What Bethenny Frankel Taught Me (About Food)

by Kim on September 5, 2012

If you’ve seen Bethenny’s reality TV show, you might expect a list of things she’s taught me to include:

  • How to fight with your husband non-stop on national TV (mostly about his insecurity with his own masculinity), even/especially while on picturesque beach or seaside vacations that most of us only dream about.
  • How to help your assistants understand how lucky they are to be involved in The Most Important Business (more often referred to as the “Empire”) on the planet.
  • How to trick everyone into thinking your neurotic, controlling behavior is ok because that’s just who you are and you’ve learned to embrace your flaws.

Don’t get me wrong-I don’t hate Bethenny at all. I think she generally has good intentions, she’s pretty funny, and her show is definitely entertaining. But when you have your own reality show, you’re going to be made fun of. That’s just how it works.

bethenny See? I’m even posting a flattering picture of her that includes her super cute baby.

But I’m not here to talk about her show anyway. As you may know, before Bethenny became a massive TV personality, she was a chef, a successful businesswoman, and an author. Specifically, she wrote the book Naturally Thin, and that’s what I really want to talk about today.

I read NT a couple years ago and just pulled it off my bookshelf recently for a refresher. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it.

I appreciate Bethenny’s direct, no-nonsense voice almost as much as her unique twists on healthy eating. We need it to sting a little sometimes. And I think we’re all pretty burnt out on the same boring tips (“Don’t eat after 9 PM!” “At restaurants, ask for a box right away and set aside half your meal to take home!” “Think you’re hungry? Maybe you’re actually thirsty!”), but Bethenny has some fresh new ways of explaining things that, I think, drive her points home much more effectively than the zillion lists of generic tips that clog up our magazines and inboxes all the time.

This isn’t meant to be a book review…more like book highlights. I wanted to draw out the points that you might not have heard yet, or the ones that are explained in a way you might not have heard, and skip over all the other generic and overdone (though still important) tidbits. The points below are directly from the book, mixed with some of my personal ramblings about them.

While you read this (assuming you’re not scared away already!) don’t think of me wagging my finger at you. I’m learning too! And always will be. There are still plenty of mysteries and controversies surrounding nutrition out there, so none of us knows everything yet, and I think it’s helpful for everyone to hear different viewpoints now and then, even just as reminders.

So. Here we go…

Everyone is naturally thin

Or maybe you prefer “fit”? (There’s so much stigma attached to words these days, it’s exhausting, right?) Anyway, not-overweight is what we’re going for.

Our genes are different, predispositions to things do exist, and some people certainly have to work harder at it than others (and others have to work MUCH MUCH harder, unfortunately), but our bodies aren’t designed to be overweight. They don’t want to be fat any more than you do. They naturally crave nutritious foods and want to be coddled with things like exercise, skin care, protective measures (like sunscreen), sleep, and hydration.

It’s us that corrupt them by introducing things into our diets that our bodies don’t know what to do with (I’m looking at you, processed foods and refined sugars). We misinterpret our bodies’ cues (like “why do I always crave salt? My body must need it!”) because we don’t take the time to get to know our bodies and figure out what they actually want/need.

You are in control

Bethenny talks about how diets give us the impression that someone is controlling us, so when the diet fails, we can blame the diet and become the victim. Diets (or any food restrictions for the sole purpose of food restriction) make us feel punished, deprived, and eventually, rebellious. And then once we’ve gotten frustrated and mowed down half a pizza, we might as well finish the whole pizza and just call this day a wash, right? Which only intensifies the negative cycle.

Similarly, we have to stop blaming our parents and the crappy genes they passed down to us. (Not saying it’s easy! Trust me-I have hereditary varicose veins.) We aren’t fat because of our parents, we’re fat because of what we’re eating and the choices we’re making now.


…Have you tried sleeping? ha.


You can (and should) enjoy eating while ALSO being thin

This is a tough one to really get the hang of, especially if you’ve had a bad relationship with food in the paste (hi! *waving*).

But if your idea of eating healthy is eating all of the blandest food you can think of, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t eat boring food. When you really get into healthy eating and discover the joy of eating “real” food (that, you know, comes out of the ground and stuff), you’ll find that you appreciate and enjoy food-healthy, good food-more than you did before.

To get there, you’ll probably have to retrain and refine your taste buds a bit (say, if they’re accustomed to the mega-sweet and mega-salty tastes that nature can’t match), but you really can get to a place where you honestly prefer healthy food, like your body does. (I recently told my husband that anything involving the caprese combo-tomato, basil, mozzarella-was officially my favorite food. He was very suspicious and said something like “you mean if calories matter?” But I swear I still can’t think of anything better, all the sweets in the world factored in. And I used to HATE tomatoes!)

foodYou don’t have to actually smile and close your eyes when you eat…
or have perfect eyebrows…

Think of healthy eating like a bank account

It’s all about balance. You’re not going to say “starting now, I’m NEVER spending money AGAIN.” We have to spend money and we have to eat food. It’s just a matter of figuring out how much money to spend or how much food to eat, and what things we should buy/eat.

We all balance money with lifestyle-it’s just part of being an adult. Food is exactly the same way. Love chocolate, cheese, and wine? No problem! Me too! (Well, kind of a problem if your kid’s allergic…but typically ok.) Just don’t eat too much of one thing, balance starches with proteins and veggies/fruits with sweets, and always balance a splurge with a save. That’s it.


And just like with money, if you’ve been making bad decisions for years now, you might have some extra weight (=debt) to take care of before you arrive at a clean slate.

