Willpower and diet: advice?

post by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T17:54:44.875Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments

Since the beginning of September, I have been attempting a gluten-free diet. (I was tested and I'm not celiac, but eating wheat, and especially highly refined-flour foods like cookies, tends to make me bloated and give me diarrhea.) I also wanted to lose 5 to 10 pounds. I'm not overweight per se, but I possess a roll of belly fat that I (and my boyfriend!) would prefer to say goodbye too.

The first little while went well, and almost effortlessly. I was at the cottage with my family, exercising moderately (about 2 kilometers of swimming daily) and eating my mom's excellent-tasting cooking. After about one and a half weeks, I had lost 5 pounds, although I suspect a lot of it was water retention/bloating, since I had been eating wheat and various junk foods all summer.

Then school started, and with it my 16-hour days away from home, including one marathon session where I leave my parents' house at 5:00 am on Monday morning, sleep at a friend's house, and don't come back again until 11 pm on Tuesday, only to work 5:30 am to 4 pm at the pool the next day.

In short: my diet is quickly deteriorating and I have regained those 5 pounds. I find it next to impossible to stay gluten-free, since I have to be incredibly organized and pack everything from home, and inevitably it isn't quite enough for 16 hours. (I eat 3000 calories a day or more when not dieting. According to a metabolism study I participated in last year, this is actually how much I burn per day with the amount of exercise I get. If I eat much less, say less than 2000 for one day or less than 2,500 for several consecutive days, I get dizzy and weak when I exercise, which is really irritating.) I would probably be able to lose weight more easily if I exercised LESS, but this would a) kind of defeat the point, and b) be difficult because exercise is my main stress control method.

Willpower is a big issue, which is weird and annoying because usually it's not a big issue for me. Especially when I'm sleep deprived (nearly all the time), stressed, or bored to tears in my classes, I tend to comfort or reward myself with food, and nearly all my 'comfort foods' have wheat in them. I can resist to a degree if I have access to other reward/comforts, like sleep, or lots and lots of tea.

I've never really had to learn any willpower tricks for dieting, since I usually let my weight sit at its natural set-point. Does anyone have suggestions?

40 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by shminux · 2011-09-21T18:28:08.579Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I do not believe that you identified your problem correctly.

Hunger has more endurance than most people's willpower, so the trick is not to make it into a contest. That's why lifestyle change is one of the standard recommendations of slimming down in a healthy way.

So, I would re-frame your question as "How do I change my lifestyle to get more sleep and less stress?"

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-21T18:30:40.138Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately "quit nursing school" is probably the only good answer to that question.

You guys: nursing school suuuuucks.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T18:36:59.334Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed!

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T18:49:29.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Work less" maybe. But I'm still at a phase of my life where I have limited earning power and a lot of unavoidable expenses, so I prefer to squeeze work in while I can. And shift work as a nurse later on isn't likely to be any less stressful.

comment by shminux · 2011-09-21T19:00:09.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was my other thought, if you are having trouble now, chances are it will not get any better after you are done. Google was less than helpful, unless you consider this a useful advice.

comment by Owen · 2011-09-21T20:08:58.364Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a practical suggestion: bake crackers. Buying gluten-free crackers can get annoyingly expensive, but it's not hard to bake your own, and they come with the following benefits:

  1. They're easy to bake in large amounts if you stock up on gluten-free flours like almond meal or rice flour (which will also save money in the long run)
  2. They won't go bad if you don't eat them within a day or two, so you don't have to worry about packing the right amount every day.
  3. Similarly, they won't go bad in the mail, so your parents might be able to do the baking for you if you're pressed for time.
  4. They're pretty close to the comfort foods I'm sure you're missing.

Easy recipe: Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together about 2 cups of different gluten-free flours.

Add some savory stuff like parsley flakes or sesame seeds if you want.

Add a tablespoon of oil and a couple tablespoons of water, and mix together.

(Add more water and oil if you can't get it all wet - some flours are drier than others.)

Roll the mixture out flat between two layers of parchment paper.

Remove the top layer of paper and score the dough into cracker shapes (I do a simple grid with the blunt side of a butter knife).

Bake on a cookie sheet in the oven for ~10 minutes. (You're looking for them to turn golden-y.)

