I’m sure you’ve seen the perfectly coifed, sparkling-teeth caricature somewhere. Perhaps a bookstore. Or a container of “Hungry Girl approved” yogurt. You may even subscribe to her newsletter.
Hungry Girl (real name Lisa Lillien) has been a full-fledged nutrition star for several years.
Her fans — and there are many of them, as evidenced by her books reaching the top of the New York Times bestseller list — point to her relatability as one factor behind her success.
Ms. Lillien is not a nutritionist or dietitian. She is not a doctor, nor is she the star of a basic cable reality show. She’s simply a woman who lost 30 pounds several years ago, and wanted to share her story — and recipes — with the world. Soon enough, her subscriber list exploded to half a million people, and food companies learned that a recommendation of one of their products from Hungry Girl equaled big sales.
I know some Registered Dietitans who see Hungry Girl in a favorable light and publicly support her work.
While I certainly don’t hold any animosity towards her prototypical “everyday dieter” persona, I truly worry about what her rampant success means.
Sure, she does not employ the word “skinny” anywhere in her message (the whole “skinny this, skinny that” trend in nutrition books and diet plans is so tired it’s comatose), but Hungry Girl epitomizes Frankenfood dieting.
Her hyper-popular recipes (featured in books like “200 [Recipes] Under 200 [Calories]“) tend to center around “Franken-gredients” like fat-free whipped cream, sugar-free syrups, and artificial sweeteners.
There is no emphasis on health. It’s not about cooking vegetables in a tasty sauce, eating healthier fats, or whipping up quick and simple recipes rich in phytonutrients and fiber. It’s simply about the calories.
As one colleague of mine brilliantly remarked when discussing this issue with me, it emphasizes the erroneous idea that nutrition equals weight management.
Granted, Ms. Lillien does not profess to be a health expert. “I’m just hungry,” is her trademark response.
These, however, are the main things that I dislike about the Hungry Girl phenomenon:
- The often-repeated “guilt-free” idea. What makes a bowl of strawberries with Splenda and sugar-free syrup less “guilt-inducing” than a Lara bar? And why must we always associate guilt with great-tasting food? This goes well beyond the scope of this post, but why is it so hard for some people to realize that there are plenty of decadent, delicious, healthy foods? Why the “either or” mentality?
- The allusion that healthy eating is not tasty. The unspoken idea behind a lot of the recipes is that they are not necessarily mega-healthy, but they are tasty and low in calories (because apparently “healthy” and “tasty” are opposites?)
- The idea that the only way to lose weight successfully is through artificial sweeteners, chemically-laden processed food, and foods that didn’t exist thirty years ago. Fat and sugar substitutes proceeded rising obesity rates!
- The perpetuated gender stereotype that it is solely women who care about weight loss, and have “uncontrollable” sweet tooth urges that must be indulged ever so carefully (again, an issue way beyond the scope of this post, but still worth mentioning)
Agree? Disagree? Want to add a new angle to the discussion? Please comment!