The ability to lose weight effortlessly while in love is, in fact, not a trick, but a proven biochemical reality. In fact, the word “trick” is entirely inadequate to describe what should really be termed “an astonishingly complex accomplishment.” As Dr. Ronald Gatty wrote in his book The Body Clock Diet, “In my experience, there is a curious fact about women: if they fall in love, they can lose weight with phenomenal ease and rapidity no matter what kind of food you put in front of them.”
In the intervening decades since Dr. Gatty’s anecdotal remarks, which summarized his experiences from a long medical career, numerous studies have confirmed that the limbic system in the brain of a woman in love begins to output a variety of substances (including the “bonding hormone” oxytocin; phenylethylamine; tryptophan, et al.) the latter two of which then mutate into the well-known mood-altering hormones dopamine and serotonin, and which also have the side effect of suppressing appetite. As Karl Pribram, a noted neuroscientist, remarked, “When you’re hungry you’re not sexy; when you’re sexy you’re not hungry.”
I have had some personal experience with this phenomenon. I grew up, and spent all my teenage years, continually obsessing about my weight: always being on diets, overeating in between them, ad infinitum. I took it as an article of faith that dieting was unpleasant, but—even worse than that—completely fruitless. Getting thin was something that seemed impossible for me to achieve (except very briefly, now and then, after enormous effort).
But during my senior year in college something happened that upended my entire previous mental universe. At a party I met a man I knew instinctively I wanted to marry. I floated home in a daze, waiting for our date the following Saturday night. The next two weeks went by in the same way—thinking nothing but romantic thoughts about this dream man thirty miles away. My usual preoccupation with food and my weight vanished from my habitual thoughts. Many years later I can still vividly remember getting on the scale in the dorm bathroom out of a sense of remote curiosity—only to find I had lost twenty pounds without being in the least aware of it! I was thunderstruck. This was so foreign to my notion of how one had to struggle to lose weight that it was as if a basic law of physics or thermodynamics had been overturned. I had vaguely noticed that my clothes had been getting looser, but now I looked more closely at myself and found I was actually a size 6! Being in love was wonderful enough, but to be thin as well was a miracle. My joy was indescribable.
What had just happened? Well, it took me nearly twenty years and lots more learning (in widely different fields of study) to find out. I had already been introduced to the principles of cybernetics, the study of goal-seeking mechanisms, when I came upon The Inner Game of Tennis, the first of Timothy Gallwey’s ground-breaking books detailing his concept of the Inner Game. Gallwey’s ideas coincided nearly point for point with everything I knew about the way reality is organized cybernetically: feedback plays a crucial role; anxiety is an impediment to learning of any type; the mind and the body are essentially one entity (as I call it, the “bodymind”); what’s needed is to avoid “trying” when working to accomplish anything (remember, this was a long time before Yoda told Luke, “Do, or do not; there is no try”).
What takes place in cybernetic terms when you fall in love? It’s actually quite simple. First, your lover seems nearly perfect to you, which makes the world seem wonderful, which in turn makes it easy to sustain serene, stress-free feelings, the building blocks of happiness. Next, you have something utterly fascinating to focus all your attention on. You give up hanging around asking yourself, “When can I eat next?” You simply eat less because, for the moment, eating will nearly disappear from your personal universe; you’re invariably thinking of much more important, more delightful things. If the attraction is mutual, your lover will be sending you constant messages that you are perfect in his or her eyes. You wouldn’t think of questioning the judgment of such a perfect person, and soon your body mind will begin to act on these suggestions as instructions, making you into someone as perfect as it is possible for you to be—to the limits of your imagination.
A double-whammy of sorts is at work here: the “body” is being flooded with bliss-producing hormones (that as a side effect depress appetite), while the “mind” is preoccupied with blissful feedback-reinforced thoughts that don’t involve overeating.
Although it had long been conventional medical wisdom that on her wedding day a woman is as close to her ideal weight as she will ever be, doctors never bothered to ask why this was so. The answer is clear. A bride-to-be receives constant praise and positive feedback not only from her fiancé, but also from the rest of her circle of acquaintances, who have temporarily been turned into adoring courtiers. Her bodymind has no choice but to act on all these unanimous positive instructions and make her into someone as perfect as she can be.
Again, it is just a question of what items in your perceptual universe you are choosing to pay close attention to: if you’re focused on gratification from sex, as a matter of course desire for gratification from overeating (always a substitute for more genuine pleasures) will recede into the background of your mind, where it rightfully belongs.
About Nancy Bryan
Nancy Bryan, Ph.D., author of this revised and updated edition of Thin is a State of Mind (first published in 1980 by Harper & Row, and subsequently by CompCare Publications), has spent her entire working life as an editor: in the sixties at The Rand Corporation; in the seventies at an ARPANET research institute; in the eighties at a worldwide employee-benefits consulting firm; and in the nineties for the J. Paul Getty Trust. In addition to Thin is a State of Mind, Bryan has written a doctoral dissertation on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and has ghostwritten a bestselling self-help book. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Self, Family Health, and various museum and computer-science publications. She is currently working on a forthcoming title, Metathinking: Great Ideas for Women’s Use.