How I Lost 100 Pounds Using TDT

Background Information: Ingredients of Timeless Decision Theory

Alternate Approaches Include: Self-empathy as a source of “willpower”, Applied Picoeconomics, Akrasia, hyperbolic discounting, and picoeconomics, Akrasia Tactics Review

Standard Disclaimer: Beware of Other-Optimizing

Timeless Decision Theory (or TDT) allowed me to succeed in gaining control over when and how much I ate in a way that previous attempts at precommitment had repeatedly failed to do. I did so well before I was formally exposed to the concept of TDT, but once I clicked on TDT I understood that I had effectively been using it. That click came from reading Eliezer’s shortest summary of TDT, which was:

The one-sentence version is:  Choose as though controlling the logical output of the abstract computation you implement, including the output of all other instantiations and simulations of that computation

You can find more here but my recommendation at least at first is to stick with the one sentence version. It is as simple as it can be, but no simpler. 

Utilizing TDT gave me several key abilities that I previously lacked. The most important was realizing that what I chose now would be the same choice I would make at other times under the same circumstances. This allowed me to compare having the benefits now to paying the costs now, as opposed to paying costs now for future benefits later. This ability allowed me to overcome hyperbolic discounting. The other key ability was that it freed me from the need to explicitly stop in advance to make precommitements each time I wanted to alter my instinctive behavior. Instead, it became automatic to make decisions in terms of which rules would be best to follow.

With that as background, this is how I made it happen:

I was walking home from class along my usual route I had made a habit while doing this of stopping into Famiglia Pizza and ordering garlic knots. I like garlic knots quite a bit, but I also hated being fat and the way being fat made me feel. Things weren’t quite as bad on that front as they’d been a few years before but they were still extraordinarily bad. I thought about my impending solace and thought to myself: You wouldn’t be so fat if you didn’t keep buying these garlic knots every day.

I thought about that for a second, realized it was trivially true and then wondered to myself whether it was worth it. If I never stopped for the knots I would weigh less and feel better, but I wouldn’t have any knots. Even worse, I wouldn’t have any garlic. But would I rather enjoy today the full effect of never having had the knots, in exchange for not having any? Once I asked the question that way the answer came back a resounding yes. I didn’t know how much it would matter, but the calculation wasn’t remotely close. I walked right past the pizza place and never stopped in there for a snack again.

Using this method seemed like the most useful thing I’d come up with in some time, so I quickly extended it to other decisions starting with the rest of my diet. For each meal I would consume, I decided what quantity was worth it and forbade myself from ever consuming more. I motivated myself to stick to that rule in the face of hyperbolic discounting by reminding myself that I would make the same decision next time that I was making now, so I was deciding what action I would always take in this situation. More generally, sticking to the rules I’d decided to follow meant I would stick to rules I’d decided to follow, which was clearly an extremely valuable asset to have on my side.

I used two other major rules in what I like to call the “Don’t Eat So Goddamn Much, Shut Your Pie Hole” diet. The first was to cut down from three meals a day to two and eliminate all snacks except water, cutting my consumption by more than a third. I’d had practice skipping meals in the past and realized that skipping dinner was far less painful than it looked; within a few weeks I stopped getting hungry at night. The other change was to weigh myself daily and alter how draconian the rules were based on my current weight relative to my current baseline. If I was below the baseline, I’d lower the baseline and give myself a chance to cheat a little. If I was above it by too much I would cut out all meal options that weren’t “wins” in the sense that they had more calories than my average.

I tried incorporating exercise into this program but made the discovery many others have made that exercise didn’t correlate with weight loss. Exercise makes you better at doing exercise so long as you keep doing exercise, but it had no measurable effect on my mission so I decided to let that wait until after the mission was complete. Even then I found several exercise programs I tried to be not worth it compared to not having one, or found that they became so over time. Eventually I was able to find a trainer and I remain happy with that aside from the cost. I also considered changing what I ate, but found that beyond cutting out the worst choices that it was neither necessary nor worth the cost.

