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Book Review: Substitute Yourself Skinny: Cut the Calories, Keep the Flavor with Hundreds of Simple Substitutions! by Chef Susan Irby

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If you know your current weight and would like to maintain it, it’s easy to find out how many calories you should eat per day. I maintain my weight by counting calories but I do so rather cavalierly.

If I ingest 1615.9 calories per day, I will neither lose nor gain weight. My idea of calorie counting works like this: I can have sixteen 100-calorie packs of snacks and all the Diet Snapple I want and I won’t gain. That’s not exactly how I eat, but just as Weight Watchers assigns values to foods, I give snack-pack values. Every food is the caloric equal to “x” bags of Nabisco “100 cal Oreo Thin Crisps.”  I have maintained my weight by regularly over- and under-estimating the number of calories in the foods I eat.

Scientifically, this method of dieting does not work. Unless you actually know how many calories are in a substance, you can’t keep track of them. For example, “that doesn’t look like it has many calories” is like saying “I’ll bet there’s not more than 150 calories in a banana split.” Sugar-free Jell-o doesn’t look like it has many calories and it doesn’t. But regular Jell-o looks exactly the same, and it has lots more calories. The world just isn’t fair. Not that it matters; I don’t eat Jell-o.

The “Bikini Chef,” Susan Irby, has a new cookbook, Substitute Yourself Skinny. My method would be to cut out pictures of Victoria Beckham’s body and attach them to photos of me. Susan Irby’s suggestions are better.

Irby presents 175 recipes in which she has substituted lower-calorie, lower-fat food items. To my way of thinking, it’s only logical that if you eat the same amount of the same dishes you’ve always eaten on a daily basis, but they are lower in calories, you are going to lose weight. Chef Irby teaches you how.

When reviewing the calorie counts for some of the dishes she prepares, I thought “hey, that’s amazing!” But the point is that the dishes aren’t as hefty as they were with their original ingredients.  To lose a pound a week, you need to cut 500 calories a day (or five 100-calorie snack packs). If you are not obsessive, and are interested in losing weight or maintaining your current weight, you could easily cut five hundred or so calories out of your daily intake by using these recipes. Losing four pounds a month painlessly might be a good solution for someone who isn’t interested in a rapid, massive weight loss, but rather in being healthy.

Okay, so what does Chef Irby have to offer? Julienned carrots? Steamed carrots? Diced carrots? Raw carrots? Mashed carrots? Forget about the carrots. If the relative sweetness of food is your guide to good eating, start at the back of Substitute Yourself Skinny. Tiramisu, banana pudding cake, éclairs, cheesecake, brownies, and strawberry shortcake are just a few of the dessert recipes offered. 

Eating a 225-calorie dessert may not sound like good weight-loss or maintenance advice, but if you eat that instead of the 600 or 700 calorie dessert that you would normally eat, you can see how the calorie savings will add up.

Many of Chef Irby’s suggestions are common sense, such as substituting low-fat sour cream for regular. The value in Substitute Yourself Skinny is that it is full of such information, and it is used in new recipes and combinations you may not have imagined.

One of my favorite recipes is for a baked bloomin’ onion (“everything’s bloomin’ with delicious onions and bacon). I loved bloomin’ onions when Outback first introduced them as a menu item. Bloomin’ onions, however, don’t love me.  Incredibly greasy, they don’t sit well, although I have a feeling they sit forever (at least on the thighs). I do love onions, but don’t eat many fried foods.  Irby’s recipe pares the 576 calories  per serving in the original down to a mere 36. Heck, you could eat the whole onion (I save even more, because I skip the bacon)!

Substitute Yourself Skinny recipes include comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, lasagna, and chicken à la king as well as “fancier” fare such as eggs benedict and

"Skinny Stroganoff." There are suggestions for appetizers, soups, desserts, breakfast, lunch, and supper, and they are accompanied by “Skinny Secrets” and mouth-watering photographs (I’m surprised anyone used a cookbook 50 years ago; most of the photos make the food look inedible.).

One of the most appealing things about Substitute Yourself Skinny is that it includes recipes for the foods people actually eat. Burgers, burritos, chicken and dumplings, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and club sandwiches all get the lower-cal treatment and many of the recipes inspire tinkering with the user’s favorites.

Besides a crumb from one of my home-made brownies, is there really such a thing as a 63-calorie brownie? Sure ‘nuff, here it is (from Substitute Yourself Skinny):

Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

Makes 16 brownies

Coffee has a strong flavor that most people love, even in baked goods. Using it in this recipe is a perfect way to keep flavor high without adding any fat or calories. In addition, applesauce is naturally sweet and can be used to substitute for some or all of the sugar in recipes. Then, the egg whites help balance out the density of the applesauce, keeping your recipes lighter in texture.

Nonstick cooking spray

? cup unsweetened cocoa

? cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon sea salt

? cup granulated sugar

? cup water

1 teaspoon instant coffee

? cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick spray. In a mixing bowl, combine the cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix well.

2. In a small-quart boiler, bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the coffee; stir to dissolve. In a small bowl, combine the applesauce, vanilla, and egg whites. Mix well. Add the coffee mixture and mix well. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix well.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen. When cooled completely, slice into 2-inch squares and serve.

Yield: 16 brownies

Bottom Line: Would I buy Substitute Yourself Skinny? Yes. I need to try the killer crab cakes, and love the low-cal desserts and appetizers.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • I’m one of those naturally thin people who everyone hates. (Pause while people throw things at me.) However, some medication has been putting on some surprising weight, so I suppose I should pay attention to this.
    One of my favorite subs I learned when I couldn’t eat sugar due to a nasty systemic candida infection. In other words, yuk! I subbed stevia for sugar. It was terrific and I never missed sugar at all. My favorite stevia product is Truvia, which mixes stevia (a natural substance found in a South American plant) with a fruit sugar to create a no-calorie granular product that looks and tastes exactly like sugar. I love the stuff.

  • Jeff Forsythe

    I despise, scorn, detest, abhor and loathe you Lynn. You are a blooming affront to normal people worldwide.

    Mr. Forsythe

  • Guess I’ll stay on the medicine forever so people will like me. 😉

  • I love Susan Irby’s recipes; they are so good you’d never guess they were healthy!

  • Oh, and Jeff, dude, try decaf.