No doubt "Joan Lunden's Healthy Cooking" (Little Brown, $24.95) -- a combination cookbook and personal weight-loss story -- will sell millions of copies. It could inspire thousands of her fans to try to cast off the pounds nature has generously bestowed on them.
That's what happens when you are the immensely popular, well-hyped, media-engineered fixture on ABC's "Good Morning America" for more than 20 years. Not since the publication of "In the Kitchen With Rosie" by Oprah Winfrey's cook, Rosie Daley, has a TV-related cookbook taken off with such celerity. After just a week in bookstores, "Healthy Cooking" is in its fourth printing.
Good Housekeeping magazine already has published large segments accompanied by six recipes. Savvy promoters have orchestrated appearances by Lunden in a whirlwind book-signing tour before the fanfare subsides.
That's how high-energy marketing is done nowadays.
So it's fortunate Lunden recently found a half-hour for an interview, sandwiched between a radio talk show appearance and a crowded book-signing.
"Everywhere I go, people call me by my first name," Lunden
says. "They ask 'How are the girls, Joan?' " referring to her three daughters, ages 16, 14 and 8. "They say, 'I am so inspired by you.' "
She looked svelte and radiant in a black pantsuit and exuded the sincerity that makes people feel they can gab with her as if she were the neighbor next door.
Unfortunately, her ebullient presence outshines her book, which turns out to be a collection of cliched personal reminiscences and observations, many of which she already has discussed on "Good Morning America." It also includes about 110 recipes, most of them decent though not original, and all carefully tested by a staff of four hired for that purpose.
"I'm not a nutritionist," she says. "I wanted to be sure there were no mistakes." Each recipe has calorie, fat, percentage of calories from fat and sodium information, but no cholesterol counts. Some are accompanied by color photos or pictures of Lunden posing with famous chefs.
The weight-loss advice she proffers thins down to an unorganized assortment of platitudes most weight-conscious people have heard over and over: Keep a food diary, use herbs and spices to increase the flavor of foods without fat, learn to choose the right foods, and balance your calorie intake with regular exercise.
Though Lunden writes about how she finally had to come to grips with being 50 pounds overweight (180 pounds at 5 foot, 7 1/2 inches), she fails to explain in any detail just how she trimmed down over the past seven years.
She does mention, however, that her road to leanness began with a visit to a health spa and now includes a personal trainer to keep her on a program of cardiovascular exercise and weight lifting.
Also in the book are some short interviews with dietitians, physicians and weight-loss experts and a few recipes from Julia Child, Steven Raichlen, Wolfgang Puck and other well-known cooks. Several other recipes come from family and friends and from Sara Moulton, who prepares recipes for visiting chefs on "Good Morning America."
"I am in a position where I have access to the experts," she says. "Most people wouldn't normally have that."
Some of the same experts and chefs -- as well as dozens not consulted -- have written their own books on health, diet and cuisine that are far more authoritative and complete. But none is named Joan Lunden.
Writing the book entailed some personal agony, she says. "I had to decide if I was going to tell people how much I really weighed, how alone you feel when you're fighting the battle of weight."
But coaxed by family and friends and "thousands of letters and e-mails to 'Good Morning America,' " she and co-author Laura Morton decided to tell her story in print. Morton's expertise is in audience appeal: She produces television infomercials and exercise videos, including Lunden's own "Workout America" video in 1994. The two plan additional projects, including more books.
Her fans will love it
"It's a celebrity book," she acknowledges, saying it should appeal to fans seeking a behind-the-scenes peek at her life. But people looking for nitty-gritty personal details -- for example, about Lunden's much publicized divorce from producer Michael Krauss -- will be as disappointed. as those seeking the secrets of losing weight.
Instead there are anecdotes, such as how she encouraged the ABC catering department to switch from doughnuts and coffeecake to fruit and bagels, what it was like to bungee jump in New Zealand, and how she missed winning a horse show ribbon because she couldn't get her riding boots on over her fattened calves. These tidbits are interspersed with photos of Lunden mountain climbing, parakiting, posing with the Navy Seals or pursuing her equestrian skills. There's also a shot of Lunden in a midair swan dive off a swing bridge in New Zealand, attached by a bungee cord.
Lunden says she would like women to learn that they are important individuals.