***This is a sponsored post. I received a copy of Slimmer by Harry Papas for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own and no further compensation has been received. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…***
Normally I wouldn’t review a book that focused on a weight-loss diet, but I was intrigued by the chance to read more about the famed Mediterranean diet by an actual dietitian from Greece. I mean, when you want answers you go to the source, right? And this particular diet (as in the lifestyle studied as part of the 1960s Seven Countries Study) is lauded for its ability to lower the risk of heart and stroke as well as affecting ones chances of contracting Type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and–of course–obesity.
So what goes into the traditional Mediterranean diet?
…according to the Seven Countries Study [it] was primarily plant based with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean protein (mostly from fish), olive oil, and moderate amounts of wine. Dairy products, including cheese and yogurt, were plentiful and eaten often, while red meat, poultry, and eggs, which were less readily available, were eaten less frequently. Processed foods were virtually unheard of and sweets of any kind were definitely enjoyed in very small portions.
Gee, where have we heard that before? Only everywhere anyone with a good head on their shoulders advises about a nutritious diet, that’s where! But while it sounds simple enough, many folks know just how tough it can be to stick with those ideals. This is where Papas comes in.
His “New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight” takes these ideals and constructs a detailed 9-week eating plan, broken down into 3, 21-day cycles, with a focus on hearty breakfasts, light snacks of yogurt or fresh fruit, and lots of simply-dressed salads to accompany lunch and dinner.
While I wasn’t truly interested in doing the whole weight-loss program, since my usual way of reviewing a cookbook (which this is, at least in part!) involves trying several of the recipes, I convinced Todd to try it for a week or so to see what we thought.
Breakfasts were sizable, always including a choice of three fruits (prunes, oranges, or kiwis), some whole grain cereal, milk, a piece of whole-grain toast, the choice of coffee or tea, and then one additional item that ranged, depending on the day, from jam for your toast, cheese, a hard-boiled egg, or turkey bacon or sausage. This was a far cry from my usual mid-morning breakfast of plain oatmeal with a bit of sugar and some coconut oil, but it was strangely satisfying and I quickly got used to starting my day this way, with a serving of yogurt as my mid-morning snack.
Afternoon snacks might be yogurt, again, but were more often a cup of fruit and sometimes specifically red fruits. Evening snacks (which we never managed to remember) were a glass of milk or yogurt before bed. I was a little surprised at just how much dairy was included on this plan.
Lunches and dinners were flavorful and varied, and required very few adjustments to make the low-FODMAP friendly, so that was nice. The oddest thing, to me at least, was that the recipes that followed the Cycles section were all 1 or 2 servings a piece! Further reading seemed to suggest a reason this was so, but first lets take a look at what dinners looked like from the week we cooked out of Slimmer.
The first night we had Slimmer Chicken a la Creme (with basmati rice, as suggested in the recipe, but not specifically listed in the dinner list, so I wasn’t really sure if this was “correct”) and a large tossed salad. The salads were always topped with Papas’ Power of Life Blend (a mix of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and flax seeds put through the food processor for a bit) and dressed with oil and vinegar dressing. Todd’s not a big fan of oil & vinegar on his salads, so he opted for something tastier that we already had on hand (he also opted not to forgo his zero-calorie soda habit during this trial, as he’s not a fan of coffee or tea for his caffeine fix). It was tasty but not something I’m dying to make again.
Night two featured Spaghetti Bolognese and while it, too, was different than I was used to, this was far more to our liking than than the previous night. The cinnamon and allspice gave the sauce an interesting flavor and finishing it with Greek yogurt added a richness many diet recipes lack. Of course the Parm on top certainly didn’t hurt! A procedural thing about this recipe (which I noticed in a few others) was that instead of starting with the dry pasta and making the sauce while it cooks, he lists the cooked pasta at the end of the recipe–for folks who aren’t used to reading all the way through the list as they cook this could cause some issues. Just saying.
Papas’ Mediterranean Burger was up next and, as you might expect, it was served without a bun. Rather than breadcrumbs or eggs, this burger is held together with flaxseed meal and ground oats and served with a lemon and olive oil sauce. This was also one of the nights I took the option of serving the main dish with a side of squash rather than the usual salad–we were getting a little burned out on the roughage–which is an option mentioned in the FAQ section tucked behind the recipes. Why this wasn’t included in the preface of the cycles with the rest of the info is anyone’s guess, but I’d guess it was to discourage the substitution being overused.
