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Editor’s note: This is Article 5 in the new Meridian series, “The Half-Diet” wherein Richard Eyre lays out the basics of the most simple and logical method of losing weight and keeping it off. New installments in the series run every Wednesday. Most of the concepts are taken from Richard’s latest book THE HALF DIET DIET. Meridian readers who comment on all articles in this series will be put into a drawing for free copies of the book when the series concludes. Readers may still comment on articles 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Most of us are conditioned to think of a diet as something short term and painful—something we torture ourselves with for a period of time so that we can reach some goal and then go back to our old, enjoyable ways. We view diets as a trade-off. “I love eating, but I hate being fat, so I will give up eating for a while until I’m not fat.”
This kind of dieting, up and down, is like living life on a roller coaster and ultimately probably does our bodies more harm than good (and certainly frustrates us out of our minds!)
So if “diet” implies something short term, and something painful, it is the wrong word for the Half Diet approach and life style. The half diet is like putting a bridle on a beautiful horse. It is about joy—about increasing the pleasure of eating (riding) and training the appetite (horse) to work for us rather than against us.
When a horse is ridden well, with the correct use of the bridle, it becomes more and more joyful to ride. The joy is progressive, it gets better and better. Once the horse knows the feel of the bridle, it stops trying to work against us. And when well trained, when a bridle has been used long enough and effectively enough, we get to a point where we can give the horse its head, knowing that it will not hurt us, only thrill us!
That is the principle of the Half Diet Diet. Bridle your appetite by drinking a big glass of water before each meal and by eating only half at three meals a day—eating them slowly and smelling, sipping, and savoring rather than gulping, guzzling, and gorging. Once the appetite knows that that it is only going to get half, and get it slowly, it stops trying to work against us and actually starts craving better, more nourishing food. Since the appetite’s job is to get enough nutrients, and since it can’t have more quantity, it starts wanting more quality. And when we get it well trained, when we have disciplined ourselves to eat half long enough and effectively enough, we get to a point where we know our appetite will work for us rather than against us, that it will not hurt us, only thrill us!
Now think about that for a moment. When appetites are in the unbridled mode, they work on quantity; they want to be in charge, to run away with us. We find ourselves eating fast, and taking big bites; we gulp, gorge, and guzzle—the appetite is winning! We are getting filled up, but there is little joy in it.
Now put on the bridle. Eat slow, take small bites, enjoy. Feel the texture of the food, notice the aftertaste. Set the fork down between small bites and enjoy. Make the bites half as big, and take one half as often, and it will take you twice as long to eat half the amount of food, and your enjoyment level will be much higher.
Then put the horse in the barn until time for the next ride. Don’t let it go running around on its own. Don’t pick up everything edible you see and put it in your mouth. If you need a snack between your slow, enjoyed half-meals, eat an apple or a carrot (horses like those you know, and so will your appetite once you get it trained.)
Think of the Half Diet Diet not as a diet at all, but as a way of maximizing the joy you can get from your bridled appetite and from your God-given body. The joy comes not from satisfying or being controlled by your appetite but from bridling it and working with it and training it. There is joy in this kind of mastery, and there are results that are lasting and that keep getting better and better. There is joy in smelling, sipping, and savoring good food, and in eating it slowly and with small bites, and in bridling your appetite.
It’s all about training your horse or your diet to serve you. It takes effort and discipline and practice, but once the horse gets used to the bridle, it becomes your wondrous servant, and once your appetite gets used to the discipline of only getting half quantity, it re-focuses on quality and becomes your nutritional guide and servant.
The secret to this whole diet is this: Your body knows what it needs. Every cell in your body knows what it requires to stay alive and to thrive. But your body doesn’t wrest control from your appetites and obsessions and bad habits unless you train it to.
The body is an instinctive mechanism. Unlike the mind, which can choose and determine its own thoughts, the body–untrained and ungoverned–will take the path of least resistance. Thus, if you’re eating twice as much as you need, and much of it is junk food or other unhealthy stuff, your body doesn’t fight you, so long there’s enough food coming in to provide what your cells need.
Say your body needs “3n” of nutrients each day and it can extract that much from a “6v” volume of fairly bad food. Your instinctive body is okay with that even though the other 3v may be making you fat or tired or full of cholesterol. If the food you’re eating gets even worse in quality (say it now takes 8v volume to get the 3n of nutrients), your body will push you to eat even more.
But what happens if the mind takes control by enforcing the “eat half” principle, and limits the body to 3v volume of food per day? If it’s all the same fairly bad food, the body will be getting only 1 and 1/2n, and the appetite will push you to eat more. But if the mind stays strong and holds the quantity line at 3v, the only recourse your cells have is to work on the quality. Gradually, you will start craving better, more nourishing, more wholesome food until your body can get its 3n of nutrients from a volume of 3v.
Consequently, if you stay true to phase one (eating half as much), your body will gradually give you the gift of phase two (craving quality instead of quantity.). Your tastes (as well as your taste) will change, your body will lose weight, and every one of your cells will be happier.
Can it really be that simple? Absolutely! But simple things are often incredibly hard. How in the world are you going to eat only half as much food? If you’ve tried it for even a day or two, you know how hard it is! How can you do it–not for just a meal or a day or a week, but from now on? It is an extremely difficult proposition because any weakness in your conscious, choice-making mind will be exploited mercilessly by your instinctive body and your subconscious appetites.
And nobody else can do it for you. No one can make it easy or give you some magic pill. What I can do for you–what this column and my book is written to do–is to motivate you by making the whole idea of eat-half as appealing as possible by giving you some interesting and stimulating new ways to think about it, and by helping you see that it’s not only the results that will make you happy, but the process–that eating twice as slow and half as much is, as you get used to it, more enjoyable than the way you eat now.