The last obstacle on the journey was that as I lost more and more I started to feel worse rather than better due to all of the excess skin that doesn’t go away on its own. It was only after I’d lost all the weight and had the resulting skin removal surgery that I suddenly got up and felt genuinely good about how I looked and felt for the first time in my life. I’ve since managed to relax a number of the rules but was never concerned I wouldn’t do what was necessary to keep myself on track.

Since then I’ve used similar techniques and rules in a wide variety of areas of life. It was only years later reading Less Wrong that I realized that I’d effectively been employing inter-temporal Timeless Decision Theory. That realization allowed me to better understand and formalize what I had done, and gave me a better framework for explaining it to others. A common and justified criticism of using TDT in everyday life rather than as a theoretical construct is to ask where one can find another TDT agent, or indeed any agent sufficiently causally linked to you so as to allow you to utilize that link. My answer to that is that whether or not there is someone else you are linked to yourself. You can be that other agent, the recognition of which can allow you to win and win big.

I am fully aware that to a first approximation dieting attempts that follow similar patterns never work. Most people do not have the willpower necessary to sustain them, or otherwise suffer too much to choose to remain on the diet long term. There are powerful forces working against such an attempt. My working hypothesis is that I had five unusual things working in my favor: I have extraordinarily strong willpower in such areas, I already had strong affinity for rule setting and abiding, I fully believed in what I was doing, I had a life situation that allowed me to experience temporary discomfort due to hunger and I thought of all changes from the beginning as permanent. At least some of these advantages are things that can be learned. If anyone is capable of following in my footsteps, it would be Less Wrong readers. In New York’s Less Wrong group especially a lot of us have had success with various different approaches, and I think that developing mental techniques is the best way to enhance your chance of success.

 

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I'm eagerly waiting the new Cosmopolitan cover with the line "TDT: THE HOTTEST NEW WAY TO WASHBOARD ABS".

I have the opposite history: I was able to stop stressing out about my weight when I realized that, no, I really don't prefer the idea of a thin life devoid of cheesecake and fried things to the life I currently have where I eat whatever I want and am yea big. (This calculation may change if I become more than yea big with age.) Making this tradeoff explicit in my head actually helped me uncover a couple of weird self-denial habits that did not make any sense according to any metric (specifically, I was not having all the legumes and fruit I wanted, out of some confused subconscious notion that they were displacing vegetables... but meanwhile I had already abandoned the difficult project of limiting my chocolate intake.)

I have had significant weight loss without reducing fried things and still having bi-weekly cheesecake. I had MORE weight loss after getting rid of the cheesecake, but I did go from 220 to about 190 with the cheesecake in my diet. (5'10", male)

The traditional American diet is so bad that most people can likely have significant weight loss with trivial loss of pleasure. This is especially true when combined with a human's natural scope insensitivity.

My diet isn't a lot like a traditional American one. I'm a pescetarian, I cook nearly everything I make from scratch or close to it, and while I sometimes eat junky snackfood, I don't do it that often. I also don't consume soda or alcohol. There might be some obvious trivial-loss-of-pleasure alteration to make (and if you think of one, please tell me) but it's not jumping out at me.

You mentioned before that you don't drink tea... but fruit teas are actually quite juice-like. Lemon tea or ginger work that way too. Might be worth a shot?

Well, I hate ginger, but I suppose I could afford to look around a little more thoroughly in teaspace to see if there's one I like without massive amounts of sugar dumped in.

Teaspace is huge.

I don't know if this will be relevant for you, but white teas don't get bitter.

We may try that. My wife has the problem that she was given sugared tea when she was a baby and now she simply cannot drink water: soda, syrup, or the best she can manage is making 5 liter tea ($deity bless whichever company still makes huge steel kettles, 4l and 5l ones) with 5 tablespoons of sugar. While 48 kcal per liter is not too bad, about 150-200 kcal drunk a day, I am afraid for her insulin and try to find alternatives. White tea may be one, thanks.

