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Main > 02. On Promises

October 09, 2005

The eating promises I've made

Promising away my vices one at a time...

  • October 23, 2002 -- I will never drink pop again (Pepsi, Coke, Diet Coke, etc.).
  • March 26, 2003 -- I will never eat french fries or fried potato chips again (or onion rings or Fritos or Doritos other other fried chips).

The biggest two were these first two (and the most important one you'll read about below), as pop and french fries were a very fundamental, core part of my life. Some phases of my life it was Diet Coke, others it was Pepsi, always it was french fries, particularly McDonalds'. Please don't read my casual, reporter-style writing and think any of this was easy.

With these two promises successfully under my belt I had some momentum going...

  • Late spring, 2003 -- I will never drink chocolate milk made with Quik again.

    (This was an occasional nightly ritual that had been becoming more frequent. It's the only promise that I made on a whim, with me telling my wife, "If you go get me a big glass of Quik, I promise I'll never have it again." Scratch another vice off the list.)
  • August 13, 2003 -- I will never eat pre-packaged sweet things that come in a wrapper again.

    (This targeted candy bars and honey buns in particular, especially the ones offered in a vending machine at work. :)

Please realize that none of this has to do with discipline. No discipline was involved in MAKING any of these promises. It was my lack of discipline, my lack of being able to be moderate in these areas, that led to me having to make the promises. And once a particular promise was made, it was no longer an issue of discipline: I just couldn't eat the stuff any more, I had no choice, and thus discipline wasn't an issue. To me discipline involves the wrestle of choice. I short-circuited the need for discipline by removing the choice.

Just to answer a question that I've perhaps raised in your mind: I have never broken any of these promises. (But I still lack discipline!)

I was still grossly obese

In the spring of 2004 I was still quite obese, even after having made these promises. Since making my first promise I had lost surprisingly little weight compared to the "sacrifices" I had made. (Although I'm sure I was much healthier nevertheless.)

And while you wouldn't recognize the dates above, suffice it to say that my son would read them and think, "Where was my promise?"

The one promise that caused the tipping point and the weight to start falling off

Around this time I read a book that was to have fundamental impact on my life, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Harvard's Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition. I had heard for years that I should be eating vegetables, fiber, and the like, and avoiding sweets and fats and the like, but for the first time I read an explanation as to why those things are true based on science: what effect food has on your body, and how studies show that people who eat in particular ways tend to be a good bit healthier.

For the first time, eating "right" made sense.

In other posts I'm going to summarize this important book -- you can also see the website they've set up. Here's the quick list, taken directly from the book's introduction:

  • Watch your weight.
  • Eat fewer bad fats and more good fats.
  • Eat fewer refined-grain carbohydrates and more whole-grain carbohydrates.
  • Choose healthier sources of proteins.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, but hold the potatoes.
  • Use alcohol in moderation.
  • Take a multivitamin for insurance.

As I contemplated my food vices and my next promise heading up to my son's birthday, I began to realize that, based on my past experience, promising away "fried chicken" or "pizza" or "ice cream" or any particular food wouldn't bring me the weight loss that I really needed. My real problem was that I was eating too much (and secondarily that I was eating too much junk).

It became clear to me that the time had come for a more radical promise, but by this point I had the track record to know that I could succeed with such a promise. But I realized that there was a promise that would solve my problem.

I debated with myself (and my wife a bit) for a couple weeks, but in the end, greatly encouraged by Dr. Willett's book, and five weeks before my son's birthday (didn't want to wait), I made a promise:

  • April 13, 2004 -- I promise to never eat more than 2500 calories on any day, and to ensure this happens, I will write down everything I eat and keep track of the calories.

(There are actually a couple footnotes to this: there are a few days of the year (family birthdays and a couple holidays) that are free days that I am not going to count, and once I reach 190 pounds and stay below that point I'm not going to count, unless I at some point go above that number again. When making promises such footnotes can make them more realistic to implement without affecting the overall outcome. Some might find that a monthly or even weekly "free day" built into their promise is needed to actually make the promise in the first place. If this is what you need to get started, do it.)

I chose the number 2500 after researching a bit to see how many calories I need to maintain my ideal weight for my height and age. I actually found several different numbers on different websites, but 2500 was a nice round average of them.

