I don’t know about you, but I splurged during the holidays with cookies, cakes, and other high-fat foods. My exercise routine floundered and extra pounds found their way onto my hips and stomach. During my life after 50, I’ve found that it’s getting harder and harder to reshape my body. Regardless of age, it’s a new year and it’s time to see what I can do to lessen my love handles.
The nice PR people sent several self-help books which promise to “transform” and “revolutionize” different parts of my body. I was intrigued by a book by Liz Vaccariello with Kate Scarlata, RD, called “21-Day Tummy, The Revolutionary Diet That Soothes and Shrinks Any Belly Fast.” Most of my extra pounds always seem to go straight to my tummy. The diet targets dangerous fat but also helps with digestive discomfort, something I find to be an on-going issue as I age.
Another book on my pile was fat-loss expert Tom Venuto’s “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: The Simple, Proven System of Fat Burning for Permanent Weight Loss, Rock-Hard Muscle and A Turbo-Charged Metabolism.” Wow-o-wow, will I really transform my body and have abs like the model on the cover? I wanted to know how. Please tell me how. Will I have to do 50 minutes of planks every day for the rest of my life? I can barely last five minutes in a plank position.
To find out if these fat-busting plans were legit ways to lose pounds and inches, I asked my friend L, a registered dietitian, to review them:
J: What do you think of the 21-Day Tummy diet?
L: It’s a really interesting read. The first half provides good information about fibers and carbohydrates that cause some people abdominal problems like gas cramps or irregularity. The second part offers meal plans and recipes for a 3-phase diet that is well organized, beautifully photographed and uses a variety of flavors. The recipes seem like they would be tasty, although I myself am not fond of breakfast smoothies.
J: Is the diet practical for boomer women?
L: The book includes many testimonials and a handy shopping list for needed ingredients. At about 1500 calories a day, the menus are safe and adequate for most people. I even learned that I was not the only woman to get constipated for two weeks before my period. The author likes to exercise and includes a fitness program toward the back of the book.
J: What didn’t you like about the diet?
L: Many of the recipes use expensive ingredients like maple syrup, blueberries out of season, almond flour and often harder-to-find spices like ground cardamom and garam masala. I also don’t agree with diet recommendations such as, if you get hungry, you can drink more water or munch on raw vegetables. Really? In addition, I was surprised at the short lists of good and bad vegetables and fruits. Surely, there are more foods that are safe to eat?
(Note: Liz and Kate highlight ‘Belly Bullies’ that can cause chronic inflammation and an imbalanced gut. These foods include fruits and veggies that they suggest you limit while on the 21 day diet. That’s why L mentions this aspect of the diet that may be a surprise. For example, these foods include apples, pears, and mangoes, which are high-fructose foods; and wheat, garlic, onions and foods containing chicory root extract (inulin), which are high-fructan foods. Other ‘Belly Bullies’ are carb-dense foods; pro-inflammatory fats; high-lactose foods; high-GOS foods especially red kidney beans and soybeans; and high-polyol foods such as artificial sugars, plums, prunes, apricots, nectarines, blackberries, mushrooms, cauliflower, sugar-free mints and gum.)
J: Will it work? Can someone really drop up to 19 pounds in 3 weeks?
L: The drop in wheat-based carbs can cause a loss of body water that can make the marked weight loss the first week be temporary. Also, most people can stick to any diet for 3 weeks. It’s what happens after that, when it’s not fun or novel anymore and you’re craving pancakes and pretzels that will make or break this approach. Certainly for people with GI problems, the diet is worth a try. I do think most people wouldn’t want to puree parsnips after a long day at work, but, I just might try out some of these yummy-looking vegetarian dishes on the weekend. Then again, I like to cook and others may prefer to just microwave something from the freezer. For those people, this diet may be too much work.
J: Okay, now tell me what you thought of Tom Venuto’s new book, Burn the Fat–Feed the Muscle.
L: It’s fabulous. This is the first popular book that is perfectly valid scientifically. Not only is it solid, good information on nutrition and exercise, it is friendly and supportive. The author anticipates every question and objection and then backs up his points with facts. It explores every myth of dieting and exercise and gives practical advice to help people stick with the plan. It is well written, clearly organized and easy reading.
J: Any criticisms?
L: Only one and that is he presents evidence on dieting that is specific to very low-calorie diets and not to modest reducing diets. There are other meal plans that will be healthier for people who do not intend to perform bodybuilding exercises. The author clearly states that he is advising people who DO want to work out intensely, though, so there is no misrepresentation. It is refreshing to finally read a diet book that doesn’t rely on magical formulae to achieve goals, but requires dedication, and he’s not afraid to say so.
Thanks L for your helpful reviews.
I also encourage you to read The New York Times health journalist Jane Brody’s column on “The Empty-Diet-Claim Season.” Jane provides helpful tips for adopting a sensible eating and exercise plan. Plus, iVillage offers practical ideas in “Burn More Fat: 10 Little Changes in Your Exercise Routine That Will Make the Difference.