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2 formerly obese economists who lost a combined 120 pounds in 18 months say ‘meta-rules’ were a key part of their success

2 formerly obese economists who lost a combined 120 pounds in 18 months say ‘meta-rules’ were a key part of their success

Lose weight without losing your mind.

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Lose weight without losing your mind.
source
Estrada Anton/Shutterstock
  • Christopher Payne and Rob Barnett are formerly obese economists and the authors of “The Economists’ Diet.”
  • In explaining how to lose weight, they recommend using “meta-rules,” or guidelines that apply on all occasions, to lose weight.
  • The idea is to minimize decision-making and save yourself some mental energy.

“Unless it’s a special occasion, never have seconds.”

“During the week, always have salad for lunch.”

These seemingly stifling directives are examples of so-called “meta-rules,” and they’re designed to help you figure out how to lose weight without losing your mind.

Christopher Payne and Rob Barnett use the term, which they say they borrowed from behavioral economist Dan Ariely, in their book, “The Economists’ Diet: The Surprising Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off.” Payne and Barnett are economists who worked together at Bloomberg; in their book, they guide readers in applying fundamental economic principles to the process of losing weight, the same way they did.

At different points in time, both Payne and Barnett were obese. Payne lost 45 pounds in 18 months, while Barnett lost 75 pounds in the same amount of time.

Meta-rules work for two reasons, the authors argue. The first reason: They eliminate the amount of choice you have in your daily diet. “The more times you present yourself with a choice, the more possibility there is to do something that you’re trying not to do,” Payne told me.

The second reason meta-rules work: They make life less exhausting while you’re getting healthier. Payne said that if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to just not have whatever you’re trying to avoid eating in your home. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a decision every night about whether to indulge.

Barnett and Payne are hardly the first people to recognize the power in minimizing decision-making. For example, Max Levchin, a PayPal founder who’s now the CEO of the online lending service Affirm, previously told Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell about the importance of consistency in his fitness regimen.

“So long as your daily default is ‘Be on the bike,’ some days you’ll miss because you’re traveling or you’re sick,” he said. “But most of the time, you’ll just get up, and get on a bike first thing in the morning, which is what I do.”

The authors note, however, that meta-rules are not a panacea for anyone struggling with their weight.

In the book, they write: “The oath we make to ourselves doesn’t protect us from having to make a decision; it just changes the decision from ‘Shall I have dessert tonight? to ‘Shall I break my oath tonight?’ For sure, the latter holds more sway over us than the former, but it’s not 100 percent foolproof.”

2 formerly obese economists who lost a combined 120 pounds in 18 months relied on a controversial weight-loss strategy

2 formerly obese economists who lost a combined 120 pounds in 18 months relied on a controversial weight-loss strategy

Rob Barnett, an author of

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Rob Barnett, an author of “The Economists’ Diet,” before and after losing 75 pounds in 18 months.
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Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
  • In “The Economists’ Diet,” Christopher Payne and Rob Barnett argue that if you’re trying to lose weight, you should step on the scale every day.
  • Their argument is supported by some recent research.
  • But some experts say daily weighing can be confusing and demotivating.

The way Christopher Payne sees it, when you’re trying to lose weight, “you’re basically a scientist of your own body.”

Payne and Rob Barnett wrote the book “The Economists’ Diet: The Surprising Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off,” in which they explain how to use fundamental economic principles to shed pounds the way they did.

At different points in their lives, Payne and Barnett were overweight, and they got themselves to a healthier place. Payne lost 45 pounds in 18 months, while Barnett lost 75 pounds in the same amount of time.

Payne has defended one of the more controversial weight-loss strategies in the book: daily weighing. The idea is to weigh yourself in the morning, see whether the number has gone up or down, reflect on what you ate the day before, and tweak as necessary.

In the book, the authors cite research that links this with losing weight.

In one study published in 2015 in the Journal of Obesity, researchers tracked 162 overweight adults over two years and found that participants who weighed themselves daily and received visual feedback about their weight trajectories lost more weight than those who didn’t weight themselves as frequently.

The first group was also better able to maintain the weight loss, regardless of how the participants went about trying to lose weight. Interestingly, men in the study lost also significantly more weight than women did, though the researchers couldn’t explain why.

The Washington Post pointed out that participants may have felt greater pressure to keep the weight off knowing the researchers would be keeping tabs on them – meaning not everyone will see the same success.

Another study, published in 2016 in the International Journal of Obesity, yielded similar findings in women who weighed themselves frequently.

It’s unclear why daily weighing appears to help with weight loss. In a statement, one of the authors of the 2015 study said, “We think the scale also acts as a priming mechanism, making you conscious of food and enabling you to make choices that are consistent with your weight.”

Some experts take issue with the idea of weighing yourself so often

Other experts advise against weighing yourself every day.

Moran Cerf, a professor of business and neuroscience at Northwestern University who has been studying decision-making for over a decade, told Business Insider’s Chris Weller that people should weigh themselves just once a week. Your weight can fluctuate by a few pounds every day, Cerf said, and stepping on the scale so often can cause confusion.

One dietitian told USA Today in 2016 that she didn’t recommend daily weighing for most clients.

“You can get lost in those numbers and start to identify your self-worth with what’s on the scale,” she said.

I mentioned to Payne and Barnett that weighing yourself daily sounded like a version of the so-called Quantified Self movement, which focuses partly on learning more about your body through self-tracking.

Payne said it was similar but “much more simplistic.” In this case, all you’re tracking is your weight, not how many steps you take, how many calories you ingest, or anything else.

Barnett argued that if your weight is what you’re trying to control, that’s the only thing you should keep tabs on.

He also addressed the emotional component of frequent weighing. He said that when he was at his heaviest, about 250 pounds, he “didn’t want to know the number.”

Ultimately, Barnett put it in very frank terms.

“Your obesity or lack thereof – it’s not a secret to anyone,” he said. “You should get acquainted with that number.”

He added: “It really is a life-changing thing to add this to your daily routine.”

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