Want to hear my latest weirdo approach to diet? Probably you do, out of morbid curiosity at least. My goal in concocting this was to implement something a bit like intermittent fasting as a weight management strategy, and also to nudge my eating in a healthier direction. Also I like alliteration.
More to the point, I really thrive on bright lines. This is absolutely not the optimally healthy diet, but it’s my attempt to solve my own optimization problem. Namely, how to eat as much ice cream / cookies / curry as possible with minimal impact to my health! For many people it’s a no-brainer: health is way more important so eat dessert only if it’s someone’s birthday or something. I don’t want to be that austere. So how far can I push it before health effects are non-negligible? Any answers involving being reasonable about portion sizes or focusing on veggies or trying to have more balance or whatever are all waaaay too squishy for me. I need it totally concrete.
Before I describe the diet, a quick warning. Everyone I’ve explained this to has been appalled and disgusted.  I do appreciate the counterarguments, starting with the fact that diets never work. I think that’s true in the sense that if you “go on a diet” to lose weight and then you stop the diet, you will gain all the weight back and more. My answer is that you don’t ever stop. If this isn’t something you can see doing for the rest of your life, don’t do it. Which may make it sound all the more crazypants.
I don’t think it’s quite as weird as it sounds though. It involves three or four days a week of restricting calories in various ways, with one day having strict rules to maximize healthiness, another day when I just try to be reasonable, and one day as a so-called cheat day.
(Also it’s a bit similar to Ramadan, which, Happy Ramadan!)
For a more normal-person-compatible eating guide, I still recommend Kevin McGowan’s guest post, Food Habits, from the early days of the Beeminder blog. Or, more comprehensively, the Melzafit Blog. We also have dozens of other posts tagged weight-loss. But without (yet) further ado, here are my weirdo rules:
- Mono-Meal Mondays: no calories except at dinner
- Tumescent Tuesdays: cheat day, sometimes implemented as Take-Out Tuesdays
- Waste-Away Wednesdays: fast for more than 24 hours
- Themeless Thursdays: be a normal human for once and eat reasonably with no hard rules
- Fitness Fridays: eat only as many calories as you burn exercising
- Salubrious Saturdays: no simple carbs or anything with more saturated fat than olive oil
- Social Sundays: only eat when eaten to
Starting with Mono-Meal Monday, apparently this is a common thing in the intermittent fasting (IF) community where they call it One Meal A Day (OMAD). I’ve done enough intermittent fasting that just not eating any calories till dinner hardly fazes me. In case of ambiguity about what counts as “a meal”, I use a one-hour calorie window. My first calorie of the day starts an hour countdown till my last calorie of the day. (In case there’s not ambiguity, like eating at a restaurant where that’s definitely one meal regardless of how long it takes, I don’t worry about the countdown.)
That brings us to Tumescent Tuesday. Cheat days are commonly recommended by the diet industry, not that you should generally listen to the diet industry. And maybe they’re mostly recommended when you’re being very strict the other six days of the week? In any case, the concept makes sense to me. Eating whatever the heck you feel like sometimes is nice.
For Waste-Away Wednesdays I have zero calories starting from whenever I stop stuffing my face Tuesday night (midnight at the latest) until the next midnight at the earliest. Mostly I consider it cheating to start eating Wednesday night, even if after midnight. So this is typically a 36-hour fast.
Themeless Thursdays are self-explanatory.
Fitness Fridays, with only replacing calories you burn during exercise, are fairly similar to fasting. You might wonder if Waste-Away Wednesdays should also have the exception that you can eat calories to replace whatever you may burn exercising. I generally don’t because I seem to do fine exercising while fasting. But I seem to not be typical in that regard! I do make compromises if I perceive a genuine health concern. Like the time a Half Dome hike fell on a Wednesday and I dutifully fasted throughout the hike — which was fairly excruciating — but then decided it was prudent to eat dinner. To keep myself from sliding down slippery slopes, I have the personal rule that I discuss and justify any deviations with other humans.
Next, Salubrious Saturdays. I originally named this “Strictly Salutary Sustenance Saturdays” and now I call it Salubriday for short. The idea is to eat the healthiest possible diet, and anything you overindulge in on other days, disallow it altogether on Salubridays. For me that’s (1) no simple carbs, which rules out any desserts, at least any that I’d want to eat, and any white starchy food like rice or pasta or potatoes, and (2) nothing with more saturated fat than olive oil, which rules out dairy and most meat and coconut oil.
