Category Archives: The Hacker’s Diet

Wednesday, Revisiting Oscillating Oscar

This post was originally published in February 2010. It will be the subject of my thoughts throughout the day:

Just 4 Today, I’m NOT going to eat between meals and I’m NOT going to take seconds. And I’ll walk at least 3 miles, take my fiber supplement and drink 2 liters of water.

For some reason I feel more like something the cat dragged in than anything else.  So I went back to my archives for inspiration (what else are they for?) and found this written in July 2006 – Weight Control: A Fierce Struggle:

I can see why this obesity thing is so hard to cure control. It seems like most days I struggle to stay on track — and my goal isn’t even that difficult. I’m just trying to cut back a few hundred calories a day. The problem is that a few hundred calories a day are so powerful. Eat a few hundred less and we can lose a pound a day. But absentmindedly eat a few hundred calories more and suddenly we’re gaining a pound a week.

I’m not there, but it’s a fierce struggle.

John Walker explains just why this commitment is such a fierce challenge for some of us (from a June 2006 post – Overweight Oscillating Oscar:

The post goes into more detail (and The Hacker’s Diet itself goes into a LOT more detail) but, the basic story is that Oscar’s weight wouldn’t fluctuate if his average calorie intake was at that center mark.

IF his average was there then after a day or so of over eating he could (easily) cut back a couple of hundred calories and – without ever actually gaining weight – get his average back in line (see Skinny Stable Sam).

But, (like me, I guess) Oscar regularly eats at the far right of the ideal range — the average is still OK ….. but:

Oscar has the very same feedback curve as Sam, but his is shifted a little to the right, toward eating too much. One day Sam eats slightly more than he needs, and the next day slightly less. But since feedback keeps him within the range his metabolism can adjust to, Sam’s weight stays the same. When Oscar eats slightly too much, though, he’s pushed immediately into the region where he packs on weight. The next day, like Sam, he may eat less but, since that’s within the flat part where metabolism compensates, he keeps all the weight he packs on whenever he eats a little too much


Reducing is miserable for Oscar. In order to lose weight, he must reduce what goes in far enough to get into the “Lose weight” area of the curve. But that means the ball on the feedback chart has to climb well into the “I’m hungry!” region and stay there for an extended time. (snip) What Oscar doesn’t realise is that his problem is simply poor feedback from the calories he needs to his appetite. If he got accurate feedback, as Sam does, he’d never eat too much, feel hungry, or be forced to endure hunger to take off extra weight. Oscar’s built-in eat watch is simply set 5 minutes too fast. Oscar needs to wear an accurate eat watch to put an end to his oscillations.

Since starting Eat4Today I’ve dramatically reduced my own oscillations.  The weight I lost in that early fight is still mostly off – I’ve gained some back (even a lot) but, it’s been four years since I started this blog and I’ve kept most of that weight off.

On this march toward better health, I’ve got – we all have – a range of goals.  It’s not all about our weight.  But, the weight thing is a big issue (for me at least) and I’d like to think that sometime in the future I could go a year (or more) without gaining weight AND without having to think too much about it.

It’s just a thought. What do you think?

The Hacker’s Diet :: Hacking ourselves

I just want to say a quick word about the Hacker’s Diet.  The author is an engineer who developed the diet after a life-long struggle with his weight resulted in the brilliant flash that if he could “hack” code — he could “hack” his body:

I first wrote about The Hacker’s Diet in 2006 quoting this bit:

This book isn’t written for people who are or wish to become obsessed with their health. I consider weight control and fitness like any other aspect of life that’s important enough to do, but hardly my reason for being. It’s like balancing the checkbook, going grocery shopping, or getting the car tuned up. The goal is to get the job done, and done right, as quickly as possible and with the minimum effort.

His idea was that we should have an “Eat Watch” — a tool that we could consult as easily as looking at a watch to let us know if it’s time to eat or not. Here’s a piece that I quoted in my post, My Eat Watch is Busted, explaining the concept:

You strap it on your wrist, set it for the weight you want to be, then rely on it to tell you when to eat and when to stop. Whenever it says EAT, just chow down on anything you like until EAT goes out. Obviously the EAT indicator will stay on longer if you’re munchin’ cabbage instead of chugging München’s finest beer.


The eat watch wouldn’t control you any more than a regular watch makes you get to work on time. You can ignore either, if you wish. You decide, based on the information from the watch, what to do.

