Dexters diary

July 1. 154.2 pounds. Here I go, and this time I'm going to succeed. I'd better—I've told everybody at the office I'm going on a diet, and if I don't slim down this time they'll rib me all the way 'till Christmas. So, farewell indulgence, hello Dexter's Slimming Summer.

July 2. 153.8 lbs. All right! One day, almost half a pound! I'm already ahead of schedule. At this rate____

July 3. 157.1 lbs. Woe is me. Last night I got up, went into the pantry, and just looked at the popcorn jar. That's all. And today I woke up three pounds heavier than when I started to diet. My stomach is growling, my soul is bruised, and my weight is up. Good night.

July 4. 156.5 lbs. Some glorious Fourth. Well, at least the porkometer is down from yesterday. But it would be amusing if I could get back below where I started this diet, wouldn't it?

July 5. 151.8 lbs. Oh frabjous day, the diet is finally kicking in. Four pounds less, more than two below where I started! I shall not conclude the onion ring I swiped from yon Cassius at dinner had anything to do with it. Onward!

July 10. 153.2 lbs. Stuck on this pesky plateau. Still, I guess it's better to be stuck below where I started than spiraling upward toward Chandrasekhar's limit.

July 11. 155.6 lbs. One measly bowl of sauerkraut at bedtime, for the sake of Almighty Bob! I mean, every diet book says that stuff has fewer calories than sawdust, but boom!—here I am, almost two weeks into this cruel torture ritual, still two pounds above where I started. If it weren't so late and I weren't so tired I'd go make a double scoop sundae and chuck this damnable diet.

July 12. 151.7 lbs. Well, that's interesting. Yesterday must have been a blip. Either that, or maybe panic and depression is what really causes me to lose weight.

August 5. 149.1 lbs. Gosh, has it been three weeks? Well, not very interesting weeks, anyway. The occasional new low, but basically I'm stuck in an up and down cycle that's running about a week long. Maybe my body has adapted to this diet and I'll go on being hungry forever and never lose another pound. There's a cheerful thought.

August 9. 142.9 lbs. Maybe there's justice in the universe after all. One hundred and forty-three pounds. . . I've done it! Now, if I just stay here this diet is history!

August 10. 144.6 lbs. Up one and a quarter. Diet history doesn't lie in this direction.

August 11. 147.8 lbs. Is my life some kind of cruel experiment to see if somebody can never get a single break, or what? Shit in a sugar cone! I've eaten nothing: nothing extra, and I pack on five pounds in two days? I

weighed less than this almost three weeks ago. Why go on?

August 12. 148.3 lbs. Truly marvelous. Up another half pound.

August 14. 146.7 lbs. At least it's lower today.

August 19. 142.9 lbs. Well, maybe this has finally paid off. I seem to have settled down below my goal of 144 pounds at last. These new clothes feel great, and for the first time in two years I don't feel like a fatty.

August 20. 142.3 lbs. Beach party! Had a wonderful time. What a joy to have a hot dog with mustard and relish and not worry about my weight!

August 21. 146.2 lbs. Up four pounds in one day. I'm sure I didn't eat any sand. I don't relish the prospect of a life without hot dogs.

Dexter deceived

Examining Dexter's weight chart and diary evokes memories of similar times of triumph and days of despair in anybody who has dieted. Dexter exulted with each new low on the scale, while fearing it wouldn't last. He grew depressed as weight plateaus extended from days into weeks. His spirits rose and fell with the daily readings on the scale. When a month's progress was seemingly erased in a single day, a part of Dexter's joy in life withered and died.

Yet despite the ups and downs of the scale and the emotional battering they administered to Dexter, his diet worked perfectly, achieving precisely the result he intended in the anticipated time. Dexter was deceived by his scale. It didn't measure what he cared about: pounds of fat. Instead, the changes in daily weight reflected primarily what happened to be in the rubber bag at the instant it was weighed.

The detailed picture of what goes in and out of the rubber bag on page 53 explains why daily weight measurements have so little to do with how fat you really are. Dexter went on a two month diet to lose 10 pounds. And yet every single day, on average, a total of 13.5 pounds of food, air, and water went into Dexter's rubber bag, and a comparable amount went out. His daily weight loss during the diet was less than one fifth of a pound per day, yet each and every day almost 80 times that weight passed through his body!

If the body consumed and disposed of these substances on a rigid schedule, maintaining a precise balance at all times, weight would be consistent from day to day. But that is not the way of biological systems. A few salty potato chips are enough to cause the body to crave, drink, and retain a much larger amount of water to dilute the extra salt. The body's internal water balance varies widely over the day and from day to day. Since water accounts for three quarters of everything that goes into and out of the rubber bag, it dominates all other components of weight on the scale.

Every morning, when Dexter stepped on the scale, it's as if he carried, unknowingly, a water tank filled to an unknowable level by a mischievous elf, put there to confound his attempt to track the progress of his diet. If

Dexter's scale had been able to disregard the extraneous day to day changes in weight, it would have produced a graph like this.

Shortly after Dexter began his diet, he started to lose weight. He continued to lose until he declared the diet successful in the third week of August, after which his weight leveled off at the goal of 145 pounds. Imagine how calm and confident Dexter's diary would have been if he'd plotted this curve instead of daily weight.

By relying solely on daily weights from his scale, Dexter endured two months of unnecessary suffering. His diet worked, as was inevitable from a simple calculation based on the rubber bag, but the day to day weight readings obscured his steady progress. An eat watch would have assured Dexter he was on the right course and making steady progress toward the goal. The scale seems, by comparison, a modern instrument of psychological torture, an engine of confusion and despair. Can it be made to tell the truth?

Dexter's discovery

You've seen the daily weight chart on page 96 that so exasperated Dexter. You've seen, above, the graph of Dexter's actual weight after correcting for all the variations caused by the momentary contents of the rubber bag. Consider this graph. The solid line is Dexter's true weight and the dashed line is produced by applying a simple mathematical procedure to the weight numbers from the scale, those foul figures that so vexed Dexter as he dieted.

Hidden all along among the random day-to-day variations in weight was what really mattered to Dexter: how much fat his body packed. All the despair, all the premature hope and subsequent betrayal could have been avoided had Dexter only known how to extract the truth about his body from the numbers on the scale.

We shall now learn how to do this.

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