Weight Loss Success Factor: Read the Prologue

Have you read the prologue? Reading the prologue to the book “Half My Size with The Ridiculously Big Salad” IS a success factor in the Eat Like a Bear community, helping to create a mindset of success. We have a growing and impressive list of 100+ pound weight loss cases in the community, in part due to the brass tacks, white-knuckle grinding psychology behind this prologue.

There are no quick fixes.

Of all of the weight loss solutions that weight loss marketers are trying to sell you, nothing is as effective as the critical message that the actual effective solution is one you already have, and it is completely free of credit cards and monthly membership fees.

Have you read the prologue? There is no barrier today except a few minutes of your time, because I have pasted it right here for you.

No credit card required.

Prologue, December 2019

Way back, three years ago, when I was young and naive, and I thought weight loss diets were a bunch of baloney, as I was laid up on my couch, desperately wanting to hike with my sons when I could only just limp across my house, I scheduled an appointment with a bariatric surgeon and began the process to be approved for bariatric surgery, a surgery I would never have and that I no longer qualify for.

I was the surgeon’s ideal patient — I knew food, and I knew how to diet. I had the discipline to succeed, but I had not found the formula for losing weight. When I visited the surgeon in March 2017, I weighed in at 280 pounds (127 kg) of body weight and at 4,792 tons of desperation. The surgeon projected that I could reach 180 pounds (82 kg) with his gastric sleeve procedure, a loss of 100 pounds (45 kg), a weight at which I could walk across my house or even hike with my sons. In those dark, desperate days, I envisioned my future at 180 pounds. I would walk without limping. I was ready.

When I showed up at the surgeon’s office nearly two years later at 140 pounds (64 kg), having lost 40% more weight than he had projected, all on my own, the surgeon’s staff was astounded. Apparently not many patients of bariatric surgeons return two years later, half their size. In fact, in the final meeting I had with the nutritionist for the bariatric surgery, back before all of my weight loss, I asked if I risked losing so much weight that I would no longer qualify for the surgery. She looked directly into my eyes, shook her head left to right, and said, “No. As long as you have more than 40% body fat, you will qualify. You will not lose that much on your own.” The words seem unsupportive now, but she spoke them with such heart that I left her office with a glimmer of hope for my future.

As it would turn out, my schedule and the surgeon’s did not align for some months. My desperation was thereby channeled in an unexpected way, the basis of this book. I got started and somehow not only lost 40% more weight than promised with that bariatric surgery, I saved thousands of dollars in doing so. I ate more calories in the process, and my lifelong calorie and nutrition intake will be much higher. As a happy addition (as I flagrantly show in a video on YouTube), I do not have the skin sag that plagues bariatric patients, sometimes requiring tens of thousands of dollars in additional surgery and the accompanying surgery risk.

Those facts are mind-blowing in themselves, but the story really gets far better. In the spring of 2018, my friends and family started asking what I was doing and adopted my approach. My blood relatives who have struggled with weight have a pretty impressive success rate in implementing my way of eating: 100%. Each of us is now slimmer than we have been since we were 30 years old. About half of us are slimmer than we have ever been as adults. Frankly, as a family of fatties, we are pretty pleased with ourselves.

In the spring of 2018, a couple of ladies found me on Facebook and implemented my approach with success. They inspired me to start a little Facebook group called “Eat Like a Bear!,” a reference to a video I created on Facebook in the spring of 2018, a bit tongue-in-cheek, with no mindfulness of what was brewing at the time, a story I tell at the end of this book. The Eat Like a Bear! community began to grow, and I still did not appreciate that we had a very distinct and replicable approach to weight loss. I was hesitant in those early days to give people a specific framework of eating because I feel strongly that we each need to find our own way with food, and that a culture of food diversity is a winning strategy for any community. However, as the community grew, more people said to me: “I want to know exactly what you ate.”

In January 2019, Nancy nudged me further with this post to our Eat Like a Bear! community:
Amanda Rose is the Mama Bear. She lost 140 lbs doing one meal a day and intermittent fasting… She says to keep it simple. A giant salad, good fat, and a protein. The very inspirational and motivational speaker Tony Robbins said in some of his material to find someone who has been successful and mimic them. I highly recommend leaning on her testimony.”

