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Your Body - The Best Kilojoule Counter

If you want to start losing weight, the 'secret' is to eat fewer kilojoules than your body burns. In other words, eat less and move more.

A common way to achieve the 'eat less' part of losing weight is to follow a diet that limits how much you eat. You tally up the foods you eat during the day and make sure you don't exceed your quota. If you don't like counting foods you can get someone else to do it for you by providing kilojoule-counted meals or meal plans.

While this conventional approach to weight loss has helped many people manage their weight, for others it generates at least as many problems as it solves.

At 51 years of age, Jill has been a member of her local diet club for 10 years. With her healthy eating habits and lithe figure (around 75 kilos and 1.78 m tall), Jill is the envy of all her friends. Some say she's 'lucky', but Jill knows otherwise. For the past decade, she's counted every single thing she's eaten, endeavoring to remain within her diet's allowance. Yet despite her constant counting, Jill's weight would oscillate incessantly.

'Whenever my weight crept up a few kilos to where I wasn't comfortable, I would "go on a diet" to lose it again', she wrote in an e-mail to me late last year.

Jill's diet consisted of reducing her daily food allowance from maintenance levels to weight loss levels. The trouble was, although her diet was sensible and nutritionally balanced, sometimes she just needed to eat more.

'I have sometimes gone to bed absolutely starving because I have tried to stick with my diet and "do the right thing"', she wrote. 'Then I end up not sleeping well due to my nagging hunger'.

Indeed, if you've lost weight and your Famine Reaction has been activated, even the most sensible of diets can leave you feeling famished.

When she couldn't 'white knuckle it' any longer, Jill would give in to her hunger.

'I might have an extra slice of toast with peanut butter at breakfast and an extra yoghurt at afternoon tea as I usually come home from work at 5.30 pm feeling very hungry. Then I might have an extra piece of fruit at supper time'.

Hardly excessive eating as you can see, but certainly more than her weight loss rations would allow. If Jill had three days within a week where she exceeded her diet's allowance, she felt like she had failed miserably.

'On "hungry days" I thought there was something wrong with my ability to diet and regarded myself as hopeless at dieting and hopeless at using willpower. Then I would think "There's no point to this as I can't do it how it's supposed to be done" and then I would proceed to eat anything and everything I had denied myself'.

At other times, Jill would manage to resist her hunger and force her weight down to where she wanted it, but she would struggle with the maintenance phase of her diet.

'It was hard to gradually increase my food intake so as not to put on weight', she wrote. 'Thus, it would only take a few months before the extra food would be converted to fat and additional weight'.

This is a typical sign of the Famine Reaction at work. When you push against it by sticking to your diet's allowance no matter how hungry you feel, your Famine Reaction "pays you back" by slowing your metabolic rate so you pack on the weight again with alarming efficiency.

Having battled against extra kilos and her Famine Reaction for many years, Jill gave up.

'I am now frightened to go on any sort of diet again (I could do with losing 3 kilos) as I am afraid of putting body into that slow metabolism mode again and having to re-train my body after the diet'.

It was at this point that Jill happened upon my book The Don't Go Hungry Diet and read about how to lose weight without aggressing her Famine Reaction. Although she was excited about eating whenever she felt hungry, she was apprehensive about abandoning the food counting that now came so easily to her. After all, counting foods had at least helped her to prevent her weight from escalating to an unhealthy level, and she was worried what might happen if she let go of her bearings.

After discussing her dilemma with me via e-mail and over the phone, Jill decided to continue counting foods as she had done for years. However, instead of forcing her body to comply with her diet's rigid allowance, she would allow her body to tell her what, when and how much to eat...and then simply watch how much food she tallied up each day. Being a person who thrives on structure and guidelines, Jill felt comfortable with this approach.

Four weeks after letting her body help her count foods, Jill wrote to let me know how she was getting on.

'Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your last e-mail. You gave me some things to think about. I am astonished that, at 51 years of age and spending 30 years watching my health, following various diets and thinking I knew a reasonable amount about it all, I am learning SO MUCH from you.