Next step would be coffe without sugar.

Or finding an artificial sweetener that does not taste as bad as sacharine or aspartame.

Personally, I adore fruity teas like cranberry. They manage to taste juice like without actually being sweet. Do you like green tea, chai tea or ginseng? You could also try rooibos; it's an African tea that doesn't have caffeine and tastes a lot milder than black tea without being exactly herbal.

I suspect that I won't find any teas I like that aren't sweet. I prefer my comestibles & potables to be either definitively sweet or definitively not-sweet, and items that have features of one (e.g. a fruit flavor) without being sweet (or while being sweet, in the opposite case) are not pleasant to me.

Maybe you should try some not-supposed-to-be-sweet herbal teas, e.g. rooibos, if you haven't already.

Or some real black, white, green, or oolong tea. For real teas, though, you should look up brewing instructions. Most people overcook their tea, oversteeping black tea and using boiling water for green, and it comes out bitter and disgusting. It was a revelation for me when I tried properly prepared tea.

Interesting. Both my brother and sister have the same phenomenon: they love candy and desserts, but dinner foods that have any element of sweetness (like beets, sweet potatoes, or even sweet-and-sour sauces) gross them out.

You can sweeten most of those teas a little...of course, that means adding calories to something that's essentially calorie-free.

You can sweeten most of those teas a little...of course, that means adding calories to something that's essentially calorie-free.

Even if you put a teaspoon or a pack of sugar in your tea or coffee, it's still 6-7 times less sugar than in a can of soda (and most fruit juices are not much better). The amount of sugar in juices and sodas is insane.

In my experience, Splenda (brand name of sucralose) tastes identical to sugar, and every study I've read has failed to find any associated health risks in quantities humans can eat. Some studies suggest that people who drink diet drinks tend not to lose weight due to giving themselves "credit" for drinking them and then letting go on something else for a net increase in calories, but if you commit to treating artificially sweetened drinks as a replacement for normally sweetened ones, I don't think it's likely to do any harm.

Personally, I like to use it to sweeten decaff black tea mixed with lots of vanilla.

Also, you can use Splenda, for no calories at all, and it tastes just fine. I know some people can get downright militant about how awful the stuff is, but they are the same people who buy organic when the term is essentially meaningless, and they seem to hate the thought that you are "cheating" to get deliciousness. I simply say to them "Er, human technology has progressed to the point where I can have, say, a sweet breakfast without consuming any sugar, and I'm going to do so. Cheating has nothing to do with it." I drink tea with it alllll the time, too. :)

Does it taste the same as sugar? I've found that diet Coke doesn't taste the same to me as regular Coke, and I would prefer non-sweet tea to sweet but weird-tasting tea. Then again, I like unsweetened tea and coffee. To someone who found them really unpalatable, artificial sweeteners would definitely be worth it.

Diet Coke has a long history of not tasting the same as regular Coke. They even made an ad campaign about it (YouTube) in the late '80s. Only Coke Zero is supposed to taste the same.

Only Coke Zero is supposed to taste the same.

And fails, unfortunately.

No, Diet Coke doesn't taste the same as regular coke; but why would you want it to? As best I can tell, a preference for the flavor of sugared Coke over unsugared Coke is simply a learned preference like preferring Catsup over Brown Sauce or vice versa. I switched to Diet Coke many years ago, and these days regular Coke tastes wrong and not as refreshingly delicious to me. Stick with it for a while, and you not only get used to it. You come to prefer it.

In less sweet drinks like coffee, I'm not sure I could tell the difference between sugar and other sweeteners. FWIW, I do find that aspartame (Equal) works better in coffee than sucralose (Splenda).

Fair enough - I don't like the syrupyness of regular coke, but I drink diet, although it certainly doesn't taste like real sugar. Although I'd ask if you've used other artificial sweeteners than Splenda, because most taste terrible, but it's an entirely different chemical preparation - sucralose which comes from actual sugar, not dextrose or aspartame which come from tar.

