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Krieger pushes 'Healthy Appetite,' not guilt about eating

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
'Small Changes, Big Results, Revised and Updated,' by Ellie Krieger
'Small Changes, Big Results, Revised and Updated,' by Ellie Krieger

Forget the extremes, the fads, the forbidden. When it comes to developing healthy eating habits, it's the little things in life that count, according to Ellie Krieger in “Small Changes, Big Results, Revised and Updated.” Forever banishing the idea of guilt-by-food-association, the host of the Food Network and Cooking Channel's “Healthy Appetite” series embraces the idea of taking eating, fitness and lifestyle habits one step at a time.

Outlined in a 12-week plan of attack, readers get down to business with her “usually/sometimes/rarely” food list that clearly outlines what should take priority on your plate without forever slamming the door on that favorite guilty pleasure. Sidebars — including The Skinny on Fat, High Energy Eating, Additives to Avoid, and Exercise Myths Debunked — are sprinkled in between 65 recipes for dishes, such as banana-peanut butter smoothies, chipotle turkey meat loaf, pita pizzas, scallop and asparagus saute with lemon and thyme, and creamy cauliflower soup.

For Kreiger, it has nothing to do with overhauling your entire lifestyle, or forcing your body to adhere to a torturous eating regime. Her goal is to get people off of the diet roller coaster and onto a more reasonable track towards an overall better way of living for mind, body and soul.

Question: Has the concept of a “diet” become a moot point in today's culture?

Answer: I wish it had! Sadly, diets will just never go away. It just feels like this time of the year, especially, we're bombarded with these extreme plans that tell you “You can't eat bread for the rest of your life.” That's my mission, with this book and my work in general, to get people off the diet roller coaster. I've been on that in my life; I know what it's like, and it doesn't work. It makes you feel bad about yourself. You don't have to live like that. You don't have to do anything very drastic; you don't have to say “never” to any foods in order to be on the right track. The whole idea is to get to this middle place, which is really the comfort zone. You have to put some effort into it: You need to plan, you need to learn or re-learn habits, but once you learn them, it really takes the stress out of them. You never have to go on a diet again. … Doesn't that sound nice?

Q: In an attempt to develop healthy eating habits, is it easy to become paranoid about eating certain foods?

A: That's why I came up with the usually/sometimes/rarely list of foods. I formulated that when I was working in private practice with clients. I found that people were very extreme and couldn't get out of this all-or-nothing mentality. I wanted to help people find a balance that's sustainable. It means really focusing on the “usually” foods, which are whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, healthy oils, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean proteins. And if that's a backbone, you can sprinkle in the things from the “sometimes” list, like maple syrup or honey or white flour, for example. And for the “rarely” list like fried foods, it's OK to have a little, but sparingly. It's taking a step back and looking at your diet, not as individual decisions, but as a whole.

Q: Your book emphasizes the importance of breaking the habit of rewarding ourselves with food. Why?

A: We have this ingrained in ourselves. It really gives these kinds of things more importance and weight, so to speak, than they need to have. It's a cookie, but then all of a sudden it becomes loaded with this sense of “I deserve” and all this other meaning. And we need to get away from that. So, if we can find other things that we deserve after a long day — maybe it's buying a new song on iTunes, or getting a neck massage, we start to explore other ways to reward ourselves (and) really start to enrich our lives. So, the joy in our lives doesn't have so much to do with food. If all your pleasure comes from food, something is off balance.

Q: There seem to be frequent attitude changes related to certain foods. For example, one minute we're told something is bad for us and the next minute we're told its OK. How can we keep up?

A: This is what I thought was really interesting. Basically, I re-researched all the science in the book (first published 10 years ago) and there were some things that were different. For example, sugar is worse than we thought and coffee is better. What's really interesting is that even after looking at the science, nothing in the actual plan changed at all. Yes, certain things have changed, but the basic steps for healthy living are the same.

Q: Over the past few years, carbs have replaced fats as the new diet dirty word. What's the final verdict — yay or nay?

A: I do think that we now know that it's not just about fat. The research really shows that if you replace saturated fat with refined sugar and refined flour, it's equally bad, if not worse, for your heart, and we did not know that 10 years ago. The point is that all along, the advice has been to eat less sugar and refined carbs. So, it doesn't change the basic advice. What's frightening is that people are taking this to the extreme and not eating any grains. But it's a mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water. Grains are great food, and unless you have special dietary needs, there's no reason not to include them.

Q: What are some words of wisdom you can give to people who are finding it hard even to make small changes to their existing routine?

A: If it's that hard, then they have to re-think their changes. On a scale of one to five — five being impossible — a change should be a three. Just a push, not impossible. And also, keep in mind that you don't have to be perfect. This notion of “perfect or bust” does not serve us at all. So, one of the best skills that you can develop is getting back on track after you've been imperfect. And that's something that may be the most valuable thing you can learn how to do. In my world, there's no room for guilt.

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