20. Strategies for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

If a pack of wolves kills a deer the pack leader gets the choice cuts, and then the pack shares the rest in an egalitarian way. They eat until the entire deer is gone because they don’t know when there is going to be another deer. For much of our hunter-gatherer past food was not guaranteed and thus when we encountered a glut we would gorge ourselves. There was no benefit to limiting food intake because stored calories would help us compensate during periods of famine or starvation (Reser, 2011). The state of being hungry is a survival mechanism, but so is being a couch potato. The less movement you made, the more calories you conserved. In our modern world, these adaptive traits are no longer beneficial because the oversupply of calorie-rich foods has made us susceptible to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (Reser, 2011).

Most mammals will eat more when palatable food is readily available. This rarely occurs in the wild, but is common with domestic animals. Rats with a perpetually full food dish that are allowed to self-regulate their own food intake become rotund. Allowed to eat as much as they want, they engage in “hedonic hyperphagia.” This is food intake that is motivated by pleasure and independent of hunger. Overfeeding in this way causes them to suffer from metabolic diseases, and cancers (de Gortari et al., 2020). These rats die much earlier than rats fed appropriate portions. The scary thing is, overeating is the present condition in most first, and second-world countries. You and I are domestic mammals that are allowed to feed ourselves ad libitum. World obesity statistics demonstrate that humans are not doing so well given these liberties (Haslam et al., 2005). Unlike rats we can self-impose limitations on our eating, and this is the only way for us to stay healthy. But of course, it is not only how much we eat, but what we eat that can make the difference.

When an evolved mechanism becomes a liability once certain features of the environment change, this is sometimes referred to as an “evolutionary trap (Robertson et. al., 2013).” For instance, many animals will eat brightly colored trash because their visual perception of it excites appetitive circuits in its brain. Animals die from evolutionary traps all the time, and due to the modern food industry, so do we. Eating carbohydrate rich, sugary, salty, and fatty foods was necessary for survival for prehistoric humans. For this reason our taste receptors evolved to make us crave sugar, sodium, and fat. However, given the glut of hyperpalatable food options today, this adaptation has backfired and led to diabetes, hypertension, and obesity (Bleich et al., 2008). We gorge because we have not yet adapted to a world of variety and plenty. In fact, many major food manufacturers use specific ingredients in specific proportions to help ensure that people don’t stop eating.

Calorie Density and Nutrient Density

Scientists estimate that 50% of the pet population in the U.S. is overweight. Even a little extra weight in our pets reduces mobility, health, lifespan, and time spent playing. My cat Niko used to be overweight. Feeding him less wasn’t working, he would just cry in desperation until I gave him more food. The solution was feeding him the least caloric weight management cat food on the market. Now he still eats the same volume of food so he is just as satisfied. However, because it has less fat and fewer calories he is now slim. This solution works just as well for you and me.

Energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a given amount (volume) of food. Most people eat heavily processed and refined foods which are very energy dense. The problem is we need a lot of it to fill our stomachs and feel satisfied. Keeping ourselves from feeling satisfied by eating less food volume contributes to stress. So to get around this you want to eat decent sized portions but you want the food to be less calorie dense (Drewnowski, 2018). Foods that are low in calorie density but high in nutrient density include fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fat free dairy, and whole grains. These will allow you to feel full on fewer calories. And because they are a little more “bland” than some of today’s processed foods like fries, soda, chips, brownies, and candy, you are much less likely to overeat.

Mice and rats have a high preference for potato chips over their standard foods. Like us, the opioid pleasure system of the rat brain drives them to make unhealthy choices. And if they are allowed to live on potato chips they will actually consume a larger volume of food (Abdullah, 2019). The more tasty food you keep in your fridge and pantry, the more you will be tempted to get very full on it. If you can convince yourself to buy less palatable food, you will naturally be less likely to overeat. This will ensure that you don’t eat for pleasure, only to reduce hunger. Start with your morning routine, if you can eat a boring, low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber cereal you will be off to a great start. Cut some fruit into it to increase the palatability. Fruit and vegetables are the ultimate choice for low calorie density but high nutrient density.

