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Reading burns calories: Hungry Girl

Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World by Lisa Lillien

I think I first became aware of the Hungry Girl web site and mailing list when someone linked to her Rome Apple + Diet Dr Pepper recipe. Cooking with soda seems so inherently wrong that I had to try it. The baked apple itself was rather underwhelming, but I liked the upbeat, fun attitude of the site and the cute illustrations. Plus, all the recipes are low-calorie and aimed at healthy eaters.

Earlier in the month I was trolling around the Amazon best-selling books list, by no means doing anything as self-centered and vain as checking my own book’s Amazon ranking every hour (it was more like every day), when I saw that Hungry Girl, aka Lisa Lillien, has a book out too. How cool! I love to see writers who started on the Internet getting books published. Only, it wasn’t coming out until today. Eager to get my hands on it, I threw what’s left of my weight around and for the first time actually requested that someone send me a book for free. And they did. It’s amazing what you can get in life if you just ask for it. Thanks, St. Martin’s Press!

This book is a lot of fun, which is an odd adjective to use about a cookbook, but it’s true. There are lots of illustrations and all the recipes have fun names like “Lord of the Onion Rings” or “Fettuccine Hungry Girlfredo” or “Yummy Yummy Eggplant Goo” which almost makes me excited to eat something referred to as “goo.” Good titles can actually make a meal taste better, as I learned in Mindless Eating.

What I really like is that it’s not just a cookbook. As the subtitle says there are also “survival strategies.” The book has tips and facts scattered throughout to help you curb cravings and avoid the social pressures to eat more. There is also a really excellent final chapter called “Survival Guides” which gives you tips about how to eat healthy at different types of restaurants (Chinese, sushi, Italian) and in different scenarios (on a plane, on the road, at the office). The tip I loved is that it’s better to take a piece of cake at an office party and then not eat it than it is to refuse it outright. This way people won’t nag you about not participating in the fun, and most of them won’t notice you didn’t actually eat what was on your plate.

There are four pages of full-color photos of recipes in the book, but you can find pictures of all the recipes on the Hungry Girl book site. The book is graphically designed similarly to the Hungry Girl site, so everything seems like it’s part of a cohesive brand. All the recipes include nutritional information and Weight Watcher’s points values. There are also several single-serving recipes, which as a single woman I appreciate. Many times I make a new recipe from a cookbook and end up eating it for lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.

The only bad thing about the book is that I had to go on a scavenger hunt in the grocery store looking for some of the ingredients, like diet cocoa mix and sugar-free maple syrup. I had a hell of a time finding cornstarch because Kroger only had one box left stuffed all the way at the back of the bottom shelf next to the baking soda. I was also reminded of why I don’t buy entire bags of chocolate chips, even if I’m going to use them in a healthy recipe, because I just end up chomping on them straight out of the bag. The only other bad thing about the book is that it doesn’t come with someone to cook all the recipes for me.

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Cindy • April 29, 2008 at 8:22 am

It sounds like you are having fun in your role of book reviewer. I have only one comment to make about your review… consider what you call “healthy.” Diet Coke may be lo-cal, but it is not something I would call healthy. There is a difference. All the chemicals in so-called diet foods cannot be good for a person, long term. Besides, I find that I don’t learn good habits if I just replace one food with a lo-cal version. I have found it to be more successful to learn about healthy eating of healthful foods—in healthful portions (this is the trickiest!). Real ingredients taste better. I sweeten my plain yogurt with a little real maple syrup—and a little goes a long way…

Just another perspective for you to consider…


PastaQueen • April 29, 2008 at 8:43 am

Point taken. There are a lot of healthy recipes in the book too, including several that use pumpkin and butternut squash.


Laura • April 29, 2008 at 8:51 am

I love HungryGirl and get their daily e-mails, but I totally agree with Cindy that I’m really disappointed with their use of chemicals and other things that are low-cal but not healthy. I by no means eat all organic, but I won’t eat fake sugar… I’d rather have a teeny bit of the real stuff than a ton of Splenda. I tend to just substitute real sugar for the Splenda that they put in most recipes, which of course makes it higher in calories, but is still usually better than the regular version of whatever the recipe is. It seems like about 3/4 of the recipes in the daily e-mails use Splenda/Diet Coke/some kind of nasty chemical version of a treat. Is that ratio about the same for the book?

Thanks for the review though – I thought it was going to be pure recipes without tips, but the tips definitely spark my interest.


deanna • April 29, 2008 at 9:19 am

have I told you today how freaking funny you are? i love coming to your site!!!! can’t wait to get the book. Good luck at the party this weekend, would love to make the drive from NY but my hubby is running a marathon this weekend and got to support him! : )


Amanda • April 29, 2008 at 10:28 am

I went just went to Amazon and ordered your book (can’t wait to read it, i’ve heard some great reviews), as well as this. I have found that most of the Hungry Girl recipes I have tried are actually pretty good, and my husband will eat them too as long as I don’t tell him its low-cal.



PastaQueen • April 29, 2008 at 11:07 am

Thanks, Amanda!


