As mentioned in the previous article, I’ve created a new diet. We live in southern New Hampshire on a lake with a beach. Well, it’s really a boat ramp and only a dozen feet wide. But it has sand and I think it qualifies. So I’m calling this the “South New Hampshire Beach Diet”. However, it is not a joke. It really works and is as close to effortless as anything I’ve ever experienced, culinary or otherwise.
Of course, it is not totally new, being “low carb” like the popular Atkins and South Beach diets. But my South NH Beach Diet has some important differences that I think make it superior, through potentially less popular. So this is yet another unpopular idea.
1. Don’t eat breads, sugars or other refined carbohydrates - not ever.
2. Eat only one meal a day, preferably in the evening.
3. Eat as much as you like during that one meal.
4. When you stop eating, stop eating. Eat just once a day.
5. Wine is OK during meals and before bedtime.
6. Drink water, tea or coffee whenever you like.
7. Exercise for your mind, not for your body.
8. Keep going. It’s a lifestyle, not a temporary regime.
I have been following these rules for over half a year now and have lost a serious amount of weight. I was probably pushing 250 pounds before. Though I have long been reluctant to weight myself because it is just too depressing. So there is no good “control” weight for my dietary experiment. After only six months, I was around 190 pounds, still above normal for my height but getting there. Plus I have Russian ancestors (or at least Jewish Russian), and Slavs seem to be naturally stocky. So my guess is that “normal” weight ranges may not be totally relevant.
The really amazing part is that I have not been hungry. Even though I have been eating less frequently and fast from evening to evening, if anything I have been less hungry than before. This diet is as close to totally painless as one could hope, at least for me.
Q. Are there any disadvantages to your diet?
A. Besides the embarrassing pile of chicken wing bones at restaurants?
Q. Yes, besides that.
A. Finding out it wasn’t just your weight that made you unattractive to the opposite sex.
Just One Meal a Day
This “dinner only” rule is what makes the diet potentially unpopular. Nutrition experts of all stripes recommend eating a least three meals a day, usually with controlled portions. They especially recommend eating breakfast, which is often said to be the most important meal of the day. If anything, many might recommend skipping dinner, since you don’t need the calories to sleep.
I think the experts are wrong. Of course, we humans are an extremely variable lot and what works well for me might not for others. But it is probably more natural for humans to eat less frequently than civilization dictates. We evolved as hunters and gatherers. That means that we are naturally carnivores and carnivores typically eat when they catch something, probably less than once a day.
So it seems that three meals a day is probably not very “natural” for us before 10,000 years ago. Things changed with the coming of wheat. Grain is not as nutritious, forcing early civilized societies to eat more often. You may remember Ursula Le Guin’s classic “The Left Hand of Darkness”, a must-read that transcends science fiction. Gethen’s people, living on a cold planet devoid devoid of large meat animals, must eat many times a day. Our planet may not currently be quite as cold, but our grain-centric diet also recommended two or three meals a day. But no longer, now that humans are mostly rich enough to afford enough proteins and fats once again.
Eating carbohydrates also requires more frequent meals because the rise and fall of glucose levels makes us hungry more often. A diet without refined carbohydrates seems to reduce hunger to the point where one big meal a day is quite enough.
I think that eating less frequently may help the body burn stored fat so that we lose weight. With 100% efficiency, all calories would go toward useful activity or be stored as permanent fat. But most likely our bodies are not nearly 100% efficient and much of what we eat is burned off as waste heat. Just after we eat there are calories in our blood that serve our energy needs. With more time between meals, there is a better chance that our bodies will deplete available glucose and break down stored fat so that we lose weight. If we spread the same amount of food over more daily meals, my guess is that our bodies would burn less of it as waste heat and more for our real energy needs. Frequently consumed food would cover our energy needs with less waste and without the need to dip into fat stores. This may sound like a contradiction of the law of energy conservation. But I don’t think so given our bodies may be able to burn off excess calories as waste heat when food is not immediately needed.
Wheat was mankind’s greatest invention and that makes it hard to hate. Its cultivation was the discovery that made civilization possible, because finally people could produce enough excess food to allow non-farming specialists to exist. It gave us the wealth to employ both useful specialties (toolmakers, artists, traders and teachers) and parasitic ones (warriors, kings, priests and early lawyers). But while wheat and other grains made civilization possible, they also made for terrible nutrition. And terrible nutrition requires eating more often, which may discourage weight loss.
Finally, one meal a day means less guilt about eating all you want. Personally, I would much rather eat one unrestricted meal than a number of portion-controlled ones. As contradictory as it sounds, one meal makes me less hungry than three. I am certainly more satisfied after dinner since I can eat what I want without guilt. I may be slightly hungry a few hours latter (since there must be some blood glucose fluctuation even with low glycemic foods). But after maybe four hours and especially after sleep, I find that hunger is virtually gone the next day, probably because my glucose levels have completely stabilized.
