World Traveler

The Skinny on Fat

By Kristi Abuhl

New Year. Same old resolution. Only this time you really mean it. You’re going to cut down on the fat in your diet. Or, as Moby Dick would say, no more blubber.

Rather than looking at it as a resolution

Jyl Steinback, a personal trainer and author of four Fat-Free Living cookbooks, thought she already was eating low fat and healthy when she decided six years ago to eliminate the fat in her diet. Figuring the first step was to determine the amount of fat in her food, she used a fat-finder wheel to learn about calories, fat grams and percent of fat calories. “All of a sudden,” she says, “I found out that a piece of cheese with only 2 grams of fat is actually 55 percent fat. That changed my life.”

After earning a degree in education with a minor in physical education, Steinback managed a health spa in Arizona. From there she became a fitness consultant at the Golden Door Spa before starting the exercise department at Elizabeth Arden¹s Red Door Spa in Beverly Hills and training clients one-on-one on the side. She returned to Arizona to work at Elizabeth Arden’s Main Chance.

When her entrepreneurial spirit took over, she founded Jump For Life, an aerobics workout on a min-trampoline. With an exercise video, a book and a cassette, Jump For Life leapt to national attention.

Steinback took a two-year breather when her daughter was born, then resumed personal training, and in 1993 wrote her first book, Recipes for Fat Free Living Cookbook. Steinback doesn’t have a nutrition degree, so she works closely with Debra Kohl, M.S., R.D., a dietitian and nutritionist. “I don’t consider myself a chef. Just an everyday cook who enjoys cooking fat free for my family. That’s why my books are successful. Regular people can relate to them because I’m a regular person, too.”

Before beginning her first cookbook, Steinback wrote to dietitians, nutritionists and fitness instructors around the country for their favorite fat-free recipes. She included those as well as her own creations. For her third book, which concentrates on desserts, Steinback, along with Kohl, composed a chart for honey and sugar substitutions. There’s also a list of diabetic exchanges. All the recipes in the first cookbook take 10 minutes or less to prepare, and every dish in all four books contains less than one gram of fat per serving.


Sure, being fat free

So how about just cutting back on the amount of fat in your diet? According to Steinback, many people think eating fat free isn’t healthy. Not true. “It is virtually impossible to eat fat free,” Smith says. “However, eating an extremely low-fat diet has been established to be safe for adults. Such a diet produces marked improvements in undesirable blood fat profiles and has a favorable impact on diabetes and appropriate weight reduction.”

“You should eat as fat free as you can,” Steinback says. “You get plenty of fat accidentally when you eat, so you should concentrate on taking out fat where you can.” Almost everything has some fat in it, she explains.

A banana, for example has 0.9 gram of fat, and the vegetables most of us think of as fat free, such as carrots, celery and broccoli, actually have a half gram of fat. A good rule to live by, according to Steinback, is a ratio of no more than two fat grams per 100 calories. To begin realizing your resolution, check the labels of foods in your house against Steinback’s standard. To help you check out your refrigerator and cupboards, both the Arizona Heart Institute (602/266-2200) and Fat Free Living, Inc. (888/328-3731) have fat-finder wheels. Toss any offending foods.

After eliminating temptations, how do you change your lifelong eating pattern? Start by drinking water

The same goes for those times when you’re standing in front of the refrigerator or pantry looking for you aren’t quite sure what. “If you don’t know what you want to eat, then you aren’t hungry. Listen to your body,” she says. “It will tell you what you need.” If you find you’re eating for the wrong reasons

Besides drinking plenty of water, eat small meals frequently. By eating six times a day, Steinback says your metabolism will stay on an even keel so you won’t have surges and dips in your energy level. Remember last Thanksgiving? More than likely after dinner you fell asleep watching the defending Super Bowl Champion Cowboys defeat the Redskins. According to Steinback, the average Thanksgiving meal contains more than 100 grams of fat. Why do we get so sleepy after eating a big meal? “Fat takes longer to metabolize,” Smith explains.

If you fight to stay awake after a big business lunch, you probably ate too many high-fat foods. “The metabolizing process saps your energy,” Steinback says. “That’s why eating fat free will give you more energy.”

Do you have to throw away your old cookbooks and cook from scratch? No. Simply replace fatty products with healthy, low-fat alternatives. Substitute applesauce for oil and apple butter for butter or margarine in an amount equal to what the recipe called for. Also try egg substitute and fat-free sour cream or yogurt. This is a matter of personal taste and trial and error. Have fun experimenting; there are plenty of options. If you don’t like one brand of fat-free cheese, try another. You’ll find one if you keep looking. Steinback lists her favorites in her first book.

For quick and easy low-fat meals, get out your wok and grill. Throw in fat-free chicken broth, wine, water, teriyaki, shrimp, scallops or chicken breast with veggies and add rice for a stir-fry meal. Eating fat free doesn’t sentence you to eating bland. Barbecue sauce normally is fat free, or you can add lemon pepper or teriyaki to meat you’re grilling.

If you crave mashed potatoes, mix in fat-free gravy, sour cream or yogurt with skim milk.


As a traveler, you’re not out of the woods just because you’ve removed the temptations from the kitchen and you’re enjoying the fat-free dishes you prepare. If clients come to town and you need to take them to dinner, don’t panic. Steinback advises, “Tell the waiter you are on a fat-free program. He doesn’t need to know why. Ask him what the chef can make for you, and tell him to be creative.” Often you’ll find such delectables as fresh fruit salad with sherbet or steamed veggies on a bed of brown rice. Don’t be timid. If you order fish

Once Steinback was presented with steamed vegetables coated in butter after she had specified none. She politely asked the waiter to take it back and request the chef make a new dish steamed in water. No problem.

