Charter Member of the Sub-Media

June 16, 2004

The Brain Fertilizer Weight-Loss Program « The Brain Fertilizer Way »

The little debate I had with Dean over weight loss got me thinking about the whole issue. I already knew a good amount, but I learned some things from his linkings and my own further research. There simply wasn't enough information to even begin to sway my conviction that the biggest obstacle to permanent weight loss is the mind of the individual. But in all that thought, I began to consider what I would consider the ideal weight loss plan.

I'm not a doctor or a certified weight-loss professional, so if you think my plan sounds good, run it by someone qualified to get their input before implementing the following.

Here goes:

(Note: this is based on training I've received, articles I've read, and even some personal experiences and experimentation, all over the last twenty years, so I'm not going to bother providing links. You'll have to take me at my word or do the research yourself to debunk it. Your choice.)

1) You must be absolutely committed. You must not lie to yourself. You must not cheat on the diet. You must commit to probably 18 months of diet and activity changes. Even after the weight is lost, you will most likely never be able to return to the eating and activity habits you have now. If you are overweight, you got here for a reason, and you must change your lifestyle to make a permanent change in your weight and body composition. You must eventually convince yourself that food is, above all, merely fuel for the body, and enjoyment/satisfaction is a side benefit, not a goal.

2) Choose a diet plan. The main choices are: Low-fat, Low-carb, or Low-Calorie. Low-fat and Low-Calorie have been pretty much proven to be counterproductive to weight loss, since merely reducing calories puts your body into starvation mode, and low-fat usually results in high-carb eating, as well as denying you taste and eating satisfaction.
Atkins-style low-carbohydrates diets work for many people, because it minimizes the easiest fuel for body to use, thus making your body use more energy to extract what it needs. Morever, low-carb/high-protein/high-fat diets allow people to eat much of what they want, making it easier to stay on the diet. However, some critics who maintain that high-fat/high-protein can also damage your body's systems. Thus, my recommendation is:
2a) Plan on a low-carbohydrate diet, but pair that with moderate-protein and -fat amounts. Emphasize fresh vegetables and smaller portions overall in your diet. Eat lots of "good" salads, meaning, use dark-leaf lettuces with plenty of toppings, like onions, tomatoes, carrots, peas, sunflower kernels, bacon bits, egg, mushrooms, and don't skimp on the dressing. Eat more lean beef and chicken breast. To the greatest extent possible, eliminate sugar and flour. Eat lots of fiber-rich foods like walnuts and popcorn. Avoid processed food whenever possible. Keep track of carbohydrate grams and never go above 30 grams per day.

3) Before you even start dieting, spend one week gathering information on your habits and attitudes toward food. Carry a notepad and writing instrument with you everywhere, and write down everything you eat. Everything. Even if it's just taking a sip of your spouse's beer or snatching a french fry from your friend. It all counts. Write down when you feel hungry, and see if you can tell what triggers the thought. Start noting the difference between "hunger" and "wanting to eat". Write down your food urges, particularly in relation to specific emotional or situational cues. For example, do you want to end the meal with a dessert? Start the day with a donut? Celebrate the end of a big project at work? Do you want to celebrate all sorts of things by eating out? Write down how often you eat out, where, and what you eat. Buy a pedometer and start tracking how many miles/steps you walk in one day (steps is better, I'll explain why soon). Consider buying a small postal scale to weigh portion sizes (not absolutely necessary, but possibly helpful). Note your favorite foods, and spend extra time at the grocery store looking at more healthy options. Most grocery stores have low-carb alternatives. (I found a whole-wheat bread that has only 5 grams of carbs per slice, and doesn't taste like paper paste! I now have 2 slices for breakfast.) Check the carbs on everything, and be wary of the unexpected obstacles: you may find low-carb pasta, but most spaghetti sauces have lots of sugar! Start planning menus, and stock your larder enough that you have 2-3 choices of what to make each meal to match your mood.

4) Decide on a weight-loss goal. Determine your current weight by weighing yourself at the same time each day during your observation week. There will be some variation, because your body's weight can vary as much as five pounds during the day, depending on when/how much you eat or eliminate wastes... (I'm convinced that ignorance of that variation has discouraged more dieters...) Get a calender and write your current weight. Write down a target weight at one-week intervals, subtracting two pounds for each week. Note: you may lose faster than that; if so, you can always adjust your targets. Continue until have recorded your final weight goal, i.e., if you want to lose 50 pounds, you should have written a weight goal for 25 weeks.

