October 2005, "The Unusual Suspects"
Who knew that an egg white, an apple or a slice of whole wheat could go straight to the thighs?
Park Avenue nutritionist Jana Klauer, who often recommends whole wheat for its high fiber content. ''A baguette is a better choice than whole wheat bread? Well, that's just crazy," she says.
What's even crazier are the clashing theories about what might be doing my diet in. I can't imagine what else I could possibly cut out of my life; I've been eating terribly boring, low-calorie foods for too long to still be struggling with my weight. Determinedly, I ask around, but doing so only adds to the confusion. Perhaps the problem with asking for advice is you just might get too much of it.
I figure Meir Stampfer, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, will give me a fair and balanced opinion. He tells me that "whole wheat raises your blood sugar almost as quickly as white bread does." Translation: A sandwich on Food For Life bread, a health-foodie fave, won't necessarily fill you up longer than a sandwich on Wonder Bread. But by no means is he suggesting I slather my peanut butter on the pillowy white stuff. White bread loses many of its vitamins and minerals during the refining process. ''At least whole wheat has healthy benefits," says Stampfer.
"So does this leather chair I'm sitting in!" Garcia retorts, sarcastically, when I bring up Starnpfer's outlook on wheat. "Does that mean it's good for me?" His statements both shock and humble, but maybe that's what he's going for. After all, Garcia is the rock star of th~ nutrition world. He's known as much for his stylish flair and winning smile as he is for his firm diet man-date that "all calories are not created equaL" As I watch him tear off cotton candy-like pieces of white bread, dab them in raw egg yolk for extra flavor and pop them in his mouth without apology, I realize Garcia is determined to change the way I think about food. But I have begun to feel like Queen Isabella when she was politely informed that the world was round.
Take the banana conundrum. ''Just stay away," Garcia warns. "It can actually trigger cravings." That's funny. On Weight Watchers, a large banana is a measly two points. And although the South Beach Diet once discouraged it as high in carbs, the company recently announced it is "pleased to offer a medium banana as a fruit choice beginning in Phase 2," touting the high potassium, vitamin and fiber content. Raw-food expert Natalia Rose has clients who happily scarf down two, three, even four bananas a day and still manage to shed pounds.
All the controversy over a 110-calorie piece of fruit seems dubious, so I investigate further.
"Well, are you trying to gain weight?" asks Manu Dawson, a holistic nutrition expert at the highly regarded Integral Yoga Institute in New York's West Village, whose counsel in the fields of raw and vegan diets has helped many women maintain their trim physiques. With the utmost sincerity, he starts inquiring about whether I'm looking to "carbo-load" for any upcom-ing marathons. (That's a good one.) Even nutritionist Charles PassIer, famous for whittling some of fashion's most prominent figures down to sam-ple size, tells his clients to be wary of the fruit.
When the daily 4 p.m. blood-sugar crash hits, I've learned to deflect the promise of a Snickers bar in favor of a spotted yellow banana or a more glycem-ically sound, softball-size Granny Smith. Klauer, the uptown nutritionist, wags her finger at such a lonely treat. She paints the perfect mid-afternoon snack like a Flemish still-life artist, nestling that apple against a "wonderful wedge of cheese. Now that's a beautiful snack" She goes on to cite the research of Michael Zemel, a professor at the University of Tennessee, whose much-lauded book, The Calcium Key, details a study in which those placed on a diet rich in dairy lost more body fat than those whose diets lacked calcium. _ "Definitely add a piece of cheese," confirms PassIer. ''Your snacks should be just as balanced as your meals." Both he and Klauer also suggest yogurt as a welcome addition, but they're not referring to familiar cups of Dannon. "I ion't consider those yogurt," Klauer explains. "They're dessert." Instead she prefers Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein and lower in carbs. As a chronic dieter, this thick, velvety variety has always scared me away, due to its fat and calorie content, which seem high for something as plain as yogurt. Indeed, when I speak with Sally Kravich, a holistic nutritionist, she tells me that dairy keeps the weight on. And in my conversations with Scott Krause, a dietary expert whose macrobiotic leanings tend to vilify even a sliver of Parmesan, it comes up that "dairy coats the stomach, making it harder to absorb nutrients and get the message that you've eaten enough."
So, let me get this straight: Dairy makes you hungrier? I thought whole wheat did. Does that make mozzarella and tomato on a dark, rustic roll as sinful as a slab of seven-layer cake? Before I agonize for a second longer, I remind myself that even Gwyneth lightened up on the macrobiotic act a year or so ago, during her pregnancy. She admitted in this very publication that the pull of a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich was much too powerful to resist. Just when I think the menu can't get any shorter, Krause warns me about the pitfalls of the homely little yam, which I've always looked upon as the last safe potato on the planet. And then he goes after spinach and zucchini, which, he insists, will make me feel sluggish, tired and weak. "They tighten and congest the digestive tract, which isn't what you want for weight loss," he says. "They leave you feeling stuffed, when instead, you want to keep everyt:hU)g flowing." Low-carb guru Jonny Bowden says to put the kibosh on egg-white omelettes. "Eat the whole damn egg!" he admonishes, as he laments my diet's lack of "good fats," which, he emphasizes, are essential for weight loss. Even a starlet-skinny sushi dinner starts to look menacing the more you talk to nutritionists. "Personally, I always order my rolls without rice," Kravich informs me. Then Donald Hensrud, director of the executive health program at the Mayo Clinic, says that drinking water all day "doesn't have a huge effect on weight loss." I nearly lose it when Rose tells me that fruit should always be eaten-gasp-alone.
I am slowly beginning to go insane when just in time, a cool wave of relief rushes my way in the form of, oddly enough, a completely artificial diet egg
cream. It is a gift from Stephen Gullo, the internationally renowned psycholo-gist specializing in weight loss, who tells me about Jeff's Diet Chocolate Soda, a regular indulgence among some of his most successful clients. But that's not all they eat. He shares even more secret snacks that have helped keep the weight off of his former fatties, including seven-grain waffles by Van's, 97 per-cent fat-free franks by Hebrew National, even calorie-free marshmallow dip by Walden Farms. Gullo is quick to point out that whole, healthy foods such as chicken, fish, berries, beans and vegetables are far better choices than such processed fare, something with which nearly every nutritionist I consulted would agree. But he's willing to accept that so-called "diet foods" can actually be critical to losing and keeping weight off, because they're tasty substitu-tions for the foods people really wish they were eating, but without all the calories. It all seems downright retro, in a step aerobics sort of way.
At this point, I confess to Gullo that during my own brief flirtation with Atkins, I managed to gain nearly 10 pounds in less than two months, thanks to Dr. Atkins's somewhat permissive attitude toward artisanal cheeses, something I embraced with, apparently, a bit too much zeal. This doesn't surprise him. "I love these people who say, 'I'm going to eat seven almonds,' and then they eat 70. Get real!" he scoffs. "Human beings are not given to moderation but rather to excess."
And therein lies the problem. As naive as it is to believe that a few nuts are going to do the trick, or that a snack of fruit (sans cheese) is going to do me in, it's even more "naive to think that anyone food is going to make me fat or skinny. For someone who will always struggle with her weight, most foods-even the good ones-will forever carry an air of danger. The idea that the solution is in a slice of bread or in a side of spinach at this point just seems, well, bananas.
-JESSICA B. MATLIN