I tried something for 30 days that changed everything in my life

What I did? I gave up lunch.

I didn’t want to miss the social aspects of lunch, so I went along, bought a diet coke, and sipped as I watched people eat. I watched them gobble down bacon cheeseburgers and fries. It was fascinating. After a few weeks, I discovered the joy of smells even when lacking the consummation of swallow. (Please notice the pun.)

I could see the pleasure they got from the first bite. Delicious! Then the lunch continued, usually with a good conversation, sometimes about new physics, sometimes about world events, sometimes about local politics, and they took bites without apparently noticing. Then the last bite: once again they became alert to food. This was the end. And they enjoyed that last bite.

I concluded that they enjoyed only two bites. And actually, two bites of those luscious cheeseburgers supplied enough calories for most of a day. (But I didn’t need them. I had a good breakfast and a great dinner.)

I played a little game at lunch whenever I went with new people. If they were thin, and ordered cheeseburgers and fries (and at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory cafeteria, they were so good that that’s what was recommended), then I predicted they would leave fries on the plate. If the luncher was noticeably heavy, then I predicted a finish of every last fry. My predictions were right almost every time.

(It had never occurred to me that I didn’t have to finish a lunch! I guess I was brought up thinking that I had to clean my plate to keep some poor child in the World from dying. At least, that’s what I recall my mom telling me.)

After 3 pm, I began to feel hungry. That’s when I used to go get a snack. No more. I wanted to keep my weight down, so I just endured the hunger. Now and then I gave in and bought a chocolate chip cookie. But I didn’t enjoy it. I realized it had deprived me of my feeling of well-being. Was I enjoying being hungry in the afternoon? Yes! The kind of mild hunger I was feeling was not true hunger; it was not the kind of hunger felt by the homeless or the poor people in the developing world. It was a sensation that I had previously interpreted as “time to eat.” I gave it a new interpretation. Now when I felt it I said to myself, “My diet is working!”

The best part was dinner. I realized that for decades I had not been hungry when I came to the dinner table. I had nibbled on “appetizers” or had a late afternoon snack. The great meal of the day, the one that had the most delicious food, was eaten but only mildly enjoyed. But now, with hunger, it was a special event! I worked to slow myself down, to enjoy every bite (not just the first and the last). Dinner became one of the highlights of the day.

(Incidentally, one of the “tricks of life” that my wife and I came up with 49 years ago was that we would always have a sit-down dinner together, with the table set and the food served before we start. I cook dinner 4 nights each week; she cooks 3, and bakes bread on her Breville bread machine for our breakfasts.)

As I lost weight, I rediscovered the joy of walking. I live about a mile from campus, and the walk to campus became a short walk. I would make it just to get a cappuccino. (On these occasions I did allow myself a teaspoon of sugar, but no cookie to go with the coffee.) It was interesting how walking distances shortened when I weighed less. I now take a 5 mile hike (with an 800 foot rise) up in the Berkeley Hills twice every week.

The 30 day no-lunch project was successful, and I continued in my new habit. When I started, I weighed about 205 lb. Over two yearsI gradually reduced to 185. That was about 20 years ago and I am still at 185. The trick about a “diet” is to recognize that it is not temporary. It is a change in life style. But the bigger trick is to recognize that the pleasure you gain is far greater than the pleasure you lose.

Richard MullerProf Physics, UCBerkeley, author “Now-The Physics of Time”

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