Nancy had been in the community long enough to notice my “giant salad,” and I began to realize that the salad model was the most effective meal type for group members. It also happened that I ate salads about four out of five days during my period of intensive weight loss. I felt more urgency to communicate my “salad-eating,” and I began to show my actual salads in live videos on Facebook. Community members started making their own salads, and our success rates seemed to improve. I got more requests for a “salad recipe book,” a request I thought at first was ludicrous because, “Who really needs a salad recipe?” I was busy and overwhelmed by life at that moment but decided to set aside an entire week to write a salad e-book. I planned to beg or buy help from friends and get it done. For some reason instead, I started the process on my own, alone in my kitchen, replicating the experience of my most intensive period of weight loss, an eight-month period in which I lost 100 pounds.

That “one-week recipe project” turned into months as I deconstructed my salads, painstakingly recording recipes and the nutrient profiles of each. By about the third week, I doubled down on the project and outsourced none of the work, as I started to realize that this was not just a collection of salad recipes. I began to discover that what I ate all those months followed a distinct and highly replicable model, with elements we probably should not dismiss or take for granted, especially as people implement variations of this concept with a little less success.

As I started on The Ridiculously Big Salad book and actually worked on measuring ingredients and being more systematic and intentional with the recipes, I whipped up The Ridiculously Big Salad in my own kitchen and measured what was in it. I tell people that I ate 1,000-1,200 calories in my salads, but the truth is that I measure very seldom. I measured a few of the salads way back in the fall of 2017, and then I just stopped bothering. I got into a groove that worked, and I never looked back. As I worked on this book and began to measure once again, it was a painstaking chore for my non-recipe-measuring self, but it awoke the social scientist in me and my time working on my Ph.D., and the whole process actually blew me away.

In the process of measuring, I discovered something fascinating: my dressing recipes, in the quantities I actually ate on The Ridiculously Big Salad each day over those eight months, fell in the 450-550 calorie range. One was below the range at 300 calories, and one was above it at 900 calories. The high-calorie exception was the dressing for the cheeseburger salad, and it was an eye-opener for me. The dressing contained nearly two times the calories because I used all mayonnaise instead of half mayonnaise and half Greek yogurt. I immediately adapted the dressing, adding the plain Greek yogurt in place of half the mayonnaise.

I am sure that those extra calories in that one salad dressing did not make a big difference in my progress, but you can imagine if all of my dressings followed the “mayonnaise only” blueprint over all those months, I would not have made nearly the same amount of progress that I did. That dressing would have added about 450 calories to my daily meals, and I would have lost about four pounds (2 kg) fewer each month, losing probably about 65 pounds (30 kg) in eight months instead of the 100 pounds (45 kg) I managed to lose.

All those many months, my subconscious was creating salad dressings that fit a framework. In fact, the whole salad had a framework, and the framework was critical to my success.

Make no mistake: The Ridiculously Big Salad IS the reason I was able to capture these mind-blowing photos, one year apart, at the 45th parallel sign just north of Yellowstone National Park. This book is about The Ridiculously Big Salad, and I will show you how to build it for yourself, but first allow me to engage your mind in an important question: Where will you be in one year?

Amanda Rose and her son at the 45th Parallel sign north of Yellowstone National Park in August 2018, Amanda looking all trim at 140 pounds.

A Postcard from Yellowstone

“Life can change completely in one year,” I claim in a video I posted on Facebook in September 2018, “A Postcard from Yellowstone.” The video brought many people to the Eat Like a Bear! Facebook group, most of whom were women as desperate as I was in the 2017 version of the Yellowstone photo. Some of their stories appear in this book. You can find many more stories on the Internet. Before I introduce the stories, I will add that I do not believe that any of our photos or stories are anything exceptional. If you think we have something that you do not, some deep character trait which enabled us to succeed where you will fail, and if you happen to be a human reading this now, you are simply wrong. Let me explain.

In “A Postcard from Yellowstone,” I discuss the hopelessness we feel as older, life-long dieters, having tried diets over the years that only half-work and that are unsustainable. Have you ever considered what our experience in perpetual dieting failure does to our self-confidence? It is a formula for hopelessness, an experience with which far too many of us can relate.