Other ways to make your restaurant meal fat free? “Always carry something with you. I always have Butter Buds and fat-free dressing,” Steinback says. “Then you can order a plain baked potato and a salad even if the restaurant doesn’t carry fat-free dressing.” If you don’t have these staples or feel awkward using them in front of a client, ask for a small salad with lemon or a baked potato with salsa or fat free honey Dijon.

Fresh sourdough bread such as you get in a restaurant is fat free. (At the store, be sure to check the label because preservatives contain fat.) And yes, you can order dessert

Because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell you brain it’s full, divide your meal in half. Steinback suggests you eat only half of what you’re served and give yourself permission to eat the rest a soon as you’re hungry later. Ask for a doggy bag and take leftovers with you. You’ll find you won’t leave the table stuffed. Another way to achieve the same goal is to ask the waiter to remove your plate as soon as you’ve eaten what you’re going to, so you won’t pick at the rest of the food while you wait for everyone else to finish. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and other famous dieters who often eat in public, perfected the technique of nibbling slowly at their food to take advantage of the 20-minute rule. They feel full without consuming too much.

When you’re in town you can select the restaurant and reheat your food at home, but what happens when you travel? Then you find yourself at the mercy of your local host or unaware of what lurks on an unknown menu. First, according to Steinback, never get into a situation where you are so hungry you have to eat whatever’s available. If you have an appointment for a breakfast meeting at the office, eat a little something before you get there. Then, if there are no fat-free choices, you won’t find yourself gorging on donuts and drowning your bagel in cream cheese because you’re starving. Some good choices that travel well are Powerbars or other energy bars, fruit and bagels

If you want to pack a meal for a road trip, take fat-free yogurt, a fat-free turkey sandwich, fat-free chips and an apple or banana. An insulated lunch bag with an ice pack to keep the food cool is a good investment so your meal won’t leak onto your presentation.

There are times, however, when the situation is completely out of your control. Say you have a dinner meeting representatives from the beef industry. Go ahead and enjoy your steak. Just remember to eat in moderation. Because prime rib is full of fat, if you can order off the menu, opt instead for sirloin with its much lower fat content. And trim away the fatty pieces. Again, don’t eat the entire thing. Three-and-one-half ounces are plenty. For seafood entrees, three-and-one-half ounces of fish, except salmon and swordfish, contain less than one gram of fat. Go with the cod, flounder, sole, perch, haddock or shrimp, if they are boiled or baked without oil or butter.

In Europe and Asia, you maybe unfamiliar with the fat content of certain foods. In Paris, choose hard breads over croissants, which are more than 50 percent fat. Smoked eel, although a delicacy in Amsterdam, is extremely high in fat. If you want an exotic dish, go with wild game

At your hotel, if you notice a fruit basket at the registration desk, grab an apple or banana, even if you aren’t hungry. That way at night, should your willpower droop or you have the munchies, you can eat fruit instead of raiding cashews from your minibar, which besides being expensive cost 7.8 grams of fat per handful. When ordering from room service, if you don’t see any fat-free items to your taste, ask. Often the chef can substitute an egg product


Receptions and cocktail parties provide their own challenges. Eat something before you go, so you aren’t famished. Drinks present a different problem. According to Steinback, alcohol contains seven calories per gram but no fat. Gin, scotch and wine are better choices than kaluhas and other flavored drinks. She recommends a wine spritzer

As with other areas of your new eating lifestyle, moderation is key. If you can, offer to bring something, so there’s at least one thing you’ll know you can eat. Healthy options include a veggie plate, fat-free bread or a fat-free ice cream cake.

But what if you must work through dinner on a crash-and-burn project, and the group decides to order pizza to celebrate a job well done? What’s the best choice? “None,” says Steinback. “If you can eat it without cheese, it’s good. The cheese makes the pizza 30 percent fat per slice.” Pepperoni ups the ante to 60 percent per slice. Avocados and olives are even higher in fat than pepperoni. If you can’t get out of it, eat one slice of pizza and have a salad topped with a fat-free dressing.


One gram of fat contains nine calories versus four-and-one-half for proteins and carbohydrates, so when you cut out fat, you automatically cut calories. “But that doesn’t mean you can substitute more food for the fat you’ve cut,” says Steinback. “Weight loss often is a side benefit to giving up fat, but extra weight isn’t necessarily going to come off.”

Remember, this isn’t a diet to reduce weight. It’s a way of life. As you start on the path to fat-free eating, here are six suggestions from Steinback to follow for total body fitness: 1) exercise aerobically at least 20 minutes three times a week, 2) do anaerobic exercises for 20 minutes three times a week, 3) eat less fat and sugar and more fruit and vegetables, 4) stretch every day, 5) meditate for five minutes daily and 6) commit to your program.

“It takes 21 days to make a habit, 30 to make a lifestyle,” Steinback says. To survive the first month, she recommends:

  • Go fat free instead of just low fat.
  • Write down five goals and work to achieve them.
  • Experiment with new foods. If you don’t like one thing, try another.
  • Read labels. Be aware of the fat content and percentage of fat in everything you eat.
  • Don’t get discouraged. It took more than a day for your body to get in the shape it’s in. It will take more than one day to change it.
  • Realize your food will taste different the first 30 days. You’ll get more used to it as time goes on.
  • Reward yourself for a job well done, but not with food. Take a day off to go shopping or play golf.
  • Find something good about yourself every day
  • Visualize your new self. What do you want to see in the mirror?

As with any major change in your diet, get your doctor’s approval first. For further information on fat reduction, consult the American Heart Association’s new book, 6 Weeks to Get Off the Fat ($4.99, Times Books, 1996).