Bethenny talks about making smart investments in healthful foods that fill you up, so you’re free to go for the splurge when you want it. She also talks about a bunch of interesting terms like:

  • Food noise: the negative food-related dialogue in our heads (balanced out by the “food voice,” which recognizes realities and possibilities for the future).
  • Differential: the difference between two choices and whether the difference is worthwhile. B’s example is a buttery steak vs. a baked chicken breast. If you just die for the steak (hi again!) and you’re at a nice restaurant, it’s not worth it to you to settle for the dumb chicken-so go for the steak and save elsewhere. The same way you’d splurge on an expensive dress (or guys-an expensive piece of electronics??) once in awhile.
  • Point of diminishing returns: the point at which a bite you take isn’t quite as good as the one before it. I think about this all the time-if I have 2 bites left and suddenly realize “eh, I’m done here,” I’ll go straight to the trash can. Why eat it if you don’t even want it? Which, handily, brings us to the next point…

Cancel your membership to the clean plate club

This is particularly applicable at restaurants, obviously, where portions are almost always too big (unless you go to one of those chick food restaurants my husband hates and I love, where you can still see 60% of the white plate gleaming up at you between tiny little meticulously-arranged cheeses…”But it’s the REALLY GOOD stuff!”). When you find yourself in front of a small mountain of fettuccini, your choices for dealing with whatever percentage of it remains after you’ve had “enough” (in B’s book, about half of it) are: share it, save it, or leave it.

To the third one: yes, it’s sad to waste food. But is the food really that much better served in your body, where it’s not welcome because you don’t actually want it, than in the trash? Unfortunately, no matter which choice you make, the starving children are not going to get it.

Bethenny also addresses what to do if you just can’t or don’t want to stop for whatever reason. If you know you’re going to eat every last speck, then you have to order with that in mind. You have to go for the chicken and skip the dessert. You don’t get the more decadent options because that stuff is for tasting rather than mowing down in large portions. So it’s a trade-off.


Know thyself

I liked this one a lot. Bethenny talks about getting to know yourself-your personality, metabolism, body type, lifestyle, etc.-as a necessary step in learning how to eat right for you and getting to the result that’s right for you. We all have to work with what we’ve got, and optimize that, rather than focusing on how we can turn what we’ve got into what someone else has.

Things to think about are: How often do you need to eat to avoid getting ravenous (and thus overeating)? What is your food philosophy? What are your triggers? What do you want to change about your current eating habits? How can you best prepare to avoid failure?

Personally, I like to have something sweet pretty much everyday. So I’ll keep a little stash that I pick little bits from everyday for a long time (usually, it’s chocolate chips). The hubby, on the other hand, is a member of the “if it’s there, I will eat it-ALL” club, and prefers to keep stuff like that out of the house altogether. (This doesn’t work for me because I’ll happily run to Target at 10 PM and get some if I want it, where he wouldn’t.) For me, just the fact that I know I’m allowed to have it is enough to put the brakes on (B talks about this phenomenon in the book).

The most important point here is just learning how to prepare. If you know the tiny little lunch you packed isn’t going to tide you over all afternoon, and you’ll end up frantic at the vending machines at 3 PM, you have to pack an afternoon snack (and/or a bigger lunch). Or if you’re always so ravenous at 10 AM that you end up eating your lunch way too early, you have to pack a morning snack (and/or eat a bigger breakfast).

930It is NOT seriously 10 AM right now.

Get real

As in, easy on the processed foods. The more I learn about healthy eating and the body, the more grossed out I am by the processed stuff (not that I don’t still occasionally indulge, mostly because of the convenience, but it’s getting less and less appealing all the time).

I’m not going to get into this one much, mostly because this post is way too long already and you’re bored to tears right now, but I think this is a point we need to be talking about way more as a society. Most of us don’t even really know what real food is anymore. We like to say “it’s too expensive!” to avoid having to eat it, but as B points out, a bag of rice is way cheaper than a packaged “rice dinner.” And yes, we’re all crazy busy, which is why weekly meal planning and grocery shopping is crucial.


So that’s a peek into Naturally Thin. What’d you think? Anything new to you here?


In related news, I randomly ordered a nutrition textbook today. Which I’m going to read for fun. (I know, I know, your nerd-dar is going off big time.) The truth is that I’d love to take a class about nutrition, and maybe even get some kind of certification, but I just can’t afford it right now. And really, all that is secondary to my just wanting to know more about it. (*gag*) I’ll let you know how it goes!


Of possible interest:

The nation has been buzzing over a Stanford study that suggests organic foods might not actually be any healthier than their conventional counterparts. I’m personally not a huge organic food stickler, so I wasn’t that alarmed/offended/<choose-your-own-emotion>, but I have been buying organic veggies for Mason (mostly just because the idea of giving a baby chemical-spritzed food for his first foods ever just doesn’t sound that awesome).

Interesting points to me:

  • There were bigger factors that affected nutrition levels way more than organic vs. not organic, such as ripeness. It makes sense that meat and veggies are all unique, just like everything else. So even if you grow 2 carrots side-by-side, the same exact way, one could have more nutrient content than the other.
  • They did find that organic meat tended to have lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but unless you’re eating your chicken raw, this doesn’t really matter since bacteria is killed during cooking.

That said, I think the bigger point (that is lost in a study like this) is that anyone buying organic probably hopes/assumes that organic foods are more likely to be grown on farms that follow good, sustainable farming practices. We think those farmers coddle their produce more, and we want to support that.


Now you’re so bored you’re literally sobbing. Hold on, let me post some funny stuff so you’ll leave here thinking you just had a really good time…



mrR   escalate

Have a great day!


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