In The Calorie Fallacy I explain why eating carbohydrates makes you fat. It’s not the fat (or protein) you eat that adds weight, just the carbs. Eating carbohydrates raises your insulin level and it takes insulin to permanently store fat. Moreover, it seems that only highly refined carbs like sugars and starches raise insulin levels significantly. So avoid foods with a high glycemic index or load.
Stick with unprocessed vegetables, since fiber seems to greatly reduce foods’ glycemic index. That means green vegetables, unprocessed beans, squash and carrots are fine. Try to eat a lot of salad and other green vegetables. Seconds are fine, especially if they are green. Salad dressings are fine too, especially if they use olive oil.
I find it easy enough to avoid eating grains of any sort - anything that could potentially be used to make bread. Sure, whole grains are less glycemic and may not be a problem. But it is hard to judge how refined a grain product might be, so stay away. Avoid breading, noodles, grains, potatoes, rice and sugar. Avoid condiments with sugar such as ketchup and barbecue sauce.
I personally stay away from fruits that are sweet. Fruits have fructose which is less glycemic than refined sugars. But since I believe sugar is probably the worst thing you can eat health wise, I play it safe and avoid even fruits. Which I will admit is not very natural, given we evolved from monkeys whose diet was probably primarily fruit. Indeed, that is probably why we taste and crave sweets. We are descended from fruit eaters and our taste buds are basically fruit detectors. Brown rice or whole wheat also have lower glycemic indices and may also be OK. But I avoid them to be safe and you should too, at least to begin.
Fats and Proteins
Foods that are mostly protein or fat are fine. Here also, my South NH Diet differs from popular opinion. For most experts strongly recommend reducing your fat consumption as much as possible. Even the low-carb crowd typically pays at least lip service to low fat as well. And usually, we are told to reduce carbohydrates or maybe refined carbohydrates, but only within the bounds of a low-fat regime.
However, I believe you can eat as much fat as you like. Some fats may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, though there is controversy and just which fats are “bad” is far from clear. So by all means, avoid fats that you think might be risky, such as trans or maybe saturated fats. Personally, I favor olive oil. You may notice that my recommendations more or less follow the Mediterranean diet, which seems associated with less heart disease and obesity, though not very low in calories.
Fish and fish oils are probably more healthy for your heart and just as effective as meat for weight loss. We now usually purchase farm-raised fish rather than seafood from the ocean, because it seems more sustainable and also because it may help avoid mercury contamination.
I also think animal fats like butter and lard are probably reasonably healthy. For one thing, it is difficult to eat a lot of protein without consuming animal fat. And eating more protein and fat means you are eating less carbohydrates, which is the primary goal if you want to loose weight. Plus I am not convinced that eating cholesterol has much to do with arterial cholesterol deposits or cardiovascular disease.
The rule here is that alcohol is good, at least in quantities that don’t damage your liver, and that red wine is better. I long ago decided that red wine is especially healthy. Red wine is part of the Mediterranean diet and seems to provide antioxidants that may help reduce the effects of aging and prevent cancer. I also take grape seed extract for the same reason. Plus wine has alcohol, which in moderation is apparently good for your heart.
Wine is the only “food” I allow myself after dinner and I usually drink at least one glass before I sleep. This rule is more the result of my personal habits than any dietary theory. For one thing, I sometimes suffer from insomnia and wine helps (as does melatonin by the way, a natural over-the-counter “supplement” that I highly recommend).
I have heard anecdotal evidence that alcohol is not fattening. Diets often recommend avoiding alcohol because it has seven calories per gram, almost as much as fat and much more than the four calories found in most proteins and carbohydrates. But like fat, alcohol has zero glycemic load so it should not raise your insulin. Remember calories don’t count, just high-glycemic carbs. Alcohol may have carbon and hydrogen and it is even pretty refined, but it is not a refined carbohydrate or at least does not seem to metabolize like one. Wine does have some carbs, especially incompletely fermented sweet wine. So I stick with dry red wine. I worry that beer may have even more simple carbs because it is made with grain, though that may just be my prejudice since I have never been much of a beer drinker. Yet “beer gut” anecdotes suggest that beer may indeed induce carb-like weight gain. Presumably many distilled liqueurs are fine for weight control because the grain is almost completely converted to alcohol, though they don’t have the extra health benefits of red wine.
I confine my alcohol consumption to dinner and bed time, mostly because I want to be able to think clearly the rest of the day. The other reason for avoiding wine or alcohol earlier is that it does have calories and my “one meal a day” rule recommends fasting before dinner to burn fat.
Water and zero-calorie drinks like coffee and tea are fine anytime. Water and tea are even said to be good for your health. I personally drink a lot of tea, not because I think coffee is bad but because it does not agree with me. For years, I thought I was lactose intolerant, but it turns out that I was mostly coffee intolerant. So tea works better for me and its antioxidants are an added benefit. Sometimes it seems that a warm drink helps control hunger, or maybe it is the caffeine or something else about tea. So I try to drink tea regularly throughout the day.
