For too long, I kept a bowl of potato chips, pretzels, and beer nuts on my kitchen counter. Every time I walked by, I scooped a handful of fatty, salty goodness into my mouth. On those occasions when the scoops became too many, and a wave of guilt washed over me, I simply told myself to add ten minutes to my daily bike ride. But my bathroom scale—I swear it must’ve been broken—told me I was losing the battle. An unfavorable “balance of trade” between calories in and calories out had developed. I was gaining weight.
A few weeks ago, I took the chip, pretzel, and nut bags and buried them deep in a bottom kitchen drawer. I filled what had previously been the “bowl of death” with apples, oranges, and bananas. A few days ago, I checked the scale—apparently it had been fixed—and I had already shed a pound or two. Had a grown man with approximately 19 years of formal education and many additional years of something less formal finally figured out how visibility affects eating behavior? No. I read it in Theresa Yosuico Stahl’s wonderful first book I’m Full! (Amazon.com: Theresa Yosuico Stahl: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle). The Kindle edition is available at half-price through March 31.
Yosuico Stahl, a registered and licensed dietitian (RDN, LDN) who holds a certification from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, has practiced dietetics and nutrition counseling in Maryland for 40 years. During that time, she has worked with thousands of clients from all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds who have presented an array of dietary and lifestyle health challenges. Not only has this consummate experience, supplemented by a lifetime of professional training, enabled Yosuico Stahl to assemble an impressive list of “lessons learned”—offered in I’m Full as 52 Tips—she brings a life fully lived to the table.
Woven into her very practical and entirely achievable tips for a healthier life are tales of her own dietary encounters. Whether we’re hearing about her fight with the “Freshman 15 [pounds] turning to 20,” or her mother telling her to eat everything on her plate because there are starving people in Europe, Yosuico Stahl establishes a bond with the reader because she’s played every eating game that you have. How many times have I said “I’m full!” but continued to eat fearing that wasted food is a federal offense. As a child, my mother brow beat me into “cleaning my plate” with her daily famine report. She would repeat so often, “You can’t waste food because there are starving children in (pick your country),” that I was convinced that the more I ate the more lives I saved.
How many of us have participated in the so-called “yo-yo diet?” Up and down we go, believing that the apple at lunch offsets breakfast’s jelly donut. How about that long walk we took from the shopping mall to our car that we parked some distance away, as justification for that second scoop of ice cream? Or my all time favorite, “My diet definitely starts tomorrow!” that most popular benediction following the evening’s food orgy.
But even smugly describing episodes of life’s “Diet Games” reveals my own cynicism. What you will find in I’m Full is none of that. Yosuico Stahl is uniquely devoid of wise-cracking, weight-shaming, or tongue-in-cheek references to Americans’ very serious diet-related health problems. Empathy and affirmation are her calling cards, not admonishments like “you ought to do this” or “you better do that.” As if she’s forged a solemn vow with her clients, from whom she has witnessed every human frailty that flesh is heir to, she offers concrete ways to “make peace with your plate,” and to “love your weight.”
People like me will rail against the satanic forces of Big Food’s marketing machine and the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the dietary misinformation highway. But Yosuico Stahl has sat earnestly and openly in the trenches with people like herself, decade after decade, one-on-one, eye-to-eye, to listen, to counsel, never to judge. From that patience and practice, she brings us a boon of nutritional and behavioral wisdom.
Raised Catholic, Yosuico Stahl’s tips sometimes have the tone of the kindly priest’s homilies. Indeed, a gentle ripple of spirituality runs through the pages reminding us that it’s perfectly alright during our struggles to find sanctuary with a force greater than ourselves. But the sacred never trumps science as she is well acquainted with the ever-evolving chapter and verse of nutritional health. Where I’m Full draws its greatest strength is the integrative fashion with which it connects the dots of psychology, food, habits, stress, physical activity, and physiology. Citing the work of Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle and preventive medicine physician, Yosuico Stahl describes how she works with clients on “taste bud rehab.” Our taste buds become the victims of our own bad habits, she tells us, making it easy to fall prey to fat, sugar, and salt, and equally difficult to shake those habits. According to research, it can take from 21 to 254 days to fully suppress those addictions.
While taking up to two-thirds of a year to kick a bad dietary habit may seem like a formidable mountain to climb, Yosuico Stahl offers a balanced, mindful path to healthy eating that casts out any thoughts of self-imposed deprivation. As a lover of onion rings, for instance, I can still satisfy that occasional craving by sharing one, 400-calorie order among four people, thus seeing to my “fix” at the price of only 100 calories.
Fortunately for her readers, and I suspect her clients as well, Yosuico Stahl loves to eat. You’ll find absolutely nothing “skinny” about her advice, nor would I expect otherwise from someone who is half Filipino and half Italian, where an enjoyment of food is deeply rooted in culture. But knowing when you’ve had enough, when you’re full, is the “trick” that must be learned, one that results from the practice of mindful eating. To that end, Yosuico Stahl remains the caring coach whose advice contains the contours of a smile, not the kick-ass, “no pain, no gain” scowl of the personal trainer. Her accessible style, easy grace, and empathetic understanding feels more like a gentle stroll through a summer garden where you are invited to sniff a flower blossom or taste an unfamiliar herb.
If we as a nation share one common denominator these days, it’s stress, which sends us running for the shelter of a double bacon cheeseburger. Whether it’s our omnipresent political divisiveness, the pandemic, or the doomsday clock recently ticking several seconds closer to nuclear annihilation, who among us doesn’t feel totally justified in “taking out” a whole cheesecake in one sitting. While I’m Full will do little to unwind these threats to our existence, it will at least prevent food from being another source of consternation. And more importantly, it will sharpen the existential tools we need to build a house of health, hope, and happiness out of the abounding chaos.