I picked up The Pound a Day Diet by Rocco DiSpirito not so much for the pound a day part, but rather because I had seen Rocco as a chef on shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Weight Loss.” On one of them he mentioned that people often feel that when they want to lose weight, they can’t eat anything except grilled chicken and salads, and anyone would get tired of that after a while. That resonated with me, so I wanted to see what else he had to say and hopefully glean some ideas from him.
Part of his interest in lower calorie but tasty foods came from his own need to lose weight. When he became a chef and was working with great food all day, he packed on the pounds. When he decided to lose weight, he used his culinary skills to create recipes that were filling and flavorful yet lower in calories. Sometimes that involved substitutions for the higher-calorie counterparts; sometimes it involved using fresh foods and avoiding higher calorie ingredients. (You can see a before and after photo of him here.) He has created a whole series of books including some of these recipes and ideas.
In this book he advocates losing weight by consuming 850 calories on weekdays and 1200 on weekends in Phase 1. He gets away with the 850 calories by having a protein smoothie in the morning. He quoted a few studies saying that losing weight more quickly than the usually recommended pound or two a week is beneficial because the progress keeps one encouraged: when weight is coming off slowly, combined with the inevitable plateaus, people get discouraged and quit.
He advocates a Mediterranean diet, which involves a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fewer and leaner meats, and a lot of his general information about what kinds of foods to eat is common sense and similar to what you might read in other healthy eating plans (like eating carbs but choosing nutrient-dense, lower calorie versions rather than the calorie-dense lower nutrient versions). He also talks about benefits of exercise, different types, etc. Probably my favorite chapter was the next-to-last one, about healthier ways of cooking, ways to boost flavor without adding empty calories, the benefits of preparing one’s own food and buying locally (pointing out that food that has traveled 5,000 miles to get here is not going to be as nutritious as what you can get locally), etc.
The bulk of the book (some 140 pages) is recipes. In the reviews I saw of the book, several of them criticized his use of things like artificial sweeteners, powdered proteins, etc. Though there is a lot of that kind of thing in the smoothies and desserts, most of the entrees and side dishes are just regular foods and spices. Though Rocco advocates preparing meals for yourself, he does include recommendations of ready-made foods that are close to the the recipes.
I marked several recipes I want to try and had wanted to do so before reviewing the book, but that didn’t happen. I was going to try the protein smoothie: I don’t have diabetes (my fasting blood sugar the last few times has been in the “slightly elevated, not enough to say diabetes, but enough that you need to make some adjustments” readings), but I do have a tendency to low blood sugar. If I just have cereal (even cream of wheat) and fruit in the mornings, within an hour or so I am dizzy and shaky and lightheaded and need to eat something else. Over time I’ve figured out that I have to have something with protein for breakfast for it to last at all, so I wondered if a protein shake might help. As I started to look for the ingredients in the smoothies, I couldn’t find them locally. I did find them online, but as I added up all I would need, I decided that before investing in all that I should probably try a ready-made protein shake and see if I even liked it and if it worked. I liked it well enough, but it still had me just on the edge of feeling dizzy and shaky, even with eating fruit in addition to it. I don’t think I could use them every day – I’d miss the regular smells, tastes, and textures of breakfast foods – but they’d be ok for an occasional supplement. They did work well when I was recovering from oral surgery.
I like Rocco’s focus on foods and recipes because in so many of these weight-loss shows, the focus is on the workouts and the “drama,” with very little said or shown about food. Yet food is the major part of a diet, and if people can’t find a variety of things they like to eat, they’re not going to stick with any healthy eating plan long term. So I appreciate his efforts to provide not just healthy but also tasty alternatives. I’m still wary of 850 calories a day and foods that are made primarily of powdered ingredients (the high-protein chocolate breakfast shake has psyllium husk powder, fiber powder, protein powder, and egg-white powder besides the cocoa and monk fruit extract), but the general principles and a lot of the other recipes sound good. In fact, I received from my Christmas “wish list” his Now Eat This!: 150 of America’s Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories to glean some more ideas for pared-down favorites. You can check out some of his recipes here, and he has various YouTube videos as well.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)