The weight began to come off, and, in large part because at the same time I started eating much more "right", I found that I didn't have a problem with hunger at all the way I expected. Since I started I have only infrequently had than 2400 calories in a day, and my average so far has been around 2300.

(I should add that about a month after my 2500 promise I also started exercising, both cardio and resistance training, and that has helped with the weight loss too I'm sure. My mantra these days: eat right, eat less, do cardio, and lift weights. More on the cardio and weights later.)

With this promise I was well on my way to permanent success -- I began losing weight at two pounds a week week-in week-out for months, but I've needing to refine nevertheless in order to stop budding bad habits:

You may remember my promise above about sweet things that come in wrappers. Since then some candy has started coming in things other than wrappers, which led to:

  • August 21, 2004 -- I will never eat non-homemade sweet things at home, at work, or in our car.

    You may laugh at the details, but this exactly excised my problem areas without saying "no sweets ever again", something I'd rather not do unless I need to.

So even after my big promise I've still needed to be on guard for developing vices. But at this point I'm more focused on eating healthy than on doing what it takes to lose weight. That part's already been done, and won.

So where am I today?

I still have weight to lose -- perhaps 35 pounds, but it continues to come off. I've lost 100 pounds since my all-time high in the fall of 1998 and am no longer what is classified as obese. I continue to live under these promises but at the moment feel I have no additional food vices to promise away. (If I end up making another promise in the next few months, I'm guessing it will be desserts at Golden Corral, but we'll see. :)

So really it was the one promise that took the weight off. However, for me, I could never ever have conceived of making and sticking to that promise had I not built up the momentum from the earlier promises. By the time I made my "2500" promise, I know that I could promise away any food item, no problem at all. But I also knew that promising away any one food item wouldn't bring about the weight loss that I so desparately needed.

The previous promises gave me the fortitude needed to make the "2500" promise, the last promise I would need to reach my weight loss goal.

If you are thinking of doing this too

If you are thinking of doing this too, I highly recommend "baby step" promises to build momentum before doing anything drastic, although in foresight they may not seem like such baby steps! Much more on this later.

October 11, 2005

PUBIMO Promises

Making the right kind of promises is the key to the success of the Promise Diet. I've developed an acronym to help people learn and remember the right kind of promise to make – PUBIMO. A good promise must be:

P -- Personalized
My food vices are different than yours; promise them away accordingly.

U -- Uncontested
Would medical experts unanimously agree that this is a good promise to
make concerning your health? (Related to “I” below.) Corollary: Don't
make stupid promises!

B -- Bold
Life is short. Seize the day. (But also see “M”.)

I -- Informed
A pre-requisite to making uncontested promises is the knowledge of what
healthful eating really is.

M -- Momentum-Building
“Baby step” promises are worthwhile as long as they lead to future
promises that lead to additional change. That is, “I won't ____ on Monday
mornings” is a great start if that's all you're up for at first, and even first
steps bring benefits as long as “P” and “I” are fulfilled.

O -- Other-focused
I'm not losing weight to look better. I want to be around for my kids as
they grow up and I want my grandchildren to have me for a grandpa.

October 12, 2005

Don't starve yourself; don't make stupid promises

I enjoyed reading "Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry" by Laura Fraser (Plume, 1998). It made me concerned though that people reading things on this website will set themself up to fail (one way or another!) by making a promise they shouldn't or can't keep, such as "I'm never going to have a carbohydate (or fat) gram again", or "I'm not going to eat more than 1,200 calories a day until I reach my target rate." I'm realizing that people can do some pretty desparate things to try to lose a bit of weight.

Please, please, please don't make this kind of promise.

Things I've read suggest that you should plan to eat at least your "basal metabolism rate" in calories a day so that you body doesn't go into starvation mode and adjust your metabolism. Mine right now is about 2,045 calories a day. I can eat that much and lose weight, and I shouldn't eat less than that. And my promised limit is 2,500 calories a day. I am no where near the semi-starvation state that many put themselves into for a season to lose some weight only to gain it back once they return to normality.

Anyway, please don't starve yoursef, and please please don't promise that you are going to do it.