Jj • April 29, 2008 at 11:29 am

Thanks for the heads-up on the Hungry Girl, will go check it out. Enjoyed your post very much! Best of success to you.


anonymous boxer • April 29, 2008 at 12:11 pm

I’m really enjoying your book reviews – it’s opening up many new reads/ideas.

I just wish I cooked. :-)


Red • April 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I like any cookbook that offers the pretentiousness as a side and focuses on being fun.


Lisa • April 29, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Diet tips for sushi?

How is fish with bits of rice and seaweed unhealthy to begin with?


Amy • April 29, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Man, we use cornstarch all the time to thicken sauces in stir fries and such. I can’t imagine being without that! Now if I could just find vital wheat gluten… that’s a trip to Whole Foods for sure.

I totally eat choc chips from the bag too!!


Laura • April 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

I noticed on the Hungry Girl site that many of the recipes are very high in sodium — just as a lot of frozen diet entrees (like WW) are…you might as well eat a regular sized McDonald’s burger at 250 calories, 600 mg sodium. Many of the Hungry Girl lunch recipes have nearly double the sodium of that burger. Not very healthy, either way.


samiam • April 29, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I love the Hungry girl web site! I love how she takes the forbiden foods and comes up with low calorie replacements! As for some of the foods not being healthy….I’ve always thought the main point is to help people enjoy a close proximity to their favs with out all the calories. I make her alfredo occasionally, it’s not fabulous, but it ok and it takes away my pasta cravings!


Laura Brandon • April 29, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Your book JUST arrived at my door! I can’t wait to read it!!


Andrew is getting fit • April 29, 2008 at 8:19 pm

But pumpkin is the food of the devil! Yeeeuck!


PastaQueen • April 29, 2008 at 10:08 pm

Here’s what the book has to say about certain terms in a sushi menu:

Crunch – Just a cute and clever way of saying “fried and fatty”

Dynamite – In sushi-land, the word “dynamite” basically means “baked in a sea of gooey mayo.” Skip it!

Spider – Spider rolls are usually greasy fried crab rolls. They may sound good, but they’re packed with calories and fat.

Tempura – This is basically a Japanese version of battered, deep-fried food. Don’t be fooled by low-calorie foods (like veggies and shrimp) in the form of tempura. Any tempura = a fatfest!


melissa • April 29, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Love your website!!

I finished your book this past weekend and enjoyed it immensely! You are obviously very bright and funny and it really showed!

Congrats on losing weight without losing your sanity–truly an inspiration–

I bought the Hungry Girl cookbook today as I receive the daily emails. I realize that a lot of the recipes are NOT super healthy, per se, but she has said that up front and has suggested that some dishes are higher in sodium (like most processed food). I drink diet coke and use splenda daily so I don’t mind the recipe using these products.

Keep up all the great work you do!


Michelle in CA • April 30, 2008 at 12:05 am

Just found your website. Your progress is amazing! I’ve got about another 30 pounds to lose myself, assuming I’m happy at 145.

I love the HG emails too, though I’ll admit I rarely make their recipes. If I’m cooking during the week I want something less complicated and on the weekend something better. But I love the fun, upbeat emails nonetheless!


debby • April 30, 2008 at 2:00 am

I am a huge hungry girl fan. Their recipes are well written, low calorie, low fat, and high fiber, and most are absolutely delicious. As for them being healthy, they are certainly more healthy than the foods I ate before I lost 94 pounds, and I still get to eat some of my favorite foods. H.G. talks all the time about eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of the recipes she offers are for special occasions. I love my splenda, and I don’t watch my sodium intake yet, although I know that will be the next thing they take away from me! Loving your book, Pastaqueen!


PastaQueen • April 30, 2008 at 7:03 am

Flipping through it, it looks like most of the dessert items use Splenda or some sort of reduced calorie/sugar-free ingredients. A lot of the dinner and lunch recipes don’t though, they just use fat-free or lite ingredients or liquid egg substitute.


GurlyGirl • April 30, 2008 at 7:42 am

I get the daily emails from Hungry Girl and love the tips and info. Recipes with Splenda turn me off though… why eat the chemicals when a teaspoon of Sugar in the Raw (the good brown stuff) is only 15 calories a teaspoon? 4 teaspoons is only one point – Of course when you are using cups of it – you gotta wonder if you are just feeding your sweet tooth that you never get rid of by consuming diet sodas, and fake sweeteners..


Melanie • April 30, 2008 at 10:30 am

I actually had to cancel my subscription to Hungry Girl’s newsletters. I just couldn’t stand the magazine-speak style of writing and the overdone attempts to be “girly” and “fun”. It also seems like there are a lot of commercial plugs going on. Is it too much to ask for down-to-earth, non-commercial food advice? I don’t think so, that’s why I’m glad I found your blog.


PricklyPear • May 1, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Okay…I have never, ever in my life been able to take a piece of cake and then not eat it. And I’ve got the ass to prove it. Even if was *bad* cake I’d eat it. Sometimes I even scrape that residue frosting from the cake plate and heap it on top, ’cause there ain’t no way that nobody is taking my extra frosting. It belongs to me.

That’s why it’s just better for me not to take a piece at all.

Damn — all of a sudden I wish it were somebody’s birthday. :(


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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