The secret is this: diets that work manage to tame your appetite, and by taming your appetite they allow you to moderate your calorie intake. To tame your appetite successfully you must avoid the diet ratchet, avoid intense food, and above all, avoid feeling deprived—the diet must counteract psychological intensification.

Strangely enough, this is what most Wonder Diets offer. Most Wonder Diets allow you to eat certain ‘good’ foods freely, they banish intense food, and they have some story to distract you from the idea of feeling deprived. It is the story that allows you to side-step psychological intensification. They deserve the name Wonder Diets, as they achieve the holy grail of dieting: getting you to eat enough nutritious food and happily give up intense food. 


Six bees and six flies were trapped in a glass bottle. The bottle was laid on a table in a darkened room such that the base of the bottle was facing the only source of light. The bottle was then uncorked. The six bees pushed themselves against the base of the bottle, aiming, with impeccable logic, for the light. The flies continued to zap around, randomly bouncing off all surfaces of the glass. After an hour, all the flies were free and all the bees were still jammed against the closed end of the bottle.

I read that story in a business book. It hurt, because I knew I was a bee. In the agency I was a suit not a creative. The creatives in an agency are the flies. They give the impression (to us bees) of not knowing what they are doing, and at the end of the day we bees have to put up with the fact that we live off their brilliance.

When I looked at my newfound diet understanding, I could see that I had, true to form, been a witless bee. By going at it so logically, by following the rational diet books, I had ignored theories that did work, even if they worked for the wrong reasons.

If I’d believed some crazy notion that I had to de-tox my body by eating only plain brown rice and fruit I would have moved my diet to less intense food years before. If I’d believed that I had to give up all carbs, I would have had to cut out practically all intense food at a swipe. But Bath Tub devotees believe that all calories are equally fattening. If that is true, then it is logical to ‘spend’ your calories on the food that gives you the most pleasure. It is logical until you understand that the pleasure you derive from food has so much to do with appetite. Intense pleasure makes you eat more for a given level of hunger—and it sends you back quickly for even more. 

Bath Tub devotees believe that paragraph I quoted in Chapter 3: 

Diets which make you lose weight do basically the same: they help you cut down your Calorie intake.

This statement is wickedly true. It is like a prophesy in a tragedy play: you take it as you first read it and once it has totally screwed up your life (‘betrayed you in deepest consequence’) you realise that you should read it in another way. If you try to cut down your calorie intake directly, by refusing to eat what you would like to eat, you drag yourself into cycles of starvation, bingeing, and deprivation. None of the Wonder Diets emphasise cutting down calories, but by giving you some story they do lead you to cut down on your calorie intake.

To quote Rick Gallop on his Gi Diet17:

‘Since insulin is the key trigger to storing glucose, as well as the sentry that keeps those fat cells intact, it is crucial to maintain low insulin levels when you are trying to lose weight, and that means avoiding high-GI foods. Low GI foods such as apples are like the tortoise to the high GI foods hare. They break down in your digestive system at a slow, steady rate….So if you want to lose weight, you must stick to low-GI foods.’ (page 13, Rick Gallop, The Gi Diet, Virgin Books, London, 2004)

Don’t think about deprivation, you just have to avoid certain bad foods. Those bad foods just happen to include everything intense. And, hey, if you want a snack, try a few apples.

Or take the much maligned Gillian McKeith:

‘Non-organic foods…have been sprayed with chemicals and grown in soils that have been treated with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The residues of these chemicals make their way into our bodies when we eat these non-organic foods. These chemicals become toxins in our bodies, polluting and poisoning us.’18 (page 24)

That quote comes from a page with skull and crossbones shaded all over the paper, just in case the words didn’t scare you enough. If you sincerely believe it is dangerous to eat non-macrobiotic or non-organic food, then you will have to give up a huge number of eating opportunities. But don’t feel deprived: the poor saps who eat that processed crap will have permanently polluted Karmas.

