Take a look, and change your views on dieting

January 26, 2003|By Susan Reimer

A PICTURE IS worth 1,000 calories, as anyone who is viewing holiday snapshots knows.

"Oh, God! Tell me I don't look like that in real life," is the lament uttered just before, "That's it. I am not putting another thing in my mouth in this lifetime."

Howard M. Shapiro, New York City diet doctor to the rich and famous, seems to understand the power of the picture, and his new weight loss program is all the buzz as a result.

In Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss, now available in paperback (Warner Books, $14.95), there are plenty of words, but what matters most in his "food awareness training" are the pictures.

Shapiro uses photographs of food to illustrate the choices you should make to lose weight but, more important, to be healthy.

You can eat one low-fat, sugar-free corn muffin, as pictured on page 4 of the book, or a pile of fruit, as pictured on page 5, that would topple Carmen Miranda. Either way, you consume the same 720 calories.

You can eat a tiny bowl of cashews, pictured on page 100, or eight baked potatoes with salsa, pictured beside the nuts on the same page.

Not that you want to sit down to eight baked potatoes, but somehow the pictures of two choices, each worth 880 calories, is memorable.

And that is what Shapiro is counting on. Instead of carrying around a little calorie-counter book and a diet diary, dieters can carry around pictures in their heads of the choices Shapiro offers.

A single egg roll or a bowl of Chinese vegetable soup, shrimp and broccoli in hoisin sauce, brown rice and a fortune cookie.

"Instead of dieting, you're participating in an ongoing process of learning to make satisfying food choices," he writes.

There are some surprises in the book, even for us veteran dieters. A bowl of lush, rich-looking olives is lower in calories, and better for you, than a fat-free pretzel. Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread is lower in calories and better for you than a naked 5 ounces of turkey on rye -- and more appealing, too.

And you can eat an entire loaf of raisin bread -- with fruit spread on each slice -- and consume the same 930 calories as in one scone.

Shapiro does not break new dieting ground, except in this unique and effective presentation. You can question the accuracy of his calorie counter. (Where did he find 14 slices of raisin bread that contain only 840 calories?)But there is no denying the impact of seeing four-color photos of the food choices you make.

The choices he favors are heavy on fruits and vegetables -- the bane of dieters without a lot of time to shop. Which one of us has an acorn squash in our fridge that we can grill up after work?

The choices clearly require preparation time and creative flavorings -- another issue for those of us who are preparing food for children -- such as butternut squash stew or cauliflower seasoned with herbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

His program is also heavy with the old staples of dieting wisdom: lots of fish and chicken, no red meat.

He is not a fan of the Atkins Diet, but he recommends avoiding white rice, pasta and bagels. They are dense with calories, he says, and they aren't very good for you. Go with whole-grain, reduced-calorie breads instead.

He also suggests substituting with veggie hot dogs, veggie sausage, veggie pepperoni, veggie burgers and veggie lunchmeat; plus the low-cal versions of breakfast foods, such as waffles, pancakes and syrups. And he proposes sorbets, frozen yogurts and hard candies for the sweet tooth.

None of this is news to the veteran dieter. But there is no denying the appeal of this book. Seeing is believing. And if the goal of all dieters is to feel full and satisfied while losing weight, Shapiro's pictures, with a grocery bag full of food on one side and a third of a bagel on the other, is a powerful vehicle for the same old dieting truths.

And his approach is so popular that he has published a shopping guide and, most recently, a cookbook.

"On a long-term basis, there is only one safe, effective, foolproof way to get yourself down to a lower weight and keep off the extra pounds. That is to eat a healthy, reduced calorie diet and get enough exercise," he writes.

Get the picture?

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