Now, when I say simple, I mean drop dead simple. Something like “don’t eat carbs” may sound simple, because it’s a short sentence. But if you look at the execution, it’s actually pretty complicated. There are thousands of different foods. Which ones contain carbs? Which ones are you willing to eat, or not eat? Which ones are available at any particular time or place? What is the appropriate level of carbs? Zero? Seventy-two? “Don’t eat carbs”, like most diets, takes a lot of your time and a lot of attention. Who wants to deal with that? Plans should be easy to understand, easy to execute, and hard to screw up. So, to begin:
1. Don’t drink soda.
This also applies to other sugary drinks, like most fruit juices – see http://www.sugarstacks.com/beverages.htm for a quick guide. Most diets tell you not to eat something or other: fat, carbs, protein, red meat, refined grains… and so on. The trouble with most of these is: a) the evidence about them being bad for you is usually disputed, b) we need most of them to be healthy, at least in some quantity, and c) instructions like that are hard to execute, since most of the “bad” categories cover hundreds or thousands of different foods. Fortunately, sugary drinks suffer from none of these problems. Everyone agrees they’re bad. You don’t need to drink them in any quantity, ever – sugar water is not a necessary component of the human diet. And they’re easy to avoid. Just have water instead.
2. Keep busy all the time.
In Western societies, almost all of us have enough food. Food is everywhere. Hence, most eating isn’t because of physically feeling hunger – instead, we eat because food is there, or because there’s a social ritual telling us to (“let’s go out for pizza”). If you’re busy doing other stuff – partying, working, watching movies, hanging out with friends, anything you like – it will seem more important than food, which it ultimately is. A corollary is to keep busy with fun stuff, or you’ll be tempted to eat as an excuse for taking a break.
3. Don’t be afraid of not eating when not hungry.
Eating when you actually feel hungry is inevitable. But if you don’t feel hungry, why eat anything? There’s all sorts of propaganda in favor of it – social (“come on, man, have a beer”), commercial (“SlimQuik diet food – eat this and lose weight!”), and official (“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”). But, in fact, the human body is probably designed for eating irregularly, not for having three meals and two snacks at the same time every day.
Our ancestors mostly got their food from hunting and gathering. Both are highly irregular. You might find a really nice fruit tree or kill a big animal, eat a ton, and then not have anything for two days. I’m skeptical of evolution-based arguments, since they have an annoying tendency to explain everything, but that one seems pretty rock-solid. (Another rock-solid one is that “being thirsty means you’re dehydrated” is nonsense. No animal drinks unless it’s thirsty, so if ordinary thirst were actually bad for your health, evolution would make thirst stronger faster than you can say jack knife.)
4. Track your weight on a graph.
This one has a reputation for being hard, but it’s actually really simple: just weigh yourself once a day, and put it into Excel. Since scales are imprecise and humans gain/lose a lot of water at random times, the graph will fluctuate up and down a lot, which induces many people to panic. A handy trick for avoiding this is to take the moving average of weight, over ten days or so. This gets rid of the bumps, and turns the graph into a smooth trend (up, down, or flat). To quote Paul Graham, “merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it”.
5. Keep track of how much food has how many calories.
There’s no need to be excessively paranoid about this, but just having a general idea of what food represents has been really darn useful. I like milkshakes, I really do, but I’ve stopped drinking them since I realized that a single milkshake equates to about 0.1 kg of body fat (8000 calories ~= 1 kg). That’s a lot, if you think about it; if you wanted to lose 5 kg, a typical amount, you could get 2% of the way there just by not drinking one milkshake! Conversely, if you’re hungry, you can eat pretty much any amount of vegetables and not worry about it too much.
(Obligatory disclaimer: This has worked for me so far, but might not work for everyone; your mileage may vary, batteries not included.)