Thanks to you, I now give myself permission to be hungry and eat "guilt free". Here is an example from the last week. On Tuesday, I woke up starving. I took the dog for a 40-minute morning walk and felt quite listless. I ate a "larger-than-usual" breakfast (a good-sized serving of porridge, milk, 2 pieces of toast and peanut butter and 2 cups of coffee). Normally this would cause me to think that I'd blown my diet and then I would eat "whatever" for the rest of the day. But on Tuesday I allowed myself to be hungry and to eat. By 11.15 am I was hungry again and had a small tin of baked beans and a yoghurt. At 1 pm I was hungry again and had a sandwich, a salad and a breakfast bar. At 4.30 pm I ate three small hot cross buns and an apple and at 7 pm I ate chicken and veges for tea. I felt nicely full, but not upset with myself. I didn't binge eat, I didn't blow it, I simply ate because I was hungry. I knew when to stop eating AND I didn't fret about having a so-called "bad" day. In the past, this would be the start of a number of days of "bad eating" as I would be completely convinced that I was hopeless.

However, on Wednesday, I didn't feel hungry and easily ate much less. Today also, I have eaten very little simply because I haven't been at all hungry. This has taken no will power at all and in fact I don't even feel like eating anything much at all.

I am just amazed at how your approach and its impact on my psychology make all the difference to the way I think about what I am doing. I have finally realized that I do have some hungry days and some not-so hungry days and it doesn't mean that I am in any way a failure. In fact, eating more on some days and less on others makes me feel like I am succeeding beautifully.'

Jill was certainly succeeding in her weight loss adventure. Four weeks after putting the principles of The Don't Go Hungry Diet into action in her life, she had lost 1.2 kilos and 2 cm from her waist. What's more, instead of feeling impatient and famished at the prospect of losing the remaining 1.8 kilos she wants to lose, she feels positive and excited.

'I can't wait to continue the journey', she said.

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What our readers say...

"Dear Amanda, just wanted to say how much I love your book The Don't Go Hungry Diet. I gave up traditional forms of dieting some years back as I am so over counting points or fat grams etc. Counting anything in fact! Been there done that. And who wants to spend their life 'counting' and obsessing and stressing over food. I certainly don't. I knew there had to be an answer and I reckon I've found it in your book. Having gained a massive amount of weight from taking anti-depressant medication for some years, I was fat and fed up - in fact I was depressed about being fat! The anti-depressants make you crave junk food, and the more you eat the more you want, you just can't fill that hole. Anyway, I weaned off them and no longer crave the junk, I eat mostly whole foods, lots of fruit & veg (aim for 9 serves a day, often go over). I eat full fat everything, use olive oil in my cooking, plenty of avocado and nuts etc. and have dinner out once a week and enjoy the odd bit of chocolate. In the 2 months since April 1st I've lost 8 kg and feel like a new person. After about 5 weeks of weight loss and feeling quite good about myself, I started to feel really hungry, wanting to eat but that inner voice saying, 'slow down or you'll put that weight on again'. I thought of the 'Famine Reaction' you talk about and decided to 'go with the flow' and just eat bigger helpings of healthy foods. After a few days, as predicted in your book, the 'Fat Brake' kicked in and I went back to my weight loss eating. Such a good feeling to have faith in my body, listen to it's signals and act accordingly. Since then I have had ravenous days where I increase my food, as well as not so hungry days where I eat less. And sure enough, at every weigh in at the gym there is a loss. I am an avid reader of anything to do with health, weight and nutrition and have a 'library' of books regarding eating disorders that deal with the mental side of things but had not come across anything on the physiological side of weight loss before your book. Thank you so much - I feel as though I've been released from a prison sentence. Warm regards, Lesley. PS - My sister is doing Weight Watchers and stayed with me recently. She arrived armed with diet yogurts, diet this, diet that etc. One day she was complaining of being hungry but had used up all her points - and as I sat there chowing down on a chunk of my home made organic bread with humus, I thought, Thank God for Dr Amanda. Maybe I'll buy my sister a copy of your book!"

- Lesley, Wentworth Falls, NSW