Think about the preschooler who is given the little toy tool set that has a round peg, a triangular peg, and a square peg. She has a hammer, and she hammers the different pegs into the various holes of different shapes, learning her shapes by trial and error. While we might look at her little carpentry set and think she is just learning her shapes, she is also learning cause and effect and, more importantly, she learns that she can impact the world with her actions. She is learning self-confidence with a little wooden hammer and a set of geometric pegs, right there on a rug in preschool. As she grows up and tries to impact her world with her choices and actions, what does she learn with her first dieting failure? How about her second?

Low fat? Vegan? Atkins? Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.
High fat? Macrobiotic? Medifast? Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.
South Beach? Cabbage Soup? Grapefruit? Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.
Weight Watchers? SlimFast? Coconut oil? Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.

What if we were locked into some sort of hellish, fiery, Sisyphean preschool with that carpentry tool, with no peg that quite fit, hammering away, wearing our ineptitude around preschool like a giant fat suit? If the preschool carpentry set teaches us self-confidence, what are we taught in that fiery pit?

We have lived for decades watching our self-confidence erode under society’s judgement of our fat bodies and under our own inability to effect change in our physical selves. As our confidence erodes and our hopelessness creeps in, we are perceived to be out of control, weak, fat, and lazy. Do not underestimate the seriousness of this situation: In mental health research, hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. We have lived for years hammering away, increasingly desperate for change and increasingly hopeless that we have any control at all. The judgment from others we feel increases. We get fatter. We feel weak and out of control because, in fact, everyone around us thinks we are.

Sure, the food we are eating or the alcohol we are drinking contributes to our ever-enlarging fat suit. Why do we make such bad decisions deep down in that fiery pit? Let us think about the psychology of our decisions from the point of view of someone who has always been fat. I might look at a cocktail, as I sit there fat, and recognize intellectually that I could guzzle the cocktail and gain a half pound of fat overnight. Do I drink it? If I do not drink the cocktail, I am fat. If I drink the cocktail, I am fatter. I sit in a fiery pit looking at something that will bring me immediate comfort, be it a cocktail, a bag of chips, a cookie, or all of the above, and my choice set is “fat or fatter?” What do I decide to do? Do I drink the cocktail? As a person with extensive field research on this particular topic, the answer is so obvious that I do not consider it to be a real question.

When the choice set is “trim or fat?,” your whole calculus changes, a change I can only report from here on the other side, a choice I found unexpectedly at the age of 49. Cocktails are excessive, life-sucking contrivances when your actual choice set is “trim or fat?”

Absolutely, our actions matter, but when we are stuck in a pit of despair and hopelessness, the psychology of our choices is warped by the lack of tools available to us and by the pain of our own experience.

When we are limping around or immobile due to knee and hip injuries, when we have feet so swollen from congestive heart failure that they do not even look like feet, or when we have nerve pain from diabetic neuropathy and fear losing our limbs, hopelessness can take deep root in our souls, especially if we have learned over many decades that weight loss diets do not work. We find ourselves laid up and fat, desperate for any lifeline at all, but all too often, too hopeless to find the lifeline. The fact that we can even live to this point of desperation is a testament to our strength, not our weakness.

If any of this story resonates with you at all, you are actually stronger than you think you are. We are survivors of a painful life experience and act from an instinct to survive, not from weakness, lack of discipline, or inherent laziness. Your strength is there even if your path out is clouded by pain and despair.

The focus and strength I see every day in the Eat Like a Bear! community is the stuff of primal survival, an actual biological urge to live, not any special character trait. Biology drives us to apply the discipline to save ourselves, once we set aside the lifelong message that we cannot control our own weight and that dieting does not work.

After decades of learning that we have little control over our weight, I do not expect you to unlearn that message with any words I write in this book. My goal is for you to set the message aside long enough to test the method I describe. I have a peg right here, and it continues to amaze me how many of us have been missing it all these years.

Every single day in our community, I see people picking up that hammer and pounding on that peg like conditioned Olympic athletes, and changing their lives completely, launching themselves right out of that fiery pit. It is the stuff of primal survival, and it is powerful.