Finally, Social Sundays. The idea of “only eat when eaten to” (Bee’s coinage) was something we came up with for not gaining weight on family vacations. It means no constraints for social eating but any time there isn’t social eating you just fast. I realize that for many people this would ruin a vacation. For me it absolutely maximizes my vacational utility by minimizing time spent on something non-integral to the vacation. I am very weird, as the entire concept of themed eating days must have already made abundantly clear. 
Ok, let me take some questions before you explode with indignation.
Don’t cheat days defeat the whole thing?
They could if you “cheat” hard enough. Like eating so much on Tumescent Tuesday that despite following that with Waste-Away Wednesday, you’ve eaten more over those two days than you would’ve normally. But I don’t think I manage to do that even if I try. You can certainly undo a lot of the fasting via the cheat windows. Still, it’s better than nothing. And I can always tighten down the rules, add more rules, or add more Beeminder goals if the cheat windows are too big. I do like the cheat windows. I’d nix them if necessary but it’s not been necessary.
Is this compatible with a social life?
You’re asking the wrong person? No, I think it is. I allow for swapping days , or making other adjustments as long as I discuss them with my family. With three days per week (Tumescent Tuesday, Themeless Thursday, and Social Sunday) that are definitionally fully compatible with all social plans, this seems to be a non-issue. Even Mono-Meal Monday and Fitness Friday wouldn’t typically be incompatible with social plans. So mainly it’s Waste-Away Wednesday and Salubriday that are socially constraining. But again, just swap the days around. If you have a dinner party on Saturday, swap Salubriday with Social Sunday.
For Social Sunday / only-eat-when-eaten-to, can you invite other people to dinner? What about grazing at a buffet table?
If inviting people to dinner has social value then I figure themed eating shouldn’t impinge on that. As long as I do it because it’s what’s socially optimal, not as an excuse to eat, I consider it kosher for Social Sunday.
As for grazing, ideally only-eat-when-eaten-to means I think of myself as a robot who has no interest in food but also I emulate a human and so will eat whenever it would be weird not to. Which would preclude grazing. In practice I do a bad job of that because I totally do jump on the social excuse to graze at a buffet table and am liable to abuse the crap out of that loophole and stuff myself. But arguably that’s still ok overall. After all, other times I’m fasting.
So my current rule is that I can go crazy on Social Sundays with any eating that it’s fair to classify as social. But mostly it would feel like cheating to be the one to suggest it.
Doesn’t fasting lead to binging?
This is a good warning. Mostly I defer to the endless resources on Intermittent Fasting here. Personally, I may overeat after fasting but it’s net-positive for me.
My general take on Intermittent Fasting is that it’s generally healthy and helpful for not gaining weight and has no real downsides other than the ones that will be obvious if you just try it. So if it doesn’t make you hangry or binge on junk food when the fasts are over or anything — and you don’t have a medical reason not to — you should totally do it. (Which is not to say it’s the most important thing you can do or that you should do only that.)
What about just, y’know, having a healthy relationship with food? Like Themeless Thursday every day.
Oh, yes, this is extremely correct. If you do Themeless Thursdays every day and you’re happy with your shape, then, actually I’m confused as to why you’ve read this far. The impetus for all this for me is to eat less and eat healthier. This system induces me to do that.
I see how bizarre this all must sound if you don’t have the problem this aims to solve. But I think “just have a healthy relationship with food” is about as helpful as “just don’t procrastinate”. There’s no silver bullet, there’s just elaborate incentive engineering.
If you do have a silver bullet, or even some less-precious-metal bullet, by all means, do let me know. I’m probably game to try it!
Rather than all this nonsense, can you identify the root causes? I.e., why, for the love of God, why?
Asking why I need this to maintain my weight seems like asking why I need a speedometer in my car to keep from speeding. I grant that some people have a nice intuitive feel for safe speeds and don’t need speedometers. Others need strict rules and bright lines. “This is the speed limit — just stay under it.”
But to answer more directly about root causes, it’s that if I eat whatever I feel like then my weight goes up. I haven’t tested how far it would go but it’s wholly unambiguous that it would go arbitrarily far.
It’s possible that there’s a more fundamental root cause, like my hunger mechanism is broken due to nutrient deficiencies. Perhaps with a set of do-more goals on Beeminder for vegetables and other healthy food, I would find that I could trust my gut, so to speak, about whatever else to eat.
If that has worked for you, I’d love to hear about it!
 UPDATE: This seems to not be the case for this actually-published version. Phew. Thanks again to everyone who read drafts and helped make it less appalling-sounding! Also, one person has pointed out that they’re a counterexample to the claim that everyone who read a draft was appalled/disgusted. But it’s the epitome of the exception that proves the rule. (It was my mother. Thanks, mom!)