I've always found the "tastes like sugar because it's made from sugar" slogan awfully disingenuous. I mean, yes, it does taste like sugar, and it is made with sugar, but it's a chlorinated sugar compound. The fact that it's safe and tastes like sugar rather than say, rat poison, was hardly a foregone conclusion, and was only discovered in the first place due to a lab mistake that could easily have featured in an obituary. On the other hand, there's no reason a compound made using tar needs to taste bad. In terms of elements, there's nothing in tar that isn't in sugar (at least in significant quantities, provided the tar is clean.)

Also, dextrose is a naturally occurring sugar.

Also, you can use Splenda, for no calories at all, and it tastes just fine. I know some people can get downright militant about how awful the stuff is, but they are the same people who buy organic when the term is essentially meaningless, and they seem to hate the thought that you are "cheating" to get deliciousness.

Typical mind fallacy, revved up with a claim that people who say they don't resemble you have something wrong with them-- the latter probably needs its own name, probably something to do with preventing feedback.

As it happens, I think Splenda tastes inedibly vile, unlike other artificial sweeteners I've tried, which merely taste somewhat off.

I do eat some organic food, in the hopes that it will taste better, but there's also some conventional food (including highly processes stuff) that I like and eat.

I do eat some organic food, in the hopes that it will taste better, but there's also some conventional food (including highly processes stuff) that I like and eat.

Here'a an idea that I've been thinking about for a while, any thoughts? Epistemic status is uncertain:

Producers are using the buzz-word "organic" as a form of market segmentation for price discrimination. Since organic food is more expensive and marketed at richer consumers, it is not surprising that producers make an extra effort to improve the quality, even if this quality improvement has nothing to do with the agricultural practices. Consumers are rightly noticing that food marketed as organic tastes better, and are demanding more of it. This leads to a vicious cycle that reduces the efficiency of agriculture, which obviously has implications for global warming, deforestation etc. Everyone are following their incentives correctly, but we end up in an inferior equilibrium because of a self-fulfilling prophecy which forces everyone to use the signal "organic" when they mean "good quality".

Since organic food is more expensive and marketed at richer consumers, it is not surprising that producers make an extra effort to improve the quality

Um. Basically, producing organic food forces extra expenses upon you, so the organic food has higher costs. I am not convinced about "higher quality".

Consumers are rightly noticing that food marketed as organic tastes better

No, it doesn't.

I even ran a blind test on eggs -- bought some supermarket-brand generic eggs, and bought some organic free-range extra-special extra-expensive eggs and did a blind test cooking the eggs a couple of different ways. I couldn't tell the difference.

For fruits and veggies, there are a lot of factor which influence their quality and none of them have anything to do with being "organic" or not.

I've read about other blind tests which found that people can't tell the difference between fancy eggs and ordinary ones. I have felt a little off after eating very cheap eggs for several days in a row.

I've seen consensus that free-range beef tastes better.

While I said something nice about the veggies to a farmer at the farmer's market, he said that the big difference was freshness rather than better varieties or growing conditions.

I've seen consensus that free-range beef tastes better.

Well, the standard local supermarket beef and beef imported from Australia taste clearly different, though "better" is a matter of preferences. There are probably at least three differences between them: (1) Breed; (2) Feed (mostly or solely grass-fed vs. mostly or solely corn-fed); (3) Physical exercise (real free-range vs. limited free-range vs. factory farming).

I agree that there are a lot of factors which influence the quality of fruit and veggies, and that they are not causally related to whether the vegetables are organic. However, I am convinced that there is some correlation. For example, I expect that it would be difficult to sell unripe mass produced tomatoes as organic.

One objective thing I have noticed is the quality of milk. I have an Aeroccino-machine for frothing milk. When I use milk from Whole Foods (an expensive all-organic food store), it consistently creates a great foam, whereas if I use non-organic milk from a normal supermarket, it usually completely fails. It would be great if someone else who owns an Aeroccino machine could try to replicate this claim at home..

