It's the new year, and with that, focus for so many turns to dieting and losing weight. Cynthia Sass, who was a co-author of The Flat Belly Diet, has a brand new book called Cinch! that is less a diet and more a way of changing how you look at food.
There is a lot to like about the book. It focuses on whole foods, which I love. There is a great set of over 100 recipes in the book that you can mix and match to form your meals for the day. She also preaches eating three meals a day with a snack and ensuring that you eat every three to five hours.
A lot of it is common sense but laid out in a way that helps it really sink in. There are lots of facts and side notes with science behind what she's saying. As someone who tends to be a bit of a skeptic and who likes to know the "why" behind everything, this was perfect for me.
My favorite part is the focus on fruits and vegetables. As much as I actually like fruits and vegetables, I know I don't normally get my fair share on a daily basis. This eating plan has you eating fruit at breakfast, lunch and snack, and veggies at breakfast and dinner. That said, you end up with more than the recommended amount, which is awesome. Not only that, but by following the recipes, you've got the fruits and veggies laid out for you so you have no excuse to "forget" to eat them. That alone is worth the cost of the book to me.
In the beginning, the book offers a "Fast Forward" program for five days that promises to help you shed up to seven pounds (on my unedited proof copy - eight pounds on the final version). Once you finish the Fast Forward, you then move to the Cinch eating plan. For the Fast Forward stage, you simply follow the prescribed meals for a five day period - all a variation on spinach, eggs, yogurt, almonds, and raspberries. Hey, I'm game!
I tried the Fast Forward. In fact, I completed it. I lost a total of 3.1 pounds in four days (and given the rate, I probably lost a total of around 4 pounds). That's nowhere near what's promised on the book, but then again, I only need to lose 10-12 pounds, and I am now a good portion of the way there.
That doesn't mean I'm completely sold on the book and it's eating plan, however. I run three times a week between two and three miles a go. I also do strength training and other workouts during the week. In reading her book, the only allowance for increasing what you are eating is by answering yes to seven or more of twelve questions she poses. I answered yes to six that included: I am over 5'4", I am under 40 years old, I work out 5 or more times a week for 30 plus minutes a time, I strength train more than twice a week, I get 8 or more hours of sleep a night, etc. And I still don't qualify for a single extra anything as part of this plan.
By Day 5 of the Fast Forward plan, I was shot physically. My run that morning was near impossible. Wednesday's had been harder than Monday's but still doable. Friday's... I completed it but only barely. So of course I suspected the only thing that had changed - my diet. I used a food calculator to figure out what I was eating during that five day period. Per the calculator, it was 1063 calories per day. Total. Every nutrition book I've ever read or seen talks about staying at or above 1,200 calories to avoid putting your body into starvation mode and upping calories to account for strenuous physical exercise. My body simply had nothing left to give by Friday for my workout.
That said, I was happy - and surprised - to report that I wasn't hungry each day. When I've ahhh worked to reduce my weight in the past, it had taken me a few days for my body to get used to a lesser amount of food. The foods that Cynthia Sass has chosen for this plan, she chose well. If I weren't working out the way I am, I wouldn't have as much a problem with the calorie restrictions.
The other lack of accommodation for strenuous exercise was liquids. She preaches drinking 16 oz of water with each meal - for a total of 8 to 10 cups per day. You are not to exceed 10 8oz cups per day. Well, honestly that's less water than I drink already! (I do wonder if it's because very very little sodium in her recipes - necessary to keep people from diluting their bodies' sodium levels too far) If you exercise, you don't get more water. There's no expectation that you will replenish the fluids you lose through exercise.
Staying on the beverage path, I was also confused about how much to drink. You can drink 8-10 cups of water. You can also drink up to 5 cups of coffee and/or tea. But is that in addition to the water? If it is, why can't I just drink more water? If it isn't, why not? Ditto with a special Cinnamon Berry Tea, a recipe she provides. That - among other things in the book - brought more questions to my mind than it answered.
My only other issue with the book was her preaching about no fat dairy. I was very happy to see that she was firm about not substituting low fat other foods - keep the standard versions due to the unhealthy additions manufacturers put in to lose the fat - but I keep reading articles about how removing the fat from dairy also removes our ability to access the calcium contained in it and how removing fat changes the hormone balance in milk, neither of which are appealing options to me. While I absolutely agree with her concerns about the level of saturated fat in dairy and other meats (particularly red meat, which is not a part of her eating plan), I will respectfully continue eating my fat containing dairy and just being mindful of the amount of fat I'm consuming as a part of my daily allowance.
I do wish she had included one last chapter in the book - one that discusses how to transition from the lower calories in the eating plan for 30 days to how your "standard" meal would look like when you're ready to maintain your weight. Do you increase the whole grain (her allowance for those who answered yes to seven or more of the twelve questions I discussed above) by one per meal? Do you have 1.25 portions of protein or veggies or fruit? I would love for this to become a lifetime eating plan, but at some point weight loss is accomplished or no longer the goal and one needs to return to "normal" life, hopefully still following along with the tenets of this book. It would have been a perfect ending to share how to do this in detail rather than leaving it to the reader to experiment later.
That said, I do like a lot of the common sense notions in the book. I really appreciate the extra tidbits and whys and hows that she discusses in her asides, as it makes the topics much more accessible. I think her idea about thinking of your daily meals as fitting puzzle pieces together - with her providing the general shape of each piece with you to fit them together as works for you - is a brilliant way to make this less overwhelming to so many people.
I am not following the thirty day plan to the letter at this point. There are plenty of meals that look appealing to me, but I need to also ensure that I have sufficient fuel for my body to work out as I do, and while I haven't calculated the nutritional content of a sample post Fast Forward day, I am guessing it is still below what I would need as I look at what's included in them. Instead I will stick with the eating every 3-5 hours. I will drink as much water as I can (more than the 10 cups she allows), and I will attempt to eat at least one or two of the meals as part of this plan each day - especially the single square (about 54 calories for my chosen bar) of 72% dark chocolate that is encouraged - no, required! - each day.
There is a lot to like about this book, and it's a great manual - especially for people who don't tend to cook from scratch (and feel intimidated trying - these recipes are S.I.M.P.L.E.) or aren't the healthiest eaters right now. Is it perfect for me? No, but there are definitely bits and pieces of it that I'll incorporate into what I do - and hopefully it will make a difference in my body, as well.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Cinch! by Cynthia Sass from One to One Network for review purposes only. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.