How to swap one food for another — and lose weight!

By Lenore Skenazy

It is a cruel joke that the Super Bowl comes just a little over a month after we have resolved to forsake all wings, chips, dip, pizza, soda, beer, cheese sticks, Cheez-Its, Cheetos, and anything else that is bright orange and vaguely food-like.


That’s why every year at about this time, the press turns its hungry eyes to Charles Platkin, aka The Diet Detective, aka Hunter College distinguished lecturer, to give us some of his trademark “equivalencies.”

For instance: To work off the calories of a 1-foot Italian sub sandwich would require you to walk the entire length of the Brooklyn Bridge—14 times. That’s a Dr. Platkin equivalency. So are these:

Four swigs of Bud Light equals eight minutes of playing pro football.

One handful of pita chips with artichoke dip equals running 141 football fields.

Working off one measly Cheeto—one!—equals chanting and waving around a foam hand for two minutes.

And God forbid you scarf down four Domino’s stuffed cheesy bacon jalapeño breadsticks—that requires 193 touchdown dances.

So how did Platkin, a lawyer, publisher, technologist, real estate guy, and bestselling author, become obsessed with translating calories into everyday (and sports-watching related) activities? It all started when he was young—and tubby.

“I remember my doctor saying, ‘You’re not going to have a good social life, because you’re fat,’” says Platkin. “And I was like, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But the truth was, I was ostracized as a child.”

He was still overweight in early adulthood when he decided to write a book on how to truly change your life. This was after he’d gotten his law degree, but still was floundering—and single.

“I was confused. I was thinking about changing behavior. I was overweight and had terrible relationships.”

So, for three years, he researched how real behavior change happens.

He was finally ready to hand in his manuscript when he realized, “I hadn’t changed one behavior of my own!” So he decided to actually follow his own advice and, at last, he started losing weight. He also realized that the fact he ended up “with difficult and strange kinds of women” had an underlying cause: Him.

“I’d always thought it was random.”

Changing required that word we hear so often lately: mindfulness. He had to pay attention to what he ate, and when. (And who he dated, and why.) He also had to stop feeling too embarrassed to ask for things like a plain grilled chicken breast when he went out to eat. In other words, he had to stop being ashamed to admit he knew he was fat and wanted to lose weight.

He folded his stories into the book and it became the bestseller, “Breaking the Pattern.”

The great thing about mindfulness, Platkin says, is that you don’t have to be mindful forever.

“If you had to Google Map every day to figure out what floor your office is on,” that would be painful. (And you would need some other kind of help.) But after a short while, of course, you know the drill.

It’s the same with figuring out what your food patterns are. And once you notice that every night, right before bed, you eat a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, well then, all you have to do is start figuring out a “food swap”—an alternative. For Platkin, he started making swaps just like the ones you can make on Super Bowl Sunday: Toasted pita points instead of chips. Pizza without the mozzarella—add your own Parmesan. Slow-churned Breyers instead of Ben & Jerry’s.

The idea is to concentrate not on what you can’t have, but on what you can. And since we gobble down many foods without realizing just how fattening they are, he popularized the “equivalencies.” FYI: One bowl of chili equals more than an hour of cheerleading.

These days Platkin is married and has a daughter. One day a couple of years ago he was walking her to school and saw her holding her tummy in. He asked why. Well, of course she was practicing looking skinny.

“I just want you to know that you don’t ever have to worry about dieting or any of these things,” he told his daughter. Life is not about forsaking. It’s about embracing who you are and what you love.

So long as it’s not Domino’s Stuffed Cheesy Bacon Jalapeno Breadsticks.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.

More from Around New York