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The Big Apple diet slice by slice

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By Eileen Daspin

London - Manhattan Dieters aren’t afraid of food; they love it. The restaurants, the gourmet markets, the chefs, the foodie obsessions underscore how much food is loved there. Manhattan Dieters are eaters. They’re also big home cooks and ingredients snobs.

The city is bursting with size 6, 8 and 10 yoga moms and executives and women who are simply in better shape than they have a right to be given their foodie surroundings.

How do Manhattan women do it? To find out, I spoke to every thin, fit and stylish woman around me. I asked 25 of them to keep diet diaries. They live with the same pressures as women everywhere, only they have figured out a daily diet that works with their lives.

The speed version of what I found goes like this: eat well, but not too much. Walk like a maniac. Cook at home. Leave a little something on your plate. Indulge your sweet tooth. Don’t go hungry or deprive yourself. Eat whole foods. Dump anything with diet in the name. Water is good. A glass of wine is fine too. Always eat your vegetables.

The unabridged narrative is more counterintuitive. With every interview I uncovered something unexpected. Fat, for example, is a staple here; Manhattan loves its butter, extra-virgin olive oil, triple-cream cheeses, whole milk, cashews and almonds. It is a town that selectively embraces dairy-free spreads, skimmed milk and reduced-fat cheese.

This is as much about aesthetics as it is a point of pride. Manhattan dieters don’t think of themselves as fatties, so they don’t eat like dieters.

It’s a similar story for carbs.

Manhattan dieters love their pasta, their risotto and their bagels. Given how demonised carbs have become in the past decade, I expected to see mostly red meat, chicken, fish and vegetables in the diet diaries. Instead, my ladies were mainlining grain products. On some intuitive level, Manhattan dieters have concluded that the anti-carb faction is just wrong.

From these women, I compiled a list of rules, a wealth of insiders’ secrets as well as recipes, and developed a 28-day eating plan. The Manhattan Diet is not a by-numbers prescription for health but rather a report from the dieting front line with universal lessons. You don’t have to live in Manhattan to eat, exercise, shop for groceries, or cook like a Manhattanite. – Daily Mail

We’ll eat Manhattan: The rules

1 Eat what appeals to you.

2 Only eat when you’re hungry.

3 Don’t eat too much. My diarists’ entries typically comprised small and specific amounts: 40g chicken breast; 1 square chocolate; 90ml red wine; 80g mango; 80g beetroot salad; salmon steaks averaged 75g to 100g and pasta servings 100g to 175g. The precision in amounts reflected portion control, which is key for weight management.

4 Don’t go hungry – travel with snacks. Stock up your desk with energy bars, almonds, crackers and dried fruit, such as cranberries. Carry whatever you can reasonably cram into your handbag. In Manhattan, it’s all about maintaining the blood-sugar level, which is why the Manhattan Diet plan is structured as a series of small meals and snacks.

5 Eat what your body craves. Just because it’s 8am doesn’t mean you have to eat eggs, fruit or porridge – and at midnight, who says you can’t have a bowl of granola?

6 Make habit your friend. Again and again I came across notes such as, “I eat the same thing for a couple of days in a row”, in reference to a tuna melt that did double lunch duty on Monday and Tuesday. Or “porridge is the cornerstone of my diet”.

7 Keep it simple. Too much variety is a bad thing because it can lead to overeating. (Think of how much you eat at a buffet; more choices mean more temptation.) I often prepare the same dinner every night until I tire of it.

8 Love the wholegrains: quinoa, spelt, rye. I’m not sure who is following those low-carb regimes, but my women are not. More than half had a bread product at breakfast, lunch and dinner. One third snacked on a bread item between meals. Pasta or rice were the single most popular dinner component.

9 Eat your veggies. The Manhattan Dieter’s biggest friend was the salad, which dovetails nicely with the “keep it simple” rule. Throw leftovers on a bed of greens, and you’ve got a meal. Salad was the most popular lunch item, and at dinner time it was second only to pasta or rice as the main event. If the journal keeper wasn’t having salad as a main course, she had a small one on the side. Buy the very best olive oil you can afford and use it sparingly – either with vinegar or in an easy vinaigrette.

10 Cut out fast food. Manhattan Dieters avoid chains such as KFC and McDonald’s completely. Their pizza is artisanal (with broccoli and smoked sausage) and their burgers, served with toppings such as bacon jam, are too.

11 Exercise. Just do it. My volunteers are pretty conscientious in this area. A few do something every day: take a yoga class, go to the gym, ride a bike. And the typical Manhattan woman is walking 3 to 5km a day. Manhattanite Sarah Jessica Parker says that one of the ways she stays in shape is by walking up and down stairs instead of taking the lift. I carry my groceries five blocks (about 0.5km) instead of taking a taxi. Small steps add up.

12 By “eating properly” I don’t mean just grilled fish and steamed spinach. I mean a balanced diet that keeps you in line and allows you to cheat. It’s okay to eat puddings. Many reported following dinner with dessert, and about half had dessert at lunchtime. Just don’t overdo it.

13 Bottoms up! From a calorie-counting point of view, alcohol is pointless and does bad things to willpower. But psychologically and emotionally, a glass of wine is sometimes what you want at the end of the day.

14 Don’t eat in the moment. Come up with a grand scheme that spans meals and days. If you overindulge in the morning, pull back at night. Or if you go crazy over the weekend, be spartan on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

15 Buy small. It will help with portion control and make you more aware of what you’re eating. Your brain will register a difference between ripping open ten mini bags of M&M’s and opening just one giant bag.

16 Don’t deprive yourself. Instead of creating taboos, incorporate them into your diet in a controlled way. Keep bags of 100 calorie sugar rushes on hand, such as chocolate-covered raisins or jelly beans.

17 If you lose control around a particular food – it’s peanut butter for me – don’t buy it. Try something else, such as sunflower seeds or pistachios, which won’t make you crazy.

18 Buy good-quality ingredients. Retrain your food brain to have a little of something great rather than a lot of something mediocre.

19 Shop little, shop often. I didn’t interview anyone who does a single mega grocery run every week. This is partly due to kitchen size in Manhattan – there isn’t room to stock up on food – and the fact that not many New Yorkers have cars. But a lot of it is just temperament. People shop more often because they want their ingredients to be super fresh.

20 Leave a little on your plate. It can even be a crumb; just be aware you’re doing it.

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