Imagine basking in the sun while relishing a plate full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Between bites, you sip a glass of wine, keenly aware that not too far away are hikers, bikers, and small slopes sprinkled with olive trees and apple groves.
Believe it or not, this is a scenario offered by one of the latest diet books on the market. The Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, Better Health in Just 10 Days! by Connie Guttersen, PhD, RD, is a weight lossplan that promotes the healthy and flavorful eating style of the Mediterranean and Sonoma Valley.
"Flavor is an important part of health and weight loss," says Guttersen. She says many diets fail because they don't pay attention to taste, an important part of eating and sticking to a weight loss plan. "With most diets, you're counting the days until it's over. They don't stick with you as a lifestyle."
Reinforcing Healthy Lifestyles
Further encouraging the Sonoma diet lifestyle is a book cover graced with rolling green hills and sunlit vines. The inner cover has illustrations of the plan's top 10 power foods: almonds, bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli, grapes, olive oil, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, and whole grains.
These power foods are considered the core of the Sonoma diet. They are incorporated in many meals and recipes in the book. The power foods are touted not only as delicious but also essential to good health and weight loss, in the right proportions. According to Guttersen, they "offer the most nutritional bang for the calorie buck."
Guttersen's cover profile appears to reinforce all the knowledge and advice she imparts in The Sonoma Diet. She is a registered dietitian who has helped develop standards of care for a medical obesity treatment center in Bellevue, Wash. She is a culinary expert, and she is a nutrition consultant to the renowned Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
"I was very excited that it was written by a registered dietitian. That's always a good thing," says Elisa Zied, MSRD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Yet when Zied first picked up the book, she worried and hoped the Sonoma diet would not be another unhealthy gimmick for quick weight loss.
WebMD asked Zied and another nutrition expert, Roger Clemens, DrPH, food science communicator for the Institute of Food Technologists, to review The Sonoma Diet. Zied and Clemens not only shared their thoughts about the plan but also offered suggestions on how dieters can shed pounds and live a truly healthy lifestyle.
Beyond the Pretty Cover
Clemens gives The Sonoma Diet two thumbs up for presentation and consumer friendliness.
"The author, Connie Guttersen, has an interesting and creative approach to encourage people to modify their behaviors in a fun manner," he says. He points out that she teaches people to eye portion sizes on plates instead of counting calories, and stimulates them with positive language to endorse enjoyable eating.
Pleasurable eating of nutrient-rich foods is at the heart of the Sonoma diet. At the same time, the diet steers clear of depriving people of essential carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
For example, whole grain breads and cereals -- which are shunned in parts of other weight loss -- are allowed on the Sonoma diet from day one. However, certain foods containing saturated fat, added sugar, and refined white flour are discouraged throughout the program.
Guttersen identifies the diet as neither a low-fat nor a low-carbohydrate diet. She calls it a "next-step" diet that has the right balance of nutrients to ensure health, weight loss, and satisfaction.
Zied sees the Sonoma diet as sensible in general. She likes the book's emphasis on food enjoyment, portion control, food label reading, and eliminating trans fats. However, she thinks it may be too idealistic for most people to follow long term.
What is trans fat? It is made during the processing of vegetable oil when it becomes hydrogenated. You can find trans fat in margarine and shortening and foods that use these fats in their preparation (such as packaged crackers, cookies, and fried foods).
"There's a high expectation [in The Sonoma Diet] that people are going to be cooking a lot," she says, referring to the recipes, which make up about half of the book. "I like to encourage people to cook, but the truth is that a lot of people don't have a lot of time."
To address concerns of time-strapped dieters and for those who eat out a lot, Guttersen recommends turning to the diet survival chapter of the book. She also says there are Sonoma Express recipes that are not only tasty, but also easy and quick to prepare.
3 Waves to Weight Loss
The Sonoma Diet is divided into three waves. Wave 1 of the diet is a 10-day period in which dieters are urged to throw out or give away foods in their pantries containing refined flours, non-whole grains, hydrogenated and saturated fats, sugars, and any oil that isn't extra-virgin olive oil, nut oil, or canola oil. Fruits are also prohibited in this wave in order to wean the body from sugar.
On Wave 1, dieters can eat certain vegetables, lean meats, seafood, limited dairy, some grains, three daily servings of olive or canola oil, a small amount of nuts, black coffee, tea, and an unlimited number of herbs and spices.
"The first wave is the most extreme, the most low-calorie," says Zied. She doesn't know how realistic it is for people to completely purge their cabinets of processed foods and sugars, especially if they have other people at home who are not on a diet. She takes issue with Guttersen's advice to provide family members with only healthful foods such as whole-wheat bread and peanut butter in order to break them of unhealthy eating.
"It's too simplistic," says Zied. "I have cookies in my cabinet, but moderation is preached in my home."
She sees the elimination of fruit in any diet as a red flag, especially since fruits have a bounty of proven benefits. Clemens doesn't see this as much of a concern since fruit is only banned for 10 days.
Nonetheless, Clemens, Zied and Guttersen agree that Wave 1 of the Sonoma Diet will likely translate into rapid weight loss. The amount of poundage lost will depend upon the individual and how much weight they have to lose. In general, Guttersen says people can expect to be 2 to 5 pounds lighter around the waist in the first 10 days of the diet.
"I don't know anyone who's followed the program, but I'd be surprised if they didn't lose weight," says Zied. For most dieters, she would have preferred a few more calories on Wave 1, but she understands that the rapid weight loss may be a built-in psychological boost for the diet.
Zied prefers Wave 2 of the Sonoma diet, which encourages more gradual weight loss. During this phase, Guttersen says people can expect to lose a 1/2 pound to 1.5 pounds per week.
"Wave 2 encourages a more sustainable amount of weight loss," says Zied. "I say, get rid of the gimmick, and just go to Wave 2, and that's giving you a basically healthy diet with some indulgences."
Wave 2 allows the same foods in Wave 1, but adds fruit, more vegetables, fat-free yogurt, some sugar-free sweets, an occasional piece of dark chocolate, honey, and some wine. Dieters are encouraged to stay on this phase of the diet until they reach their target weight.
Once all the unwanted pounds are shed, a dieter can move on to Wave 3. This stage promotes the same principles of healthy eating in Waves 1 and 2 but recommends boosting servings of fruits and vegetables and indulging in an occasional treat such as butter, dark chocolate, dessert, and soda. It also encourages more experimentation with different foods and different ways of enjoying meals.
Toward a Healthy Weight and Lifestyle
To accelerate weight loss and to maintain weight, the Sonoma diet endorses physical activity. Clemens appreciates the brief mention about exercise but wishes Guttersen devoted more pages to it. Exercise, he says, is an essential element to overall health.
"'What is my body composition? How's my cardiovascular health? While I'm losing weight, what have I done to my muscle tone? Have I reduced my blood pressure?'" asks Clemens. "That overall picture improves with light moderate exercise."
"If there was a sequel to the book, I think [Guttersen] would do well to team up with an exercise expert that has the friendly style that she has," says Clemens.
For dieters, he suggests looking for fun ways to incorporate physical activity into weight loss efforts. If a person eats more almonds than is recommended, for instance, he suggests walking around the block.
Weight loss for life does take some effort, but it's possible,
"You really have to be of the mindset that you want to change your life, and you don't have to go to extremes to do it," says Zied. "Cutting your portions of energy-dense foods, incorporating more physical activity, and doing simple things are really going to make a difference over time."