Losing weight

plot of my weight over several months

That graph is a plot of my weight over one year, starting in April 2019 and ending in April 2020 or thereabouts. As you can tell, I started around 200 pounds and ended a hair under 160. After the program ended, I gained roughly 4 pounds back over six months, then resolved to lose a couple again. That seems to have worked. Compare:

20042010201720192020

Background

I had probably been overweight for roughly a quarter century, and had tried to lose weight for more than a decade. I had a possible year or two back at normal weight around 2000-2002.

Rough timeline

Time period Life circumstances and weight gain/loss
1995-1997 Graduated with a Master’s, taught high school two years. Waist size of roughly 32. For the first time in my life, I could now bake and buy all the desserts I wanted, and I did!
1997-1998 Entered seminary. Waist size grew to 34. The problem? doughnuts available for breakfast each day, and I love doughnuts. I sometimes ate 3 or 4. When I returned home that summer, some people remarked on this, though they said I wore it well.
Early 1999 Left seminary. Back to making my own food and not having much money. Probable weight loss, but not enough that my waist size went down; I just tightened my belt.
Late 1999 - Mid 2000 Entered graduate school for a PhD. Waist size remained at 34, perhaps 33. Stayed in a dorm, ate in the cafeteria, generally two slices of cake after dinner. (One of each kind!) I walked all over campus, and NC State is a pretty big campus, so I suspect I lost weight. Some photos suggest my weight wasn’t that bad.
Mid 2000 - July 2005 Continuing graduate study. Waist size grew to 34, weight a bit over 180. Stayed in an apartment and made my own food, but I earned enough money to live comfortably (for me). Possible slowing of metabolism.
July 2005 - April 2019 Graduation, marriage. Waist size grew to 36, weight to 200, possibly 210 at one point. My wife likes to cook, so she does most of the cooking. She cooks well, too! So I ate, and ate a lot. In photos from 2010 I look like a little balloon! I did manage to fight my weight back down to 180 one summer when I stayed here and she visited her parents, but after she returned, the weight did, too.
For most of the past decade I dreamed of returning first to 180, then to 190. I maybe knocked off a few pounds now and again, but quickly regained them.

A “healthy” weight for someone my height is roughly 140-170. Obesity starts at around 200 pounds.

My doctors didn’t seem too worried, but I was, if only as a matter of pride. I’d been thin most of my life, and I wanted to return to that.

What didn’t work?

Periodic fasting; exercise; focusing on high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals; a bunch of other things, one or two recommended by my doctor, some suggested by my wife.

I never tried a weight loss program until 2019.

What did work?

In one word: Education.

In early 2019, the State Employees’ Health Plan notified me of a new benefit: a free subscription to Naturally Slim. I figured I might as well give it a shot.

For the first month, it didn’t seem to work. I even gained weight my first week! I smirked with cynical despair as I recorded that.

However, the program begun to show results by the end of the first month. I hit my first target of a 10-pound weight loss by the end of the second month. (The first star in the plot above.) I was already pretty happy with this, but Naturally Slim invited me to set a second target. I decided to aim for another 10-pound weight loss, and I reached that in less than two months. (The second star.) This amazed me enough that I kept setting lower targets until I reached 163. Even after I reached that weight, I managed to lose another 5 pounds and generally stay in that area, even over the Christmas holidays!

After one year, I was in the area of 161 or 162 — higher, yes, but lower than I’d ever dreamed of being again. It’s arguable that 158 is lower than I ought to be. (I look a little haggard in one or two photos.)

How does Naturally Slim work?

The aim is to teach the client how our appetite works, thereby modifying eating habits.

Eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want.

The trick is to unlearn your preconceptions of what that means, and to learn your body’s signals for “when”, “what”, and “how much” you really want to eat.

The good news, though, is that you don’t have to subscribe to a meal-delivery service, buy specially-labeled products at the grocery store, resign yourself to tasteless salads and tofu, or even avoid your favorite foods as if they were poison. You don’t have to go hungry (but see below).

You just have to learn to eat correctly.

Each week, you watch some videos and record some data. The videos range from short monologues from Naturally Slim’s founders (?) to conversational dialogues between a couple of their lifestyle coaches. Some videos recount success stories. The videos are generally well made and optimistic. They take place in a variety of settings that you’d love to visit.

What part of it worked?

For me, it was learning when and how to eat.

10-5-10

The 10-5-10 rule states:
  • Eat small mouthfuls slowly for 10 minutes.
  • Pause for 10 minutes.
  • If you’re still hungry, eat small mouthfuls slowly for another 10 minutes.
Naturally Slim claims that both the stomach and the brain’s taste center need time to realize that they are satisfied, and this motivates the timing.

