Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 3

No S Diet Rules

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Hi, this is Reinhard from everydaysystems.com. Last week I gave a high level overview of the no s diet to give you a sense of how something this simple could possibly work. I hope I at least convinced you to suspend disbelief. This week I'm going to zoom in a little to a smaller scale and go over each of the rules in a bit of detail.

In case you missed last weeks episode, or just to refresh your memory, here are the rules again:

No snacks, no sweets, no seconds. Except (sometimes) on days that start with S.

I'll start with the exception: days that start with S. On S days, the training wheels come off, you're free to eat whatever you like.

What days start with S? Well, Saturday and Sunday are the obvious ones. The other kinds of, perhaps not so obvious S days are "Special" days. Special days are major holidays. National holidays, religious holidays, birthdays of close family and friends. You woundn't have dieted on these days anyway, you might as well feel good about it. It might as well be part of the rules instead of against them, because otherwise it would be a built in failure mechanism, a self destruct. Dividing weekdays from weekends and holidays is a very natural, clear, and practical division. And I've found this concept of S days versus non-S days (or N-days, for short) useful for many other systems beyond no-s.

S-days are a safety valve, an incentive to keep you motivated, and a reward. They're critical to making no-s work. If you don't give yourself s days you're going to crack. People worry about binging on S days, that they'll eat so much that it will undo all their good behavior on N days, but from what I've seen, this is far less of an actually danger than people attemping to be overstrict. If you're good on N-days, that's a lot of goodness. That makes a difference in itself that's hard to undue in just a small fraction of the time unless you're concsiously trying to sabatage yourself. It also creates unconsious habits that gratudally start to carry over into the weekend.

I stuck the word "sometimes" in the exception just to remind you not to be an idiot. You can follow these rules to the letter but still stuff yourself if you are really determined to. But I don't think you can do it by accident -- you'd really have to be trying. Some people on the website have found it useful to attach more specific meanings to the word "sometimes," but for now I'll just leave it at "don't be an idiot."

Rule # 1: No Snacks. This is probably the most contentious rule. Most diets today tell you snacks are good. That you should eat lots of little meals instead of a few big meals because you'll metabolize them more efficiently. And they have *a* point. Under laboratory conditions, people who eat a controlled amount of calories over the course of many small meals or snacks do metabolize them more efficiently than people who eat the same amount of calories in the traditional three meals. But studies have shown that in real word conditions people who snack wind up eating a lot more calories. So they might metabolize them more efficiently, but they eat so much more that they still get fat. So unless you live in a cage in a lab with a scientist measuring out precisely controlled portions for you, snacking isn't going to work.

It it makes sense that snackers eat more. Because when there are lots of input opportunities, it's harder to monitor them. It's like if your a country that has big border with a problematic neighbor -- a big border is hard to defend.

Snackig makes self deception easy -- it doesn't just ryme with sneaking. It facilitates it. No one, including yourself, can ever point to you at one moment in time and say "hey, right now you're eating too much!" Except for the fact that you're fat, you can put on a very convincing charade.

But even if you aren't actively trying to deceive yourself, but carefully count every calorie in order to trick your metabolism to run at this higher rate, sort of like overclocking you CPU, snacking is a bad idea. Because counting is just too much work -- really boring work. It requires an unsustainable amount of attention.

Stick with single plate meals and you get a shortcut to measuring how much you are eating that is accurate enough to be useful, but unobtrusive enough to be sustainable. You don't need to count, you can eyeball how much you're eating. And after a while, you barely have to do that. Because It becomes habitual. Counting, arithmetic, is never going to become an unconsioius habit.

Snacking is also not a historically normal human activity. We've been so brainwashed by marketers who want to sell us snacks (you can't sell NO SNACKS, right?) that this doesn't occur to us. But think about it.

Food used to be very, very inconvenient to prepare. It was expensive and hard to preserve. You couldn't just whip out a powerbar when you needed an extra boost to plow the field. Almost everyone spent almost all their time preparing food: planting it, growing it, harvesting it, hunting it, cooking it. When they sat down to eat the food they'd just spent most of their waking hours preparing, it was a big deal. It was a social event. It was formal. It was distinct from the rest of the day. It was a meal.

Mealing is profoundly normal, nothing you should be afaid of. Prettyy much everyone did it until, about 1980, to pick an arbitrary date. About the time when everybody started getting fat. It's snacking that is the weird, anomalous behavior that needs justifying, that only people in fat societies indulge in.

On to rule #2. No Sweets is the only rule that targets a specific substance (all most diets do) but there's a critical difference from the usual dietary substance prohibitions. Because No-s allows sweets on weekends and holidays, it's not so much a prohibition as a recasting of sweets from the routine staple they've become back to their traditional role as "desserts." What does the word "dessert" mean, after all? Something deserved. The no sweets rule turns the weakness of a sweet tooth into a motivating strength. Temptation becomes incentive. You can resist the temptation because you know you can have it later. You eat less, and when you get to legitamately eat the temptation -- now no longer a temptation but a reward, you enjoy it more. No-s works even just from a purely hedonistic point of view.

Note that it's "no sweets," not "no sugar." This is an important distinction. By sweets I mean something where the principal source of calories is added sugar: cookies, pop tarts, soft drinks, candy bars, etc. You don't have to go checking lists of ingredients and driving waiters crazy, your taste buds will let you know. If you have to wonder, it's probably OK. By just targeting the really egregious offenders you'll be cutting out a shocking amount of calories. By not making yourself crazy over borderline cases you'll be that much more likely to stick with the plan. You don't need to cut out all sugar, or even all sweets, and certainly not all carbs. No sweets on N days is enough. Don't try to do more than enough. You'll be miserable and you'll fail.

Rule #3: No Seconds. No Seconds means limit each meal to one physical plate. You can fit a lot onto a plate, but you can't do it without seeing that it's a lot. That gentle pressure on your eyeballs is surprisingly effective. In the beginning, some whopping plates are to be expected. That's part of the educational process. Because you can't sneak your excess anymore, because it confronts you head on, your whopping plates will gradually shame you into less whopping ones.

Don't worry about plate size at all when you're starting out -- except to make sure that you're putting enough on, a little too much is ok. The important thing is to build the habit and eat enough to see you through to your next meal without snacking. In time, you'll get very good at budgeting how much it takes to do this without hunger or excess. So it's ok if that means some really big plates at first. If it takes you a few extra calories up front to buy the habit of structured, mealtime eating, they're calories well spent.

I've actually got a ton more to say about the no s diet, but I'm out of time for today, and I think I should probably say a little bit about the other everyday systems before devoting any more podcasts to No-s. So next week I think I'll talk about my sledgehammer exercise routine, shovelglove.

By Reinhard Engels

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