#221 Takeout Tips

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When it comes to Chinese food I have always operated under the policy that the less known about the preparation
the better.

Calvin Trillin

Takeout Tips and Traps

By Joe Wilkes

In a perfect world, we'd all be able to spend the morning browsing the farmers market for the perfect seasonal produce and spend the afternoon making nutritious meals that, in their flawless presentation, would bring a tear to Martha Stewart's eye. But in reality, sometimes you don't even have time to make do with what's in the fridge. You might even have to resort to what's hanging on your doorknob or stuck in your windshield wiper—the scourge of diets everywhere—the delivery menu.

Ah, the delivery menu. A full meal (or more) brought to your door in 30 minutes or less. No cooking. No cleaning. It's like going to a fine restaurant—in your underpants. A dream come true. But it can be a nightmare for your figure if you succumb to some of the common pitfalls of deliverable cuisine. Here are some things to keep in mind, so you can order your dinner in without having to let your pants out.

What to watch out for

  1. Good things come in small packages. Unfortunately, most delivery food comes in large packages. It's rare that you can get someone to bring you one or two slices of pizza. You usually get the whole pie. And Chinese and Thai food come in those top-heavy tapered white boxes, so while it may seem you've only eaten half a container, you've actually gone through most of it. Before you dig in to your freshly arrived repast, get a plate from your kitchen. (Come on, someone else cooked the dinner, you can wash one plate!) Put a serving on your plate and put the rest in the refrigerator for another time. By removing the extra food, you'll significantly reduce the chances that you'll power-eat your way through two or three meals worth of calories straight out of the container.

  2. Don't eat the "minimum." One problem with delivery, especially for single people, is that there's usually a $10.00 or $12.00 minimum for delivery. Don't be lured into loading up your order with fatty appetizers or extra desserts just to ensure free delivery. Order two regular-size entrées, and put one in the refrigerator for tomorrow's lunch or dinner. You'll save money by not ordering takeout two nights in a row, and that's also two nights in a row you don't have to cook. You win!

  3. Watch your sides. Your diet's already in trouble since you have to order a banquet's worth of food just to get the delivery guy to show up at your door. Don't get talked into the add-ons like egg rolls, breadsticks, or chicken wings. Your pizza's already going to run you about 300 calories a slice; do you really want to add a 300-calorie order of wings to that?

  4. Read the fine print. The best thing about Chinese, Thai, and other ethnic menus is that since the dish is in a foreign tongue, they usually have to add a couple sentences about what's in the item and how it's prepared. Look for words and phrases like "steamed," "boiled," "all white meat," etc. Stay away from words like "fried," "crispy," "cheese-filled," "creamy," etc. Also, some menus include heart icons, next to the healthier items—keep an eye out for those!

  5. Spice it up. While some claims that spicy food will boost your metabolism are overexaggerated, there are some other benefits to eating the hot stuff. First off, peppers and curries add a lot of flavor, without adding sodium. Pick dishes that emphasize spice over salt. Secondly, if your mouth is on fire, you might be encouraged to drink more water to cool you off. And water will help fill you up in addition to its other myriad benefits. Avoid using high-calorie sodas, beers, or drinks like Thai iced tea (200 calories a serving) to put out the fire, though. So, sprinkle some hot peppers on your pizza or order your food extra spicy, if you can take the heat!

What to order

Most of the restaurants that deliver are local eateries, not national chains, so we can't give you specific nutritional information for all of them, but here are some tips for good things to order and bad things to avoid for three of the most popular categories of restaurant.


  • Get steamed. Order steamed rice, not fried, and brown rice (it has extra fiber), if they have it.

  • Veg out. Look for the dishes that are mostly vegetables and are steamed rather than fried. If you order dishes like beef and broccoli, ask them for extra broccoli.

  • Soup it up. Egg-drop, wonton, and hot-and-sour soups are good low-cal, low-fat options (although they usually have plenty of sodium, so no extra soy sauce!). Fill up on some soup and put away half your entrée for later.

  • Grease—not the word. Stay away from deep-fried dishes like egg rolls, crispy orange chicken, General Tso's chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, etc.