5) Acquire a wide selection of spices. Specifically, use cinnamon and/or unsweetened cocoa powder when you crave chocolate/sweets; use parmesan cheese, garlic powder, basil, and/or oregano when you crave something zesty; use chile powder, tabasco sauce, or black pepper when you want something spicy; experiment with cumin (cumano) and nutmeg, because I have no idea how to classify those. Try out spice blends, as well.

6) Start the diet. Continue recording everything you eat and your urges/yearnings. When you have an urge to cheat, make yourself wait four hours. If you still have the urge after four hours, take one bite and give the rest to someone else.

7) Since you determined your average daily step count with the pedometer, try to increase your step count by 100 each day. Make it a game to see all the ways you can increase your step count, i.e., parking farther away from the entrance when you go out, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, even if for only one floor. The point isn't to wear yourself out with exercising for only an hour and then collapse on the coach, but to increase your overall activity throughout the whole day. Take up a more active hobby, even if just working in the garden. Stand up while talking on the phone or watching TV. Better yet, stop watching TV. Take your kids outside to play catch, or play catch with the neighbors kids.

8) Starting anywhere between week 1-3, begin lifting weights. Muscle burns a great deal of energy, so increasing your muscle mass will increase long-term weight loss. Moreover, building muscle will make you feel stronger and being stronger will mean you use less energy for the same task, making you feel more energetic. Finally, anaerobic elevates your metabolism for longer periods than aerobic (sweaty, out-of-breath exercise) exercise...although that will come later. "Lifting weights" doesn't mean going to the gym to do bench-presses, rather, it can be as simple as standing 2-3 feet from a counter and doing "push-ups" at a 60-degree angle. Gradually increase the angle as you get stronger. Do leg-lifts, even if you can only do a few at the start. A set of dumbbells that allows you to add weight is also good, particularly if you can find a Joyce Vedral 20-minute Workout book (check your library or local bookstore...). Her system of weight-loss includes low-fat dieting, so I don't recommend her total program, but the overall plan to use light-weight dumbbells to increase strength over the entire body is nothing short of excellent. There are many choices, the specifics are up to you.

9) At some point, join a Yoga or Tai Chi class. Either one will increase your overall strength, flexibility, sense of well-being, and positively impact your health. The better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to stick to your new health (diet/exercise) plan. And, of course, it will raise your activity level that much more...

10) At some point, you must begin aerobic exercise. I say "at some point", because obesity can make aerobic exercise extremely difficult and unpleasant. Obviously, extreme exercise will probably never be easy and pleasant, but the point is to set you up for success, not failure. Do not go out and buy an exercise machine. 80% of exercise machines (or something extreme like that) end up gathering dust within a few months. Standing in one place to exercise eliminates many of the necessary positive experiences necessary to encourage exercise. When you feel you are ready to start exercising, begin with power-walking at the mall, or walking around your neighborhood in nice weather. Pull a wagon with your young children, or with neighbor children if you don't have any of your own. Go bicycling at a slow to moderate pace. Swim laps. The point is not to raise a sweat at first, but to enjoy yourself while trying to establish a regular exercise program. Once you establish the habit, then you should switch to trying to raise a sweat. The other aspect to "at some point" is that if you are losing weight at a 2 pounds/week rate merely by altering your diet choices and trying to be more active, then there is no need to "torture" yourself with an exercise regimen until/unless you find yourself hitting a plateau...

11) If you do find yourself hitting a plateau, i.e., not maintaining a 2 pounds/week rate, the first thing to do is check to see if you are lying to yourself about cheating on the diet. The human mind is amazingly flexible in getting what the subconscious wants despite the active will of the conscious mind. Your subconscious will try to get you to quit. You will become discouraged. You will want to cheat. If you want to cheat, you may take a day off no more often than once a month. On that day, you can eat anything you want. Go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, eat ice cream and french fries. And when you are done, pull out your calender and change all your weight goals, moving them back by a full week. Yes, one day of unbridled eating can destroy a whole week of effort. Lesser cheating will have a lesser effect, of course, but any cheating will sabotage and undermine your efforts. If you think that the milkshake or french fries or baked potato won't hurt "just this once", then you have already lost. You need to consider those food choices gone forever. (they may not be, but that must be your attitude during weight-loss programs. If you concentrate on what you are missing, you will probably not succeed. More on that next)

