April 25, 2013


The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions. By Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., and Katherine Brooking, M.S., R.D. Tarcher/Penguin. $14.95.

     Here we have, at conservative estimate, about the 2,345,678th diet book published in the last, say, three weeks. Except it is really not that cookie-cutter a work, or it would scarcely be worthy of notice at all – the flood of this diet and that diet and the other diet has nearly reached saturation point, and the only reason publishers are not embarrassed is that the books continue to sell to an ever-heavier nation in which people are looking, once and for all, for the simple solution to being overweight.

     News flash: there isn’t one. The way you lose weight is by eating less. If you couple that with exercising more – not even necessarily formal exercise, but pretty much anything that gets you in motion regularly and keeps you there until your heart rate rises and you work up a sweat – you will do even better, because your metabolism will increase and the reduced amount of food that you eat will be processed more quickly and efficiently, and will help you build muscle rather than fat (which is simply the body’s storage place for energy not needed now but possibly required in the future).

     The two registered dietitians who founded Appetite for Health – yes, one of the 2,345,678 Web sites devoted to this subject; you can check it out at www.appforhealth.com – have the good sense to address the diet issue as a behavioral one above all. And they go beyond the usual “don’t snack while watching TV” admonitions to address 101 behaviors that they deem “Fat Habits,” and then offer “Slim Solutions” to every one of them.

     This approach will not appeal to everyone; for that matter, it won’t work for everyone. But it is clever, internally consistent and has the potential to help those people who do follow it take weight off and, believe it or not, keep it off.  Fat Habit #80, for example, talks about living in a neighborhood that helps make you fat by being filled with “innocent-looking delis or convenient 7-Elevens [that] are just waiting to lure you in and tempt you.” This is a genuinely unusual viewpoint, and so are the recommendations that Julie Upton and Katherine Brooking make: don’t leave home on an empty stomach; keep good-for-you snacks with you to eat if you get hungry while out and about; if you know your usual route takes you past a place whose food is too tempting to resist, plan an alternative route and stick to it. This sort of creativity permeates The Real Skinny and is the best reason to read it. But the recommendations often carry the seeds of their own potential destruction – what if, for example, that much-too-tempting place happens to be next door to your office or your children’s day-care center?

     Still, every listed Fat Habit, even the questionable ones, will make sense for some people. If you deliberately avoid eating fat because you think it makes you fat (Fat Habit #31), for example, the authors say to get real: “fat is essential to your health,” but you must learn which fats are good and which are not, and plan your eating accordingly. Fat Habit #39 is an intriguing one: it says that vegetarians need not be concerned about getting fat. Wrong, say Upton and Brooking: “Being a vegetarian does not guarantee you good health or a healthy weight if your calories are coming from the wrong foods.” Their Slim Solution is to count calories, eat a variety of foods, and be sure you get proper nutrition – nothing unusual or exceptional there, but the habit itself is one you would not expect to see listed.

     Upton and Brooking also offer recipes and many specific suggestions about what to eat – for example, in dealing with Fat Habit #85, which relates to knowing what to do but having trouble planning how to do it. The authors also spend some time, inevitably, discussing exercise, and here the Fat Habits are not unusual at all: #89 is about not having enough time, #90 about being self-conscious, and so on. Nor are the Slim Solutions anything out of the ordinary, ranging from making good use of the time you do have to “just try something [and] you’ll feel more self-assured and more confident.” Still, if not everything in The Real Skinny is surprising or innovative, that is just the way things are: again, the only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.

     “Losing weight is a relatively easy proposition,” write Upton and Brooking. “Eat fewer calories than your body requires and you lose weight. Keeping it off, however, is another story.” And that is the issue that The Real Skinny addresses, sometimes in clever ways and sometimes in mundane ones. Like other self-help books – whether related to food or to anything else – it will not help unless you bring to it an open mind and a willingness to invest time and mental energy (physical energy, too) in its recommendations. Motivation is one thing that no authors can supply. But if you are feeling frustrated at your inability to stay at a weight you find comfortable – which is different from getting to a target weight – then The Real Skinny is certainly worth reading. Search for the Fat Habits that seem most applicable to you – not all of them will apply to everyone, by a long shot – and see whether making a few changes along the lines of the book’s Slim Solutions seems to help you stabilize your weight. If so, that may be all the motivation you need to try even more of the recommendations here. Not all of them are for everybody, but there is enough good sense in the book so that most people will be able to find at least a few techniques that will be helpful in their individual situations.

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