People who lie about how much they eat are jerks

Weight loss journey is a long and complicated problem solving adventure.  This is one small factor that adds to the confusion.  You probably have that one friend.  Appears to eat a whole bunch, and yet doesn’t put on weight.  If you ever had that conversation it goes something like,

“How are you so thin?”
“raah raah metabolism”
“raah raah I dont know why I don’t put on weight”
“Take advantage of the habit”

Well I have had enough.  You’re wrong.  You’re lying and you probably don’t even know it.  It’s not possible. (Within a reasonable scope of human variation) Calories and energy are a black box system.  Calories in, work out, leftovers become weight gain, deficit is weight loss.  If a human could eat significantly more calories for the same amount of work and not put on weight we would be prodding them in a lab for breaking the laws of physics on conservation of mass and conservation of energy.

So this is you, you say you gain weight no matter what you eat and that’s scientifically impossible.  Now what?  You probably don’t mean to break the laws of physics (and you probably don’t actually break them).  You genuinely absentmindedly don’t notice when you scoff down whole plates of food and when you skip dinner because you didn’t feel like it (and absentmindedly balance the calories automatically).  It’s all the same to you because you naturally do that.

This very likely is about habits, and natural habits that people have.  If for example John has the habit of getting home and going to the fridge, making dinner because it’s usually the evening.  Wendy doesn’t have the habit.  She eats when she is hungry.  Not having a set mealtime sometimes means that she gets tired-hungry and has a state of being too exhausted to decide what to eat and too hungry to do anything else that would help solve the problem.  But for Wendy she doesn’t get home and automatically cook dinner.  (good things and bad things come from habits.)

Wendy and John go to a big lunch together.  They both eat 150% of the calories they should be eating for that meal, and they don’t mind – enjoying food is part of enjoying life.  It was a fancy restaurant with good food.  Later that evening when Wendy gets home she doesn’t feel hungry and goes off to read a book or talk to friends on the internet.  Eventually she has a light snack (of 10% of her “dinner” calories) and heads off to totalling 160% of the calories for the two meals.  Effectively under-eating for the day.  John on the other hand, has his habit of heading home and making dinner.  Even after the big lunch, his automatic systems take over and he makes and ordinary dinner of 100% of his calories for that meal.  John’s total for that day is 250% for two meals or effectively half a meal extra for that day.

If W and J do this every week (assuming the rest of their diets are perfectly balanced), John will have an upwards trajectory and Wendy will have a downwards one.  John might ask Wendy how she stays so skinny, and Wendy wouldn’t know.  After all they eat about the same amount when they are together.

No one understands this.


What can we do about it?

1. We can hire scientists to follow both J and W around for a week and write down every time they eat something. (this is impractical – maybe if we are in an isolated environment like a weekend retreat it would be easier to do this)
2. We can get them to self report via an app (but people are usually pretty bad at that)
3. We can try ask more specifically, “what do you eat in a day?”, or “what have you eaten since this time yesterday?” and gather data points to try to build a picture of what a person eats.
4. We can search for people with similar habits around food to us and ask them how they stay healthy.
5. We can look for people with successful habits around food, ask them for advice and then figure out why that advice works, and how to make that advice work for us.

On the noticing level.  You should notice that every single thing that you eat adds to your caloric intake. Every single piece of work you do adds to your burn.  It’s easier to eat another piece of chocolate (for 5 seconds) than run another 15minutes to burn that chocolate off.  If something is not working towards your dieting success it’s probably working against it.


Meta: this took one hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/ntt

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