which I pick weight-loss winners and losers in advance based on nothing but a transcript of folks talking about their fitness goals.

I’ll give you some examples. What follows is a list of things you will hear from people that have no legitimate chance of losing weight and keeping it off. Yes, your thing is probably on this list and it pisses you off to see it. But stay with me and I’ll change your life by the end of this post.

Here’s what people say when they are preparing to fail at a weight-loss strategy.

“I need to exercise more.”

“I’m counting calories.”

“I have a cheat day coming.”

“I’m watching my portions.”

“I’m doing a cleanse.”

“I’m trying the (whatever) diet plan.”

Ten years ago I would have said everything on the list is a common-sense way to lose weight. But science has since shown otherwise. I’ll go through them one at a time.

“I need to exercise more.”

You probably DO need to exercise more, for lots of health-related reasons, but exercise is a terrible way to lose weight. Science tells us that exercise is maybe 20% of the solution and diet is 80%, roughly speaking. So when I hear someone talking about trying to lose sixty pounds by joining a gym, I know that person isn’t up-to-date on the science and doesn’t have a plan that can work. The only way to lose tons of weight through exercise alone is by pushing yourself to the pain point, and science tells us that in that case your subconscious mind will find a way to be “too busy” to keep exercising.

During the first week of January my gym fills with overweight people who think they can exercise their way to slimness. After a month they will see no improvement and quit. The gym probably makes its entire profit from the folks that mistakenly believe exercise is a great diet plan.

“I’m counting calories.”

If you are counting calories you probably don’t know about the recent science on hunger control. One of the best ways to decrease hunger naturally is by eating calorie-laden fatty stuff such as peanuts. Science says that peanut-eaters lose weight even though they eat fatty peanuts because it suppresses their appetite. Meanwhile, calorie-counters might eat carbs with low calories without knowing they are stimulating appetite by their food choices.

“I have a cheat day coming.”

Science tells us that unpredictable rewards create addiction. If you find yourself talking about your upcoming cheat day a week in advance, and craving it, you probably just set yourself up to become addicted to that cheat day – and therefore bad food in general – by your diet plan. If you reward yourself for “cheating” your diet, what do you think happens to your brain wiring? Yup, you crave the bad food that is the reward. Worst…diet…strategy…ever.

“I’m watching my portions.”

Portion control has the same problem as calorie-counting. If you eat the right food, portion control takes care of itself. When was the last time you ate too much broccoli? If portion control even enters your mind, it means you don’t understand the science about food cravings and the science about the glycemic index. Successful dieters manage their food choices and eat as much of anything as they want. The secret is in changing the “wanting” part, not the portion size. Eating a smaller portion of cake is rewarding the part of your brain that wants cake.

“I’m doing a cleanse.”

I timed myself and it took exactly five seconds to find a Mayo Clinic link that says science does not support cleanses. If your diet plan can be debunked in five seconds, you probably aren’t a seeker of knowledge. So even if a cleanse turns out to be accidentally a good idea, a knowledge-free long-term diet strategy has a low chance of success.

“I’m trying the (whatever) diet plan.”

When I took my dog to puppy training class the instructor told us the importance of training the dog in different locations. If you only train your dog to sit when he is in your kitchen, he only learns to do the trick in that one room. You walk into the living room and the dog doesn’t understand why you are doing the “sitting in the kitchen” trick in the wrong place. It will just stare at you.

My point is that if you learn to lose weight on a diet plan … all you learned is how to lose weight on a diet plan. After you lose your ten pounds you stop the plan and return to your normal diet. You don’t know how to lose weight on your normal diet. Now you’re the dog in the living room looking puzzled when someone says, “sit.”

Okay, so those are all the things that don’t work. So what does work?

Beats me. I’m not a doctor. But I can tell you my story to compare to other folks’ accounts and maybe you can see a pattern. What I noticed in myself is that until I reached a critical base of knowledge about diet science I couldn’t lose weight no matter how much so-called willpower I brought to it. As a reference point, I have a lot of this thing called willpower. Generally speaking, I simply have to want something badly enough and I’ll chew through a concrete wall to get it. But willpower didn’t help me lose weight, and it took me decades to learn why. In my defense, science was confused about diet choices until recently too, so the knowledge I needed didn’t exist. Now it does.

I’ve lost 26 pounds from my high adult weight, gradually, over years. None of the improvement is from any sort of “diet.” I simple acquired knowledge about nutrition and food science, a bit at a time, year-by-year, until some sort of critical mass was hit. Now I literally eat as much as I want, whenever I want, of whatever I want, and I have the body of a 19-year old swimmer who was tragically born with an old guy’s head.

The secret to eating whatever I want is that I systematically reduced my cravings for the wrong food. Now I only want things that happen to be great for my body. And I also experimented for years to find ways to prepare healthy food that doesn’t taste like your grandpa’s socks. I’m already looking forward to my protein smoothie that is full of berries, almond butter, yogurt, protein powder, chia seeds, almond milk and ice. I get the same pleasure from the smoothie that I once got from ice cream. Sacrifice? Zero. Portion control? Zero. I often have two smoothies in a row just for the pleasure.

As an aside, my efforts in learning to control my food cravings are part of a larger decade-long personal experiment in which I am seeing how much I can reprogram my basic human preferences using science and my knowledge of hypnosis. Preview: So far, almost all of my most basic preferences in life seem reprogrammable. That will be another blog post someday.

If you want links to any of the science I mentioned, I have most of that in my latest book.

You shouldn’t listen to cartoonists when it comes to health decisions. All I’m trying to add to the discussion is the idea that knowledge of food science can replace your need for willpower, and that wasn’t possible until recently because the knowledge didn’t exist. So consider a diet that involves consuming knowledge first. You’ll know you have enough knowledge the first time you consciously eliminate a food craving you’ve had all your life.*

Good luck!

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Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 
Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily
Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

  *That’s a hypnosis trick I just did for you. It’s a trigger for the future.