I expect that there is a simple explanation that has nothing to do with pesticides, for example that Whole Foods has a better logistics system that keeps the milk properly refrigerated at all times. However, my point is only that many customers will note that the organic milk from Wholefoods foams, whereas the non-organic doesn't.

There's a study that suggests that Splenda causes a change in blood glucose levels: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2013/04/30/dc12-2221

Not consuming sugar isn't the end goal.

I simply say to them "Er, human technology has progressed to the point where I can have, say, a sweet breakfast without consuming any sugar, and I'm going to do so. Cheating has nothing to do with it."

It's true that artificial sweeteners mean you can get a sweet taste without consuming calories. Beware the conclusion that they therefore don't cause you to gain weight or have other negative health effects though. There's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

I agree that eating healthily doesn't mean having to deprive yourself of all delicious foods. Sadly artificial sweeteners seem to be quite problematic, though some types may be less bad than others.

SIgh......I've certainly seen all the 'evidence to the contrary', or at least a significantly representative amount.

This is the long and short of it: artificial sweeteners give taste, not satiety, so you won't be as full as you would if you ate sugar, hence may eat more. Also, if you overestimate the number of calories you're 'saving' using sweeteners, you'll undoubtedly end up eating more, and potentially gaining weight. It's the stereotypical "Ooh, I drank a diet coke instead of a real one, saved 200 calories, so I can have a donut!"

Conclusion: pay attention to EVERYTHING you're eating, keeping in mind that you DO have a precondition of 'how much food you need', and do so in a manner that consciously minimizes your biases. It's not that hard, but most people don't take such a holistic approach, and I've not ever seen it specified as a factor in the 'studies' on artificial sweeteners. So, the studies are correct, per se, but you and I can hopefully be a little smarter than that....it's pretty much a problem of overcoming internal bias by acting on as complete info as possible.

Don't like beets, don't like sweet-and-sour sauces. Do like sweet potatoes, but only by themselves with butter... if I put them with non-sweets (like other potatoes, or savory spices) then they will be too sweet to go with, and if I put them with sweets (pineapple, marshmallows) then they will be too savory to go with. Contrary things, sweet potatoes.

If I'm going to wind up drinking liquid sugar anyway, I may as well go on drinking juice, I think.

Huh, me three with certain types of sweet foods. (For example, I generally really really don't like sweet salads. I prefer non-sweet vinegars, etc... But I'll happily om nom nom on, say, chocolate. (though I do favor dark chocolate))

I also don't consume soda or alcohol. There might be some obvious trivial-loss-of-pleasure alteration to make (and if you think of one, please tell me) but it's not jumping out at me.

Do you drink juice? Maybe try watering it down. Generalising from the one example of me, watered juice tastes just as good as straight juice, as long as you're not drinking them in the same meal. At the level of macronutrients (that is, ignoring vitamins and HFCS), juice really isn't any healthier than soda. (And regarding a later comment, oil isn't unhealthy either; even the USDA admits this now if you look at the fine print instead of the food groups.)

I do drink juice. I add a little water to it, but find that any more than a little (about one part water to five or six parts juice) drops it below a relevant threshold of pleasantness. I realize it is not a health drink, but I really hate water, and I do need some liquid intake. (With meals, it's (skim) milk.)

Have you ever tried adding a drop or two of lemon juice to water? Or (and this might sound weird) plain hot water? It depends on how hot it is where you live, of course, but my ex-boyfriend's entire family used to drink plain hot water, and after thinking they were very odd, I tried it and found it quite soothing.

I don't like it when they give me lemon slices in my water at restaurants. Plain hot water sounds fantastically unappealing.

You should try the hot water thing if you haven't actually done so. The cost is pretty much zero.

Have you tried filtering your water, or drinking it very cold? Water tastes like what's in it, and the taste varies depending on the source. Most city water tastes like the chemicals they use to clean it, while water from a cheap filter tastes like nothing. Cold water also seems to have less taste, or at least I've found I can't detect the taste of cold water (as in, with ice in it, not just cold from the tap).