I say often that the oxygen of our community is our desperation, and it should not be a surprise that the Eat Like a Bear! community stands out in its ability to lose a whole lot of weight. I have lost far more than I ever imagined possible, and the reason is partly trite ¬– the diet works – but I am going to tell you a story anyway, because I get a lot of comments from naysayers that my success is fueled by some superhuman character trait that I happen to possess and that they do not. As I mentioned above, I expect that character plays a very small role in the story of our community.

We are losing a whole lot of weight, getting through the very long grind of weight loss like we have never been able to before, not because of our character, but because we are simply fueled by our own success. It was the case with me, and I witness it daily in our community. There is always a life-changing moment of clarity, and mine was in November 2017. I had lost 20 pounds (9 kg) to be approved for bariatric surgery but had then lost nearly 50 pounds (23 kg) more by that November day. I was down to about 210 pounds (95 kg).

It was an autumn day, and the weather was changing here in my home in California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument. I headed out for a walk on our mountain road, one that I have walked since 1982. The oak leaves were falling and rustling on the ground, and new winter grasses were starting to sprout, as they had for 35 years. I had not walked on the road for eleven months, due to a knee injury. Getting out in such a familiar place with its forest aromas was wonderfully comforting and familiar. It was delightful, and I probably should have been ready for what happened next, but I was taken by surprise. As I was taking it all in and basking in the total physical experience of walking in nature, about 200 yards (180 meters) in I came to a stop, and I stood there, looking and listening. I walked for another 30 yards (27 meters), and I slowed again, looking and listening. I stood there on that November day, at first almost perplexed because I had not considered what might happen out on that walk. The total physical experience of that walk was completely different, and it was not because the leaves were out of season, or because the vulture migration was six weeks behind, or because some wildfire left a scar on the land. The difference was me, and it blew my mind. The total physical experience of that November 2017 walk was completely different because I was completely different. I was “only” down 70 pounds (32 kg), but those 70 pounds changed my life. My entire physical experience was simply changed. That was the moment I knew I would not be getting bariatric surgery, and it is the moment I consider to be the greatest success of my life.

I ask in “The Postcard from Yellowstone” how much life can change in one year, but the raw fact is that my life changed completely in three months, by November 2017, at 210 pounds (95 kg). I did not need to be a trimmer 140 pounds (63 kg) to be successful, 30 pounds (14 kg) below my lowest adult weight. Way back in November 2017, at 210 pounds, I won, right out there on that mountain road.

Why did I not stop there? People ask how I got through the long grind and, it is true, I certainly could have stopped. Why did I not? I had trained my entire life for that moment. It simply never occurred to me to stop.
Why are members of the Eat Like a Bear! community apparently far more likely to grind their way down to their high school weights, at the ripe ages of 50, 60, 70, and 80? We have trained our entire lives for this moment.

Transform

There was something deeper happening, as well, in the fall of 2017. When you are beaten up and haggard over all of the decades, wielding that hammer and trying to maintain even a tiny sliver of self-confidence, grasping for every little bit of hope, and then your actions actually start to have an impact, your inside is transformed at least as much as your outside. I found myself more competent and bold every day. I could feel that internal power growing as those months passed.

In the Eat Like a Bear! community, the tagline is “No surgery, no drugs, no special branded products. Required: Your own bootstraps.” You might think it is simply because I do not want to run around selling a bunch of junk that only half works, and that is certainly true. However, my core reason for the tagline is this: If you can launch yourself out of the fiery pit, on your own strength, your internal transformation is likely to be far more powerful than what you can contemplate at this moment. Like a rock transformed by fire and pressure, you are metamorphosed. No pharmaceutical or supplement will ever be as effective as will be your own actions if you simply keep your head down and focus. Do not overlook the benefit of going without them. Let’s not let drugs or branded “diet accelerator products” take from us the personal growth that awaits.