Hope that helps!

comment by Alicorn · 2011-09-21T18:03:39.170Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why is it inevitable that you cannot pack enough food for 16 hours? Do you not have a bag of adequate size? Are you not calibrating effectively or willing to overshoot?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T18:43:26.159Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Partly. I could get around it more if I packed 2 or 3 servings of the same dish, since there are usually only 2 or 3 containers of gluten-free food in my parents' fridge. (I could get around this by cooking more, which is another willpower-intensive activity.) I do overshoot sometimes and it pisses my mom off, especially if I end up having to throw food out because it had meat in it and I was in class all day and didn't have access to a fridge. And for some reason, my actual food intake within those 16 hours varies from day to day. Some days I won't be especially hungry until I get home at the end of the day, but some days I will sit in class absolutely starving, having eaten all my food within the morning.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-09-21T18:58:31.308Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you should overshoot with more things that won't perish for lack of refrigeration - bring apples and bananas and oranges and avocados, bring rice bread or some other gluten-free baked goods, bring popcorn and chips and jerky, etc. Also bring your mom's cooking to eat earlier in the day, but pack it with one of those freezeable cold things (they won't last 16 hours, but they might last half that) - or freeze the servings of food themselves, and they may well take many hours to thaw depending on the weather, especially if there are several of them together in the bag. Bring sealed bottles of juice and tea. If you don't consume these things, put the half-defrosted food in the fridge (refreezing is unwise, but you can let it thaw and someone can eat it at home) and leave the nonperishables in your bag for the next day.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T22:04:18.854Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! That sounds like a good suggestion. Fruit is my go-to now, but compared to wheat products it isn't as calorie-dense, so to get the same amount of food value takes up a lot of space. In the past I've brought almonds and homemade gluten-free granola bars. I do bring a thermos of tea almost every day, but in general 1 thermos = 1 three-hour class. If I have 3 classes in a day, I will drink all of my tea during the first one. (Temporary solutions: many of the cafeteria ladies will let me use hot water for free if I bring my own teabag from home. I probably can't sustain this if I never actually buy anything at the cafeteria, but if I restrain my purchases to gluten-free things like coffee or soup, I can stay on my diet and have unlimited hot water.)

comment by shminux · 2011-09-21T18:55:57.416Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Seems like wasting a bit of food (and your mom does not have to know that you have if she cannot be persuaded to not care) is a small price to pay for avoiding hunger spells. You can also use an emergency ration that does not spoil, such as canned food, for the days you do not have enough.

Certainly this seems like a much easier problem to solve than lack of sleep.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-09-21T20:11:12.632Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've personally found that finding non-perishable foods helps me immensely here - I don't know about gluten-free specifically, but cliff bars, trail mix, dried fruit, and nuts all work well for me. I like them because I can just toss them in to my bag and forget about them, or store them where I'll be if I have a locker/desk. As long as I remember to grab more when I run low, it means I'm never out of food, and my days go much smoother.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-09-22T08:07:12.809Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I possess a roll of belly fat that I (and my boyfriend!) would prefer to say goodbye too.

I sympathize. Most success stories involving becoming attractively-thin (i.e. having so little fat that you can see abs, or whatever turns you+partner on) don't involve feeling subjectively hungry, or craving any food in particular. You sure can do a lot of exercise, especially aerobic, and not lose weight (assuming you're already skinnier-than-average) - because eating simply cannot be held constant, forever.

If I undereat for too long (really feeling hungry), and a satisfying food is available, I'll overeat. As in, I could have eaten 1/3 as much and still felt satisfied for a few hours. On the other hand, people can get used to a fixed eating routine that's difficult at first; some people don't eat at all until evening. Perhaps they're successful only because they don't (psychologically) feel hunger, or perhaps this means that hunger isn't necessarily the downfall of moderate eating.

Also, caffeine (ok) and smoking (bad) reduce appetite.

It's best to experiment with kinds of food until you find a way to reach a weight you're happy with. Diet is more critical than exercise. You may not be lucky enough to find anything that gives you what you want; consider learning to be happy with what is 90% of how you'd like to appear and is 50% more comfortable than reaching 95% (or whatever).

Definitely experiment with satisfying hunger with foods that satiate you for longer (regardless of calorie count). Wheat is definitely suspected by many to have a bad satiety curve (compared to comparable calories of other foods). For non-celiac sufferers, the only thing I've heard that seems scientific is that wheat has phytic acid, which should simply mean that you effectively need 50% more of various minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, whatever - I forget the details). I think there were rat studies that suggested most grains are worse for obesity than many other foods (except oats and white rice, which were neutral). There's a chance that doesn't translate to humans. Most of what you hear excitedly claimed on the internet is simply not trustworthy, but there's nothing wrong with indulging in placebo-tailwind experiments, if you find something that makes you feel good, physically.

Also, reduce stress and increase (regular, during dark/quiet hours) sleep if possible.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-21T18:27:51.775Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't diet, in the sense of setting out a program of food restrictions that I have to stick to. I just count all my calories. I lose more weight that way.

I started doing it when I realized that my finances work because I track my expenses, even though I have little success sticking to a budget.

