“I envy guys like you.”
Dave sits beside me on the bench. We’ve just finished two sets of tennis and now we are resting, watching a pair warming up on the court we just vacated.
“What do you mean?” I think I know what he means – the second set we only played to four not six – he had started out kicking my butt but by the end of the first set he was running out of
“I mean,” he continues, “you’re always in great shape.”
“I work out,” I say.
“Yeah, so do I. Well, maybe not enough. But look at me.”
I look at him. Dave carries an extra maybe thirty pounds, mostly on his belly. I shrug.
“Guys like you,” he repeats. “You don’t have to worry; you just go along eating whatever you want; you never gain a pound.”
“Don’t I wish.” I shake my head, watching the woman on the court as she strikes a crisp forehand. “I also wish I could hit like that – great form, lots of topspin, and she hits it hard, too.”
“I’m sure there are people like that out there,” I continue. “They stay the same weight, don’t even think about it. Like they automatically turn their metabolism and appetite up and down, as needed, week after week, year after year. But I’m not like that – I still have to work at it.”
The guy on the court hits a thunderous forehand to the woman’s backhand. She turns lithely, takes a short backswing, and pops it right back, at a sharp angle. Dave shakes his head in
“But I do it. I’ve done it for over forty years – I’ve even come down twenty pounds or so over the last twenty. It’s always conscious with me.”
“You’re a hypnotherapist,” Dave says. “You work with people to lose weight. What do you do, hypnotize them so they just do it naturally?”
“That word, ‘natural’, is way overused,” I say. “I help them to change their outlook, their whole relationship with food and with themselves. You can’t just take off the weight and go back to what you were doing before. I do a lot of stuff – portion control, food selection, self-concept, motivation to exercise. For most people there’s a whole emotional aspect, as in ‘comfort food’.”
The woman hits a beautiful forehand; it arches way up over the net, yet though hit with pace, it drops down just inside the baseline.
“Topspin,” Dave grunts.
“I’ve tried counting calories,” he says, “but it just doesn’t work for me.”
“Yeah, counting calories gets cumbersome. You’ve got to carry around your tables and refer to them whenever you eat or else you have to have a really good memory. You have to do the arithmetic and either write it down or keep it in your head. And a lot of the time you have to make wild guesses – how many calories are in that gumbo or that Cobb salad?”
“I wonder how well smart-phone apps work,” says Dave.
“I don’t know,” I say. “But even if they do, the ways people respond to calorie intakes is highly individual. So if the chart tells you that a six foot, 200 pound, 55-year-old man will maintain his weight by eating 2600 calories per day, realize that this is a statistical average. Just because some other six-foot, 200 pound man of 55 loses weight at 2300 calories per day does not mean you will – you may need to stay below 2000 or maybe you’ll still lose at 2700. You’ve got to adjust the scale up or down for yourself as an individual, for your own metabolism. You have to calibrate yourself.”
He nods as the guy nets one, a rare miss – these two are both really good.
“Not that I would discourage someone from counting calories,” I say, “especially when you’re getting started. And it’s always helpful – sometimes a real eye-opener – to read the labels: I was amazed to find that a small cup of Legal Seafood’s clam chowder is 350 calories! Also, I wonder how many people are going to do this faithfully for the next fifty years? Not me – I can tell you that.”
Dave looks at me with interest. “So you say you do have to work at it – if you say so I believe you. And you don’t count calories, ok. So how do you do it? I want to know.”
Bam!, the woman pounds a two-handed backhand down the line.
“I call it self-calibration,” I say. “That’s my word – I don’t know that anyone else uses it. You really want to hear about it?”
He assures me that he does.
“Ok, then,” I say. “First of all, I weigh myself every day. Always at the same time, on the same scale. I weigh first thing after I get up in the morning, before I drink
anything. That’s probably my low point of the day, but the thing is, do it the same way, the same time every day – you want to see the day-to-day changes. You could weigh at noon or
just before bedtime; just do it the same way every day.”
“Some people say don’t do that,” says Bob. The woman fires one into the right corner, just past the guy’s outstretched racket.
“I know,” I say, “but I do it. I use the scale is my calibration device. It gives me feedback right away if I’ve overdone it.
“Second, you’ve got to establish yourself a baseline. Get a sense of what and how much you need to eat to stay right at your current weight. You can establish your baseline by counting calories or by trial-and-error or some combination. You may want to keep a food journal for a few weeks, writing down everything you eat with amounts, and recording your weight each day.
“This is your norm, that you judge variations from, up or down. So for instance, I’ve learned that my weight will remain the same if I eat:
- a moderate protein breakfast: two eggs, a banana, a small dish of berries;
- a mid-morning snack of an ounce of jack cheese and half-an-apple and a few almonds,
- a lunch of an ounce of jack cheese and an apple
“You like apples, I guess,” Dave says with a grin.