Avoid soft drinks, even with sugar substitutes. I believe at least some artificial sweeteners, especially aspartimine, pose serious health risks and may be responsible for the skyrocketing rates of various autoimmune diseases in recent decades. Even “safe” artificial sweeteners are still artificial and there is the chance that FDA trials missed some negative side effect. I drink seltzer water instead. Once you get used to the total lack of sweetness, which happened pretty quickly for me, seltzer offers all of the satisfaction of carbonated soft drinks with none of the costs. But plain water works too.
Exercise does not help you lose weight. Nor does eating fewer calories. Sure, both can have a temporary effect, especially if taken to extremes. But conservation of energy, calories eaten and calories burned, does not control obesity. If it did, we would all be dead from obesity or anorexia. Normal people do not control their calories nearly well enough to explain their constant weight, year after year. The body regulates your weight automatically and so exercise does not much have much effect on how much fat you store or burn. Exercise more and your body will compensate, possibly by turning down your “thermostat” a little or maybe by metabolizing your food a little better.
I have been exercising most of my life. For years I was a runner and went so far as to commute to work on foot. In recent decades, I have been using a stationary ski machine, which is highly aerobic but much easier on the knees. I often “ski” more than 2,500 virtual miles a year, enough to cross America. For the last three years, I have religiously exercised at least half an hour every single day. Well actually I’ve missed a hand full of days due to illness and travel, but made them all up with double the exercise on other days. Even with all of that exercise, I have been gaining weight most of my life. Exercise simply does not help lose weight. At least it does not for me and I believe my experience is not uncommon.
Yet I still exercise, because it has other important benefits. One is cardiovascular health, but that is not my primary motivation. Regular exercise, at least 30 minutes a day, six days a week, has been shown by studies to relieve depression. In fact, it seems to be just as effective as anti-depressants. I exercise for my mental well being, rather than for my physical health. My guess is that others would similarly benefit from at least moderate exercise.
I usually manage to exercise in the middle of the day, which may be beneficial for my diet. Burning calories during the fasting period before dinner just might help the body decide to release stored fat, since there is probably insufficient glucose or fatty acids in the blood stream or liver that long after yesterday’s meal. Possibly I’m being contradictory here, since I just claimed that exercise alone cannot burn fat in the long run. And certainly, I know of no scientific study that has undertaken to show that exercise during a fast burns more fat than just after a meal. But it seems logical to me.
You might think that exercise or other activity would be difficult before eating. That the result would be hunger, low blood sugar, extreme fatigue and maybe even depression. But it does seem to work that way, at least for me. Humans may be naturally capable of high levels of activity without constant food. That is what I would expect of hunters, so I am not surprised. In my experience it is only just after meals, say one to four hours later, that hunger occurs. After sleeping, I am simply not hungry until I eat again, even when physically active.
It’s for Life
This is not a short-term diet to lose weight. Stopping the diet and especially eating starches and sugars would just mean a return to gaining weight.
That means figuring out how to permanently live with the diet. Since eating is usually a social occasion, my South NH Beach Diet can have an isolating effect. It is sometimes said that kosher dietary laws have the effect of isolating orthodox Jews, because they effectively cannot eat except with other orthodox Jews. The kosher rules are so strict that food prepared by others is unlikely to qualify. My diet is potentially worse, since diet-wise I am still pretty much a population of one.
What about restaurants? They are difficult, since most serve a lot of starch. Without the potatoes, most menu choices are not enough food for my one-meal-a-day approach. But my wife and I have long loved to eat out and have a tradition of a restaurant date without kids once a week. So restaurants that will substitute extra veggies for the potato or rice are good. And restaurants with salad bars are great.
Ruby Tuesday restaurants are among the few remaining places with a salad bar in our area, and they will happily substitute for your potatoes. I’ve also discovered that Texas Roadhouse restaurants have better steaks and let you order from a variety of side dishes, some of which are not starch. Even some Italian restaurants work, since they often have anti pasta and a least one non-breaded steak option. Buffets of any sort can also work, because you can easily avoid the starch dishes and still get enough to eat.
It is significant that I only manage this diet with my wife’s full support. For years, I had been trying to “cut back” on simple carbohydrates. But there was always some rice or pasta at meals (since most kids love their carbs) and I was always extremely hungry a short while latter. This time, my wife and I agreed I would eat no starches. We may cook pasta or rice, but I don’t take any. It means cooking larger batches of spaghetti sauce and meat, since I eat it straight without the pasta. The same goes for Indian curries, which we have long liked. Now we cook enough so I can fill up without the rice. Even hamburgers, which our kids love, can work if eaten as a kind of steak, without the bun and ketchup.
The usual advice is to consult your doctor before you start a new diet. I should probably recommend that too, though my guess is that most medical professionals are still benighted enough to say “no” if one were foolish enough to ask about such a radical diet. Instead, I recommend you consult your spouse first, for without their help and support you probably cannot succeed. In my case, I could consult both at once because my wife is an MD.