Allergies, imagined or real, are likely to make you lose weight. ‘Oh darling, I would have loved a slice of your wonderful walnut cake, but didn’t you know I’m off wheat?’ Avoiding wheat (or gluten) will cut out so many intense eating occasions that it would be perfectly possible to create a Wonder Diet based on the theory that only wheat makes you fat. Truly believe that wheat upsets your metabolism and causes weight gain, and you will be proved right! Believing food combining mumbo-jumbo will also work a treat. McKeith again:

‘If you eat proteins and carbohydrates together, the competing enzymes and digestive juices will fight and neutralise each other. The result is that food...rots inside the gut, causing gas, bloating, heartburn, stomach pains, malabsorption, indigestion and energy drain.’ (page 79)    

In plain English: a plate of grilled salmon and new potatoes will send your digestive system into melt-down.

I could never believe rubbish like this. And yet if you follow the prescriptions in McKeith’s book, you will give up intense food, eat healthily, and you will recover a homeostatic relationship with food. Even Jason Vale’s diet of juice and pureed vegetables, eaten in sensibly large quantities, would work. The Scarsdale is good too. As I said, the official diet was much less strict on quantities than Henry’s version—and the Fourteen Don’ts (sugar, cream, chocolate, butter, sausages, etc.)? Well, frankly, you can’t get a cigarette paper between me and Mr Scarsdale these days. This world is so full of ironies that I sometimes wonder why I bother to think.

The Atkins phenomenon does suggest to me that our fear of fat is overdone. Fat, in itself, is not dangerous. For years I thought it was; it is not. Calories, in themselves, are not dangerous. Atkins, Groves, Gallop, McKeith, Vale et al. have each of them stumbled on this truth: you can eat all the calories you want, as long as you don’t create false want by tinkering with the food. Believe in any of their systems and you will start to eat sensible quantities of Xtense food. They all work—if you have sufficient faith in them.

Atkins understood why his diet worked: ‘…this isn’t a high-fat diet. The average person on a low-carbohydrate diet eats less fat than he was eating on his previous ‘balanced’ diet—the average diet in America today.’ Dr Robert C Atkins, Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution, Vermillion, 1999, page 21.

How long does it take to recover homeostasis if you have at some point totally lost it? Or if you never have been homeostatic within living memory? I think the answer is: about as long as it takes to get over a broken heart. At one level, you simply never do (you know how it is, that increased propensity to be moved to tears). You pass through life, through a marriage, through an addiction. You come out the other side, but you never return to how you were before. We start off innocent; we lose our innocence. You cannot un-experience something.

You never totally forget or lose the scars from fighting weight, but I do believe the scars heal year by year. Homeostasis is part of any normal animal’s bodily functions, leaving aside rare cases of genuine illness.

Since the loss of homeostasis is as much psychological as physical it is important to progress on both fronts. You must learn to reward yourself with pleasures that aren’t related to food: movies, music, sport, seeing friends, walks in the country, a pot of tea in a hot scented bath—tennis or sex—whatever you enjoy. The more pleasurable, wholesome alternatives you find to replace your obsession with food, the quicker and more complete will be your recovery.

The longer the non-homeostatic phase lasted, I suspect, the longer the recovery period. However, I do not believe that dieting can permanently deform your body’s energy homeostasis. This is because so many people do report conquering the problem and becoming genuinely homeostatic again. There are many successful dieters. Quite a few go on to write books about how they realised that they did not have to stuff themselves with intensified food to be truly happy. The fact that there are so many success stories out there makes me believe it is always possible to recover if you go about it the right way.

Bodies live in the present—they create the body they need today. A dancer or professional athlete who has trained consistently for twenty years will have a beautifully toned body. Yet if they give up all exercise for a year, their muscles shrivel at a scary rate. You get a suntan when you sit in the sun, but it fades when you come back to the rain. Your callused feet eventually get back to normal after a marathon. Ids do not decide for the long term and build that body—they review the situation every new day. Start tomorrow with two thousand calories of nutritious, plain food, and your body will notice.

I was non-homeostatic for ten years and I think I recovered in about three.


I hope you have enjoyed these extracts. To read the complete story about how Jane defines the three easy-to-follow principles of Xtensity™ and uses them to get slim, and how Faith disagrees…you can order the book now from


Why 5% of Dieters Succeed

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