Facing the physique-softening indignities of middle-age, a friend — call him Chumley, or Chum – adheres to a different diet-and-exercise plan every few weeks or months. He’s done them all, with varying degrees of success. (The old-fashioned “burn more calories than you consume” method doesn’t come with a glossy recipe book or 4-hours-a-month workout plan, so he’s not much interested in that approach). Chum isn’t fat or even obviously overweight, but he has certain “problem areas,” including his padded obliques (“love handles”), and he’s constantly searching for a magical formula to make them disappear. This is challenging, because although Chum is remarkably vain he’s also obsessed with food and thinks about eating as frequently as most men think about sex.
Chum’s newest diet plan involves maintaining an orthodox low-carb, low-calorie, high-protein, mostly-vegetarian menu, with no white flour, very little processed anything, and plenty of leafy green super foods. It’s a terrifically healthy diet. Combined with a regular exercise program (cardio and weight-training), Chum’s latest lifestyle adjustment is supposed to give him the body he wants quickly and efficiently, and without constant pangs of hunger and urges to binge on snack chips.
The gimmick with Chum’s current scheme is that he has one “free day” a week to eat whatever he wants. Whatever. Meaning: Krispy Kreme doughnuts, nachos, ice cream, cake, pizza, beer and wine – whatever. And in whatever quantities he wishes to indulge. His free day (Saturday, in his case) is a bacchanalia of stuff that can be tasted, chewed and swallowed, no matter how strongly his Current Diet officially contravenes their consumption. He may limit himself to 1,750 calories and low-fat the rest of the week, but on Saturday Chum “rewards” himself with 4,000 calorie pig-outs.
Hailing from the gambling world, where everything is measured in long-term expectation, I couldn’t help thinking that Chum’s approach to getting the body he wanted was designed to take longer and be more difficult than he realized. His “free day,” wasn’t a motivating carrot (or pastry). It was a self-defeating acknowledgement that he didn’t have the discipline to commit 100% to his goal. Having no limits one day a week was the mathematical equivalent of taking care of himself about 85% (6/7ths) of the time. It could be even worse than that. If the damage done on Saturday represented a large enough percentage of the gains made the other six days, Chum might actually be under 75% of his optimal result. Or lower.
Rather than torture himself, dreaming of that one blissful day when he could be happy, Chum might as well eat all the “free day” crap throughout the week. Because, effectively, that’s what he was doing anyway by cramming all his dietary transgressions into one period. His new “diet” was, in fact, a hybrid of diets: a really healthy one and a really unhealthy one. Blend them together and you’ve got your 85% (or worse) Torso-Slimming Miracle.
When I mentioned this to my friend, he responded that the results spoke for themselves. The author of the 6-on & 1-off diet book was photographed on the cover with his shirt off. He looked like a Men’s Health cover model. Either of us increasingly-soft fellows, my friend bellowed, would cut off a finger for a body so sculpted. So there!
Gambling again. The short-term, tiny-sampling “results” didn’t speak for themselves, other than to illustrate the fallacy of small numbers. He was deriving meaning not from the underlying mathematics but from mirages couched in the compelling (yet spurious) language of psychology and emotion. Just as someone who pulls a slot machine lever three times and hits a jackpot would be mistaken to conclude that casino slot machines pay out jackpots once-every-three-spins, it would also be a mistake to conclude that because one guy with a book to sell got himself a six-pack the discipline-and-binge method is the optimal route to getting the lean, chiseled body dieters want. Actually, the optimal method would be to apply the author’s smart nutrition principles seven-days-a-week.
”But look at the guy’s picture!” he implored.
I was going to point out that his evaluation model was the same one preachers of the so-called prosperity gospel hoped their followers would employ. “If you want to be like me and have the stuff I’ve got, just keep donating. Don’t worry about the logic. Look at the results!”
But it was Chum’s Saturday. And I didn’t want to be a buzzkiller on his one cheerful day of the week.