Some people are born with a natural, built-in eat watch. You and I either don’t have one, or else it’s busted. But instead of moping about bemoaning our limitations, why not get an eat watch and be done with it?

The Hacker’s Diet has never been published in paper form.  It’s just out there on the web for us to print off ourselves or consult (as I do) online.  I’m going to post something about it every day – for a while at least – and I’d love to talk about it.  But, we can also use these threads to talk about the ideas you are finding in the Diet Books you’re reading.

Together, let’s Hack Ourselves!

Facing Up — The All-Powerful Food Diary

So, OK — I’m not going to eat between meals and I’m not going to take seconds and I’m going to walk for 3 miles. And yes, doing this regularly does work. The trick is in the “doing this regularly” part. And that’s where blogging helps. When I actually do my daily thought pieces (which kind of stopped during the election-season) I’m more committed. And my commitment has more power if I write down what I eat and do.

Weight Watchers is where I first learned to “Journal” what I eat. And the Weight Watcher food diaries are still helpful. It’s really nice to tuck their diary into my purse and write down my meals no matter where I am. But the written format has serious limitations compared to the computer tools that are now available.

With online and desktop diaries you can create charts of your progress, track exercise (and the calories burned) and in some — menus of regular meals and recipes.

I can’t seem to stick to just one journaling tool. I like the colorful charts of one tool and the ability to record recipes and log them as single servings in another and I love the moving-weighted-average weight chart of another. So, getting back on track is a little complicated for me as I get each of them set up for my renewed commitment. Luckily one of them has updated the software to make it easy to adjust goals (I thought I was going to have to create a New-Fake-Me.)

(clearing my throat) Continue reading »

Oh, go HACK yourself!

I don’t remember anymore how I discovered it but, my favorite diet is The Hacker’s Diet. Invented by John Walker, The Hacker’s Diet is an on-line (free) book that includes both a realistic weight loss plan, guidelines for keeping it off forever AND tools to help you do all this.

John Walker, like me, spent most of his life fat. An engineer, he could debug computer programs with ease but, he couldn’t get a grip on his own body’s system:

The absurdity of my situation finally struck home in 1987. “Look,” I said to myself, “you founded one of the five biggest software companies in the world, Autodesk. You wrote large pieces of AutoCAD, the world standard for computer aided design. You’ve made in excess of fifty million dollars without dropping dead, going crazy, or winding up in jail. You’ve succeeded at some pretty difficult things, and you can’t control your flippin’ weight?” Continue reading »

Lessons from The Hacker’s Diet

John Walker wrote an amazing book, The Hacker’s Diet. Supported by his deep analysis of why fat people are fat, he’s come up with a way for us to control that urge to overeat. The concepts in The Hacker’s Diet are important to me and my struggle to control obesity. And I’d like to focus on it this week.

The Eat Watch

Walker says that regular people — people who don’t struggle with their weigh — just naturally eat only when they are hungry and (equally naturally) feel full when they’ve eaten enough. And, feeling full, stop eating.

He calls that process The Eat Watch and says that for some of us, our Eat Watch is broken. We eat whether we’re hungry or not. And we don’t necessarily recognize that we’re full. So we don’t know when to stop eating.

He says:

Notwithstanding our complexity, and regardless of our aspirations, at the most fundamental biological level we’re not all that different from a rubber bag. Every day we take in some food and water, burn some amount of energy to sustain us, and dispose of the waste that’s produced in the process. If we take in more than we burn and dispose of, the rubber bag expands: we get fat. If we burn and dispose of more than we take in, the rubber bag contracts: we lose weight.

From an engineering standpoint this is a simple system. We have virtually no control of what comes out; that’s just the waste products of the factory. We have little effective control over what we burn: in theory our bodies are at our command but the constraints of modern life sorely limit the extent we can exercise.

Consequently, the only real control we have is over what goes in: what, when, and how much we eat. Weight control can be reduced to a very simple matter of arithmetic. Total the number of calories in the food you eat per day, averaged over a period of time. Take the number of calories you burn per day, roughly the same for everybody of your sex, height, build, and level of activity. Subtracting the calories burned from the calories eaten gives excess calories per day. This number times thirty is excess calories per month. A pound of fat is equivalent to about 3500 calories. If you eat 3500 calories more in a month than you burn, you’ll gain a pound that month. If you burn 3500 calories more than you eat, you’ll lose a pound. All the weight you gain or lose is the consequence of these simple numbers.

Tomorrow — Eating on the Right Side of the Chart….