Carrying The Stone

Read time: 2.5 minutes

A true story:

Mary Jane has weighed a cool 130 pounds most of her adult life.

But in 2002 Mary Jane goes through an ugly divorce, so Haagen Dazs medicates her depression for 6 months, which blows her up to over 160 pounds.

As time heals most things, eventually Mary Jane moves on with her life and soon she returns to her normal caloric intake. And that was that.

But what she can’t understand: even though she’s back to eating the same way she used to, she still weighs over 160 pounds. In fact, she eats no more than her lean friends. And so, like most people, Mary Jane blames her over-weight on a slow metabolism.

She starts an exercise routine but lost a mere 5 pounds. Life is unjust. An aging metabolism sucks.

She sees a sports nutritionist (with a PhD, never the less) who tells her she needs to eat more to lose weight. She follows his dietary plan and eats more, but she gains weight. The expensive nutritionist, with politely chosen words, blames this weight gain on her failure to follow his plan.

Frustrated and feeling bad, she stops exercising and dieting altogether, and remains overweight.

Keeping it Simple

Then finally she sees a personal trainer who, keeping things simple, tells her to stop eating so much. The recommendation was simple and straight forward:

1) The “S” diet.

No snacks, no seconds, and no sweets, except on days that begin with the letter “s.”

2) And skip a meal or two several times a week to teach the body to switch to metabolizing stored calories. In other words, intermittent fasting.

In 3 and a half months she lost 33 pounds. Back to where she was before her divorce in 2002, feeling great and looking fabulous.

Mary Jane happens to be a past client of mine. Last week she called me to say she’s engaged to a wonderful guy, and to thanked me profusely for the simple dietary coaching.

The Moral of The Story

The point is that life, with all its complications, can induce overeating and weight gain.

Once the weight is gained, we can’t just return to our previously “normal” intake and expect the excess weight to just go away. We have to temporarily (or intermittently) create a caloric deficit until the excess disappears.

The Stones in The Boat

If each day you place 3 stones into your boat and can throw only 3 stones over the side, then it’s a good idea to take in only 3 stones a day if you want to stay afloat.

If you begin to place 6 stones into your boat but still manage to throw only 3 stones out the side, your boat will get heavier.  Keep putting in 6 stones daily while throwing out just 3, and your boat starts to sink.

One day you may return to taking in 3 stones instead of 6. Unfortunately, your boat still carries excess stones. For a while you’ll have to take in fewer stones than the normal 3, until the extra stones are thrown overboard and the boat lightens to normal.

Body Fat is The Stone

Calorie intake and expenditure work the same way as the stone analogy. If a person overeats for a period (due to divorce, job stress, holidays, etc.) and gains excess weight, returning to normal calorie intake is a good start, but it doesn’t eliminate the excess fat that was gained.

The thermal dynamics seen here is insidious and therefore gives rise to the hypothesis that fat people have a metabolic disorder that causes them to be fat despite eating the same as lean people. This isn’t true; they just never lost the weight they gained when they were overeating in the past.

You’ve heard the hypothesis (often mistaken as fact): carbohydrates drive insulin, which drives insulin resistance, which drives energy dysregulation, which drives obesity, which drives laziness.

While the hypothesis should be explored further (as all hypothesis should be), we have to remember that overweight and obesity might be the result of multiple contributors — the leading and most accepted being overeating.

And while overeating itself may also have many contributors, from genetics to environment, we know that under-eating and eating whole, real food can be an effective combination for weight loss.

Dietary Perspectives Around the World

But, as many cultures show: no matter the dietary composition, a calorie intake less than the average US consumption is strongly associated with leanness and absence of disease.

And, no matter what kind of food selected, eating less is an effective way to lose weight.

Intermittent fasting can help us eat less, no matter the popular “diet” we chose.

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14 Responses to Carrying The Stone

  1. Al says:

    The whole “S” diet (or “No S” diet, for those who want to know where that idea came from) thing makes sense, you know, “eat less”. I finally see where you are coming from. While people will most likely agree with you on the under-eating part, it is the wholesome food part that people (like me) seem to have trouble with. BUT I finally realize that the “wholesome food” part is what will give me that extra EDGE that I (and everyone else) am looking for to truly get lean. Thanks!

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Al,

      Pretty simple — whole, real food has no magic effects other than that it tends to be calorically sparse, better in satiety, and doesn’t stimulate hunger like processed food.

      But also, everyone benefits from the greater density of nutrients typically found in wholesome food.