Getting Full on Fruit and Vegetables Will Trick Your Body Into Liking Them

There is a spoiled little prince or princess in our heads that want each bite to be as delicious as possible. Their sense of entitlement is the reason we eat so terribly. Banish them. Eating is not about delighting our taste buds, it is about getting essential nutrients and barring unhealthy foods access to the interior of our bodies. Many people find that they have no appetitive urge to eat healthy food. This is very simply because they have so rarely gotten full on these types of food. Having only fruit for dinner sounds like a nightmare to most people. But this is only because they have never tried it.

I was pressed for time one day, searching for a lunch to bring with me in the car before a long drive. The most accessible items in the market were two bananas and a carton of strawberries. I realized that it would take up about as much room in my stomach as a burger and fries, so that was all I ate. I tried to enjoy it, didn’t eat anything else after that meal, and didn’t give it much thought. That simple experience transformed my perspective on strawberries and bananas because, for the first time I used them, by themselves, to get full.

Your gut’s nervous system works along with a number of unconscious nuclei in your brain, constantly learning about factors related to appetite and satiety. Once you get full on something and you don’t get sick, your body unconsciously trusts it and even your conscious feelings about the food can change. Why do you think chimps salivate at the prospect of a mouthful of insects, leaves, or bark? It is because they have gotten full on them before.

Healthy Weight Exercise #1: Get Full on Fruit or Vegetables
Plan a meal that is composed of only raw fruit. Eat until you are full. Afterwards, focus on the feeling of satisfaction. Over the next few days, notice how this experience has changed your orientation toward fruit. Next time try this with vegetables. Repeat with a combination of both.
Proficiency: Two sessions per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per month.

The exercise above will help you learn to crave nutritious fruit and vegetables. The first few times you might feel queasy, but this will pass. You may notice changes after one meal, or it may take days, but you will find that getting full on healthy food is a fail safe way to trick your body into enjoying it. This will set you on your way toward following the USDA’s evidence-based recommendation to make half of each meal fruits and vegetables. You know that hunger that drives you to eat things that are unhealthy? Instead of addressing it with fast food, annihilate it with broccoli, tomatoes, grapes, oranges, legumes, dried cranberries, nuts, seeds, cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, blueberries, mangos, celery, asparagus, beets, mushrooms, corn, guavas and much more. When you feel like grazing, graze on superfoods and after a while you may be surprised to find how much of your innate hunger can be better satisfied in this way.

Eating fruits and vegetables is actually more convenient than you might think. The grocery store near you likely has a salad bar where you can skip the lettuce, and fill your bowl with precut fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and low calorie dressing. Most grocery stores, convenience stores and big box retailers carry fresh cut fruit and vegetables to go that are reasonably priced. Take advantage of this. Eating several servings of fruit and vegetables daily will help you to get lean fast, save money, and get all the vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber you need.

Make a Smoothie Every Day

Preparing fruit and vegetables yourself can be time consuming. Cutting them into bite sized portions and then chewing them takes time. However, because fruit and vegetables turn into a liquid in the blender you can drink them in seconds. Smoothies, shakes, and liquid meals are much easier for your gut to process and may decrease the physical effort of digestion, which some scientists believe may prolong lifespan. Also the bioavailability in liquid meals is higher, meaning your body absorbs more of the nutrients. Furthermore, blending fruit and vegetables does not reduce their fiber or vitamin content. Juice on the other hand, has a lot of calories (like most beverages), but no fiber, and it will not make you feel as full. A daily fruit or vegetable smoothie is easy, cheap, filling, and extremely healthy. With your fruit smoothies try adding dates, yogurt, almond milk, vanilla extract, ripe frozen banannas, and honey. With your vegetable smoothies try tomato juice, Clamato, cayenne pepper, lemon, and garlic.

