Monday, January 03, 2005

Darwinian Dieting

Since Tom’s doing a little amateur evolutionary theory, I might as well join in. Herein, I present my theory of Darwinian dieting.

Several months ago, I embarked on a new exercise and diet program. I wasn’t fat – indeed, most would have called me skinny – but I had a little spare tire that I wanted to shed. I actually overshot my target, losing more weight than I had planned. In the process, I learned a lot about how my body works, and here’s one of the things I learned: that eating is instantaneously addictive. That is, the very act of eating makes me want to eat more. Even if I don’t start out hungry, if I start eating, I don’t want to stop. Fortunately, the addiction is short-lived: if I refrain from eating for 20 to 30 minutes, the cravings will cease.

Knowing this fact has helped me maintain my diet. At each mealtime, I serve myself a fixed portion. When I’m finished, I will inevitably want to keep eating. So I’ll say to myself, “Wait half an hour. If you’re still hungry then, you can eat more.” But most of the time, the hunger is gone half an hour later.

A cousin of mine tells me she has a similar trick: when ordering at restaurants, she asks the waiter to put half her meal in a doggie bag before she eats. She finds it easier to resist eating the second half when it’s shielded from her vision by the packaging.

What makes us want to keep eating when we’ve already had enough? I blame evolution. In the wild, if a creature finds a food source, it makes sense to consume the food until it’s gone. Why? First, because any food left behind will probably get eaten by other animals. That means food can’t effectively be saved externally, so it should be saved internally as fat. Second, food sources are scarce; there’s no telling when another good food source will be found. These factors combine to create a selective advantage for creatures with an internal drive to eat all the food available. But perpetual hunger, even in the absence of food, would distract creatures from other necessary tasks. So natural selection has equipped animals with a contingent hunger impulse that manifests in the presence of food.

Of course, neither of those conditions hold now. Food can be saved for long periods of time and secured against the predation of other animals, and food is cheaper than ever before. As a result, our genetic makeup is suboptimal in present conditions. But knowledge of that genetic makeup gives us the power to manipulate ourselves and obtain greater control over our impulses. My “wait half an hour” trick takes advantage of the hunger impulse’s being contingent on the recentness of eating, while my cousin’s “early doggie bag” trick relies on the hunger impulse’s being contingent on the visible presence of food.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I wonder if it also has anything to do with the fact that there was no refrigeration method so the hominids ended up eating everything? Rotting meat is not exactly appetizing.
If your propsed theory is true, it seems kinda counterintuitive. The more food you eat, the more the stomach expands making a person hungrier more often and he'll eat even more as a result. And if the hominid is forced to eat as much as he can to store away as fat, and the hominid wasn't able to eat for a week or more, I would think that the stomach will shrink so much that it will not enable the hominid to consume a whole lot the next time he eats.
Generally, all of America just eats too much. Look at the daily recommended daily intake of some of the foods. 9 servings of fresh fruit, 5 slices of bread, 6 servings of vegetables, etc. Who needs to eat that much? (unless you're rigorously exercising or a growing teenage boy!)
Just don't eat. That'll solve the weight problem. If I find that I ate too much for the holidays for example, I'll just skip meals, or just won't eat as much until I reach the same weight as before. And to the contrary, it's not that harmful.
I once didn't eat for 5 days (kinda stupid now that i think about it) for some church "save the children" world vision hunger fast in college, and you don't even miss food after the 3rd day. You just kinda forget about it. It's supposed to be actually kinda healthy to detox with just water once in a while.
But in all seriousness, the above method is probably not that healthy and not for everyone.
As cliched as South Beach diet has become, the message behind it is very good: it's really about lifestyle. Basically, 1) cut out sugars and carbs for 2 weeks 2) re-introduce them in very small doses. Then repeat; for life. Of course healthy food, vitamins and exercise helps.

sk

Anonymous said...

Oh and don't eat past 8-9. That takes care of a lot of weight gain issues.

sk

Anonymous said...

Gosh Glen, now you got me all thinking about how lazy I am and how i really need to get some exercise in my routine. I just cancelled my 4 year membership to 24 hour fitness b/c i hardly ever went.

Gotta start running again at the rose bowl and get some yoga tapes. For the ladies out there (and men if so inclined), there is this one video out by Carmen Electra called 'strip aerobics' that seems really fun. Part of the reason why I hate exercise sometimes is b/c it seems laborious, but this way you can have fun while getting a good workout. And please no snickers or condemnation please by other commenters. I don't plan on doing this professionally or anything and besides, it's more dance oriented (well sexy dancing).

sk

andrea said...

sk - not making fun at all, but I think the consumerism may be too much of a habit. Why buy a video? Just turn the radio onto an upbeat hip hop station or burn yourself a mix and go to town. Or go out dancing. It really is great exercise!

Anonymous said...

Andrea -- I'm afraid I'm getting too old for the constant clubbing (well, at least I feel like it).
C'mon, all that pole dancing and chair routine exercises doesn't entice you? ;P Well, my on-again-off-gain bf might like it. (i'm half joking about all my comments above.)

btw, I read your admissions essay, it's very nice. I can tell you really care about your kids. And your background growing up is quite amazing.

Ok, I met my quota for commenting here and I have to finish up my new year's resolution!

sk

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the girls don't mind too much your paunch. It's a good idea to get rid of it now before it become a permanently undesirable and irreducible part of your anatomy. Suck it in!

andrea said...

Hehe - I don't think I need a video to teach me how to pole dance;)

Thanks for your feedback on the essay. Not sure it's what they're looking for, but I figured my best bet was to just be honest about my passion and leave the rest up to them. I was very uneasy about sharing the personal history stuff, but it is the heart of my commitment - so anything else would've just been insincere.