Seltzer (Or whatever they called carbonated water in your part of the world) is another "almost-water" drink, much like tea. No calories, enough taste to notice, feels like soda.

I like filtered water less than regular tap water from most taps. (I have blind-taste-tested my ability to distinguish them.) Cold water is better. I can't bear to drink anything carbonated; it makes my mouth hurt.

I do drink juice. I add a little water to it, but find that any more than a little (about one part water to five or six parts juice) drops it below a relevant threshold of pleasantness. I realize it is not a health drink, but I really hate water, and I do need some liquid intake. (With meals, it's (skim) milk.)

Juice selection may make a difference to the desirable dilution ratio. A little lemon or lime goes a long way!

I don't generally drink juice at all. I don't find it all that satisfying, and it often gives me heartburn... I drink multiple pots of tea per day, though.

Heartburn is acid-reflux... there are fruit juices that are less acidic if you want that.

You know what "Low Fat" is? a warning label. Saturated fat is not bad for you. Switch to whole milk. Water is probably best, but if that just doesn't work for you, try seltzer or calorie free flavored waters.

I can't stand whole milk. Even drinking semiskimmed is unpleasant. Seltzer is not an option because I can't drink anything carbonated; it makes my mouth hurt.

Interesting. I started disliking whole milk soon after I switched to soy milk. Some report the same reaction after switching to rice milk. There are "lite" versions which, while not a substitute for water, could be an alternative to juice.

Similar to your comment about diet coke, having drunk reduced fat milk for about fifteen years, whole milk now tastes nasty to me.

Why switch to whole milk when it's not inherently preferable?

Taste preferences are malleable, though. I grew up drinking skim milk, and switched over to whole milk when I left for college. I grew a love for the taste of delicious, delicious fats in my drinks.

The first step was switching to higher-fat milk in eating bowls of cereal. It's a good way to get used to the taste while tricking your brain into not noticing the 'weird' texture.

Switching to a high-fat diet helped too. Whole milk really isn't all that fatty - half and half is better, and heavy cream is a bit much straight (I can drink it straight, but it is way too easy to give my digestive system too much to handle).

There's nothing inherent about preferences. If you want to include milk as party of a healthy diet, you may as well prefer healthier milk.

In what way is higher fat milk healthier?

Saturated fat may not be more unhealthy than unsaturated fat (although I'm not sure how conclusive the evidence on this is,) but that doesn't mean that adding calories from fat, without subtracting something else, will make your diet healthier.

Sorry, I kind of assumed you were struggling with "I want to improve my diet by replacing carbohydrate calories from skim milk with fat calories from whole milk". The point I was trying to make is that preferences are malleable things, and when you don't care as much about the cost of changing them as compared to the benefits of having 'better' preferences, you can go ahead and change them.

If you're not trying to lose weight, then no reason at all. If you prefer skim milk, then by all means drink it. However, assuming

  1. You are lactose tolerant
  2. You are trying to lose weight

Then you're better off switching to products like whole milk or, better yet, heavy cream, that provide a higher proportion of calories from fat (trans fats excepted, but those aren't typically present in milk) and less to none from carbohydrates and protein.

Also, after a little googling, I so see that some people have raised concerns about possible health effects arising from the industrial production of skim milk. It seems farmers don't just skim the cream off like I thought, but add various other things like milk solids and Vitamin A and D back in. At first glance, the evidence of harmful effects from this doesn't seem compelling--mostly extrapolations from animal studies and hypothesized biochemical causal chains that aren't actually tied to overall mortality rates, quality of life, or anything else we care about. However, it is suggestive that this subject might be worthy of further research.

Another healthy eater! I also cook nearly everything I eat from scratch (mainly beans, rice, and lentil stews). My guilty pleasures are a) baking, which I find very therapeutic (although I bring most of what I bake to share at work or choir practice, or else leave it for my roommates) and b) eating whatever junk food I can when it's free.

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