People had always remarked on how I was a fast eater. (“Did it taste good? …How do you know?” was a common joke.) I was even proud of that! I didn’t waste time on food! I also liked to fill my mouth with food. In retrospect, I suspect that this helped offset the fact that my fast eating didn’t give my taste buds time enough for stimulation.

I also liked the feeling of a heavy, overfull stomach. I associated it with being full. This may also have been a consequence of eating too fast; after starting Naturally Slim, I realized that “full” differs greatly from “overfull”. The former really is preferable to the latter.

The four levels of hunger

Naturally Slim identifies four levels of hunger, which I list here with characterizations of my own — possibly mischaracterizations, which I would regret.
  1. I feel like a snack.

    Never eat at level 1; you’re basically guaranteed to put on weight at that level. That late-night snack is probably level 1 eating.

  2. I’d like something, but not those 3-day-old leftovers in the fridge.

    Don’t eat at level 2, either. You’re comforting yourself and using food to soothe yourself, or as recreation instead of nutrition. Ignore that demon on your shoulder who sneers that this is hatred of pleasure; it’s “nutritional physics”, plain and simple:

    If your body doesn’t need it, you put on weight.

    You would do better to identify and address the underlying problems.

  3. Those 3-day-old leftovers in the fridge look tasty.

    Hunger has become uncomfortable, as opposed to food being comfort. It’s time to eat.

  4. The neighbor’s cat looks tasty.

    You have waited too long, and are likely to overeat.
In line with this, they advise you to try skipping breakfast. Most of us lead sedentary lives and work at desk jobs.

For most of us, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.

Most people don’t need it, and if you feel a twinge of hunger in the morning, it’s more likely that you need something to drink, as it can be caused by dehydration during the night’s sleep. To my surprise, they were right: I haven’t eaten a serious breakfast in over a year, at most a handful of prunes, and sometimes nothing at all. I haven’t needed it, and contrary to common belief, it doesn’t make me hungrier at noon.

They also tell you to observe your body, to learn when you actually need to eat, and to time your meals around your natural hunger cycle, rather than to time your eating around a preconceived mealtime. This will obviously be easier for some than others, and they give advice for how to deal with it realistically.

I did experience mild hunger on occasion — rather regularly, often in the evenings. It wasn’t a painful hunger; it was generally Level 3. Perhaps I should have eaten a Hunger Saver (see below), but low-level hunger often passes, and if I recall the lessons correctly, Level 3 is the level where you start to lose weight.

Again, we often use food to address emotional or psychological issues that aren’t actual hunger — for example, in celebration or as reward. Our bodies thus learn to use food as a comforting mechanism, so a little hunger may have been necessary to re-train my body away from those bad habits.

Sugar Island

One of the most effective analogies is “Sugar Island”. Marsha, a founder and one of the presenters, recounts how, in her youth, she enjoyed a sweet maybe once a week, when her grandmother baked a cake. Sugar was available, but not omnipresent.

Today, sugar pervades our diets. Most people consume a soft drink and multiple sweets daily. I myself was in the habit of having one or two chocoaltes at teatime every evening — or three, or four… I liked to sample each variety every time. When I bought my house, I adopted the habit of “rewarding” myself with a Cherry Coke every time I did some not-so-major housework, such as cutting the grass.

To counteract this, Naturally Slim advises a “sugar detox” of several weeks. I can’t remember whether it’s four or six or something else, but either way, that’s it. So, I lay off the sweets, which was very hard, as I had grown accustomed to a soft drink with my restaurant meals — though, to be honest, I did allow an indulgence on Sundays, because, after all, Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

“It’s alright to visit there once in a while,” Marsha argues, “but we shouldn’t buy a time share, let alone make it our primary residence.”

The times that I’ve gained a couple of pounds since late 2019 have generally coincided with two things: an increase in the number of sweets, and an increase in my wife’s bread baking — because if there’s anything I like as much or more than sweets, it’s a slice of bread. When I first returned home from college, my mother told me that a brother had remarked that “You can tell Jack isn’t home any more; we have an abundance of bread.”

My wife likewise noticed my predilection for bread, and asked what I would do if one day I had to quit eating bread or else die. I replied, “I would rather die.”

Once I figured out that bread was a primary contributor to my weight, I laid off that, too. That’s probably been the hardest aspect of the program. In a way, I have died, but in a way, I’ve also resurrected. I still eat bread, just not as often, not as much, and not as carelessly. And when my wife makes a new loaf, let me tell you: it’s hard.