No discipline necessary!

My weight loss has nothing to do with discipline. No discipline was involved in MAKING any of these promises. It was my complete lack of discipline, my lack of being able to be moderate in these areas, that led to having to make the promises. And once a particular promise was made, it was no longer an issue of discipline: I just couldn't eat the stuff any more; I had no choice. I short-circuited the need for discipline by removing the choice. My promises provided the sure hand holds I needed to stop sliding further and further down the slippery obesity slope caused by my lack of discipline; instead I was able to use them to climb out of the pit, step by step, promise by promise. And that has made all the difference. (And life is still great, even without the pop, most definitely!)

October 23, 2005

Three Years!!!

Three years ago today I made my first promise, to never drink pop again. I wrestled with myself for days in making that decision -- I was drinking at least a couple Pepsis and/or Diet Cokes every day at the time -- but in hindsight it was one of the best I've ever made, with very little sacrifice when you get right down to it, especially considering the unanticipated rewards that followed.

Happy birthday, Hannah! I love you so much!

October 24, 2005

Have an asterisk if needed

Having an asterisk with some fine print could help build your courage to make a difficult promise.

No asterisk:

I will never eat cake again.

Duration asterisks:

I will not eat any cake for the next year.
I will not eat any cake for the next week.
I will not eat any cake tomorrow!

Day-of-week asterisks:

I will never eat cake again except on Saturdays.
I will never eat cake again on Mondays.

Time-of-day asterisks:

I will never eat cake after 7 PM at night.
I will never eat cake again before 9 AM.

Characteristic asterisks:

I will never eat chocolate cake again.
I will never eat non-homemade cake again.

Location asterisks:

I will never eat cake again in my home.

Special-day asterisks:

I will never eat cake again except on birthdays of my immediate family.

These can all be combined of course:

For the next year, I will not eat chocolate cake except at the Wilsons on Mondays between 5 PM and 7PM, except for my birthday and my son's birthday, when I will enjoy as much as I want.

The key with all of this is to precisely excise the vice that is causing you to be overweight without doing too much collateral damage that makes life a tad unpleasant.* For example, my promise to never eat pre-packaged sweet things that come in a wrapper was specifically targeted at the honey buns and candy bars that came in the vending machine at work. (But in my case I wanted to promise the whole category away.)

Bottom line: do what it takes!

See also this article on PUBIMO™ promises.

For another type of asterisk, see "Consider the source when making promises".

* On the other hand, you don't want so many promises that you can't keep up with them! Note that when all was said and done I only ended up with six. Even then there have been times I've had to sit and stare at a particular food item while going through my rules like a checklist making sure that what I was about to eat was legal.

November 01, 2005

A Post-Halloween Chocolate Bonanza, but...

One of my colleagues at work either heisted the neighborhood kids' candy collections last night or planned for many trick-or-treaters but got none -- a couple big bowls of candy have been singing to me for hours now. Real stuff too -- Reece's peanut butter cups, Hershey's chocolate, the works. And I'm the only one working in my half of the building tonight...

In the past, this would have meant a night of CHOCOLATE FUN at Queensboro. However, three separate promises intervene: no pre-packaged sweet things that come in a wrapper, no non-homemade sweet things at work or home or in our car, and no more than 2500 calories on any given day.

So -- although I have zero discipline when it comes to such stuff, and if I could I definitely would indulge (or rather binge) -- I haven't touched the stuff, and won't. Quite simply, I can't!

And come tomorrow morning, I'll be much better off...

That's the power of the Promise Diet™.

November 19, 2005

Two New Time-Limited Promises, made to myself this time

These days are really busy for me as well as a bit stressful. I'm finding myself eating near my maximun calorie allotment (2500) every day, and I'm eating more sweets than I should be. Quite simply, I'm eating this many calories and sweets because I can.

So, I'm making myself two new time-limited promises:

Starting tomorrow:

  • Until I weigh less than 185 pounds, I won't eat more than 2,200 calories on any day (other than the same days that are already excluded with my 2500 promise, such as Thanksgiving Day and Christmas).