  • Lay off the sauce. Watch out for sauces made with corn syrup or oil. Request low sauce or no sauce. An order of kung pao chicken seems healthy but it's sautéed in enough oil that it can have up to 76 grams of fat—more than an entire day's worth. If possible, ask how it's prepared.

  • Pass up the salt. Ask for low-salt options. Don't use the full-sodium soy sauce packets that come with your meal. Instead, invest in your own bottle of low-sodium soy sauce. Also, make sure your restaurant is one of the many that no longer use monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their dishes.

  • Switch it up. For dinner combos, see if you can substitute healthier options for the normal items. For example, at my Panda Express, they'll give me an extra serving of steamed vegetables instead of the side of starchy chow mein or fried rice that it typically comes with.

  • The future is bright, and light! A fortune cookie only has 30 calories, no fat, and potentially some good news or a daily affirmation—treat yourself!


  • Don't pick up the phone. It's hard to find healthy pizza and it's far better to make your own. See our "Guilt-Free Pizza" tips for more on that, but if delivery's the only option, read on . . .

  • More veggies. Load up on veggie toppings like peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh garlic, jalapeños, etc.

  • Less cheese. Ask for low-fat cheese or ask them to use half the cheese.

  • Defeat the meat. Try and stay away from fatty meat toppings like pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage. Instead, try leaner options like Canadian bacon, chicken, or shrimp.

  • Bust the crust. Not all pizzas are created equal, and neither are their crusts. Look at the chart below to see the different calorie counts from two pieces of a large cheese pie cut into eight slices.


  • Lighten up. Many of the same tips for Chinese food apply to Thai food as well. Try and get steamed brown rice, lots of vegetables, and stay away from heavy sauces and high-sodium dishes.

  • Don't get saucy. Satay is a good option, but try not to use too much of the peanut dipping sauce, if any; that's where your calories will start to add up.

  • Don't go (coco)nuts. Watch the coconut milk. It's delicious, but usually extremely fattening. Try and look for dishes flavored with ginger, citrus, curry, or chilies instead. Or ask if they can prepare your dish with low-fat coconut milk.

  • Hold the milk. Thai restaurants offer a lot of delicious low-fat soups that you can fill up on. They also have some soups that are high in fat because of coconut milk. Try and order soups that don't include it.

  • Green and lean. Thai cuisine includes many salads that are a meal in themselves, such as Yum Nuah (beef salad) or Pla Goong (grilled shrimp salad). Many of these have simple lime juice dressings that are low in fat. But, as with American salads, caveat emptor, and ask the restaurant what's in the dressing.

  • Go fish (or tofu). Check out the fish and tofu options. Even more than their Chinese counterparts, Thai restaurants have lots of dishes featuring seafood and tofu. And if you don't care for seafood or tofu, the Thai spices might help you overcome your aversion.

So while it's unlikely you'll lose much weight on a takeout diet, there are still a lot of ways you can minimize the damage. But if you're still afraid that takeout temptation will take out your resolve, try turning that "30 minutes or less" into a Power Half Hour® while you're waiting for your food to arrive. Then you can enjoy that Szechwan chicken with a side of virtuousness.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check our Fitness Expert's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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The Magic Number for Health and Beauty

By Jude Buglewicz

We've all heard the saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It explains why someone might fall in love and marry a person someone else would never even notice. And yet, there are markers of physical attractiveness that are said to be universal, not only across cultures, but throughout time. Turns out, one in particular is also a pretty accurate indicator of the shape you're in. Read on to see what your waist and hips have to do with the health of your heart.

The current standard: BMI

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) depend on the body mass index (BMI) to define obesity and measure people's health risks, especially from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (See "What Does It Mean to Be Fat?" about your body mass, how to calculate your BMI, and why it's a number you should know.) It's easy to calculate BMI and convenient to use, as it's simply a ratio of a person's height and weight. But since BMI doesn't account for the difference between fat and fat-free mass, like muscle, a pro linebacker could have the same BMI as someone huge and completely out of shape. The linebacker's weight might be mostly muscle whereas the obese person's weight would be mostly fat. In the eyes of the World Health Organization, though, the healthy linebacker would also be called "obese." And that bothers researchers who would like more accurate measurements of health risks.