For me, this internal transformation is unexpected and, as I have used the hammer and peg analogy with psychologists and describe my transformation, it makes perfect sense, but it took some real field research down in that fiery pit to report back on my findings to the mental health profession. When I get this far into the discussion, they have not asked, “How are you able to maintain your weight this time?” Back in the surgeon’s office in 2017, maintaining my weight loss was my core concern, as it should have been. I still think about it every single day, as a discipline primarily, but I do not worry that I will be 280 pounds (127 kg) (or more) again. I am simply not the same person that I was in March 2017 when I sat in that bariatric surgeon’s office. The process of losing 140 pounds (64 kg), of keeping my head down and grinding for months, not only instilled in me new habits, but it has transformed me completely. This point is not lost on the psychologists.

Why does the Eat Like a Bear! community have some of the most powerful emerging weight loss cases in the most unexpected demographic: older women? You simply cannot launch yourself out of the fiery pit without going through a powerful personal transformation. We have brand new people emerging in our community, transformed by fire and pressure, metamorphosed, and unexpectedly, ridiculously successful. I think about them as I write this book and blast my secret theme song (which I whisper to you here: Queen’s “Under Pressure”). As I reflect on what is happening in our community, I am not surprised that it is our members who start in some of the deepest places in that fiery pit who I see hammering their way to a new life, right past our members who have “only” a couple of pants sizes to lose. Extreme heat and pressure transform solid rock, and apparently people, too. The more intense the heat and the stronger the pressure, the more likely is the complete metamorphosis. You will find these members in the community watching for your arrival because they “get it” like no one else ever will.

Launch

Nearly every day someone says to me, “I am not you. I cannot do it.” As I see it, if you look around yourself and see a pit of fire, you need nothing else to make this work. If you could teleport yourself to March 2017, I might look a lot like you do now. I am not the same “me” today as I was when I was down in that pit. Do not look at my confidence as the cause of my success. It is, rather, the result.

The strength that I mustered in those very early days to wield that hammer one more time came from desperation and the primal urge to survive. It is what I consider to be the “oxygen” of the Eat Like a Bear! community. Desperation is simply our biggest success factor. Once we get past the long-learned message that “No, we can’t” and see that when it works, it works big, our biological drive to thrive kicks in, and the momentum builds. That is what happened to me in November 2017, and I see it every day in our community. Some of us take a step outside, sometimes for the first time in a very long time, and we take an actual walk out in the fresh air with our feet on the earth. We might even find ourselves barefoot out there, as our declining body weight puts less pressure on every square centimeter of our haggard feet, allowing us to feel the earth between our toes without pain, walking, barefooted, for the first time in many years. Transformed. Barefooted. BearFooted.

The Community

Our community is filled with amazing stories, and I highlight just a few here, primarily to get you to seek out others.

Shelley joined the group on the very first day, July 9, 2018. She was also the first active and official member to lose 100 pounds (45 kg). Shelley helped forge the “bear” culture of the group, early on posting bear graphics and memes that were affirming and highly connected to the group members. Shelley was then tested a few months later by a major family crisis. She moved from rapid weight-loss mode to a maintenance phase. She made it through a stressful stint, in maintenance, until she was ready to focus more and lose more weight. By spring of 2019 she hit the century-down mark and celebrated with a 5K walk. She did so in the midst ofa ongoing family stresses, the type that hit most of us and that make the weight struggle even more difficult. She has lost over 130 pounds (59 kg) as I write this and is organizing community members to join her next spring for another 5K. She has not hit her maintenance weight (and, like many of us, may not even know what that weight is), but her life has completely changed. She is no longer pre-diabetic. She is off three blood pressure medications as well as medications for asthma and anxiety.

Shelley, standing in her Eat Like a Bear "crazy bears" shirt, half her size at 160 pounds.

Maria found the group in January 2019 via the video “A Postcard from Yellowstone.” She is well-known in the group because she has posted a weekly photo of her progress, each week displaying her “before” photo alongside her “progress” photo. Every single week, her photos pop out of the screen, increasingly filled with fire and charisma as her life changed. She is now down over 120 pounds (54 kg) and in maintenance.