  • Other than those excluded days, I'm not going to have any sweets until I weigh less than 185, in situations where I am in control. (This last part is an update.)
I'm eager to achive this weight, which has been my weight loss goal from the start, and this is the way to get there. 21 or so pounds to go.

November 21, 2005

Consider the source when making promises

I'm about to edit a post I wrote two days ago called "Two New Time-Limited Promises, made to myself this time".

Here's part of what it says right now: "Other than those excluded days, I'm not going to have any sweets until I weigh less than 185."

Here's what I'm going to change it to: "Other than those excluded days, I'm not going to have any sweets until I weigh less than 185, in situations where I am in control."

Since I made the promise to myself I knew what I really meant, and I didn't mean that if I happened to be offered something in an Arab home that I would refuse the hospitality I was being offered. (I didn't expect to find myself in an Arab home and being served some delicious canafe and nothing else -- I just had to eat it, although I did feed most of it to my kids when my hosts weren't in the room, and it wasn't that sweet anyway. (But it tasted great!)

My vice, which I promised away until I weight 185, was rather the chocolate ice cream I watched my kids eat the day before, and the sweet scone that tempted me at the bread store this morning, etc.

Had I made that promise to one of my kids, I'm not sure what I would have done, although I probably would've used more words when making the promise in the first place so as to not find myself in such a situation. That said, had I been offered Coke, or fried potato chips, or a candy bar in a wrapper -- things I've promised away to various family members -- I would not have drunk/eaten them and would have had to figure out some creative diplomacy. (Then again, in this situation my wiife would have intercepted the tray before it got to me.)

Lesson learned: when you make your promises, always consider the source of the thing you're promising away. For example, a friend of mine has promised away pop, unless someone else buys it for him. That's not exactly the same situation as my canafe, but for him it still gets to the heart of the matter.

These asterisks can seem like a cop out, but actually they're the realism that make most promises do-able.

November 23, 2005

A promise gets change done (example)

Recent daily calorie counts:

( promise made )

And, I had lunch at Golden Corral today, and for the first time in a very long time did not have any dessert there due to the second promise I made a few days ago.

Is it really that simple? Yes.

November 27, 2005

Accepting a new reality

I wish I remembered where I read it, but a sentence I recently read has stuck in my mind, something to the effect of "[after his calamity], he soon accepted his new reality and got on with his life."

The phrase "new reality" has been resonating with me the past couple of days as I've been surprised at how easy it has been to adhere to my new promises to not eat sweets and to eat less than 2200 calories a day.

Instead of passively undergoing a calamity, though, I'm realizing what I did was to create by fiat a new reality for myself -- I'm now a person who can't eat sweets and who consumes less than 2200 calories/day. And, at this point in my Promise Diet journey I was pretty quickly able to accept that new reality, adjust to it, and move on with my life. And voila, I'm now eating less than 2200 calories a day (where I had been eating in the 2400s almost every day) and I'm not eating sweets, and I'm definitely no worse off for it. Everything else being equal, this 300 calorie/day differential should translate into a couple extra pounds of weight loss a month until I get to my ultimate goal.

What new reality can you create for yourself today?

December 31, 2005

For success in the new year: Don't resolve; promise!

See title!

February 04, 2006

two "whoops!" this week

These are crazy busy days for me, and, for the first time ever, twice(!) this week I inadvertently made mistakes in writing down my calories and as a result went over by 25 calories one day and 30 another.

Not significant for weight loss of course -- I guess it's a testament to my busy-ness and serious lack of sleep than anything else. It's funny, though: I "feel better" that it was a promise to myself that was broken instead of one to my wife or kids.

Anyway, life goes on, and one of these days won't be so busy, surely! In the meanwhile I'm being more careful with my calorie recording. :)



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If you are morbidly obese, this website could save your life. I've not completed my journey, but I've lost over 115 pounds so far, most of it since starting something I'm calling "The Promise Diet." You can too, one promise at a time."

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two "whoops!" this week

For success in the new year: Don't resolve; promise!

Accepting a new reality

A promise gets change done (example)

Consider the source when making promises

Two New Time-Limited Promises, made to myself this time

A Post-Halloween Chocolate Bonanza, but...

Have an asterisk if needed

Three Years!!!

No discipline necessary!


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