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Key to losing weight: Readjusting mind and body to smaller amounts

Sunday, May 25, 2003

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

Any diet will work. Any no-fat, no-carb, all-protein, all-grapefruit diet, even the all-chocolate-all-the-time regimen that my daughter, Jessica, and I once enjoyed at the Hershey Chocolate Festival, will do. We'll lose weight, and then, if we stick to eating the same thing week after week, eventually we'll just die of boredom.

We crave variety, and the American Dietetic Association is right. Eating well is a product of variety, balance and moderation.

And the hardest of these is moderation.

That's why I was interested in Peggy Katalinich's "Eat What You Love & Lose: Quick and Easy Diet Recipes from Our Test Kitchen." I met Peggy through the Association of Food Journalists, and we have similar hazardous duties on the job -- too much good food.

A native of Milwaukee who did stints at the Minneapolis Star and Newsday, she is the food director of Family Circle magazine. The magazine has a circulation of 4.6 million, so I guess you might say Peggy is eating for millions.

Peggy and her five cohorts at the New York City magazine began to feel as though, little by little, they were adding unwanted poundage, what with tasting more than 25 recipes a month multiple times. Peggy had gained 2 pounds a year since joining Family Circle in 1994, and "it wasn't just the recipes. There were all these new food products we had to keep up with."

For the past few months, my husband, Ace, and I wondered if we're on the edge ourselves. We've been "eating like the Kaufmanns" while I test recipes from Fallingwater cook Elsie Henderson for the cookbook we're writing with Robert Sendall and Jane Citron. Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann and son Edgar Jr. had the Laurel Highlands to hike and the Bear Run waterfall to splash in before and after their meals. I have the Swan Acres circle to walk our dog, Socks, and I feel fortunate to have good neighbors, my church family and co-workers to taste our PG-tested recipes.

No wonder Peggy's cookbook hit the spot with me. Make that hips.

Fad diets to the contrary, the cookbook's thesis is tried and true. "The formula is this: Calories consumed = calories burned," writes registered dietitian Susan McQuillan, who developed the plan.

She continues: "Weight control is not about cutting carbohydrates unless you're eating too many, and it's not about increasing protein, unless you're not getting enough. It not about eating low-fat foods or high-fiber foods. When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, there's no substitute for a balanced diet with lots of choices coupled with regular exercise."

Not sexy, not a magic bullet, but so true. My question is this: We can take it off, but can we keep it off?

It's not easy to change a lifestyle, but what I like about this cookbook is that on nearly every page there's a recipe that looks good to me. Cookbooks often have a long column of ingredients, many of which require a search engine, and are so complicated that the dishes may never get made. While this book is not simplistic, it does use readily available ingredients, and the directions seem clear enough for even the beginning cook. And they were designed to sustain, not fatten.

Says Peggy: "By the end of our 16 weeks on the program, we could look at a dish and say, 'That's 342 calories.' "

What I don't like about the book is that the saliva-inspiring photos are clustered together in the center of the book, rather than appearing near the recipe. As I understand it, this is often done to reduce costs, and the cookbook does come in just under $20, a rarity with cookbooks today (ReganBooks: $19.95).

Peggy says the half-dozen dieters -- they're on the cover with the number of pounds they lost (from 18 for Michael up to 30 for Althea and Donna) -- used the two-week diet outlined in the book "religiously" to give them a good start.

As for Peggy, she didn't use the old excuse of "I've got two hungry teenagers and a husband to feed," and she lost 28 pounds over the four-month period.

For each of them, the key was portion control. That means reconfiguring one's mind to adjust to, say 1 cup of pasta. Go ahead, measure a cup and put it on a plate -- it's sure not what we're used to, especially in Pittsburgh's restaurants. Peggy understands our challenges here, coming as she does from the hearty eating climate of her native Milwaukee.

"Once you readjust your body, you're readjusting your mind to a comfortable portion," she says.

When she first saw how little food was a portion, she wondered if they'd starve.

I'm beginning to understand why my mother set out a tiny bread plate for herself at meals -- and sneaked her "tastes" off my dad's plate.

Mom had her methods, but there were no easy outs for these cookbook losers, just the day-in, day-out regimen, which sometimes meant spurning favorite foods. For Peggy, it was french fries. What did she do? "I just didn't eat them," she says.