Similarly, I had to give up the high-sugar yogurts that I used to eat and love. Naturally Slim advises us to eat yogurts that contain 3 times as much protein as sugar. That’s not too hard to find, but neither is it as enticing as the “dessert yogurts” that populate the shelves. An Icelandic product, skyr, fits the bill; for a while I ate Siggi’s, but I don’t think you can find it here in Hattiesburg any more. My wife has taken to buying the plain Greek-style yogurts, into which I mix a couple of spoons of jam. That raises the sugar level a bit, but if my taste buds are to be believed, not nearly as much as my previous favorites.

Other aspects of the program

I didn’t make much use of these techniques, but I could see how many people could.
  • “H2Orange” is designed to wean you off your soft drink addiction, hydrating you while alleviating your taste buds’ desire for sweetness. I had already given up soft drinks and was used to drinking water or unsweetened, higher-quality tea most of the time.

  • “Hunger Savers” are high-protein snacks designed to help you survive a short burst of hunger until the next meal. Unfortunately, experience has tuaght me that I’d overindulge on most of their recommended Hunger Savers. I can’t eat just one cheese cracker at a time — believe me, I’ve tried. On my own initiative I started using the high-protein, low-sugar yogurt as a Hunger Saver, and that worked well. It didn’t surprise me, then, when they added yogurt as a Hunger Saver midway through the program.

  • Twenty minutes of exercise a day. Naturally Slim advises,

    Walk your dog — even if you don’t have one!

    The point of this is not to lose weight, but to keep it off once you do lose it. They argue,
    “Your feet can’t outrun your mouth.”
    By this they meant that exercise can increase your appetite, and if you’re in the habit of overeating, exercising more without consciously resisting your appetite will do nothing to lessen your calorie intake — quite the opposite, in fact, especially if you then take up the bad habit of drinking an “energy” drink or “energy” bar, most of which probably have more calories than you just burned!

    I already exercised a bit — maybe not daily, but I often ride my bicycle to and from work, a twenty-minute ride. I had done it for years, and lost little or nothing, proving their point.
Naturally Slim also has a forum that is very well-used by clients who ask questions, offer support, and relate their success stories.

Criticisms of the program

I have found a few criticisms of the program online. The two I remember are “fat shaming” and “an emphasis on behavior modification”.

Here’s how I would address these concerns.
  • fat shaming — I have a hard time taking this seriously. I was ashamed of my weight long before Naturally Slim came along, and I was right to be.

    I was unhealthy, and I knew it.

    Even if this shame is culturally conditioned, it is objectively mistaken to dismiss concerns of weight and obesity. It left me at a higher risk of any number of long-term diseases, some of which run in my family, such as diabetes. I sometimes experienced difficulties attributable to my high weight — for a while I experienced ankle pain, a phenomenon that vanished after I lost weight.

    It’s thanks to Naturally Slim that I finally feel good about my body again, that I have a good body again.

    Did it involve some discomfort and harsh realities? Yes, and it was worth it.

  • emphasis on behavior modification — How can this be a criticism? Losing weight requires one either to expend more calories through activity or to consume fewer calories in meals. How does one do that without changing behavior? Even the meal subscription plans are effectively a change of behavior. Our sociefy suffers from a bizarre, unhealthy aversion to saying that people need to change objectively unhealthy behaviors, for no other reason than that these behaviors are ingrained.

    Much of our cultural conversation insists on learning to love oneself, warts and all, reconciling our values to our defects instead of the other way around.

    It reminds me of a conversation my wife and I had with a rheumatologist. An obese woman came to him, complaining about pain in her ankles and knees. She wanted a medicine to make the pain go away. He explained that he couldn’t really help her with that; her problems were due to her need to lose weight. The woman objected, “But I love my body!” He replied matter-of-factly, “Well, you’ll have to learn to love pain.” That isn’t being judgmental; that’s simply an observation of reality, but for some reason people want no truck with reality.

    I’ll admit two exceptions: drugs and alcohol. You can sometimes find some encouragement to go to rehab, but it wasn’t that long ago that society celebrated (!) a song whose lyrics boasted, “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, ‘No, no, no!’” This cultural attitude is both unfounded and unhealthy. It explains a great many of our dysfunctions — as well as a great many of our aversions, might I add, to traditional morality, which emphasized personal responsibilty and behavior modification.

Conclusion

I really do feel as if I live the Naturally Slim promise, to

Eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want.

This required me to relearn “what” I wanted to eat, “when” I wanted to eat, and “how much” I wanted to eat. I don’t eat as much as I used to, I don’t indulge in bread or sweets as much as I used to, and I don’t “enjoy” eating the same way I used to. I enjoy it differently — and, I’d argue, I enjoy it more. Naturally Slim taught me facts and skills that have helped me lose weight, keep it off, and lose it again when I do gain it. For that, I am grateful.

(For now, at least!)