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When I asked successful weight losers what finally enabled them to slim down, I kept hearing the phrase "four days." Something—illness, travel, business—put many of these folks off their feed for about four days. At that point, they noticed a slight but highly motivating weight loss. After that, continuing to lose was much easier.

I wasn't expecting this, but it made sense. Adult development theorists know that significant change requires an "early win," evidence that our efforts are yielding success. It takes about four days of virtuous living to create a little weight loss. That also happens to be the time required to get used to eating less. In other words, if you can get past day three of a fitness regimen, things improve. I began to think about weight loss as a series of four-day wins.

Once you've started healing your brain with gentle, kind self-observation, you can lose weight by "sneaking up" your exercise and "sneaking down" your food intake in four-day increments. Sneaking is another way to prevent famine responses. If you're totally sedentary and eat 2,500 calories a day, don't instantly go to 1,200 calories and hours of aerobics—your weight loss will be sudden and violent, but also fleeting. Try dropping your intake by 100 to 300 calories and taking 500 more steps each day for four days. Then cut out another 100 to 300 calories, and add another 500 steps. Sustain for four days. Repeat until you see a weight loss. It will feel strangely easy to stay the course.

Because this takes patience at first (it soon becomes highly motivating), it's essential to reward yourself for meeting the four-day goals. I suggest Substituting Inedible Nurturance, or SIN. Don't replace overeating with virtuous work or exercise; instead, make a list of things you love, from watching TV to hanging out with favorite people. Nurturing touch (a pedicure, a massage, sex) is especially effective, since it triggers production of the same opioid hormones as eating. SIN isn't sinful, but it should feel wickedly good.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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