Dieters rejoice! This glamorous food blogger says yes to treats
The internet sensation is a hit with calorie-counters everywhere, says Deirdre Reynolds
Hanging for a coffee hit? Make it a Frappuccino Light. Got an urge for a greasy sausage roll? De-pudged Pigs in a Blanket are better. Craving cheese & onion crisps? Reach for a bag of Guiltless Gourmet Tortilla Chips instead.
That's just some of the bulge-busting nuggets being doled out by Hungry Girl, a US blogger whose name is currently on the lips of diet cheats everywhere.
With her 'tips and tricks for hungry chicks', fat-fighting foodie Lisa Lillien is causing a stir Stateside among women who crave chocolate-chip muffins, but want to avoid developing a muffin top of their own.
Already, almost a million rumbling tums across the globe receive her daily missive stuffed with reviews of low-calorie products, recipes for slashed-calorie junk and lifting the lid on the fat content of fast-food favourites.
And now the diet food blogger is about to get even bigger with her own TV programme and a $6.4m book deal.
In a country where the cult of size zero stacks up against an obesity rate of 26.7%, forty-something foodie Lillien says it's her mission to create "guilt-free versions of diet no-nos".
But with our national waistline fast swelling to that of the States -- with one in 10 Irish kids aged between 5 and 12 now classed as obese, experts here have warned against sugar-coating the weight loss message.
Whatever happened to will power, wonders John Lark of Sphere Fitness Studio in Kildare.
"I don't think a blog like this is a step in the right direction," says strength and conditioning Coach John. "The whole concept of dieting is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. We now value 'fat-thin' or skinny over healthy eating habits.
'I always say that 'Low Fat' equals 'Get Fat'," he adds. "All 'low-calorie' foods are loaded with sugars and excitotoxins, such as aspartame, to make up for the lack of natural nutrients they should have in them.
"We need to wake up and stop putting a sugar coating on this junk. It's time to stop tarting up treats and forge good habits instead."
For lifelong yo-yo dieters like Lillien however, battling blubber isn't quite so black and white.
"I spent my childhood and adult life mildly overweight," she says. "I'd lose and gain the same 15lb or 20lb over and over again, probably because my mother was such a yo-yo dieter who never changed her lifestyle.
"Finally I realised there was no magic bullet; you have to change the way you live."
But when Hungry Girl still couldn't curb her cravings for guilty pleasures such as Planet Hollywood's Cap'n Crunch Chicken, she took a bite out of the blogosphere instead.
In May 2004, Lillien started disseminating her diet dilemmas to about 75 family and friends. Within six months, she had 10,000 fat-fearing followers.
"A lot of recipes were developed out of frustration," adds Lillien, who counts Special K Snack Bites, Splenda sugar substitute and Mini Babybel Light cheese among her top cheat's treats. "I'd be like, 'I want fettucine, I want chips'. I was like a mad scientist in the kitchen.
"People need to make baby steps. A total junk food diet or a carrots and organic turkey diet are not the only ways; there is an in-between."
Hungry Girl's piecemeal approach to dieting has been praised by the American Dietetic Association.
"She is offering ways for people to get more flavour and fewer calories than they would have otherwise, and that's a good thing," says spokesperson Ruth Frechman. "It's not about what you eat, it's the amount you eat. A few chicken wings won't hurt you but you've got to be aware of how many calories you're taking in."
Here, however, proponents of dietary tough love include Nutritional Therapist Elsa Jones.
"We spend millions of euro every year on diet foods and drinks," says the presenter of upcoming TV3 show How Healthy Are You? "Yet over half the Irish population is now overweight.
"The truth of the matter is that we are being duped by the 'low-fat' message. There is no quick fix when it comes to losing weight permanently; if there was, we'd all be slim.
"As long as you continue to eat sweet foods, your body will continue to crave them.
"You either want to be healthy or you don't," agrees John Lark of Sphere Fitness.
"Simple steps like drinking more water, eating a good breakfast and lowering your sugar intake are far more effective than stressing over the calories in your 'skinny mocha- choco-latte' or whatever.
"One of the quickest ways to an early grave is the stress associated with calorie counting!"
So it may not help your diet, but whether championing the vegan lifestyle, being gung-ho about gluten-free goodies or recessionary cooking, food blogs have democratised dinner time, says Donal Skehan of The Good Mood Food Blog.
"The thing about food blogging is that there's something for everyone," says the Dublin internet sensation, who's been dubbed Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver. "Even if they don't own a cookbook, anybody can become an amateur chef by consulting Google.
"But I think a blog about diet food could only be successful in America.
"Despite a few bad habits, we have a far better food culture here; we have a better idea of where our food comes from and a wider range of fresh, local produce in the supermarkets."
And if you are going to ditch the diet, for the ultimate calorie-free fix -- do it virtually.
"When I started my blog it was all about healthy eating but I noticed very quickly that anytime I posted a dessert recipe, my hits shot through the roof," laughs Donal.
"My blog is image-heavy, so there's an element of food porn about it -- people like to have something to drool over just before lunchtime!"