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Source: Todd Easton, 785-532-3478,
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News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415,

Monday, Nov. 2, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Leave it to an industrial systems engineer to look at shedding a few pounds as a problem that can be solved by maximizing efficiency.

That's how a Kansas State University professor came to write a diet book, "The When Diet: Mathematically Optimizing Eating and Exercise for Weight Loss," published in October by Ithaca Press.

"I never, ever intended to write a diet book," said Todd Easton, a K-State associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

Easton said he began to think about dieting as a matter of efficiency while teaching a lesson on bottlenecks in a simulation class.

"By the time that discussion ended I realized that you could optimize dieting," he said. "The body is a system, and it's possible to optimize systems -- it's in the title of what engineers like us do."

Easton said when he began the dieting project he was in the middle of the overweight category.

"I'd tried several diets, and it's miserable," Easton said. "At first you feel all excited about the diet. You're on it for a couple of weeks, and all of a sudden you're not losing weight as quickly and you're really missing that food. About the time when the misery is bigger than the weight loss benefit, you quit. It's fundamental decision theory."

That's where the systems engineering comes in. Easton sought to maximize weight loss while minimizing deprivation.

"The goal of any diet should be to minimize the misery of weight loss," he said.

Easton became his own test subject, weighing himself each morning and experimenting with how much he ate at different times of the day. Easton compared how much misery he incurred during the day with his weight loss.

"When you're doing experiments on eating, you do crazy things," he said. "Sometimes I didn't eat at all throughout the day and started eating at about 4 p.m. On those days, I increased my misery but still gained weight. Other days I tried the exact opposite strategy."

The experiments coincided with the mathematical analysis, and limiting calories at night is a method to optimize weight loss, he said. In the process of his experiments, Easton developed a mathematical proof, lost 30 pounds and has kept them off for five years.

"The basic idea for the mathematical proof is that the amount of time you don't eat before going to bed is the unknown," Easton said. "If you're not losing weight with five hours, try six hours, and so on. One thing I'm excited to find out from other dieters is whether the misery incurred is less than the benefit of their weight loss."

Easton said his book doesn't delve into health and fitness in the way that many other dieting books do.

"When you talk about dieting it's very easy to change the topic to health," he said. "I know the healthiest way to diet -- it's to eat the recommended number of calories, follow the food pyramid and get that 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise every day. But very few people want to do that."

Instead, Easton's book looks at dieting as an engineer would look at a system's inefficiency.

"Pareto's principle states that 80 percent of the trouble comes from 20 percent of the problems," Easton said. "By identifying the most critical habits that lead to weight gain and loss, dieters on 'The When Diet' can avoid making sacrifices that only marginally impact weight loss and can be assured that every sacrifice directly impacts weight loss. Thus, waste is eliminated from the dieting system."