DRAFT: The Tareable Diet

A picture of someone weighing different foods

I’m pretty amenable to arguments about scale weight being a terrible metric for the goal of changing one’s physical shape. There’s an old Beeminder blog post about when and why weight is a good metric to mind.

But let’s assume you’re convinced that you want to literally lose weight. Or that you have a weight that you’re certain you don’t want to exceed, which we’ve argued everyone should have. Everything here applies equally well to maintaining weight as to losing it.

The hard thing about weight loss (besides the eating less bit) is that your weight fluctuates so much day to day, seemingly randomly. That means the feedback is not immediate and you never have a good sense of exactly how much you can eat. But of course the fluctuations aren’t random. With enough data we can understand them and you can get minute-by-minute guidance on how much to eat to stay on track towards your weight goal.

Here’s what you do.

Weigh in immediately before and immediately after every change in your weight. Using the bathroom, putting on or taking off clothes, and eating or drinking. Basically whenever anything goes into, out of, onto, or off of your body.

Every time you weigh in, the Tareable Diet App [1] prompts you for what changed and you choose any subset of the following:

  1. Breathed
  2. Sweated
  3. Peed
  4. Pooped
  5. Clothes on or off
  6. Ate
  7. Drank
  8. Barfed
  9. Bled out

Probably we can combine some of those into an “other” category. But point being, the app can collect that data, compute exactly how your weight changes throughout the day, and tell you moment by moment exactly how much food you can put in your face without crossing your bright red line.

In its simplest version, it just tares your clothes (insert joke) and tells you continuously the maximum you’re allowed to let the scale read.

Does this require a lot of discipline?

If we assume away all the UI friction of using the app and keeping it in mind as you’re eating (these are big assumptions) and also assume you establish a habit of weighing in all the time, then no! Because probably you’re not so willpower-deficient that you’ll pick up a piece of pie, see that it will cost you $90 to put it in your piehole, and decide to do that.

What if I wake up and waste whatever buffer I have on ice cream by 10am?

That’s near-term enough suffering (subsequent hours of fasting) that you’ll not want to do that (much).

Wouldn’t this let me eat lots of crap like potato chips that don’t weigh much?

You can and should augment this with your own anti-junk-food rules. But the incentives to eat junk food are no more perverse than your dumb body and its maladaptedness to the modern world already makes them. In fact, the Tareable Diet has a built-in incentive to eat nutrient-dense stuff that will keep you full as long as possible. Namely, less fasting.

In my experience (and I’m quite junk-food-motivated) the Tareable Diet aligns your incentives pretty well to use your safety buffer in a sane order: first water, then healthy stuff, then junk.

Is fasting that much unhealthy?

This absolutely means less fasting. You’re constantly shedding weight just by breathing (not to mention going to the bathroom) so it can never be too many hours from hitting the cap before you can eat again.

I’m still pretty sure I’d eat a whole bag of potato chips if it let me and then have to fast for ages

It’s not that long, I’ve tried it. Also I kind of think the fact that potato chips are very light is an ice cream truck loophole.

Does this incentivize you to dehydrate yourself?

On the contrary, if you’re well hydrated then you get a nice drop in weight every time you pee which allows you to eat something meal-like.

But you can go above the line by drinking water, right?

No. No water for you! Say you eat potato chips right up to the edge and are super thirsty. Then you’ll naturally opt for water as your safety buffer builds back up. Which, again, won’t be long. You’ll be fine. I mean, consult your doctor.

Or, sure, fine, you can say that since water has no calories, it doesn’t count. That’s an eminently reasonable exception and turns out not to matter much because you pee the water back out soon enough anyway.

Anything useful to do with this before the actual app exists?

Yes, I think there’s a best-effort guesstimating version of the Tareable Diet that works well. If you have real money at stake on a Beeminder weight goal, you can keep your money very safe by doing the following.

However many grams below the red line you are when you wake up, just mentally tally up how many grams you’re eating and drinking and keep it below that. Also you can use a heuristic of something like 100g of weight lost every hour or two just from breathing. (Test it out by weighing yourself a few hours apart with nothing but your breath coming into, out of, off, or on you!) So that gives you an additional 50-100g per hour you can eat and drink. If you go to the bathroom, guess how much weight that was and add that much to your buffer of what you can consume.

(Or simplify further and ignore water altogether since you pee that back out in a matter of hours anyway.)

It won’t take long to get a rough feel for all of that. And if you’re off a bit and find yourself above the red line, it won’t be by too much and you can just fast your way back under and then continue with guesstimating. Gradually you’ll get pretty good at it!

Related Reading



[1] Yes, it’s pronounced the same as “terrible”.


Notes for a technical spec for MVP with no UI

We can do this as a new aggday.

It just assumes all double weigh-ins strictly within 60 seconds of each other are before-and-after tarings. So two weighings in a row where the second one is higher means subtract that delta for the rest of the day.

What if you don’t get dressed fast enough? Just weigh in after putting on each item. Or lay out the clothes, weigh in without them, then immediately weigh in again holding them in your hand. Then you can wiggle into them at your leisure.

What if you put on or take off more clothes later? Just remember to weigh in right before and right after.

Here’s an example that illustrates that it works:

  1. Wake up naked and weigh in at 70kg.
  2. Time passes, moisture is lost, you now weigh 69.9kg.
  3. Time to get dressed: gather clothes, step on scale without and with them. Weights are 69.9 & 70.4 ⇒ Δ = +0.5.
  4. Now all weights the rest of the day get 0.5 subtracted.
  5. Oops, it’s warm out, let’s ditch the sweater.
  6. Make sure it’s been at least 60 seconds and then weigh in with and without the sweater: 70.4 & 70.2 ⇒ Δ = -0.2.
  7. Now we have deltas [+.5, -.2] which sum to +0.3.
  8. So all subsequent weights get 0.3 subtracted.
  9. Your current weight with clothes-except-sweater is 70.2.
  10. So your real weight is 69.9, which is exactly right.

What if you forget and weigh in twice in a row for no reason? If the scale is accurate then you’ll add a delta of zero, which won’t matter. If the weights are randomly different, as they sometimes are, then that will throw everything off the rest of the day. But only slightly, which should be fine.

What if you put on a kilogram of clothes but when you tare the clothes back off again it happens, due to random inaccuracy in the scale, to only see a delta of -0.9? Then you’ll be back to naked but the tareable algorithm will think there’s still a net delta of +0.1. So it will tell you you weigh 0.1kg less than you really do. We’re declaring that live-with-able. In the future maybe we’ll have an option to throw away all the deltas. As a workaround, you can purposefully do a new taring with 100 grams of something in your hand to coerce it back to zero.

PS: We’ve hacked up a version of this, a couple of us have been using it since late 2023, still going as of May 2024, and it’s pretty great, though it involves running code in Mathematica.