“Yes I do,” I reply. “So lunch is the cheese, an apple, some almonds, and three chicken wing pieces or maybe a third of a pound of chicken salad.
- For dinner, a third of a pound of meat or fish, some steamed vegetables or a salad, maybe a little rice.
- And sometimes, a glass of wine later in the evening.
And sometimes, a glass of wine later in the evening.
“I can eat a little bit in the way of sweets, but not much: a small cookie, maybe, or a few squares of dark chocolate.
“Of course I don’t always eat the same thing. I have learned from experience, trial and error, what is more or less equivalent. So for example:
- I can have a different kind of cheese or another fruit for snacks, just so I don’t overdo it.
- A moderate serving of spaghetti with meat sauce can substitute for the meat and rice.
“For you it might be more or less than this. You’re a little bigger than me,” – we both laugh – “so probably more. And your choices of what to eat may be different.
“By the way, as your weight changes, your baseline will change with it – the amounts and choices that maintained your weight at, say, 220” – I look at Dave; he glances down – “will gain when you’re 200.”
“With me so far?”
“Yep,” he says. The woman serves, not all that hard, but it kicks up high and the guy hits it long.
“Ok,” I say. “So the next thing is, you’ve got to learn what happens if you vary this up or down. You do this also by trial-and-error and by paying attention – you learn to make the connections. For me:
- If I eat a second cookie or half of that dark chocolate bar (in addition to my baseline) I will most likely gain a pound. I don’t eat sweets at all if I am over my target weight.
- A larger dinner will cost me between a half-pound and a pound.
- Chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant will probably mean an extra pound. It helps if I break the chips into smaller pieces and eat mainly salsa. But I’m still likely to gain weight, especially if the chips are salted.
- If I cut out the rice and the wine, I will lose a half-pound, especially if I work out that day.
- If I eat only half of a banana I will lose a little.
“Also, I can trade: if I really want that cookie I can cut out the rice and wine and hope to stay even.”
I check to make sure Dave is following all this; he seems to be.
“Over time you will learn about yourself and how your body reacts to different variations. You’ll find yourself making associations in your mind between what and how much you eat and your how your weight changes. You’ll start to predict: ‘Oh, I’m probably going to be a pound up tomorrow,’ or ‘I think I might have lost half-a-pound.’ It gets kind of interesting, to me, to see what’s going to happen.”
“These things are not exact and it often plays out over several days time – you may or may not see the weight gain or loss the very next day. There are several reasons for this:
- Sometimes it takes more than a day for the effects of a big meal or cutting back to show.
- If you don’t have a bowel movement for a day, your weight is likely to increase a little – it’s not ‘real’ but you have to count it. If you have two large bowel movements in one day, you will probably lose a pound.
“Sorry to get scatological on you, Dave.” We both smile, then I go on.
“Similarly with water: if you drink several glasses just before bed, your body may not have passed it all out by the time you weigh yourself the next morning. You can temporarily “lose” weight by dehydrating, like wrestlers do to fight down a class, but that’s not ‘real’ and it’s not good for you, either.
- A strenuous workout will predispose you to lose, say, a half-pound. But it may also make you hungrier than usual, so watch out!
- A minor illness like a cold or stomach virus may cause you to lose a few pounds, but there’s going to be a tendency to gain it back as you recover.
- Weigh fluctuates all by itself for no apparent reasons. Even if you eat your baseline diet every day for a week, your day-to-day weight is going to go up or down, within a two pound range, say.
“Self-calibration is a learning process, taking place on both the conscious and unconscious levels. In effect you’re developing your own personal mental units, tailored to your metabolism,
your tastes, how your body works – yourself as an individual – and keeping account of these.
“Doing it this way gives you control, a natural, organic kind of control. You can go up; you can go down; you can stay the same – whatever you wish and desire, whenever you want.
“You have assimilated the charts, the units, the limits, and the counts, into the ways you perceive your body and its needs. So you are much more likely to do it, to incorporate it into your thinking and your life and persist in it – for the long haul.”
“Very, very interesting,” Dave says, as he starts to get up.
I get up too, and we start back to our cars.
“Just one thing.” Dave stops and turns. “I travel a lot. What do I do when I’m on the road? Hotels don’t usually have scales. And even if they did, they’d be different, from place to place.”
“If you have your baseline,” I say, “and you know how what and how much you eat changes your weight, well then, you estimate. Each day, at the time you would weigh yourself, you review the previous day, what you ate, and make an educated guess at where you are at: even, plus, or minus. Then pretend you had weighed in and act as if you had, using your educated guess. And if you are self-calibrated, you will be fairly accurate – good enough for a few days, even a week.”
“Yeah, makes sense,” he says, nodding. We walk on.
“Thanks for sharing,” he says. I scan his face for hints of sarcasm, but find none.
“See you next week,” I say.
“Yeah, take care,” says Dave.
This article is excerpted from my book, Hypnosis and