Dr. Fuhrman Dr. Fuhrman

The No S Diet

No S Diet Logo

When I was a teenager here in the Netherlands, there were no fad diets. If you needed to lose weight, the common advice was to stop snacking and to exercise a little more. This wonderful simplicity has been captured in a simple mnemonic by Reinhard Engels: The No S Diet. No S means:

  • No Sugar
  • No Sweets
  • No Seconds
  • On days that start with an S.

That's it! It really is a simple concept and I am convinced that for most people this will really help them lose weight. Of course, in itself this does not say anything about health, but that's not what the program is about.

It is somewhat ironic that such a simple concept has a 24 page (that's just the printed out homepage!) website, a store, a podcast and a forum where people discuss the program.

Although I recommend the concept wholeheartedly, I do not agree with all of the author's reasoning. Bold passages are from the No S Diet website, my comments are below.

The calorie accounting diets are time consuming and joyless. You won't be able to stick with one of these because it will make you miserable. Besides the sheer tedium of compliance, if you come to think of food as fuel, a mere quantity, you'll come to loath it -- and your number crunching-munching self.

Many diet book authors say the same thing. I do not agree. For me (someone with an analytical mind, like Engels) knowing exactly what I ate helped me very much in making my eating more joyful. For the first time in my life I actually realized what I was eating. I think it is comparable to learning music theory. People often wonder if that doesn't take the joy out of music, but in fact it makes music much more interesting.

I also think there is a misconception in anti-calorie-counters that you need to count every calorie for the rest of your life. I only tracked everything I ate for a couple of weeks. After that I had a ballpoint figure in my head and just knew somewhere inside my head what constituted a normal meal or a normal snack.

By "no seconds," I officially mean one physical plate, and I think for beginners especially it's good to stick with this, even if it means a fairly overloaded plate. .

I think the "no seconds" idea is a great one. It may even unknowingly be one of the successes behind my weight loss. For practical reasons, we always put dinner on our plates in the kitchen. It means no leftovers, no picking in the pots and pans, no jealousy, no misguided politeness (both waiting if the other takes the last piece of yummy food from the pot). It also means that I got a very good idea of what a portion for me looks like. I think this is much better than constantly putting new food on your plate because you'll have no idea how much you already eat. When you are overweight, clearly you lost the ability to regulate that yourself, you need some external cues.

That said, I think salads and soups should be encouraged. My lunches are always a combination of salad/soup/stew or sandwich and I see no reason whatsoever to change that. I also end every meal with a piece of fruit. I think the only real reason to put everything on one plate is because Engels doesn't want you to realize the calorie content of your food at all. I think in the end that works against you. It is good to realize that it is better to eat two large plates of salad than it is to eat one small plate of mostly hamburgers and fries.

I also don't think that anyone in the medical profession would suggest regularly going 5 straight days without any fat. Unlike added sugar, it has some nutritional benefit, the body does need it.

It is true that the body does need fat, but the body does also need sugar. And just like the body does not need any added sugar, the body also does not need any added fat. Many doctors agree on that fact. We can get plenty of fat from whole foods such as avocado's and nuts and cutting out added fat that you don't really miss can be a big weight loss help. I used to just pour the oil in the pot, now I measure it out with a spoon. If you know a tablespoon of oil is 120 calories, that adds up fast. I do agree that simplicity is important though, and that if you leave out snacks you already lose a big part of the fattening fats.

Just about every diet guru publishes a list of permitted and forbidden foods. And they're bestsellers. People buy millions of copies of these lists. I am utterly baffled by this phenomenon.

This, I wholeheartedly agree with. One of the most common questions on the Eat To Live mailinglist is exactly which vegetables are considered non-starchy (and therefore unlimited) by Dr Fuhrman. I think many people really want their diet to work and just want explicit instructions on what to eat.

But most of all, I'm baffled that anyone really imagines they will play scavenger hunt at the supermarket for more than a month or two. It shows an utter ignorance of human psychology.

But I disagree here. I know many, many people who do exactly that. After I learned about trans fats, I just stopped eating them. That was not a problem at all. The same was true about white flour products, etc. A low carb diet would not work for me, but I know many people who actually are able to stick with it. Many people on the Eat To Live mailing list stick with the plan to the letter. As with the calorie counting, people only need those lists in the beginning. After a few weeks you know which foods are good, and which foods should be avoided (or only be eaten as treats).

Even if you aren't one of these unconscious permasnackers, but count every calorie and want to "graze" to better trick your metabolism, snacking isn't a good idea. The problem with such grazing is that it's impossible to get a sense of how much you are eating without paying an exorbitant amount of attention -- counting calories, points, etc. Doing all this math is way too much conscious overhead to sustain for the long term, and it's not something you can automate into unconscious habit.

This is a good point. After reading the No S Diet I made a commitment to stop snacking again, and I do like not thinking about food so much. I actually did not snack that much (I used to be a grazer, but I found it impossible to stay thin and eat so often), but I did have the nasty habit of eating my daughter's leftovers or sharing a snack with her. I noticed that it preoccupied me with food way too much, and I like the simpleness of just never snacking during the week. Allowing myself some leeway in the weekends means I don't become a grumpy thin person.

But I am way fatter than you were! Then you probably eat way more than I did, and will benefit that much more from eating less.

No doubt. I think the real challenge is with people who are much thinner. Engels' thin weight is 170 pounds. Many people are still overweight at that weight, and smaller women are even obese at 170 pounds. The smaller you are, the less food you need. If you are a male, weighing 170 pounds, I can see it would be almost impossible to gain weight on three meals a day, even if you indulge somewhat in the weekends. If you are a small woman however, I think this may not be enough. You may need to watch your portions, or be more careful on weekends.

Most conventional wisdom rules about diet are too simplistic and vague to be useful ("only eat when you're hungry"). The No S Diet finds the happy medium between the two. It's simple and specific.

I totally agree here. I wonder what people who advocate that you only eat when you are hungry do for a living? Most people cannot just drop everything they are doing to start preparing a meal. You just eat when it is lunch time. The good thing is that our bodies like predictions. Once you are used to eating three meals a day, you'll get hungry three times a day.


I may sound very critical, but I really like the No S concept. It is a great diet to recommend to people who would never try something like Eat To Live (which, incidentally, also forbids snacking and sweets). The diet does not say anything about health, so you can eat as healthy as you want. You may need to make some modifications (I would not recommend following the one-plate rule, and I would definitely recommend to watch what you are eating), but that's okay. Like with every diet, you have to think for yourself, because it is something you are going to do for the rest of your life.

September 6, 2006