Drink More Water

Many people have mild symptoms of chronic dehydration. Dehydration is highly physiologically detrimental and contribute to lack of energy, discomfort, and the muscular dysfunctions discussed in previous chapters. Try to drink five to eight 8-ounce glasses (up to 2 liters) of water per day. Never drink less than your thirst dictates. Many dieticians point out that water is completely free of calories, and can contribute to feeling full, so let’s drink up.

Detraumatize Your Ability to Chug Water

Drinking water used to be slow, and stressful for me. This happened because my swallowing reflex had become discoordinated from hyperventilation commonly causing me to choke on my drink. Swallowing involves temporary closure of the epiglottis to keep food and drink out of the lungs. If it is not synchronized properly then the inhaling of liquid (pulmonary aspiration) can occur. Drinking fast felt perilous. Chugging felt like I was being waterboarded. Difficulty swallowing is known as dysphagia, everybody has a little bit of it and you want to minimize your bit. Use the exercise below so that you drink mightily with no unnecessary encumbrances.

Healthy Weight Exercise #2: Chug Water Mightily
Pour yourself a large glass of room temperature or warm water. Tell yourself that there is no rush, and that you have nothing better to do at this moment than to observe your swallowing apparatus at work. Take a deep breath, and drink the water slowly and mindfully. Start with small gulps and make each one voluntary. Pay very close attention to the cadence of your gulping. It should be steady. Focus on the following: During each gulp the muscles involved should move through their full range of motion decisively and uninterrupted. Much of the swallowing process is an automatic reflex controlled by unconscious neurological mechanisms in the brainstem. You must give each swallow time to progress entirely through its reflex arc before you attempt to swallow again. You don’t want to interrupt a swallow by swallowing again too early. It takes practice to get to know when, at the soonest, it is safe to initiate another swallow. It is like two people passing sand bags to each other down a line. The first person has to wait until the second person’s hands are free before they can pass another bag. Passing each bolus of water from the cup to your mouth, and then to the back of your throat should be efficient and quick, but not at all rushed. You can hold your breath while you chug, or you can try to coordinate nasal breathing along with drinking. Either way, don’t let involuntary gasps interrupt the chugging process. You can’t breathe and swallow at the same time, and you must teach the involuntary aspects of breathing and swallowing to cooperate, and wait for their turn.  
Duration: One minute. Proficiency: Two sessions per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per month.

Using this exercise twice per day for two weeks will make is so that you will have no problem chugging 4 large glasses of water in 20 seconds. You will be able to put away a bottle of water, a fruit shake, or a smoothie in very short time. And you will never be afraid of choking on water.

Combining Fasting with Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Your Hunger Drive

Our prehistoric ancestors would not have experienced undue stress the way we do from missing just one meal. Our bodies were designed to go for days without eating. However, we have spoiled our appetitive systems. Every time we get hungry, we breathe shallowly. This is because we haven’t learned to retain our calm while fasting. I believe that religious and spiritual fasting practices recognize this. However, I think fasting can be made much more beneficial if it is intentionally combined with diaphragmatic breathing.

Try skipping a meal and “breathe through” the discomfort using paced breathing. Focus on the sensations of hunger and the way it affects your breathing and internal bracing. Don’t skip a meal in the middle of a hectic work day, this will further traumatize your relationship with hunger. Make it a lunch on a weekend so you can really pay attention to how it makes you feel. When I skip a meal, I just relax for the 3 or 4 hours when I am at my hungriest. A few hours after your normal mealtime, you will notice recurring pangs of hunger. These hunger pangs are fueled by thoracic breathing. All your life until now you have paired hunger with defensive breathing. Dissociate these by using paced breathing to override hunger’s ability to highjack your stress system.

Healthy Weight Exercise #3: Diaphragmatic Fasting
Plan to skip dinner or lunch and spend time quelling your hunger pangs using paced breathing. Concentrate on the sensations of hunger and how it makes your breathing shallow. Breathe along with a breath metronome for several minutes each hour during this fast.
Duration: Four to five hours. Proficiency: One session per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per month.

