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Book Review: 'The "I" Diet' by Susan B. Roberts and Betty Kelly Sargent

March 13, 2010 |  7:00 am

I Diet

"The 'I' Diet" is a diet book with a difference. Like many other books in the weight-loss genre, it features eating plans, nutritional advice and recipes. But the new paperback -- previously published in 2008 as "The Instinct Diet" and updated with new material -- offers something more: practical strategies for changing eating habits.

" 'I' Diet" author Susan B. Roberts is a professor of nutrition and of psychiatry at Boston's Tufts University, where she focuses on obesity. She says that after writing nearly 200 research papers and reading several thousand by other scientists, she decided that all studies agreed on five things that influence our eating behavior: hunger, the availability of food, the variety of food, the familiarity of food and how rich or calorie-dense the food is.

Roberts' book, written with Betty Kelly Sargent, addresses these variables to help dieters shed pounds and develop a healthier relationship to food. She's tested her plan on volunteers in her Tufts weight-loss lab and others. She promises that her program drops weight faster with less hunger than other plans, eliminates dieting plateaus and cuts cravings -- and will result in permanent weight control.

These are hefty claims, but her approach has plenty of influential fans. The new book includes favorable reviews and endorsements from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody and a slew of academics in the nutrition and medical fields, as well as Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., who lost 30 pounds on her diet while eating out five nights a week.

Roberts says one contributor to obesity is the wide variety of foods available today. Choice is a problem for many of us because we instinctively eat until we've satisfied ourselves with each individual food rather than with the meal overall.

To cope, she suggests reducing the variety of high-calorie foods you eat, while adding variety among high-fiber vegetables, fruits and cereals. For example, eat broccoli and strawberries one day, cauliflower and mango the next and so on. But keep only one type of dark chocolate on hand rather than several different kinds of chocolate candy.

One way Roberts addresses cravings is to say that it's fine to indulge occasionally in high-calorie foods but that they should never be eaten alone: Always combine them with lower-calorie foods so you'll be less tempted to overeat the calorie-rich items.

At meal times, for example, sandwich high-calorie items between lower-calorie foods, starting with a bulky salad, eating the entrée and a small portion of a rich dessert next, then finishing with a cup of tea or bowl of fruit and fiber-rich cereal to signal the end of the meal. Eat high-fiber foods at most meals to assuage hunger, Roberts says.

She encourages dieters to get used to eating more healthful foods by slowly transitioning to low-fat and low-sugar versions of "treat" foods they love. She says the less healthful versions eventually won't be a temptation.

Some of Roberts' strategies you've probably seen before, advice such as eating only at regular meal and snack times, tossing out unhealthful and "troublesome" foods and going with a high-protein, low-carb combo to minimize hunger. She emphasizes that different strategies work for different people, thus the "I" in the title of the new edition.

Like many diet books today, Roberts' book offers a two-week quick-loss plan, a three-day eating plan that gets repeated for two weeks. The idea is to strictly limit the variety of foods at the beginning of the diet to help suppress hunger. Her 1,200-calorie-a-day starter plan includes three meals and two snacks and is designed for weight loss of 7 to 10 pounds.

Then you move on to her six-week "keeping it going" plan, which includes more variety and some low-calorie treats while promising steady weight loss.

Recipes, meal suggestions, restaurant dish options, and shopping and calorie lists make up much of the rest of the book. The book's 125-plus recipes are high in fiber and low in fat, sugar and refined carbs, with both meat and vegetarian selections.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The 'I' Diet," Susan B. Roberts and Betty Kelly Sargent, Workman Publishing, $13.95

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