While Althea Needham found comfort in reduced-calorie fudge pops, I'm not sure, having been raised on a dairy farm, if I could give up my ice cream. My own philosophy is to eat the best, and not so much of it. Somewhere I read that it takes at least three months to purge that "need" for high fat out of your psyche. What I want to know is, if I have one spoonful of that decadent Moose Tracks ice cream, does that mean I've fallen from grace again?

In "Eat What You Love & Lose," the test kitchen experts have taken the good stuff -- Ravioli with Sausage Sauce, Tuna Steaks with Mashed Potatoes, Garden Meat Loaf -- that can be served in our everyday lives forever.

Their goal was to make higher-calorie ingredients provide the punch to a dish. Take Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella. "We used a lot of garlic and some oil," Peggy says. "With smoked mozzarella, that flavor really carries."

Although we've tried only two recipes so far, we can imagine the pitfalls. The pitfall is portions and adding a "little extra."

For instance, the Blue-Cheese Dip was absolutely delicious, so why did I, after gathering the prescribed vegetables, break open a bag of super-scooper corn chips?

Peggy had a solution for that. She found sustenance in her support group. Surely somebody should have grabbed my chips and thrown them to the birds.

My husband, Ace, and I loved the Moo Shu Pork, a meal in a tortilla, but found ourselves creeping back to the kitchen for another roll. The recipe makes 10 10-inch wraps.

"Do you suppose we were only supposed to eat one?" I wondered, as the second roll disappeared, and we looked longingly at the kitchen door.

"Those first weeks were hard. We did a lot of whining the first week," Peggy admits. "I was cranky, though at the time I didn't think so."

Peggy says the greatest recipe challenge was desserts, because they were limited to 200 calories. "And we weren't going to slice the cake so small, you can't see it, which is what some books do," she says. "I actually prefer fruit desserts, so I never feel that's a deprivation." So the book sports a trio of cheesecakes that look delicious (especially the chocolate marble), a tasty-looking tart and pudding in phyllo dough. The worst thing is to feel deprived, Peggy says, because you're bound to go off the diet.

"We really tried to develop recipes that made every calorie count," she says. "When you're having just a few things, they have to have a lot of oomph."

A diet requires inner strength as well. And now it's maintenance. Peggy and daughter Marisa, 14, continue to eat huge salads. Marisa, an athlete, is an adventuresome eater; son Matthew, 17, also an athlete, less so. "I can get him to broccoli, but not to cauliflower."

"After a point, I have to figure out how to take 'normal' food and make it work for me," Peggy explains. "Let's say we're having a grilled flank steak with teriyaki marinade. I'm having just a few slices and broccoli and salad, and here's my son eating most of it."

She feels fortunate that her husband, Jerry Jetter, has retired, so he can get dinner started before she arrives home on Long Island.

"What it is, is relearning what a proper portion is," she says. "We've become so supersized in this country."

In more ways than one, Peggy.

Blue-Cheese Dip

  • 16 ounces nonfat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 4)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Pulse together sour cream and blue cheese in food processor until creamy (may be slightly lumpy). Remove to bowl. Stir in scallions, salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Serve with a selection of vegetables.

Makes 2 cups

Nutrient value per 1 tablespoon: 19 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, no fiber, 57 mg sodium, 2 mg cholesterol.

Moo Shu Pork

  • 1 tablespoon dark Asian sesame oil
  • 3/4 pound boneless pork chops, cut into thin strips (1 1/2 by 1/8 by 1/8 inch)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 scallions, sliced
  • 8-ounce bag shredded carrots
  • 10 ounce bag shredded coleslaw
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce, plus more for brushing tortillas
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 10 6-inch flour tortillas

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and half the garlic; saute until pork is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer pork and garlic to medium-size bowl.

Wipe out skillet with paper toweling. Coat skillet with cooking spray. Place over medium-high heat. Add scallions, carrots, slaw, and remaining garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until vegetables are softened. (We used a 16-ounce package of shredded cabbage-carrot mix.) Add hoisin sauce and soy sauce; heat through about 2 minutes. Add pork; gently heat through, about 2 minutes.

Heat tortillas following package directions. Brush each with extra hoisin sauce. Spoon pork mixture down center of each. Roll up and serve.

Makes 10 rolls.

Nutrient value per roll: 231 calories, 9 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 11 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 728 mg sodium, 18 mg cholesterol. (PG tested recipes.)

Suzanne Martinson can be reached at smartinson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1760.

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