Another night we dined on Easy Seafood Risotto–a dish that reminded me more of a jambalaya than a risotto. The easy part comes from the fact that you cook the Arborio rice separated and stir it into the tomato-laden sauce just before serving. As if that wasn’t enough to make me give this dish the side-eye, he completely skips the mantecare step, which is essential to a true risotto. I couldn’t let this stand, it just didn’t taste right, so I added a bit of butter and Parmesan cheese to the freshly cooked “risotto” to at least approximate what it could be. With my mantecare it tasted like risotto, without it, it was a lifeless plate of rice, tomatoes, and shrimp.
Greek Chicken with Roast Potatoes was another night and this one fared a bit better than the risotto in our estimation. Putting everything together in one pan is always a great way to ease the strain of dinner prep, but even cubed potatoes are going to take longer than a chicken breast to cook so I would suggest steaming the potatoes before putting them into the pan with the chicken to finish. As it was I had some extra time that night to make dinner since Todd was delayed, but not everyone is going to have that option every night. Furthermore, if someone skimmed the recipe to see how long it would take they wouldn’t find a time, they would only find “roast…until the potatoes are tender, the liquid has evaporated, and an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 F when inserted in the chicken breast.” Not as helpful as they meant it to be.
Finally we tried the Mediterranean Mac and Cheese. Just having this in a diet book was curiosity enough to try it and it was one of the better dishes we sampled during our test week. The sauce, made of scalded milk and a thickening agent (cornstarch) gets mixed with shredded Gouda and egg and then baked with the pasta (again, expected to be pre-cooked) and topped with sliced tomato. Even though it took twice as long as the recipe suggested to bake, the finished dish was quite tasty and definitely filling. This is one we’d be likely to try again.
Now, usually a cookbook review would end right there. And I suppose this one could if that’s where the book ended. But no, the book continues past the FAQ to discuss The Psychology of Slimmer in Part Two of the book.
Oh. My. Word.
It starts out fairly straightforward: realizing you want to change your current situation and taking steps to make those changes happen, all great staples of the self-help mindset. But then it just started getting weird (for lack of a better term).
While he never comes out and says it, I get the impression that Papas views his ideal reader as someone so dissatisfied with their life and relationships that he or she would almost certainly be single, alone, and struggling emotional. This is, I think, why the recipes are all single portions (the double servings are usually those items that are planned for lunches the following day)–the dieter couldn’t possibly have someone to share the journey with. Again, this is just what I inferred from the psychology section of the book.
Also, for a book that is trying to teach healthy eating habits and encourage weight loss, it seems very odd that Papas would term the daily splurge or indulgence each dieter is granted as a “Happy Moment.” Knowing that many people “eat their feelings” or may find comfort in overeating, it strikes me as counterproductive to stress how great it is you get to have one Happy Moment a day. Once on maintenance (once you’ve reached your weight loss goal after however many repeats of the 3 cycles it may take), you are able to enjoy 2 Happy Moments a day (please note, having “a regular coffee–with half-and-half–and a teaspoon of raw sugar” is considered a Happy Moment). But keep in mind, if you “break the program” and overindulge by an extra Happy Moment one day, you “must restrain yourself” the next to balance the scales. He goes so far as to say “Follow any day of the Slimmer nutrition program, but with no Happy Moments.” Saying you can’t have a moment of happiness in a day just because you overindulged the previous day just doesn’t sit well with me on a level deeper than what does and does not go on my plate.
Finally, and this really was the bit that just sealed my distaste for the motivations behind this book and diet plan, in the Conclusion he writes the following:
- Keep your focus on Slimmer. Think about it constantly and visualize the slim figure you will get with its help.
- Begin to use the nutritional program right now, cooking the Slimmer way, and choosing sweet treats from Happy Moments. Now is the time for action.
- Read the psychological texts daily without fail.
- Note your thoughts in the book. You can even draw in it, making it your own!
- Talk about Slimmer with your workmates, your friends, family, and everybody.
- Think positively, think of the solution (Slimmer), feel good, and act. To change a situation–in this case, obesity–you musts not focus on the problem–that is, your excess body weight and your need to reduce it. Focus instead on the solution–the Slimmer nutrition system–and the expected results: your own ideal weight.
Am I the only that sees the above as the Diet Commandments? He might as well have written “thou shalt have no other diets before Slimmer.” With exhortations to proselytize (have your heard the good news of Slimmer?!) and daily devotionals this took on a very cult-ish feel to me and left a very bad taste in my mouth.
So while I might try out some more of the recipes, I will not be recommending the Slimmer nutrition system to anyone as a package deal. If you want to know how to make Bolognese for one–something not a lot of books could tell you–then you’ll find the recipes useful. I will continue to include more fruit and milk in my breakfasts, but that’s about where my relationship with Slimmer ends.