A week after New Year’s Day, many people have already abandoned—or even forgotten—their New Year’s resolutions. So now is the time for some resolutions that will work better.
Let me suggest three resolutions for weight loss that work well together and have three helpful features:
They each have a bright line for whether you have done them or not.
They each are separately helpful, so even if you fail on one or two, the other one or two will still make a big difference, and you can feel good about that.
Each one, if you ever temporarily fall off the wagon and fail to do it on one occasion, has a fallback activity that will put you ahead.
Here are my three suggested resolutions, along with the fallback activity if you fall off the wagon, that will help you get back on the wagon.
Go Off Sugar. This one is simple and powerful. Stop eating sugar, except for a very limited list of exceptions that you have laid out in advance. (For example, most days I eat a few squares of chocolate bars that are 88% or more in cocoa content and so hopefully don’t have much room left for sugar in them. See “Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review.”)
One of the most powerful benefits of the determination to go off sugar is the knowledge you will gain from reading food labels to see how high up sugar is on the list of ingredients for each type of processed food. In addition to reading labels for processed food, you will want to read “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid” or a sense of where other kinds of food fit in. My post “Letting Go of Sugar” has some helpful hints, including this link, which I repeat here: "56 Most Common Names for Sugar You Should Know."
Fallback Activity: If you do eat sugar, notice how you feel in the next couple of hours. My prediction is that you will feel a bit hungry and may well crave more sugar. If you are eating sugar all the time, such feelings will be so frequent in your life they will hard to notice as anything unusual; but if you manage to avoid sugar most of the time, then you have a chance to notice the effects of sugar in making you hungry. Noticing the effect that sugar has on you will make it easier to get back on the wagon and easier to remember the cost of eating sugar when you face your next temptation.
Choose and Keep To an Eating Window Shorter than 16 Hours a Day—With Appropriate Exceptions. One of the biggest causes of obesity is eating from getting up in the morning to bedding down at night. If you choose an eating window shorter than 16 hours a day and only eat within that window, you will be on your way to improved weight and improved health. (As long as you avoid sugar and the more problematic nonsugar sweeteners, coffee and tea are fine outside of that window. On the more problematic nonsugar sweeteners, see “Which Nonsugar Sweeteners are OK? An Insulin-Index Perspective.) Even if you choose an easy eating window of 15 hours, that will make you more aware of your sunup to sundown eating patterns. And if the eating window you have chosen starts seeming too easy, you can try a more ambitious eating window. One tip here: For healthy adults who are neither pregnant nor nursing, it is a myth that one needs to eat breakfast. The “Cui bono?” question of who gains from fostering this myth is easy to answer!
Note that the value of eating as a social activity means you should sometimes make an exception to your eating window policy. When you set your goal, it is a good idea to lay out the maximum number of days in the year with which you will make exceptions if there is a good reason, and what count as good reasons.
Fallback Activity: If you end up eating outside your eating window, try to think of what might make it easier to stick to that eating window that you can experiment with, going forward. Would shifting the time of the eating window in the day help? Would drinking coffee, tea or fizzy water (club soda or carbonated water made with Sodastream for example) during the time outside the window help? Does it help if your last meal or snack at the end of the eating window is especially low on the insulin index? (Again, see ““Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid”)
Come Up with an Inspirational and Informative Reading Program to Help with Weight Loss. It is important to be regularly reminded of the principles of weight loss, particularly since there are plenty of companies out there that can increase their profits by steering you wrong. It also helps to get ideas and inspiration. Many traditional religions have adherents listen to at least one sermon every week to help them stay on the strait and narrow. Weight loss is difficult enough that most people trying to lose weight will need at least that much in weight loss inspiration every week in order to succeed. There are many great things to read about weight loss. I have the links to all the diet and health posts I have written so far down below (which refer to the diet and health books I have found most valuable), and I am sure you can find many other great things to read online and in the bookstore. Not everyone has the same perspective I do; I hope you will at least consider my perspective along with the other perspectives you read.
Fallback Activity: If you realize you are behind on your reading goals, just take a moment to try to remember the ideas in the last few things you read and think about how those ideas might help you. In line with the principles I discuss in “The Most Effective Memory Methods are Difficult—and That's Why They Work,” this will do a lot to get those ideas into your long-term memory, where they can stick around and help you in the long run. Indeed, this fallback activity is so valuable, do it even if you are keeping up with your reading goals: at that moment you feel the glow of having achieved that goal, take a moment to remember and think about some of the ideas in the last few things you read.
Conclusion. Please let me know how well these suggestions work or if they don’t work at all! An overriding principle beyond anything I say above is that you need to be experimental. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else—either a variation on the theme or something entirely different.
One of my contentions is that what we have been doing as a society for the last 50 years hasn’t been working well, as evidenced by the upward trend line of obesity almost everywhere and among almost every group. So as a society, we need to experiment with other approaches than what the bulk of people have been doing.
Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:
I. The Basics
II. Sugar as a Slow Poison
III. Anti-Cancer Eating
IV. Eating Tips
V. Calories In/Calories Out
VI. Other Health Issues
VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise
Julia Belluz and Javier Zarracina: Why You'll Be Disappointed If You Are Exercising to Lose Weight, Explained with 60+ Studies (my retitling of the article this links to)
IX. Gary Taubes
X. Twitter Discussions
XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health
See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities” and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography. I defend the ability of economists like me to make a contribution to understanding diet and health in “On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’.”