Many of us struggle with our weight.
I don’t know when being “chunky” first entered my realm of consciousness. Though I was a little heavy as a kid, I never worried about it; my family certainly didn’t comment on it, and whatever self-esteem issues I had as a teen didn’t stem from my appearance. In college, my brisk walks across the University of Maryland’s sprawling (and I do mean sprawling) campus kept me lean and mean . . . even as I downed my daily meal of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets between classes.
Of course, like so many, those carefree days of cupcakes and soda couldn’t last forever. Taking my first desk job in 2007, I’ve worked in an office — on my rear end for more than eight hours a day — for half a decade. Though the numbers on the scale didn’t immediately jump up, my weight has steadily increased. To date, I’m about 30 pounds heavier now than I was in college. And on my 5’3″ frame, that’s definitely obvious. To me and others.
Still, I don’t lose sleep about my weight; I mean, I’m way more than my dress size. I hadn’t really given my weight a major thought until I started noticing clothes I wore just a year ago were getting snug, and I started hating the way I appeared in photos. In an unguarded moment, my jaw actually dropped when — yes — I saw a recently tagged photo of myself on Facebook. So many chins.
This isn’t one of those “AND THEN I GOT MY ACT TOGETHER!” tales of success, friends; I wish I could spout off my recent accomplishments and how I fell in love with exercise and stopped drinking Diet Coke and dropped four sizes and now feel amazing. I hope that, someday, I’ll come back here to share some of those successes (minus giving up the whole diet soda thing — I can tell you now, that ain’t happening). But I’m not there yet. I’m not even close to there yet.
This whole thing? Getting healthy, getting in shape? As for all of us, it’s an ongoing process. I’ve written about discovering Zumba and the wake-up call that was a visit to my family doctor a month ago. I know that, at 26, I’m no longer young enough to discard health warnings or think, “Oh, those problems won’t happen to me.” I know that if I don’t get myself together now, it’ll be really hard — maybe too hard — to get myself together later. And I don’t want that.
Enter my research phase. Short of developing a way to physically push myself up off the sofa after work to walk or go to class or anything, I’m searching for a way to get myself into a healthier rhythm — through exercise and diet changes — and have turned to my favorite way to learn stuff: books. They’re great, right?
Opening Cynthia Sass’ S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, I felt a little nervous; for so many, myself included, “d-i-e-t” is a four-letter word. I’ve never been on a diet. Everyone I know on a diet seems to be, well . . . sour-faced. And liable to mouth off at you for daring to eat a piece of cake in front of them. (Jen Lancaster mentioned that in Such a Pretty Fat, and by golly — it’s so true.)
To be honest with you, I don’t want to diet. I really like food. I don’t use food (or lack thereof) to punish myself, and I certainly don’t sit around in a steaming pile of guilt for eating a cookie. Fashion bloggers’ svelte figures don’t send me into a self-hating rage, though I do tend to avoid others’ exercise-obsessed boards on Pinterest. Yeah, I know I’m not exercising; I don’t need perfect abs in my face to remind me I will never, ever look like that.
But that’s all right. I’m all about healthy — and so is Cynthia Sass. An acclaimed weight loss expert, Sass is part of the brains behind the Flat Belly Diet! — a New York Times bestseller from a few years back. She’s the real deal: a registered dietitian board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics, and the sports nutritionist for several major sports teams. Her credentials definitely stack up.
S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim, previously published as Cinch!, is a quick, engaging read that never felt belittling. Sass’ approach isn’t of the “boot camp” variety, using scare tactics and harsh words to intimidate would-be dieters. Despite what I was expecting, this book isn’t just about dropping weight quickly; it’s about making notable, small and valuable changes to your diet to help increase weight loss, improve your well-being and change your quality of life. I dug it.
Sass’ approach is designed to establish order to your meal times and isn’t built off “starving, restricting or depriving yourself,” she states. Reading the book, the plan is actually anything but starving yourself: it’s eating healthy, balanced and specific meals on a schedule, and it emphasized good, clean eating above all else. The “S.A.S.S.” part of the diet has to do with the low-fat, healthy and specific seasonings Sass recommends to cut out fattier alternatives like condiments and salad dressings.
The plan is two-fold: either begin with five days of a calculated eating plan, which Sass sets out for you, or bypass that part and go straight for a 25-day stretch of enjoying specific foods. Here’s how that all goes down:
The optional 5-Day Fast Forward jump-starts your results — up to an eight pound loss in five days. The Fast Forward calls for four simple meals a day, made from clean, delicious, detoxifying, filling, nutrient-rich foods shown to support weight loss. [Sass] even include[s] a grocery list that specifies all the ingredients you’ll need (and recipes!), so preparing for the Fast Forward (which is vegan and vegetarian friendly) is a breeze.
The 25-day plan again calls for four meals a day, but draws from a much broader but specific array of food choices. A day’s worth of meals can potentially include: a Chocolate Pear Ginger Smoothie for breakfast, Fresh Mozzarella Basil ‘Pizzalad’ for lunch, Shrimp Creole for dinner, and a snack of Cranberry Parmesan Herbed Popcorn! With this core plan (also vegan and vegetarian friendly and adaptable for gluten free diets), you can easily drop a size in just one month.
Reading Sass’ plans and goals, I was nodding my head vigorously and imagining myself snacking on the five foods she emphasizes in the 5-Day Fast Forward: raspberries, non-fat plain organic yogurt, spinach, almonds and organic eggs. She states from the get-go that the Fast Forward is optional — so those who aren’t interested or don’t want something to structured can skip this completely and get right to the 25-day meal plan.
The book does a great job of including materials that can actually get you started — and, in my case, these cut down on my excuses to not give it a try. Grocery lists outline everything you’ll need to get going, and the foods listed? Well, I already like ’em. The book includes real-life recipes, personal stories from those who have found success with the plan and plenty of sidebars to break up the text. This isn’t a long, droning health book you must read cover-to-cover before beginning; you can breeze through the early chapters, get a feel for the routine and get crackin’. As I was reading, I just kept thinking, “This is doable.”
For me, the highlights of S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim are the success stories — with before-and-after photos (who doesn’t love those?). Women (and men!) describe how they made the plan fit into their busy lives, how it’s benefited them and how they manage to keep up with it long term. There’s the bride who had to return a size-12 wedding dress for a size 6, the couple who dropped weight together and those who shed pounds within the first week of going on the Fast Forward.
Of course, the careful individual in me views those “drop weight fast!” claims with a skeptical eye — not because I don’t believe it’s possible, but because I’m unsure whether it’s healthy. Still, Sass’ plan is certainly not based on starvation or traditional dieting, and the science behind the weight loss makes sense. Of course, there’s no substitute for good old fashioned exercise, too. Just check it all out to be sure it makes good sense to you.
So am I ready to S.A.S.S. myself slim? I’m getting there. Since starting the book a week ago, I’ve found myself picking it up often before bed and grabbed many of Sass’ recommended foods on my last grocery store run. Though I’m not ready to do the Fast Forward or commit whole-hog to the 25-day plan, I’ve learned quite a bit about the importance of good fats and how to snack healthier. I’ve already developed a raw, unsalted almond habit (so crunchy!) and am thinking more about the times at which I eat — and how big my portions are. I’ve begun drinking even more water than usual and am trying to limit myself to one Diet Coke a day.
Over the next few weeks, my plan is to incorporate one of her low-calorie recipes as a lunch or dinner substitute every day and go from there. As S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim helped drive home, a healthy lifestyle is a process . . . and a daily, conscious choice. I hope with time it can become second nature. And you know I’ll report back with my progress.