I have found that by pairing diaphragmatic breathing with hunger, I have dramatically soothed my hunger drive. The experience afforded by the exercise above will help you differentiate between a neurotic impulse to eat and the body’s valid hunger signal. Resolve to eat only when you feel this honest signal emanating from your gut.

Shrink Your Appetite by Eating Less

Brain scientists know that exercising restraint is much like exercising a muscle. Every time you abstain or show moderation when eating, it actually gets easier to do so in the future (Hofmann et al., 2010). Thus, the next time you flex your will power, take some consolation in knowing that your will power is growing. Every time you eat smaller portions or eat more healthy food, it gets easier. Conversely, every time you binge, you will want to eat more the next few meals.

It can take up to 20 minutes for the satisfaction signal to reach the brain. This is unfortunate because it can mean that we are liable to eat 20 minutes worth of food that we don’t need. Learn to stop eating early and anticipate satisfaction before it arrives. One way to accomplish this is to stop eating once you reach 80% of being full. It can help to make an effort to enjoy your food more, but eat less of it.

I used to get stressed out if a meal was not large enough to make me very full. Now I find the sensation of being stuffed repulsive, and burdensome. This is because I realized that after eating a big meal I get tired. Overeating promotes lethargy making both exercise and concentration more difficult. This phenomenon is called “postprandial somnolence.” It can lead to sleepiness, and a major drop in mental acuity around lunch time (Rayner et al., 2012). Avoid this in the middle of the day by splitting your lunch in half. Eat one half at noon and the 2nd half an hour or so later. Also eating more frequent but smaller meals may keep your metabolism high.

Get Your Essential Vitamins and Nutrients

A diet lacking in certain vitamins can contribute to depression and anxiety. Folic acid, iron, omega-3, vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Selenium, and Zinc are essential. Deficiencies in these has been shown to result in fatigue, irritability, apathy, poor concentration, aggressiveness, mood swings, and increased depressive symptoms. This is another reason to eat more of those fruits and vegetables. They are superfoods. They also make less room for all of the other bad foods.

Cut out Saturated Fats

Try not to eat any fats that are solid at room temperature, these are saturated fats. Foods high in saturated fat lead to high cholesterol, clogging of the arteries, atherosclerosis and heart disease. Much of our intake of saturated fats comes from just a few culprits. You should seriously consider minimizing pure animal fat, whole milk, cheese, sour cream, lard, butter, ghee, poultry skin, tropical oils, heavy cream, margarine, and mayonnaise in your diet. Avoid full fat dairy and go for the fat free variety. Cut the fat off your meat, and stay away from fried food. Completely avoid hydrogenated or trans fat. Unsaturated fats are essential though so make an effort to eat fish, vegetable oils (e.g. canola, olive, flaxseed, soybean etc.), as well as nuts and seeds.

The Paleo Diet Works

The paleo diet promotes the consumption of food types that would have been eaten by our hunting and gathering ancestors. It makes a lot of sense for us to eat what our bodies are naturally expecting, and have eaten for millions of years. The paleo diet advises that we eat whole foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, and grass-fed meats). It also discourages processed foods as well as added sugar and salt. These recommendations are completely in line with modern nutritional science. However there are two criticisms of the paleo diet, 1) the diet restricts some nutrient dense food such as fat free dairy and whole grains which need not be restricted, and 2) the high meat intake may lead to health problems if the meat is not lean. Besides these two issues, asking yourself “would my ancestors have eaten this” can be a very helpful question to help you avoid added sugar, salt, fat and highly processed foods.

We Eat Dessert and Snacks to Combat Stress

We eat unhealthy food for pleasure, but also to quell our pain. The taste of fat, salt, and sugar, and even the activation of our stomach’s stretch receptors activate endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good neurotransmitters. Thus many of us eat to turn the volume down on our pain body. Stress from skipping a meal can deplete serotonin, reducing the ability of the frontal lobes to regulate the amygdala, resulting in increased frustration and stress. Heightened stress just makes you hungrier and drives people to keep eating even after they are full. Many people eat compulsively because they perceive food binges as helping them to curb distressed breathing. It is true that trying to abstain from a piece of cake causes you to breathe more shallowly. That is why the cake has control over you. However, taking deep, slow breaths every time you are tempted can make you impervious to the siren song.

