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Austerity – The Caloric Kind

If you’re trying to limit calories, people really are different.

Julia Belluz at Vox recently wrote a nice piece about weight loss, and two things really resonated: the absence of any well-defined best diet, and the importance of personal tracking.

As it happens – and at the severe risk of providing too much information – I have some recent experience along those lines. Yes, I’ve lost a fair bit of weight over the past two years (no special forcing event, just the approach of the big six-oh), and I have learned a few things about myself along the way. (Minor note: Media outlets that like to run summaries of my work with an accompanying picture – hi there, Salon – might want to start using pictures that resemble my current incarnation.)

First, on the no-best-diet point: We tend, as a culture, to overstate individual differences. Turn on CNBC and you’ll see lots of ads for accounts that let you invest to meet your individual needs. And yet the vast majority of people should not be making investment choices – they should just park their money in an index fund. The same is true for insurance policies. And even when it comes to food consumption: How many people really gain a lot from being able to, say, customize their options at fast food places?

But if you’re trying to limit calories, people really are different. Some folks are good at sustained self-discipline and eat healthy, limited portions all the time (sorry, I need to drown my sorrows in red wine and pasta). Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 6” program works for some people I know. What has worked for me is severe caloric restriction two days a week. In case you’re wondering, it’s actually very unpleasant. But periodic suffering seems to suit my personality.

On the tracking issue: I use a Fitbit, not because I think it’s accurate, but to guilt trip myself, which it does effectively, bullying me into walking to work and doing my daily cardio. I also weigh myself daily, knowing full well that the fluctuations don’t mean anything.

Again, the guilt’s the thing.

If all this sounds kind of grim, the fact is that I’m feeling pretty good. Will I hold to the new regime over the next few years? I guess we’ll see.

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