 I better include a footnote about how disordered this sounds. I gather that even without being underweight or vomiting or anything else manifestly physically unhealthy, it’s possible to do psychological self-harm via eating habits. I don’t personally relate to that and there’s no ambiguity that for me personally, the risk of becoming overweight is greater. But! The fact that I don’t understand and don’t relate suggests some general caution. Consult your doctor, etc. And don’t listen to crazy diet advice on the internet, least of all mine.
From my own perspective it’s exceedingly clear that I don’t have any kind of food-related mental illness but WHAT IF THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THE MENTAL ILLNESS MAKES ME THINK?
(I really honestly assign negligible probability to me having a mental disorder that is making me assign negligible probability to itself but on sheer principle I have committed to using some trusted friends’ assessment of such instead of my own. Fortunately they agree with my assessment. Sweat-smile-emoji!)
 “Just allow swapping” seemed simple enough. But then… One weekend we had people over on Saturday so I swapped Salubrious Saturday with Social Sunday. So far so good. Then on Sunday we did a bike (skeddle) tour and THEY HAD A CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN AT THE FINISH LINE. So I was like “I’ll just swap today’s Salubriday with Tumescent Tuesday”. But that’s swapping an already swapped day which sounds like a pretty slippery slope. So Faire and Bee and I worked out a reasonably principled system that allows arguably as much swapping around as possible without letting the system fall apart. It was surprisingly confusing! At one point we had something that seemed workable and then Faire demonstrated how it allowed for having Tumescent Tuesdays all week long. (That is an extremely sharp kid.) Here’s what we finally came up with:
First, being “caught up” means that I’ve done the exact correct number of Mono-Meal Mondays, Tumescent Tuesdays, Waste-Away Wednesdays, Themeless Thursdays, Fitness Fridays, Salubridays, and Social Sundays. I may have swapped things around but all such swaps are in the past. Everything adds up and the books are balanced.
The main rule is that any time I’m caught up, I can permute the upcoming 7 days any way I want. I can keep swapping around within those 7 days but never beyond 7 days from when I was last caught up.
For example, say I’m fully caught up as of Tuesday night and now it’s Wednesday and I’m like, “I would rather have another Tumescent Tuesday”. No problem! Tuesday is 6 days away so I can swap it and have a Tumescent Wednesday. Then I have a Themeless Thursday and a Fitness Friday and then on Saturday I’m like, “salubriousness is no fun; let’s have a social eating day”. Still no problem! I’m still swapping things within the 7 days from when I was last caught up. So I have Social Saturday and Salubrious Sunday, then Mono-Meal Monday. Now it’s the last day, Tuesday, but I already did my tumescent day so there’s no choice but to use the only theme left, so Waste-Away Tuesday it is. At that point all the swaps are complete and I’m caught up again.
Of course now it’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to fast for what will now be two days in a row. So probably it wasn’t a good idea to borrow the next Tumescent Tuesday the day after just having had a Tumescent Tuesday!
So in theory I could back myself into corners but in practice I haven’t. A stricter and simpler version would be that the week always starts on Monday and swapping can only happen within a standard Monday-through-Sunday week. If it’s Sunday I never have any flexibility — that’s the last day of the week so no more swapping. Based on my weight graph so far, I can afford the flexibility but if hewing to the bright red line gets harder, I plan to adjust the flexibility  accordingly.
- Amount of flexibility with swapping days. 
- Duration of the window for counting as a single meal on Mono-Meal Mondays.
- Whether Waste-Away Wednesday ends at midnight vs the next morning?
- Whether Themeless Thursday wants some rules to keep from sliding into being another Tumescent Tuesday, even though adding rules would make Themeless Thursday a misnomer.
- How to measure burned calories for Fitness Friday: whether anything above basal metabolic rate (like walking around or being stressed or bouncing my leg while working) counts or just actual workouts. UPDATE: Or laxer, count all burned calories including BMR.
- The exact rules for what’s kosher for Salubriday. UPDATE: I’m going with “no more saturated fat than nuts” rather than olive oil. This mainly excludes eggs and dairy and land animal meat.
- For Social Sunday, where to be on the spectrum from “eat the bare minimum to avoid social awkwardness” to “as long as other people are eating with you, it’s a free-for-all”.
So far for me personally it seems to work to set all of those to maximum leniency.
Thanks to David Yang and others in the Beeminder community Discord (@poisson and @Mad especially) for several of the questions above, which they were polite enough to not phrase that incredulously. Thanks also to Melanie Reeves Wicklow, Laurie Kalkman Reeves, Faire Soule-Reeves, Cantor Soule-Reeves, and Christopher Moravec for helping me hone the system. Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves.