It's written somewhere that upon moving to Los Angeles, one must begin to pay proper attention to one's diet and exercise.
And that's how it happened that, after moving to California from Manhattan, I found myself sitting in Carrie Latt Wiatt's office, where she runs a business called Diet Designs.
Now, let's make one thing clear: Wiatt isn't just an expert on nutrition and meal planning, she's the person responsible for Tinseltown's hottest bodies.
(Time out: I spoke to a New York friend yesterday who informed me that the correct new adjective to describe a good or hot body is sick. As in, Jennifer Lopez has a sick body!)
Wiatt has written two books, "Portion Savvy: The 30-Day Smart Plan for Eating Well" (Simon & Schuster, 1998), which spells out the how-tos of portion control for weight loss, and "Eating by Design: The Individualized Food Personality Type Nutrition Plan" (Pocket Books, 1996), which divides eaters into 12 personality types -- including "Thrillseeker," "Power-Player" and "Perfectionist," with Wiatt-prescribed diet solutions for each. For example, Thrillseekers should try adventurous low-fat foods like sushi or Tandoori chicken, while Perfectionists would do best with strictly planned menus, fixed mealtimes and calories to count.
Wiatt also has her own nationally syndicated, weekly half-hour television show called "Living Better With Carrie Wiatt" that, according to her publicist, offers a fresh new approach to making positive lifestyle changes.
Now, I'm just as open as the next 31-year-old displaced New Yorker to making positive lifestyle changes, especially now that I'm living in a sunshiny city where women dress to show off the fact that Linda Hamilton (in "The Terminator") has nothing on them.
So when I discovered that Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Silverstone, Dennis Quaid, Sela Ward and even Matt Damon swore by Wiatt's pre-packaged meals and nutritional counseling -- and had her to thank for achieving and maintaining their svelte, toned, healthy and, yes, sick bodies -- I picked up the phone and made an appointment for a consultation.
Diet Designs is located in an unassuming one-story building in Culver City. You find it after driving down a narrow one-way street. You breathe a sigh of relief that there's no valet parking or anything fancy like that. You just have to park and get out of your car and do what it is youve come here to do: face your fat.
So thats what I did. I pulled in and parked my Jeep next to a sparkling new Range Rover. I must admit, I quickly reapplied my lipstick. I wanted to be prepared should any Ben Affleck types be waiting to consult with the diet diva after moi.
While I waited for Wiatt, I noted that many writers before me had come to her for help. There were framed articles on the wall that had been featured in GQ, Elle and the like, in which they shared their stories. And that made sense.
After all, to make our living, we writers write. We dont do this while taking Tae Bo classes or training for the marathon. It follows that most of us arent known for our sick bodies -- unless youre going with the old meaning of the adjective.
Suddenly, theres a slender, attractive, smiling woman telling me she can see me now. I recognized her from the current "Significant Women" print campaign running in Vanity Fair, in which she appears alongside other women "who inspire, inform and entertain," like photographer Mary Ellen Mark, actress Camryn Manheim and United Nations Special Ambassador Waris Dirie.
I follow Wiatt into her comfortable office and take a seat. She offers me a glass of water. Im not thirsty but I know Im supposed to drink at least 64 ounces a day, so I accept.
We go over my dietary and health history, and I tell her the truth: I eat out constantly, I work out relatively regularly and I am always trying to lose the same 20 pounds.
Wiatt leads me through her philosophy and it sounds good to me: "To lose weight you have to eat fewer calories and expend more calories. Theres no magic formula."
Her approach is not about "going on a diet." She merely guides her clients to relearn their needs and how to satisfy them. And get this: Once I adopt the "portion-savvy" mind-set, I will be able to successfully manage food for life. Wiatt also requires clients to exercise.
Its hard to find fault with that.
My consultation with Wiatt goes considerably well, if you gloss over the part where she makes me get on the doctors scale and points out that I could lose 37 pounds! Thirty-seven pounds! I laugh, as I tend to do during earthquakes and when receiving bad news.
Wiatt tells me not to worry. With her guidance, I would be dropping my weight slowly - the intelligent way. The way you keep it off for the long term. I think about it for a few minutes and get off the scale. She's right.
Besides, who are we kidding? Reducing my weight by 37 pounds would mean I would be able to trounce around town in tube tops and capri pants.
I smiled and committed. Wiatt sent me home with a nice white bag containing a week's worth of lunches and dinners, which cost me $200. I had opted against purchasing pre-made breakfasts because I wanted to save cash and figured I could successfully prepare the correct portions of oatmeal each day. That would be easy enough.
What Wiatt gives me (and the Jennifers and Neve) when she hands over the white bag are not only portion-controlled containers of food that taste good and are nutritionally sound, but structure and guidelines. If needed, meals can be delivered to ones home, office or $400,000 trailer on any studio lot in twice-weekly packages. I'm betting that eases the burden of sticking to the meal plan when shooting schedules require travel.
But back to me: Wiatt determined that in order for me to lose 37 pounds in a reasonable amount of time, my daily caloric intake should be kept to 1,200 (which would include 195-210 grams of carbohydrates; 45-60 grams of protein and 20-27 grams of fat).
That meant that after I allocated 150 calories for my breakfast oatmeal, I was allowed to consume 1,050 energy units a day. Hot damn! To those of you not in the know, 1,050 calories can be quickly and joyfully consumed by downing a measly burger, fries and soft drink at a favorite fast-food joint.
From now on, I was eating at home. No fancy meals out for me. Although, if a trip to a restaurant was required (or desired) I could consult the notebook I was given that included Wiatt's healthy menu picks for at least 50 of L.A.'s most popular dining venues.
I immediately liked that notebook. To me, it represented freedom and options. My white bag contained five lunches and five dinners. On the weekends, I could go out. I could socialize with friends. I could still "do" lunch.
The notebook listed all my faves: The Ivy, Spago, even Jerrys Famous Deli! Their kitchens would be happy to prepare my entrees and appetizers according to Wiatt's guidelines, which included my personal favorite: "Ask for all dishes to be prepared without oil, butter or cream."
There were hints for dealing with salad dressings (skip what's offered and ask for balsamic vinegar, mustard and lemon, or bring your own), portion sizes (for pasta, order appetizer portions or share with someone) and nutritional guidelines (if your starter contains poultry or seafood, stick with a vegetarian entrie). I learned theres never a place for a starter or dessert at lunch.
I hugged that notebook close to me on my way out of Wiatts office, repeating the three important rules I had just learned: Take vitamins, drink water and dont skip meals.
Yes, slowly but surely, I would lose 37 pounds and then, my friends, my life would be perfect. Hell, I'd probably be offered a guest spot on "Melrose Place," if its still around.
But before I started, I placed a quick call to my doctor, just to make sure this effort seemed like a good idea to someone other than me.
"If you want to lose weight," said my New York doc, Richard Goldberg, M.D., "its absolutely about portion control and quantity."
So far, so good.
Goldberg went on to say that if you put in less food and put out more energy, you would lose weight regardless of the name of the diet plan. "Cut 7,000 calories a week and youll drop two pounds."
"Maybe you need to spend money to lose weight," he said. When I laughed, he told me that in all seriousness, many people do have to "make an investment in their health" and once they do, its easier to stick with their goal.
With his obvious go-ahead, I stuck to my meals that first week. I ate my 300 calories for breakfast (adding fresh fruit and skim milk to my hot cereal), 350 calories for lunch, 350 calories for dinner and two 100-calorie snacks.
And yes, the meals were good; they were great. I just popped them in the microwave following Wiatts plan of what to eat and when. And I ate them. Quickly.
Was I full? Thats the question my fianci kept asking as he peered over my shoulder after Id taken my fourth (and final) bite of Ginger-crusted salmon or polished off the tiny white chocolate meringue drop I was given for dessert.
Was I full? Well, I was full of resolve, as I heated my petite pizza topped with four shrimp, six sliced mushrooms and five chunks of red peppers. I was full of delight as I consumed the Southwestern chicken salad and gulped my sixth glass of water.
Was I full? Did it matter? I shouted this question at him (more than once) that first week. I am following guidelines! I am embracing structure! I am cutting calories, and I will be rewarded! Thats what matters.
I returned to Carrie Wiatt's Diet Designs office a week later to get my reward. I was sure that I would step on the scale and see that my hard work had paid off in a big way. In fact, I'd planned to go shopping after my weigh-in to buy new clothes in at least one smaller size once I received confirmation of the many pounds I'd shed.
I lost a pound and a half. Wiatt herself wasn't around to witness this measly decrease, but her assistants, Joann and Christy, smiled at me when I stepped off the scale.
"That's good," said Joann, who patted me on the back. I dont know if she saw the tear in my eye.
A pound and a half! That's the kind of weight you gain and no one notices! When you say, "Oh, I gained a pound and a half," people roll their eyes at you and berate you for being so ridiculous as to mention such an insignificant number.
I have to admit, I was sad when I left Diet Designs that day -- regardless of my own doctor's advice that its not wise to lose more than two pounds a week.
But I had my second white bag with me, and I still had my resolve. Not to mention a couple of extra white chocolate meringue drops that either Christy or Joann must've thrown in to make me feel better.
I slowly nibbled on one as I drove home, did the math and realized my situation was not so grim. After all, I only had 35 and a half more pounds to go.
At two pounds a week, I figured I'd have a sick bod by mid-bathing suit season. Jennifer Aniston, move over.