Maria’s story is interesting because she studied my approach and structured a personalized plan, one more systematic than I implemented. In fact, I told her that her approach is very much what I might have done had I followed a specific model way back when. Her model is highly regimented, strict, and effective. Each week, she implemented an extended water fast of 72 hours from Saturday afternoon until Tuesday. Tuesday through Friday she ate one meal a day, often The Ridiculously Big Salad, and Saturday she joined her husband for meals and ate a bit more, albeit always ketogenic food. In doing so, Maria hit the 100-pound (45 kg) loss mark in just seven months.

I was able to meet Maria in person, and what struck me in speaking to her was that she had formed a strong habit of that weekly 72-hour fast. Even entering maintenance, she planned to continue it because it had simply become a part of her life. It was that discussion with Maria that made me appreciate the power of habit in a deeper way. I actually felt a bit jealous that I had not mindfully crafted such a specific structure for myself.

Maria, half her size, at about 128 pounds, standing in front of a red motor cycle wearing black leather pants and a black leather jacket.

Of the many other people in the community, I would be remiss not to mention those who are especially dear to my heart because of their progress with Type 2 diabetes. I write to you from California’s diabetes and obesity capital. My own great grandmother and great uncle both died as double amputees due to complications from diabetes.
Two of the moms from my local school community are early adopters in the Eat Like a Bear! community. In fact, Anna is known as “Bear #2” because she is the very first person in my life to ask what I was doing and follow my lead. I was only down about 70 pounds (32 kg) at that time, and Anna was feeling a bit desperate because she was facing medication for diabetes and has a family tree completely filled with complicated cases. It was sometime in late October that she asked me about it. I received an excited text message from her over the Christmas holiday season, telling me she no longer needed the diabetes medication. She has lost about 40 pounds (18 kg) and looks radiant. Her family noticed, and many have followed her lead, as have friends and other moms at school.

Anna, down about 40 pounds, looking happy and fabulous.

In Anna’s excitement, she talked to another school mom, Lisa, a Type 2 diabetes case, with neuropathy in her feet at only 50 years old. In response to Anna’s testimony, Lisa implemented the plan and, like many people in the group, has improved her hemoglobin A1c level, is off all medications, and has improved feeling in her feet. She has lost 30 pounds (14 kg) and changed her health completely.
Located in California’s diabetes capital, we hope many people follow Anna and Lisa’s lead.

Not to be outdone, across the country in central Pennsylvania is Jackie Patti, a trained biochemist, obsessed with numbers and measures, who was also planning her final days (very literally) when she started this. She may be one of the more obvious “Lazarus” cases in the group.

I have been friends with Jackie online for many years and knew she had serious health problems, but when I saw her go on a trip to her hometown this past spring, I was excited that she was finally able to get out after being shut in for some time. What I did not realize, even as a good reader of tea leaves on social media, is that she was visiting her hometown one last time, saying goodbye, knowing she probably did not have another year to live. Her dad died at this age, and her own diabetes-related complications continued to worsen. She could not walk due to lymphedema and due to worsening neuropathy below her knees. An avid and long-time gardener, Jackie gave away all of her gardening tools this past summer, closing the door on that chapter of her life. She could not walk to the porch to look at her garden, much less actually garden. She no longer had need for gardening tools.

When Jackie joined the group, she was on 100 units of insulin daily. Jackie leveraged stretches of extended fasts following the advice of Jason Fung, M.D. She appreciates the nutrient density of The Ridiculously Big Salad and relies on it between bouts of multi-day fasts. Jackie no longer requires insulin, and she walks daily in her garden with her cats. She calls her walks “the walks with the kitties,” and we see the kitties prancing joyfully through the field as their patron follows behind them, walking for the first time in years, with her fabulous blue hair.

Jackie updates the community regularly on her progress and is definitely one to follow via her community posts and her blog. She is only four months in as I write this and only 20 pounds (9 kg) down due to a more complicated health history, but the community is electrified by her story as her new life emerges.

Although we have known each other for years, it took Jackie over a year to join our group. She thought I had gone nuts and had started some sort of anorexic cult, and she wanted no part of it. She is likely more jaded and sarcastic than I was back in 2017, but when she did decide to jump in, she jumped pretty big, likely saving her own life, evident in months, and even weeks.

In “A Postcard from Yellowstone” I ask, “What if you lifted that hammer one more time, how much might your life change?” I look forward to your story.


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