12) When you reach your weight goal, you can relax one aspect. That is, you can eat more carbohydrates (50 grams/day), or you can stop aerobic exercise, or you can stop lifting weights, or you can stop elevating your general activity and start sitting down more. Watch yourself closely for six months, weighing yourself every day and preventing cheating. If, after six months, you still maintain your weight, you can eliminate another aspect, if you wish. If you start gaining any weight at any point, you should immediately go back on the full program for a full month to get yourself slightly below your target...that will provide some cushion for the next weight creep, but the cushion is unnecessary if you maintain weight without a hitch. If you make it through 12 full months without any single weight gain of more than 3 pounds or total weight gain of more than 5 pounds, you can start playing with the entire exercise/diet/weight-lifting program. This is the point at which you might be able to allow yourself an indulgence. This is the point where you can relax your self-observation to how well your chlothes fit or weighing yourself only 1-2 times a month. At this point, your whole approach to eating and activity should have changed, and your new habits should be entrenched. But, as always, if you relax too much and start gaining weight, you should immediately start the whole process over from the beginning, starting with self-observation and even redoing the 12-month maintenance observation after regaining your target weight.

If anyone can follow this plan faithfully (i.e., not go about it half-cocked to try and prove me wrong) and not lose weight, I'd like to hear about it.

Heck, you'll probably lose weight far more quickly than a mere two pounds per week. But expectations are a big part of the game, too. Exceeding them is always more reinforcing that merely meeting, much less falling short.

The three most important components to weight loss are:
-Diet modification
-General activity increase (not just a 1-hour workout)

Posted by Nathan at 12:44 AM | Comments (3)


What you've basically described is The South Beach Diet which was created by Arthur Agatston, M.D. and recently popularized by a number of "celebrity" endorsers, including your old buddy, Bill Clinton. It's a controlled carb diet that focuses on eating the "right" carbs, as well as the best proteins and fats.

In general, I agree with you though -- low carb dieting, in combination with a reasonable level of physical activity and an overall change of attitiude, works. I've been on my diet since early january of '04, and I'm now down a bit more than 50 pounds since the last time you saw me...all without feeling like I've given up too many of the things I most enjoy. Best of all, once your blood sugar levels have stablized on a low-carb diet (usually 2-3 weeks for most people), you rarely suffer the intense hunger pangs. I now wait longer between meals, and fill up much faster during them. I've dropped two pants sizes, and can wear clothes that haven't fit since college. And I still occasionally "cheat" on the diet; I'm just much more aware of it these days.

As a suggestion for a good bread substitute, Mission makes a low-carb whole wheat tortilla (4 net carbs per tortilla) that tastes exactly like the "real thing" to both Kim and I. Frequently these days, I'll make wraps or taco-style sandwiches instead of traditional ones, and I never really miss the bread. Mission also make a large "burrito sized" version of this tortilla with only 9 grams of carbs; you can really load that one up with goodies.

Posted by: Dalin at June 16, 2004 05:32 AM

I remember that phone conversation...but I do think that the "South Beach" part is pretty much only steps 2 and 2a...please correct me if I'm wrong.

One thing I forgot to add. There are Three vital components to weight loss:
-Diet modification
-Activity increase

Too many people forget the last one.
The fact that I haven't lost any additional weight since that phone conversation is because I've dropped the 3rd component more or less deliberately (this deployment makes choosing my own menu difficult)... least I'm not gaining, however.

Posted by: Nathan at June 16, 2004 05:37 AM

Your diet is more specific on an exercise regimen and self-monitoring, but TSBD also touches on all of those things...particularly in depth for your steps 4-6, 10 and 11.

Losing more weight isn't always the most important thing, and with all my travel I can certainly understand the challenges of sticking to any diet while being unable to plan your own menu; just maintaining can be a war in itself, and if you're succeeding there, bully for you!

It's also vital to remember that regardless of the nature of your diet, in the end, calories in must equal calories out. Low-carb isn't a license to steal. That's where the whole "attitude change about food" really comes into it.

Posted by: Dalin at June 16, 2004 05:51 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?