Food for thought

Food for thought – four nutritional consultants tell which diets work and which do not

Courtney Small

THE OVERDOSE OF BOOKS, articles, ads and infomercials hawking various diets is enough to make a person want to give up eating altogether or start scarfing down as many Big Macs and large fries as possible. With all that information floating around, how can you tell which diets work and which don’t? How do you find the diet that’s right for you? And where do you turn for sound nutritional advice?

A good place to start is with a nutritionist, and the best way to find one is to call the American Dietetic Association (800-366-1655) for a list of registered dietitians in your area that meet the ADA’s strict guidelines. Or ask your primary-care physician or a friend who’s happy with her nutritionist for a recommendation. We’ve helped narrow the field by going to four of L.A.’s top nutritional consultants to discuss their philosophies, get the lowdown on some popular food fads and–because this is our restaurant issue–glean some tips for healthful dining out.

the panel

STEPHANIE GILLIS, founder of Custom Fit, has one agenda: to help people eat and feel better. The majority of her business comes from professional athletes or people in the entertainment industry–those whose careers depend on how their bodies look and feel. Many of her clients approach her only after having made far too many unsuccessful diet attempts–failures that Gillis, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology, attributes to living in a culture that hypes diets the way it hypes movies. She believes in tailoring an eating plan to the needs and lifestyle of an individual. “If you go to a nutritionist or pick a diet plan that tells you to eat specific foods at specific times and you have to prepare them at home, it’s not going to last” she notes, “especially if your lifestyle dictates that you eat out twice a day.” Most clients are good about sticking to fitness routines; it’s the eating that trips them up, she says. After determining how many calories you really need, Gillis designs a diet that fits your habits and food preferences, helping you figure out where to make changes. “A lot of it is mind over matter and how you think about food,” she says. 1079 S. Genesee Ave., 323-761-6440.

Tony Perrone has a Ph.D. in clinical nutrition and a three-month waiting list. Why is he so busy? He believes it’s because he doesn’t put his clients on “impossible plans” Acknowledging that most people aren’t going to eat healthful meals consistently, he stresses the need to form a plan that is reasonable enough to sustain. About 80 percent of Perrone’s clients come to him to shed fat. But no matter what their reason–weight loss, cancer, HIV, diabetes–all undergo the same screening to determine their specific nutritional needs. “Everyone is different. Some people need a high protein diet, others need high carbohydrates, and some will be able to get away with a lot more calories than others at the same body weight” he explains. “The reason a proper diet is so elusive is that it can’t be found in one plan.” His book, Tony Perrone’s Body-Fat Breakthru (HarperCollins), offers 10 diets and a guide to gauge which one is right for you. Warning: He isn’t taking on any more new clients for the time being. 16311 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 1620, Encino.

The simple philosophy of registered dietitian Elyse Resch stands out in a world of diet gimmicks: “Your body knows what it needs” Coauthor of Intuitive Eating (Diane Publishing), Resch believes we are born with the information we need to be a healthful eater; we simply have to tune in and listen to our bodies to become one. Clients at her private practice in Beverly Hills say sessions with Resch are like therapy. By helping them examine the psychology behind their over- or undereating, she strives to eliminate the guilt many associate with eating and replace it with a balanced outlook conducive to a healthful approach to nutrition. Often, the problem begins with body image. Resch points out that women in our society, and LA, in particular, overvalue an underweight look, creating impossible goals for themselves. This leads to a cycle of dieting that can trigger food obsession and eating disorders. 448 S. Canon Dr., Ste. 203, Beverly Hills, 310-551-1999.

Carrie Latt Wiatt, president of Diet Designs inc., takes nutrition to a full-service level that clients love. After years of providing one-on-one counseling, she realized it would be even more beneficial to show her clients what to eat by cooking it herself, enabling them to order weekly meals from her. Wiatt uses a back-to-basics approach by creating simple, flexible plans that include foods people really love and, she claims, will work for a lifetime. The balance is 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent lean protein, 20 percent fat. What’s the catch? Portion control, which she discusses in her latest book, Portion Savvy (Simon & Schuster). Though Wiatt, who has a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, counts calories, she does not advocate excluding food groups the way certain diet gurus do. “It’s not nutritious and not sane. You get bored. What we have to learn is to eat less and realize that less is more” But not everyone comes to Wiatt for weight loss. Her other clients range from diabetics and pregnant women to people with specific athletic needs to those who want to gain weight or just eat well, feel good and have more energy. 9040 Lindblade St., Culver City, 310-253-9079.

book report

FOR A CHEAT SHEET on how to eat out healthfully, get Anita Jones’s Healthy Dining in Los Angeles (Healthy Dining Publications). This book steers you through the menus of popular restaurants, offering nutritional breakdowns (calories, fat, cholesterol) so that you can make educated food choices. Available at all Whole Foods Markets.

food fads


The mere mention of the phrase “blended juice” drink sent our panelists into a chorus of warnings. Perrone calls juice clubs an “absolutely terrible idea. People think that because there is fruit in it, it’s good for you. But it’s pure sugar. Why would you go and drink a glass of sugar water?”