Another problem with BMI is that it doesn't take into consideration where your fat is stored on your body. As Project: YOU™ creator Kathy Smith noted in a recent article on burning fat, abdominal fat is far worse than fat anywhere else on your body. It explains why people with identical BMI numbers—people who are the same height and weight—may not have the same health risks. People with apple-shaped bodies, who store fat around their waist, are more at risk than pear-shaped people, who store fat in their hips and booty. (See "How to Fix Where you Get Fat" for more on apples and pears.)

The research

In 2003, an Australian study concluded that the waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a better predictor of death from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease than BMI. Researchers noted that WHR has a more universal application and is more appropriate for ethnically diverse populations. A couple of years later, a Canadian study confirmed these findings and asserted that WHR is three times more accurate than BMI at predicting heart attack risk. And this year, a London study found that WHR was a more accurate measurement of the mortality rate in older people (over 75 years old). An older person may have a "healthy" BMI number, maybe even the same BMI as they've always had, but because people lose bone and muscle mass as they age, and BMI doesn't distinguish fat from bone or muscle (only height and weight matter), the weight an older person loses in muscle and bone may be replaced with fat. That's why WHR is a much better indicator of an older person's health risk, as the distribution of their fat is more crucial than their height-weight ratio.

Waist-hip ratio

The first to theorize about the significance of the waist-hip ratio was the evolutionary psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh. He was interested in studying the importance of female attractiveness to the propagation of the species. That is, take away the moonlight, the mascara, and the little black dress, and what's left to explain why men want to hook up with women and start families? Evidently, according to Dr. Singh, men are biologically hard-wired to look for markers of attractiveness that coincide with health and fertility, and one such marker is the relation between a woman's waist and hips. A ratio of around 0.7 indicates good levels of estrogen and lower incidences of heart disease and ovarian cancer—a healthy breeder, in other words. Women size up men similarly: the magical waist-hip ratio number is around 0.9 for men, indicating fertility and good health and less prostate and testicular cancer. The evidence bears it out. Think of our cultural icons of feminine beauty and sex appeal: Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Salma Hayek—even the Venus de Milo. They all have waist-hip ratios of around 0.7. Different heights, weights, and sizes, but "beautiful" in the same way.

What is your waist-hip ratio?

To figure out your WHR, all you need is a measuring tape.

  • Measure your waist. Women should measure their waist at the narrowest place between the bottom of their ribs and their hip bones. Men, measure your waist at your navel. And both of you, don't pull the tape tight or suck in your stomach. The tape should not squeeze your skin at all.

  • Measure your hips. Women, measure around the widest part of your booty, men, at the tip of your hip bones.

  • Calculate your waist-hip ratio. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

For women, WHR is considered
healthy if it's under 0.85.
For men, WHR is considered
healthy if it's under 0.90.

What now?

Because it's hard to measure people's waist and hips consistently, the waist-hip ratio has not been adopted by the World Health Organization. They still prefer the easy height-weight ratio of the body mass index, so information pertaining to health risks and obesity continues to be determined by BMI data. But now that you know your own WHR, and the implications of a high number (increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer), you can do something to change your odds.

Ramp up your cardio, as that will reduce your overall body fat, and adjust your diet so you're eating in line with the guidelines we propound in Michi's Ladder and our diet guides. Don't slack on your ab work either. Good targeted ab routines include Ab Jam (Turbo Jam®), Slim & 6-Pack (Slim in 6®), Ab Ripper 100 and 200 (Power 90®), Ab Ripper X (P90X®), and Kathy Smith's abs and core workouts (Project: YOU). Reduce stress any way you can, as stress makes you crave unhealthy, fattening foods (read up on the kinds of foods you should eat to combat stress and weight gain).

Once you've got your WHR where it should be, you'll look better, feel better, be healthier, and live longer—and that is beautiful.

Schneider, H., et al. "Obesity and risk of myocardial infarction: the INTERHEART study." The Lancet. 2006; (367, 9516): 1052-1052.
Singh, D. "Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1993; 65: 293-307.
Welborn, Timothy A., Dhaliwal, Satvinder S., and Bennett, Stanley A. "Waist-hip ratio is the dominant risk factor predicting cardiovascular death in Australia." The Medical Journal of Australia. 2003; 179 (11/12): 580.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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