Sick of diets that are all about deprivation? “You can lose weight eating huge portions of foods you love,” promises Lisa Lillien, creator of the wildly popular Hungry Girl daily emails and cookbooks. “My goal is to find easy ways to make food we crave healthy.”
Lillien has kept off three sizes for a decade, and her fans maintain losses of up to 200 pounds — all while enjoying crispy chicken, creamy pasta, and even pudding and cake.
Good news for folks in a hurry to get lean: Women testing Hungry Girl creations for us report losing up to 16 pounds a week! As you might expect, Lillien has many recipe-transforming tricks. But new Canadian research suggests one may deserve more credit than the rest.
Lisa Lillien, author of the new Hungry Girl Fast & Easy, got her start as she looked for satisfying ways to shrink her own waist. “I learned early on to sneak fiber in wherever I can. It helps
give meals a bigger volume for fewer calories,” she says. “Fiber also fills you up and keeps you content a long time.”
Without realizing, she gravitated toward ingredients like apples, bananas, beans, broccoli, greens, and oats. All happen to be top sources of viscous fiber. “It’s a special super-fiber much more powerful than regular fiber that can provide a great way to lose weight,” says Cleveland Clinic nutrition expert Mark Hyman, MD.
What sets it apart? Unlike indigestible roughage from, say, bran or raspberry seeds, viscous fiber absorbs up to 50 times its weight in fluid, turning into a thick gel that is very slowly broken down.
Interesting fact: An entire glass of water turns to gel if you stir in just a smidge of viscous fiber! Inside us, this gel does remarkable things.
What is viscous fiber?
Scientists say fiber-based gel creeps through our systems at a snail’s pace. As it goes, it blunts our appetites, reduces production of fat-storage hormones, and actually releases
potent fat-burning compounds called butyrates.
The effect is so intense, a University of Minnesota analysis of dozens of studies found that viscous fiber, which naturally tends to occur in plants along with other types of fiber, actually deserves all the credit for helping dieters eat less and lose more weight.
And new University of Toronto research determined that adding a mere eight grams of viscous fiber a day — the amount in three-quarters of a cup of black beans or a large sweet potato — sets us up to burn 86 percent more ab flab and lose 73 percent more weight than if we skipped it. In many studies, a two- to five-gram viscous fiber supplement a day “resulted in significant weight loss in overweight individuals,” says Dr. Hyman, a fan of a version called glucomannan.
Also worth noting: As gut bacteria metabolize viscous fiber, it triggers benefits linked to weight control and overall health. “That includes lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar and insulin, cancer prevention and much more,” according to Dr. Hyman, who shares advice on DrHyman.com.
If you want to look and feel your absolute best, take a tip from Hungry Girl and “make sure you eat more fiber!” Dr. Hyman suggests aiming for at least 20 grams of total fiber a day, and you’ll easily get 10 or more grams of viscous fiber.
How does viscous fiber lead to weight loss?
After a lifelong struggle with spare pounds, “I had a long list of health issues,” recalls Kelly DeBlander, 60, a California loan officer. “My doctor suggested weight-loss surgery.” Scared, Kelly decided to try Weight Watchers yet again. As she began to make a little progress, “a friend gave me a Hungry Girl cookbook.” Kelly instantly loved the fiber-rich twists on comfort food. “Fiber from foods like apples, oats and beans keeps my hunger at bay, and when I’m not hungry, I’m much more successful.” Within 10 months, she was down 100 pounds.
All told, Kelly dropped 155 pounds — and is keeping it off with ease. “I’m hooked on Lisa’s protein shake ideas. I have one for breakfast and stay totally satisfied until lunch,” she says. That’s not surprising, given the drinks are made with a natural thickener called xantham gum, a top source of viscous fiber.
“My health is so much better, and I now have more energy than I ever dreamed of having,” says Kelly. “I hope everyone will try Lisa’s recipes and feel as great as I do!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.