Maybe a food journal would help? Or do you already do that?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T18:47:30.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I lost some weight when I was doing the metabolism study, without really trying to be on a diet. I think a lot of it came from a) knowing that at the end of the month I would go to the lab and have my body fat scanned, and b) keeping a food diary that I knew someone was going to analyze and count calories for.

Out of curiosity, how do you manage to count up all the calories for your food diary? 95% of what I eat is home cooked and doesn't have convenient labels on the side. Are their websites that list the amount of calories in, for example, various types of vegetables per weight? Would this likely be a time consuming process?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-21T19:00:32.657Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I use caloriecount and a kitchen scale (it sounds like a pain to weigh ingredients, but it's usually easier than using measuring cups, and after a while you get pretty good at estimating). Caloriecount.com is a bit messy, but becomes pretty easy to use if you tag all the foods you eat regularly. You can enter and analyze recipes and save them for later, too.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T22:04:33.744Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by Jack · 2011-09-21T18:58:22.604Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are their websites that list the amount of calories in, for example, various types of vegetables per weight?

Nearly all the calorie counting websites have this.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-22T08:15:07.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried snacking on almonds and such all day and never being hungry?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-23T17:00:59.438Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I'm at home all day, I will snack instead of eating meals. I tend to snack on pretty healthy foods, because they're there and I never get to the desperate-hunger stage of craving a particular junk food. I have a much lower frequency of stomachaches and cramps/diarrhea. But I don't know if I eat less overall. I probably eat more.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-23T17:23:13.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your metabolism might be different, and the calorie differences between types of food can be very large.

comment by Kutta · 2011-09-22T07:48:28.245Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I stopped eating wheat two years ago (no relapse since then). I've found that the following technique makes the switch tremendously easier:

Eat a cup of whipping cream before meals.

Explanation: the easiest way to make wheat-craving go away is to already consume enough calories without wheat; I suspect that much of wheat-craving is the result of overestimating the caloric value of a wheat-free diet. Also, low-carbers often has to push themselves to eat slightly more than what they'd otherwise eat because they tend to be more sated than what is common among high-carb people. Moreover, a barrier to major diet change is that time expenditure on food preparation and purchase will inevitably go up for a while after a change. People with scarce free time fall back to old diet patterns because they often find themselves urgently needing calories and grab whatever is most convenient.

Whipping cream is cheap, very dense in high-quality calories, contains almost no health-controversial nutrients, it is very filling, packed in easily measurable and quantifiable units, reasonably palatable (especially if you make an effort to seek out the tastiest available one) and requires zero preparation. Three 175 g cups of 20% fat whipping cream is roughly 1000 calories, which could easily crowd out wheat urges. Even if you dislike the idea of eating whipping cream by the spoon in the long term, it is perfectly able to help you bridge the critical newly wheat-free period, in which period you gradually grow accustomed enough to your new diet so that you can eat diet-compliant sophisticated foods without a significant hit on free time.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-09-23T02:28:33.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A tip, in case anyone is trying to implement this and finding it hard: Try adding a bit of cream to a glass of soda, preferably soda from a can or freshly opened bottle for the carbonation. The result is a variant on an egg cream soda, and may be useful in terms of getting used to the flavor and texture of the cream. (I've only tried this with fruit sodas, mostly cherry flavored; I expect it's similarly tasty using root beer or cola if one likes those.)

comment by EvelynM · 2011-09-21T22:01:54.580Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you restricting fats?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-21T23:23:57.477Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Fat is pretty much necessary if you're restricting carbs (which you are, in practice, if you cut out gluten.) It sounds like you're trying to eat too little, and then eating "bad" foods when you inevitably get hungry. Fat is calorie dense and makes you feel fuller. You can pack cheese. 1500 calories worth of cheese is two bricks, and will definitely fit in your pack. I used to prefer sugar to fat, but eventually my preferences switched over, because I really liked the full feeling.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-09-22T05:40:38.393Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree about the high satiety value of fat, but there are a number of grains that don't have gluten, so going gluten-free isn't equivalent to carb restriction.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-22T02:35:07.069Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Moderately lactose intolerant. I can handle yogurt (usually) but cheese, especially large blocks of it, is bound to have some cramping/diarrhea effect. I do eat eggs. Hard-boiled take 10 minutes to prepare and I can take them from anywhere, doesn't matter whose house I'm sleeping at.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-23T20:02:57.619Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If cheese isn't good for you, nuts are a good, portable fat source.

comment by EvelynM · 2011-09-22T04:33:19.763Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking things like butter and heavy cream, neither of which have a lot of lactose, or coconut oil.

Hardboiled eggs are great.

