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HOW ELIMINATING DECISION-MAKING LOST ME 15 POUNDS
I wanted to see what would happen if I made no decisions about what to eat for a week.
So, I emailed my friend Dan Reeves, who has a fitness-expert sister named Melanie Reeves Wicklow, to request a healthy diet I could follow for seven days with no exceptions.
(I knew Dan’s sister had this expertise because I use Beeminder, Dan’s behavioral-economics company, which sends you nagging emails requesting you to report back on how much progress you have made towards various self-imposed goals. The emails sometimes contain nutrition / fitness tips from Melanie.)
Melanie sent the diet. It was great; it even had recipes and a shopping list. I’m very thankful for the help in cooking these provided by my lovely wife Dominique.
So this is what went down:
Discovered that if you eat oatmeal with an egg in it instead of just oatmeal, you feel full for much longer. A protein effect?
The diet said nothing about coffee. I tend to do things all the way, so I kicked my five-cup-per-day coffee habit. Was starting to feel the effects.
Got a coffee-withdrawal headache that was so bad I had to take half a day off work. I vow never to get so addicted again.
I start to wonder if eating 2200 calories is making me gain weight. Needless to say, I was the opposite of hungry. I start to wonder if everyone in Dan’s family is as hyper-athletic as Dan and thus capable of eating tons. However, I stick exactly to the diet because that is how I roll.
Notice that skin and hair are less oily.
Notice the absence of tired stretches during the workday, which is surprising since I haven’t had any coffee in about a week.
Sorry to see it end.
With diet week over, I go back to making decisions about what to eat. However, I notice the following spillover effects
* I switched to decaf coffee as a kind of Methadone. I feel less tired without coffee than I did while on coffee.
* I took an interest in guesstimating the caloric content of foods. Started entering everything eaten on fitday.com. (Dan, Sharad and I will soon launch a giant research project / game on calorie estimation).
* I scaled back to about 1800 calories per day
* I frequently get off the subway one stop early and walk an extra ten minutes
I lost 15 pounds in about a couple months after the “no-decision” diet. (I lost no weight during the week of the diet).
A) The imposed diet changed my cravings, gave me new-found discipline, and this caused me to lose weight
B) Some latent state changed deep within me, and this caused me to both i) conceive of requesting the diet and ii) commit to eating better and exercising more
C) Some mixture of both
After reading a draft of this, Melanie asked me “Did the thought and motivation for [exercising more] come from being more aware of calories in/out or just from having more energy and an overall desire to engage in healthier behaviors?”
I replied. “I think it comes from the energy you get from eating better and from the momentum effect of exerting willpower. Once you start following the diet, it is easy to keep following it and pick up other healthy behaviors along the way. Of course, something needs to change within you to make you start following the diet in the first place, so it is hard to know. However, you can get insight from cases in which you exhibit willpower when it is not really your decision, e.g., a lot of Jewish folks fast every year on Yom Kippur. It’s not really a decision to do it if you are raised that way. But once you get through the fast, on the next day, you realize it is not that hard to eat less. You had just done it, so you know. I guess this gives some weight to the ‘momentum of willpower’ explanation.”