Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Naturally Thin" Thoughts

Bethenny Frankel's Naturally Thin is not the sort of book I normally would read.

It's not that I am a book snob, Lord knows. For reasons that remain somewhat mysterious even to me, I will read just about any piece of crap set in Tudor England, even if I know better. Even if it is by Philippa Gregory. I think I have read all her books, and if that's not the triumph of optimism over experience I don't know what is.

Of course it helps that I am interested in Tudor England. I am not interested in "Unleash[ing] [my] Skinnygirl," which is what Ms. Frankel promises to help me do. I'm pretty sure I haven't got a Skinnygirl. I hope I don't, anyway. It's bad enough that I have an Inner Coach and an Inner Ballet Mistress. If my interior life gets any busier I'll have to hire a caterer. Which is what Ms. Frankel is, actually. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, even if I had an Skinnygirl I don't think I would want to unleash her. Words like "thin" and "skinny" have incredibly negative connotations to me. "Lean" sounds pretty good, but "skinny" just sounds ... weak. Put it this way: if I had a Skinnygirl my inclination would be to sit her down with a big platter of protein pancakes, then send her off to the gym to do NROL4W Break-In Workout A. I truly do not understand why so many women seem to be obsessed with taking up as little space as possible. Think about it for a second--does this mean they consider themselves a waste of space? I hope not! As a gender we deserve better.

On the other hand ... while I may not want to be thin per se I do need to keep my weight under control. which I haven't been doing a great job of lately. Excess weight means I'm at greater risk of developing diabetes as my mother and two of my father's siblings have done. It means even more stress on my feet when I'm en pointe, and it makes pull-ups harder. It means having to use a heavier kettlebell when I go to RKC. It means fewer clients, because who wants to work out with a chubby trainer?

I could go on a diet, of course. Excuse me, I could follow an eating plan. Or adopt a new way of eating. In fitness circles we no longer diet, apparently.

There are endless possibilities, and I've dabbled in most of them. I've carbed up, I've carbed down, I've counted calories and Points, I've eaten 8 times a day and I've fasted. I've BFLed, I've Zoned out, and I've been to South Beach and back. I'm actually pretty good at following eating plans.

Problem is, I hate it. I get tired of the weighing and measuring and obsessing over my macros, and I just want to eat like a normal person. You know, like someone who can have, say, an apple if she wants one, without falling down some kind of slippery slope toward binge eating and obesity because she didn't have some protein with it. When you find yourself at the farmer's market wondering like J. Alfred Prufrock whether you dare to eat a peach, it's hard not to question your own sanity.

Hence the appeal of Naturally Thin. Bethenny Frankel claims that anyone can become "naturally thin" by learning, as she did, "how to think about food, how to balance diet with the rest of life, and how to stop torturing myself about every mouthful." She claims that after a lifetime of dieting she now eats whatever she wants, yet maintains a consistent, healthy weight without suffering, deprivation, or pain. Sounds good. I’ll have what she’s having.

Naturally Thin is divided into two parts. The first part sets forth Ms. Frankel’s ten rules for thinking about food like a “naturally thin” person. (From here on I will use “naturally thin” as a shorthand way of saying “able to maintain a consistent healthy weight without dieting.”) The second part walks readers through a week of eating. It’s not meant to be a diet prescription because Ms. Frankel doesn’t believe in them, but it’s meant to give readers some ideas for how to put her ten rules into practice, and also how to deal with situations that may arise during the week.

The ten rules basically come down to balance, portion control, self-knowledge, self-care, portion control, portion control and portion control. I’m not kidding. Ms. Frankel is big on portion control. Her advice for eating out is: order exactly what you want, but only eat a few bites. Share the rest with your dining companions, or take it home in a doggie bag, or leave it. Balance your high-calorie “splurges”—prime rib, cocktails, desserts, etc.--with low-calorie “bargains” such as vegetables. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses. Pay attention to your body’s response to food, avoid foods to which you are sensitive, and become aware of foods and situations that may trigger episodes of binge eating. Eat real food whenever possible.

So far so good. There’s quite a lot of repetition in the chapters setting forth the ten rules, but that’s okay. When you’re trying to replace one thought pattern with another, it doesn’t hurt to have the new pattern drilled into you. Ms. Frankel does a good job of setting forth her ideas in a way that resonates. I particularly like her diet-as-bank-account analogy. You really can have just about any food you really want as long as you budget for it by eating lightly the rest of the day. Mind you, I’m not convinced this is the way naturally thin people really think—or maybe it is, only they’ve got budgets like Paris Hilton’s so they don’t really need to worry about overspending. But even so, it’s sensible advice.

Where the book really starts to fall apart for me is in the second part. In fairness to Ms. Frankel, she doesn’t actually tell readers they must follow her Daily Naturally Thin Program Account Balancing Guidelines; she just includes them for those readers who feel they need more guidance. Of course this does sort of contradict what she says about knowing yourself and not surrendering control of what you eat to a diet program. But whatever. As I said, the guidelines aren’t mandatory.

If you’re wondering, here’s what Ms. Frankel suggests:

1 carb based meal per day
1 protein based meal per day
1 carb or protein based meal per day, or a meal with a balance of each
1 sweet snack (under 225 calories)
1 savory snack (under 225 calories)
up to 2 exceptions per day, which might include 2 bites of dessert, 2 bites of a rich entrée or side dish, 1 small alcoholic beverage, or half a piece of bread with olive oil and butter.
unlimited vegetables
1 or 2 fruits, one of which can be your sweet snack
2 sweets, including your sweet snack, and any desserts or alcohol you may have as part of your two exceptions.

The guidelines don’t look terrible, but then I’m not a dietician. Of course, neither is Ms. Frankel as far as I know. For that reason alone I have trouble recommending that anyone follow them. If you’re going to go on a diet—and make no mistake, anything that tells you your fruit intake is limited to two servings per day is a diet--go on one created by an R.D. or nutritionist.

Or better yet, read part one of the book, absorb it, and come up with your own guidelines that are consistent with the ten rules, yet suited to your unique personality and lifestyle. That’s what I plan to do.

Once I finish my Skinnygirl Margarita :)