I agree with SarahC. Fat is very hunger satisfying. I didn't start to lose weight till I started eating fats, which caused my hunger to vanish.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T22:36:24.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I never eat a lot of fat. It's not something I get cravings for. I'm not per se restricting it, but I can't think of anything I've eaten today that would have a lot of fat in it.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-21T19:00:38.342Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does your boyfriend eat? I find that my diet is highly dependent on the diets of those I spend time with. Wheat aside, are you eating sugary food?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T21:36:19.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In general, we eat very healthy: lots of home-cooked, vegetable-and-rice meals, and very little eating out or fast food. That being said, he has a typical guy metabolism and can eat like a pig, and he buys 'fat food' like ice cream and chips to reward himself for staying up studying and stuff. For several years when I was living alone, I just didn't buy that stuff, or anything with wheat for that matter. I would occasionally slip up and go buy a bit of candy (sugar is my comfort food a lot more than fatty foods) but I would have to make a conscious effort to go buy it. It wasn't freely available. My boyfriend is not going to gain weight from eating junk food, so persuading him not to have it in the house at all could be tricky.

In terms of sugary food, I mainly eat cookie dough when I'm baking cookies, and then sometimes the cookies themselves if I don't give them away. Or candy, when I cave into a craving. My main 'junk food' of the summer was whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, which I suppose aren't unhealthy, but which I find it way too tempting to eat a lot of.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-21T19:48:32.353Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, successful dieting is not a matter of willpower. You do what you want to do. If you believe that the benefits of losing weight, even time-discounted, will be greater than the benefits of having food now, you will lose weight.

So the two things you can do to lose weight are:

  • Examine your beliefs about why you want to lose weight; and figure out exactly how much you want it.
  • Calibrate your time-discounting.
comment by GuySrinivasan · 2011-09-21T20:33:29.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Calibrate your time-discounting.

What do you mean by this, and what tasks can I perform to achieve that result? Can you give me an example? It looks like a black box labeled 'woot!' to me right now.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-23T22:17:51.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how to calibrate your time-discounting. But if you could change it, that would have an effect.

We've previously had discussion over whether it makes sense to want to change your time-discounting. It's similar to saying "I want to like wine" if you don't like wine.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-09-21T20:06:01.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The trick comes when you have a metabolism that means the benefits of having food now are very, very high - I've met a number of people who deal with all sorts of dizziness, clouded thinking, migraines, etc. if they lose weight more than very, very slowly. For most of them, there are dietary adjustments that can be made to lose weight faster, without suffering through that - thus far it's generally been allergies or low blood sugar levels causing issues. (In the latter case, eating small meals regularly tends to help a lot; a lot of people diet by eating less frequently instead of smaller portions)

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-09-21T21:38:16.343Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(In the latter case, eating small meals regularly tends to help a lot; a lot of people diet by eating less frequently instead of smaller portions).

I'm supposed to do this anyway: it helps with irritable bowel syndrome, which is supposedly what I have since I don't have celiac apparently. If I go for more than 3-4 hours without eating (unless I just had a massive meal, in which case it takes that long to digest), then I get crabby, I get stomachaches, and eventually I'll start getting dizzy and weak. I had a 5-hour straight shift of teaching lessons at the pool one semester and it was a nightmare...by the end I would be ready to pass out climbing out of the pool.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-22T03:54:53.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would you claim that drug addicts who proclaim they do not wish to die young / lose their jobs / lose their spouses (etc.) are wrong about what they want? Would you like to taboo "want", because there would seem to be nothing signified by "want" that is not better captured by "do" (as in what someone does, despite what they say)?

If the OP doesn't currently want to lose weight, as you suggest (because "You do what you want to do", therefore she does what she wants, and she hasn't lost weight yet, so she must not want it), how do you frame her motivation for taking your advice (to examine her beliefs and calibrate better), if not that she takes your advice because --she wants to lose weight-- (which would contradict your claim)?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-23T22:12:37.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They're not wrong about what they want unless they say that they want to keep their jobs more than they want to take drugs.

"Want" is useful because often people can't do what they want, or haven't yet done what they want; and we need to be able to talk about want as a causative factor for doing.

The drug addict who says she wants to keep her job is just like the voter who says he wants lower taxes. It's true, but irrelevant.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-24T00:39:56.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

often people can't do what they want

You use "want" this way here, but then seem to deny this very usage to addicts (or to anyone who does not have organizational and motivational capacity to get what they "want").

It's true, but irrelevant.

Okay. A claim of irrelevancy is very different from a claim about truth, and truth is what you seemed to imply in the original comment:

You do what you want to do. (jmed: This entails Swimmer is wrong if she claims she wants to lose weight and doesn't/hasn't, a truth claim, not a relevancy claim.)

That said, I disagree that it is irrelevant, and you do, too, or else you wouldn't give her tips on how to make her second-order wants into first-order wants.