“Actually,” counters Carolyn Costin, an eating-disorders specialist and founder of the Monte Nido Residential Treatment Center in Malibu, “depending on the person, it can still be a lot healthier to quaff a juice drink than, say, a milk shake. But you need to look for juices that leave some of the fruit’s fiber in. Without the fiber, the juice’s sugar absorbs much more quickly into your system and your glucose rises faster”

Resch notes that many juice drinks are extreme and unbalanced. “Could you ever eat all the fruit they put in one glass?” she asks. In fact, according to Gillis, one drink can have as many as 800 calories. So if you are on a calorie-restricted diet, beware.

Wiatt warns against using such drinks as meal substitutes. “You are not getting all your nutrients” she cautions. “Even with the powders and add-ons they offer, it’s still not the same as food”


Anyone who thinks a nonfat muffin is less fattening than a slice of toast with jelly should think again. Resch points out that most over-the-counter nonfat muffins amount to a big piece of angel food cake- no fat, but lots of calories and little nutritional value. Warns Gillis: “Don’t confuse low-fat with low calories.” And Perrone rails against the whole notion of a fat-free diet “If the body is deprived of fat, it goes into conservation mode, burning muscle and water and bone density,” he says. “The body needs a certain amount of dietary fat. When they take the fat out of the muffin, they just add more sugar, and sugar is more fattening than fat.”

An exception to the rule is the low-fat muffins at Zen Bakery (10988 W. Pico Blvd., West LA., 310475-6727). Opened by monks 25 years ago, Zen has been making its famous muffins since 1980. They are packed with fruit and fiber, sweetened with white grape juice and have only 160 calories (1.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbohydrates).They’re tasty, too. The best-seller is the blueberry-mango-cranberry-bran (aka the BMC) muffin. Go straight to the source, or look for packaged four-packs at your local health food market.


Along with a quick cup of Starbucks java, bagels have become a staple source of morning fuel for people on the go. But most people don’t realize how high in calories bagels are. An average one is 100 calories per ounce. That means a 6- to 7-ounce bagel is 600 to 700 calories–without cream cheese or butter. “Its obscene–way too many calories for a quick breakfast!” says Wiatt. “There are bagels with fewer calories,” says Costin. “But again, nonfat equate with healthy. And if you do have coffee and a bagel for breakfast, it’s healthier to add some cottage cheese or yogurt so it’s not a pure carbo-and-caffeine meal.”

menu maneuvers

SINCE MANY OF TODAY’S frenzied working couples eat out at least twice a week (all the nutritionists we talked to said their clients eat out at least that often) and often order in from restaurants, knowing the hidden diet saboteurs in food prepared outside the home is crucial to maintaining a sound eating plan. Restaurants cook food to taste good, and that often entails adding salt, oil and butter in greater quantities than most of us need. The size of the meal is another pitfall of eating out: Many eateries serve bigger portions than anyone could possibly need. Here, then, are some tips for eating out, culled from our experts.

* ORDER A LARGE BOTTLE of flat water and some vegetable soup or salad upon being seated so you won’t gorge on calorie-rich bread. In fact, get the bread off the table.

* REQUEST DRESSING on the side so you can decide how much to put on, or ask for a dressing made of balsamic vinegar, mustard and lemon (Wiatt’s recipe). For that matter, have all sauces served on the side, or avoid them altogether.

* ORDER FOOD that has been baked, broiled, grilled, steamed or poached. These words on the menu are green lights.

* AVOID ANYTHING described on the menu as “crispy,” “creamy,” “fried” or “sauteed.” You can bet that they’re loaded with fat.

* REQUEST THAT YOUR MEAL be prepared without butter. The difference in taste is usually negligible.

* ORDER APPETIZER PORTIONS or, when eating at a place that serves large portions, split your entree with a friend. If your friend doesn’t want to share, ask the waiter to divide your meal and put half in a bag to take home. (Trust us, if it’s on your plate, you’re more likely to eat it.)

* ORDER WARM FOOD Some studies have indicated that warm food, when eaten, sends a message to the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that monitors appetite) that you are satiated more quickly than cold foods do. Experimenting certainly can’t hurt, so why not start with hot soup rather than a salad?

* USE UTENSILS, Studies have suggested that eating with utensils sends a stronger signal to the brain indicating you are full than eating with your fingers does. It may be psychological, but at any rate, why not eat your pizza with a fork?

* WATCH YOUR STEP around buffets, potlucks and Chinese restaurants, where diners often order several dishes to share. According to some research, the greater the variety of food presented, the more one tends to eat. Some people feel the need to sample everything and may overeat as a result.

* AVOID CARBOHYDRATES during the main course if you plan to order dessert (after all, a person’s gotta live!) by eating protein (no side dishes), or order a bowl of fresh, in-season fruit for dessert.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Los Angeles Magazine, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group