I Can Make You Thin – Oh, Really?

In the first few minutes of the first episode of the series, I learned why Paul McKenna is one of Britain’s top self-help experts: the guy I watched the show with did not leave the room when he heard it was a diet show, and he even stayed awake as McKenna enthusiastically presented his first four rules to reprogram his audience to eat like thin people. Yes, finally there’s a diet show geared to MEN. That’s because neuro-linguistic programming is science, not hype – or, at least, it sounds a lot like science – and men relate much better to science than to the anguish of not being able to fit into the shirt they outgrew 20 pounds ago.

In the opening episode of I Can Make You Thin, McKenna revealed his four simple rules to reprogram the way you eat. These include:

  1. When you’re hungry, eat.
  2. Eat what you want, not what you think you should.
  3. Eat consciously and enjoy every mouthful.
  4. When you think you’re full, stop eating.

Of course, there was more to the hour than just that. There were testimonials that his method works. There was a couple the series intends to follow over the next few weeks. They’re preparing for their wedding — her wanting to get into the wedding dress, him needing to lose about 200 pounds so he can live long enough for the raging fires of love to fade to a slow burn. But the rules are what really matter.

Take rule #1. What precisely is hunger and wouldn’t be hunger is different for size 16 me than for that 450-lb. bridegroom, or for my 80-lb. friend who will come over and say “I was so busy I forgot to eat all day.” Forgot to eat? What an alien concept! No fear, McKenna does have a hunger scale that ranges from “ate so much you felt nauseous” to “shaking from lack of food,” which does help narrow the hunger spectrum somewhat.

Then there’s rule #2 – eat what you want because what’s forbidden becomes more tantalizing. But McKenna goes one step beyond that, asking the audience to purge their pantries of food they do not like and stocking up on their five favorite foods. That means I would end up with bags of sugar-free Dove chocolate truffles, those skinny French green beans they sell at Trader Joe’s, sweet potatoes, steak and lemon meringue pie. Not that unbalanced, but the guy watching with me perked up at the thought of whittling down his grocery list to just peanut butter, white bread, milk, canned spinach and Oreos. So I’d bend that rule just a bit and throw out everything I don’t like to eat if I hadn’t already decided that life is too short for rice cakes and soy nuts.

Rule #3 is the most interesting because eating consciously is difficult in a world devoted to multitasking. Consider: Have you ever eaten a cookie then wondered what kind it was? Have you ever thought, “That might have been good. I guess I’ll have another and see for sure.” To aid in eating consciously, McKenna wants you to eat with no distractions and to put down your knife and fork between bites rather than just shovel the food in. Eating like this leads directly to the next rule.

Rule #4 is designed to tune you in to what your stomach is really saying — beyond, of course, “I have taken over your body, yield to my every demand no matter how saturated with trans fat it may be.” To help learn to listen to your body, McKenna suggests you try eating at least one meal blindfolded or with your eyes closed (presumably while wearing a bib). I’m not keen on that last idea, but I have tried eating those sugar-free truffles and those skinny green beans with my eyes closed and they do taste far more interesting.

I first noted this particular rule long before McKenna uttered it. I was at a friend’s house and she offered me a piece of cake. As always, I inhaled it (what you did not taste has no calories), then watched her slowly take two bites of her piece, start talking and forget to finish. A half hour later, she said she didn’t like it and threw the rest of it away while I gaped, aghast at her behavior and fighting the urge to dive into the trashcan after it.

Since her parents are overweight, I asked where she learned to eat that way. Her comment, “I grew up in a house where there were always lots of snacks and sweets. I saw how my mother looked and I decided that I would never be like her.” And so she taught herself to eat like a thin person — and how she ate is what she became.

So it’s all about baby steps, my calorie-plagued friends, baby steps. If you grew up a member of the Clean Plate Club — and it’s a hard habit to break — try leaving the excess frosting, the dry cake bottom, a single less-than-perfect strawberry. Empowerment – it’s a wonderful feeling.