After giving birth to twins, health writer Robin Aronson was twenty pounds too heavy and longing to shed her excess baby weight. So she called upon skinny friend and food writer Melissa Clark, who dines out almost nightly in New York's best restaurants without gaining weight, for help. Clark, overweight herself until she was 23, divulged a nifty little system. Once Aronson tried the stay-skinny strategies, she lost 30 pounds. Friends began to notice and wanted in on the secret. So eventually the two writers decided to put their "eat-what-you-want" philosophy into a new book called The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever.

Not many diet books recognize the fact that food is something to be savored. Or that most of us use food to satisfy ourselves both emotionally and nutritionally. This one does. In fact, at every opportunity the authors suggest dieters throw guilt out the window and learn to be "a little good and a little naughty and a lot happy." Striking this balance is the perfect way to enjoy food but not let it sabotage weight-control efforts. Another plus of the book is its emphasis on learning what it really feels like to be full. It may not be easy for dieters to eat and learn to be satisfied with small portions, particularly in a world that jumbo-sizes nearly every food you buy. But it's a good place to start.

Basic principles:

This isn't about counting calories but about learning how to eat what you crave, such as fried foods and dessert, in small portions. You balance small indulgences with lean, healthful selections. There are no forbidden foods. But there are limits. If it's a fried oyster roll, eat half. "A beautiful plate of sashimi? Go for it girl!"

How the diet works:

It's simple-figure out what you feel like eating. And then eat it. But if it's a rich food, satisfy your craving with just a few bites or enough "to scratch your itch." Then fill up with fruits and vegetables. Say you're at a cocktail party. Plan to choose the three best-looking hors d'oeuvres and savor them. Enjoy every last bite by appreciating texture, flavor, and aroma. Then switch to carrots and dip. Next, pair these skinny-eating strategies with plenty of exercise.

What you can eat:

Eat small portions when the food you want is something fried or high-calorie. If it's grilled chicken or sashimi, eat reasonable amounts. Add lots of fruits and vegetables to the plate. Round out the meal with a complex carb like a whole-grain roll or barley salad. One caveat: You'll need to add a little protein (egg, cheese, tofu, turkey) if the food you want is salty chips or something sweet.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Maybe. So far the only success stories are authors Melissa and Robin and their friends.

Is the diet healthy?

There's really no concrete plan here to evaluate. Still, the general advice about eating smaller portions of rich foods and filling the plate with fruits and vegetables is indeed healthy.

What do the experts say?

"I like the emphasis on portion control." says Kathleen Cappellano, MS, RD, an instructor at the Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. "I also like that nothing is off limits and that dieters are encouraged to eat slowly, learn how it feels to be full, and submit to cravings." These are all good strategies that can help weight loss says Cappellano.

Harvard weight-loss expert Kathy McManus, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, is also impressed by the strong emphasis throughout the book on eating small portions. She says the book is an easy read and offers some helpful weight-loss strategies. But she has a few concerns. "I think people need to do more than 30 minutes of exercise a few times per week to lose weight." She also thinks the recipes aren't geared toward dieters that have health issues or a family history of heart disease. "Some of the recipes call for two ounces of cheese per serving," which is a lot of saturated fat.

Who should consider the diet?

Women with small amounts of weight to lose. If the little black dress is now a couple of sizes too small, or if you have health problems, it might be better to start with a more structured diet plan.

Bottom line:

A fun, lightweight read, this book is geared to women who like good food and need to figure out how to enjoy it without gaining weight. It's not really a diet plan so much as an assortment of common-sense behavioral strategies that can help with weight management.
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