Aack! "Hungry Girl" Turns Us Into A Nation Of Cathy Comics

"Hungry Girl" ("tips and tricks for hungry chicks!") is the biggest thing in dieting. Great.

Are you guys familiar with "Hungry Girl?" Apparently she's huge. Because, you see, Hungry Girl, aka 43-year-old Lisa Lillien (profiled in today's Washington Post) plays to people's basest natures. Specifically, women's.

The Hungry Girl empire of website and bestselling cookbooks is based on the supposition that real women love pink, love sugar, and can't follow a "real" diet, and, rather than promoting healthy food or exercise, provides less-bad alternatives to Cheesecake factory recipes like Cap'n Crunch chicken and junk food. As the article puts it,

As foodies seek eco-revelation in the local and organic, Hungry Girl speaks the language of chips, cake, cereal, breakfast sausage, taco shells, easy noodles. By doing so, she acknowledges something we all know about ourselves: For all our slow-cooking, sustainable gardening ambitions, we are a nation of snackers.

Accordingly, HG gives ratings and real nutrition information on SnackWell's and alleged diet food, tips for eating out, as well as those recipes. Lillien, who's struggled with weight, lost 25 pounds herself on her plan and sees herself as the "best friend" who can help others. Now, on the one hand, if people want to lose weight and improve their diets, more power to them and anything that helps them achieve this is good. And obviously she's onto something: Hungry Girl has 700,000 subscribers to its daily e-mails, and Lillien employs a staff of nine. If she raves about a diet cookie, sales go through the roof; her pans can spell, if not doom, trouble. Clearly her "just us girls who need treats" approach makes people feel better than judgmental, "snobbish" (as she would say) and unrealistic dictates about fruits and vegetables.

The drawbacks are obvious: the nation's diet needs to be changed, and this isn't the way to do it. This isn't Lillien's responsibility, nor even that of the women who've been helped by her lo-cal danishes. But it's somewhat dispiriting to see this taking hold as the Next Atkins. It seems to reinforce the worrisome idea, already propagated by critics of Alice Waters and her ilk, that good, healthy food is a class issue, when it should be one of availability and price. Take Lillien's words:

People are hypocrites," she says. "They say 'shop the perimeter of the store, never eat anything that's not organic,' but it's B.S., because people can't live like that forever."

This idea, that healthy eating's fiction that salt-and-sugar of the earth types can't attain, is not just patronizing but polarizing, as much so as Berkeley-style militancy.

The diet divide is further pointed up by a piece in The Daily Beast on a Harvard-approved, "hi-brow diet" for the smart set.

The Instinct Diet functions at the nexus of biology, psychology, history, and nutrition, and deals with the sine qua non of successful dieting-we don't want to feel deprived and we don't want to feel hungry. Using her background as a foodie and her philosophy that a diet must address our five basic food instincts-hunger, availability, calorie density, familiarity, and variety-Roberts' dieting program is focused on reprogramming hunger away from the needs of our early ancestors (who ate whatever they could get, whenever they could get it) and toward the reality of modern life (the constant availability of tasty, fatty foods). In this way, the diet addresses the fact that feeling satiated is a complex brain function, and that food instincts are really just an outdated survival mechanism that makes us fat. This is the Instinct Diet's Darwinian element-helping us evolve to meet the reality of supermarket aisles packed with 36 varieties of cookies.

In other words, it's the antithesis of Hungry Girl. And, in its way, just as polarizing, just as larded (ha!) with gratuitous notions of class and intelligence, and, ultimately, just as problematic. In the absence of getting rid of dieting altogether, we wish we could strip weight loss of these dueling stigma: high-brow and low-brow, elitist and realistic. Take the morality out of food. We may have common evils; this should not be one of them.

www.hungry-girl.com
'Hungry Girl' Has Found the Way To a Snacking Nation's Heart [Washington Post]
The Diet That Shrinks Smarty Pants [Daily Beast]