      Best,
      Johnny

  2. Marc says:

    Johnny,
    Good stuff as always.
    It just seems very very hard for people to eat less. I think (most of the time) the only realistic way is to do it by intermittent fasting. And then to still be very careful.

    A coworker of mine has lost 65 pounds recently….she did it by eating real foods and pretty much “throwing more stones overboard” then stockpiling them in the boat.

    This seem hard to do for most. She has been taking in about 600-1000 calories a day for the past 3 months. I don’t think many people can actually “stomach” that.
    But the STONES analogy works….no question about it.

    Marc

    • Kristin says:

      hey Johnny – do you this could be as effective as IF? i’m a small female (5’3, 123lbs) and i’m looking to shed 5-10lbs. i have no problem eating under 1000 cals. i don’t get hungry as others might on this amont of calories. and i personally find it easier for me than doing 24h fasts. what do you think? would this give me the same results in the same amount of time as IF?

      • Johnny says:

        Hi Kristin,

        Intermittent fasting can be done with a lot of flexibility. In the end, going longer between meals offer many benefits — one of which is teaching the body to make an efficient transition to metabolizing stored body fat. The other, more importantly, is to help decrease an average caloric intake over time.

        You’ll know if this works only when you try it. I personally find daily intermittent fasting of 15 to 20 hours much more tolerable than a couple of 24-hour fasts.

        Best,
        Johnny

      • Johnny says:

        And by the way, Kristin, the traditional Japanese have a cultural practice of eating only until 80% full. Their calorie intake is consistently and significantly lower than that of the Westerners. I’d say the lighter ones might have eaten around or sub-1,000 calories.

        John

    • Johnny says:

      Thanks, Marc.

      Eating less is not easy in our consumption-centered culture. And you’re right — IF makes eating less more doable.

      By the way, I have been enjoying the recipe ideas on your (new) blog — very simple and delicious.

      http://feelgoodeating.com/

      Best,
      John

  3. Lee says:

    Ok, right on the money AGAIN!!!!! Eat less to melt off excess weight. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many “experts” told me to eat more to drop the lbs. and when I gained even more weight, of course, blamed me!!!!!

    • Nic says:

      Thats what pisses me off about all this surgery for weight loss. The so called “experts” flip out and say you are starving yourself if you miss one meal. If you skip breakfast, your body is already metabolizing your muscles according to them.

      If you tell them you think you will try and cut down, maybe eat only a half a cup of yogurt or some very small meals.. NO WAY!! you are anorexic!!

      But pay us $75,000 for a dangerous surgery to slice your stomach up to surgically force you to only be able to consume 3 tablespoons of food at a time… why thats fine!!

  4. Bret says:

    Hey Johnnie i was wondering what your opinion is on high intensity training vs high volume training. By your pics your physique reminds me of Vince Gironda.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Bret,

      I favor short, intense exercise.
      I like vigorous exercise, not obsessive exercise.
      Otherwise I move around a lot during the day.

      Best,
      Johnny

  5. Kate says:

    Hey Johnny,
    Thanks for the great site. This particular post really resonated for me. For some reason, I never really “got” why returning to my previous calorie intake (when I was at a lower weight) never resulted in my shedding the pounds I had gained while overeating. The “stones in the boat” analogy made so much sense to me that I decided to make my own boat to track my progress. I put a small stone in a dish for each 1/2 lb I want to lose, to represent all the extra stones I have taken on over the years. For each 1/2 lb. lost I take a stone out of the “boat” and place it in the “water” (on the table just outside the bowl, surrounding it). If I gain a few, stones go back in the boat. I picked a really nice bowl and beautiful, smooth, wave-polished black stones, to make the ritual more powerful (in the sense that rituals can be powerful and aesthetics are a key part of ritual). It is a great visual aid for me, rewarding to take the stones out (sucks to put them back in, but definitely keeps me from going too far off track), and if I am having trouble with hunger before the eating window I just think about the boat. After I get well into this, if I slip a bit and have to put stones back in the boat, it will be obvious how many are outside the boat already, & inspire me in a positive way to get right back on track. Just started this, so far I have one stone in the water and way too many in the boat, but I’m really look forward to moving forward with IF to get those stones moving!

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Kate,

      It’s a very simple concept that works for many. I’ve begun telling clients and friends this and they find the concept very simple to follow. They can work out any analogy they want, as long as they understand that, for every yin, there’s a yang.

      Thanks for reading!

      Johnny

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