Dormant Muscle Increases Body Fat

Modern medical experts know that the current world wide epidemic of obesity and diabetes is attributable to unhealthy eating, and poor exercise, but they don’t appreciate the role of dormant muscle. I believe that the extent of dormant muscle is a major determinant of metabolic rate. It is pretty clear to see how dormant muscle would cause an involuntary loss of lean mass and a progressive increase in fat mass. When parts of your neck, shoulders, spine, and hips are frozen in place, your movement is impeded. When you lower back hurts, your stomach is flaccid, and range of motion is compromised, every action is attenuated. For these reasons, I strongly believe that performing the antifrailty exercises from previous chapters will reverse muscle dormancy and thereby increase your will-to-move and your metabolism along with it.

Increasing age is associated with decreasing metabolic rate. I believe that this relationship may be mediated by frailty and that antifrailty may allow one to maintain a more active life through the years. Frailty is the main reason that you have lower energy now as opposed to when you were younger. Thus antifrailty may be the best weight loss tool available. When I was 28 I moved like a grandfather. I also had a “skinnyfat” physique, and had to eat small portions to avoid being overweight. Dormant muscle strongly influenced me to be sedentary. Now in my late 30s I am slim, I am full of energy, and I move like an adolescent.

There are two primary reason for the variability in basal metabolic rate between individuals. One is the difference in lean body mass. The person with more muscle will have a higher metabolism. The second reason for variability in metabolic rate is a measure of voluntary movement that is not accounted for by exercise. It is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is spontaneous physical activity and is highly variable across individuals. NEAT can vary by as much as 2,000 calories per day between two people. It includes the way you move and hold your body during work, leisure, household tasks, and ambulation. The notion that obesity and overweight may be more related to NEAT than to diet and exercise is supported by studies (Chung, 2018). I strongly believe that reclaiming atrophic and hypertonic musculature using antifrailty is a surefire way to increase both lean body mass and NEAT. Getting the dormant kinks out of your back and filling in the missing corners in your abdomen (using the exercises in the next section) will reengineer you for weight loss.

Reviving Your Abdomen Through Exercise

Our bellies are fat because the abs are flaccid and underactive. In the following exercise you will learn how to pair isometric abdominal contraction with paced, diaphragmatic breathing.

Healthy Weight Exercise #3: Standing and Walking with Abs Flexed
In this exercise you will breathe along to a breath metronome with proper posture while tightening your abdominals. Pull the belly button toward the spine and contract the abs. Notice how tensing the abdominals makes you want to breathe on very short intervals. Simply contracting the abs seems to automatically stifle the diaphragm, but you can override this. Hold the ab contraction and breathe deeply to the pace of the metronome. The longer you pair these two things the more robust you make your abdominal tone. Striking your abs very lightly all over with your hand or with a rounded object will help you keep a solid contraction. When doing this exercise you will notice a tendency to cave the chest in. Instead, expand the chest, and the distance between your breastbone and your pelvic bone.
Duration: Five minutes. Proficiency: One session per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per year.

Allowing the diaphragm to push the stomach out is key to diaphragmatic breathing. The sight of a protruding abdomen; however, is not fashionable in our society. This is why most people pull in the abdomen, which keeps the diaphragm tense, and limits its motion. You should feel comfortable poking your stomach out as far as it can go. At first you will look like you have a potbelly just as retracting the neck gave you a double chin. However as these muscles gain natural tone, your stomach will slim. One of the reasons many people have a large gut is because they completely neglect the muscles that push the stomach out. Pushing the stomach out is also vital to lower back health, as it cushions the lumbar spine during forward bends.

