Chef AJ is a delightful personality that I first encountered on Rich Roll’s podcast. This led me to read her book “The Secrets To Ultimate Weight Loss”, which is interesting and inspiring. This has a great, concise, concept of calorie density- the Red Line.
The idea that unprocessed plant foods are a good way to lose weight has been around a long time, For example, there was Dean Ornish’s book Eat More Weigh Less, and nutritionist Barbara Roll’s book Volumetrics (whose contributions’ AJ acknowledges). But Chef AJ’s chart summarizes this with an easy to remember visual:
The red line is food that has approximately 700 calories per pound. There is a study, mentioned in the book, that shows it is pretty much impossible to gain weight if you eat food that is less dense in calories than this. The chart doesn’t explicitly say it, but just about all animal foods are more dense than the red line, some considerably so (except milk because of its high water content). For example, even chicken breast, which many would think of as a healthier choice, is 750 calories per pound. All processed also are to the right of the line, as foods containing refined carbs like sugar and flour. Worst of all are foods containing or cooked in oils.
This leaves unprocessed plant foods, including vegetables, fruit, legumes, and minimally processed grains. Which happens to be a whole food plant based diet. It also just so happens that these are among the most nutritious of foods.
The only exceptions are the “purple” foods (avocados, nuts, and seeds), which are nutritious but also calorie dense. If your goal is weight loss, these need to be eaten sparingly.
Staying to the left of the red line means you can always eat till fully satisfied (the main point of the book Volumetrics is eating food that promotes satiety). With no physical hunger, this way of eating can readily be followed long term.
Is it necessary to always stay to the left of the red line? Probably not, for a lot of us. But the idea is that the closer you are to following this, the healthier you’ll be, as discussed in Dr. Dean Ornish’s book The Spectrum, which I discussed here. As for controlling weight, I’ve always found that being less strict, especially about processed foods, can be a slippery slope, as these can be trigger foods. The red line is a good visual tool because when the little voice whispers “what could a little oil hurt this once?” I can see how far it is to the right and it’s easier to say no.
Chef AJ’s Journey
Chef AJ has been a professional chef for a long time but is also a recovered food addict, as told in detail in the book. Her journey, which includes bouncing back from eating disorders, was difficult, but her recovery and discovery of this healthy way of eating is inspirational. There are also lots of good recipes in the book. It will be interesting to see if a mediocre cook like me can get them to come out well.
This book is highly recommended for anyone who has struggled controlling their weight, has had eating disorders, or tried multiple weight loss diets.