Healthy Weight Exercise #4: Doubled Over with Protruding Stomach
Pair paced breathing with the activation of deeply dormant abdominal musculature. To reach the deepest portion of your abs sit down with your legs out in front of you. Bend forward and rest your hands on you shins. From this position press your stomach outward as far as it will go. Experiment with this combination of tensing the abs and pressing the stomach out in order to find the missing corners in your abdomen. There should be several areas that ache very deeply. Be careful because contracting the abs in this way too hard, or too much at a time could strain the back or even cause an abdominal hernia. Follow the breath metronome while safely contracting into the achy dormant muscle to rehab it.
Duration: Five minutes. Proficiency: One session per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per year.

For maximum results, perform the last two abdominal exercises from a number of different positions: standing, kneeling, crouching, taking one knee, squatting, lying on the back, etc. While contracting the abdominals you should also contract the expulsive bladder muscles discussed in the last chapter.

Reviving Your Abdominals Through Massage

Performing myofascial release on the lower back and love handles diminishes local fat in the area in a dramatic way. This got me wondering if the same technique could decrease my abdominal fat deposits. It sounds too good to be true right? It’s not. Much of the rectus abdominis has been traumatized because of the way they instinctually contract during fear. All of this strain leads to a “dead gut” that fails to burn fat. Getting the trauma out will make your abdominals much stronger, will make ab exercises easier, and will help your core to be more engaged during everything you do. In the next exercise try percussing your abdomen while watching a TV program from your back.

Healthy Weight Exercise #5: Myofascial Release for the Abdominals
Use your fingers, knuckles, or knuckle tool to percuss the entire abdomen. To do this lift your hand 3 to 8 inches above the abdomen before each strike. Strike the abdomen 2 to 3 times per second. You want to hit hard enough to break the bracing pattern that is going on without creating any real pain or damaging tissue. Each soft strike should elicit an ache. This aching feeling will make you want to brace to protect yourself initiating the “stretch reflex” and a defensive contraction. Completely inhibit this defensive contraction. Instead allow your abs to remain as limp as possible. Search for areas that feel tight, inflexible, or “crunchy.” Spend time pressing firmly into the tense cords of muscle overlaying the lower rib cage, hips, and pelvis, all areas that your abdominal muscles anchor into. Each day the aching will further subside and you will have to strike slightly deeper to access achy tissues. After a session there should be no bruising or pain whatsoever.
Duration: Ten minutes. Proficiency: One session per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Once per year.

This activity will wake up your core, but overdoing it can diminish abdominal tone. For this reason, just do it until you get the intense achiness out.

Conclusion

Restaurant owners know that people don’t want to pay for raw, unprocessed food. This is because unprocessed food is cheap and there is very little preparation, and thus very little added “value.” When you eat out, the restaurant is providing a service by processing the food such as baking, frying, or cooking your food in oil. We are all addicted to these unhealthy preparations. Eating bland, chewy, unprocessed food is work, but it is how wild animals stay lean and healthy. To stay healthy we must do this too. Employing nonresistance, nonjudgmentality, healthy breathing, and a bit of old-fashioned stoicism will help.

Chapter 19: Bullet Points

  • We don’t crave healthy foods because we have not had the experience of getting full on healthy food by itself. Give yourself that experience by eating meals that consist of only fruit and vegetables.
  • Using a blender to turn fruit and vegetables into smoothies is a very fast, healthy, and inexpensive way to get full.
  • Because you have spent your life pairing hunger with thoracic breathing, hunger causes distress, which in turn causes you to overeat. By fasting for a meal and pairing the fasting experience with paced breathing you detraumatize your nervous system’s relationship with hunger.
  • Stop eating when you feel 80% satiated.
  • Only start eating when you feel 80% hungry.
  • People with copious dormant muscle have to diet to a stress-inducing extent to appear fit. Reviving dormant muscle with antifrailty will increase your metabolism.
  • You have a large reservoir of dormant abdominal muscle. Your stomach will become much leaner if you rehabilitate this dormant muscle with antifrailty.