The Diet Detective’s All-American Diet

by Charles Platkin, PhD

The Detective’s All-

The following is a diet that can help jump-start your weight loss for the new year. It’s based on my new book, The Diet Detective’s All-American Diet (Rodale, 2012), and it’s simple to follow. The diet is all about buying foods you can prepare and eat fast.

There are thousands of choices that allow you to create and build your very own daily menus using frozen foods (including organic options), ready-to-eat foods (e.g., soups, cereals, canned foods, fresh fruits and vegetables) and other foods that are available at the local supermarket, casual dining restaurants, fast-food chains ­ even the local convenience store. The best part? It’s simple and requires virtually no cooking.

I can already hear the chatter from nutrition and critics. “How can you recommend eating frozen foods? Canned soups? Fast foods? Oh my gosh! You have a Ph.D. in public health and this is what you’re advising people to do?”

Point well taken. This is NOT a “grow your own organic garden, milk your own cow, raise your own chickens” type of diet. That’s for sure.

The foods you’ll find in The Diet Detective’s All-American Diet are stepping-stones. You may not be able to go to the farmers market on a daily basis and pick up organic produce. However, with this diet you will lose weight, get more interested in fitness, gradually change your eating habits, and start living a brand new life. Also, there is plenty of strong research supporting this type of diet.

For example, an article in the journal Obesity Research states that “Consumption of portion-controlled entrées resulted in greater losses of weight and fat, thereby reducing cardiovascular disease risk. Accurate portion control is an important factor in weight-loss success, and use of packaged entrées is an effective method of achieving this.” And another in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association says, “Research shows that single-serving packages may help reduce energy intake at breakfast.” Finally, an article in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism concludes that, “Our data suggest that the meal replacement diet plan evaluated was an effective strategy for producing robust initial weight loss and for achieving improvements in a number of health-related parameters during weight maintenance, including inflammation and oxidative stress, two key factors more recently shown to underlie our most common chronic diseases.”

The plan I’ve laid out is a wonderful first step. If you follow it, you will lose weight. The question is: Can you follow it? The answer is “yes,” because I’ve designed it specifically so that you will not be hungry. And you will not have to rely on chance or your own judgment to make good decisions about what to eat. All you have to do is choose from a wonderful variety of familiar foods and follow the plan.

Here is a quick guide to starting this diet. Keep in mind, you should always check with your physician before starting any diet ­ especially since this diet can be high in sodium.

1. Make A Solid Commitment To Stick To The Plan. Mark the date you’ll begin on your calendar (and don’t make it a month from now!).

2. Start with your 21-Day Jump-Start Program. Women should use the 1,200-calorie Build-a-Meal plan, and men should stick to the 1,600-calorie Build-a-Meal plan. Abiding by these plans should result in the reasonable weight loss that will help give you the confidence and motivation you need to continue. After this “initiation” period, you’ll move on and figure out your daily calorie needs.

3. Go To The Supermarket. Choose and experiment. All you have to do is get off the couch and take an extra half-hour or so to check out the frozen food, soup, cereal and other packaged food sections. Your research will pay off in the end, and that half-hour will translate into time, calories and money saved. It’s more than worth the effort. Many times, frozen foods and other supermarket packaged foods are also cheaper than the prepackaged foods offered by commercial programs such as Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem (plus, they’re available at any grocery store).

On your first visit to the supermarket, look at nutrition labels. Pick a variety of healthy entrees and dinners (e.g., Amy’s, Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Campbell’s, etc.) that appeal to your tastes and provide a satisfying portion. If a frozen meal tastes great but you need three of them to fill you up and feel satisfied, it’s not the one for you.

My recommendation is to make an initial one-time investment of about $55 to taste-test 20 entrees. The choices are endless, ranging from Indian to Italian, Mexican to vegetarian, and chicken to meat platters — all of which can add a little spice to your daily diet. Also, test the soups and other packaged foods. You just have to decide which ones you’ll enjoy and can see yourself continuing to eat in the long run.

4. Find Your Favorites. Experiment and sample a variety of foods. Some of the entrées or sides will not be to your liking ­ that’s fine. Just don’t sample three or four meals at a time! Eventually you will find your favorites; stock up on those. You can even order them by the case if you want. For instance, offers Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Amy’s (soups), Weight Watchers Smart Ones and many others. Ordering online means the foods will come directly to your door, which will make weight loss even easier.

Once you figure out which meals you like, keep a supply in your freezer and fridge – that way, a healthy meal will always be just a few minutes away. It’s a good idea to serve them on a plate. The volume of food appears bigger and fills up the plate, and as a result you will be more satisfied.

5. Create A Weekly Planning Guide. Make sure you fill in every detail. It’s best to use a spreadsheet program to create a form. Planning your meals in advance is extremely important because it leaves less room for things to go wrong ­ which is usually when people fall off the wagon.

6. Create A Weekly Shopping List. This will ensure that all the foods on your weekly menu make it to your cupboard, fridge and freezer.

7. Weigh Yourself. Do this on the very first morning of your first day, before eating anything but after using the bathroom.

8. Put the Diet Detective’s Build-a-Meal Plan Into Action. Simply choose your breakfast entrée and side, a midmorning snack, your lunch entrée and side, an afternoon snack, your dinner entrée and side(s) and a dessert, along with your beverages. You will see that even though fruits and vegetables are generally considered side dishes, I have listed them in a separate category. That’s because I want to make sure you include as many of them as possible in your meal plan.

In selecting sides and snacks, always look at the fruits and vegetables first. Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, which helps fill you up ­ exactly what you are looking for when you’re trying to lose weight. Finally, keep in mind that condiments have calories, too, and need to be taken into account when planning your meal ­ that’s why they’re listed as sides.

Here’s an example of how it works:

1,200-Calorie Meal Plan

Breakfast: (entrée 250 calories; drink 25 calories)

Midmorning Snack (fruit 50 calories)

Lunch (entrée 300 calories; drink 0 calories)

Afternoon Snack (50 calories)

Dinner (entrée 350 calories; side(s) 50 calories; fruit or vegetable 50 calories)

Dessert (50 calories)

Drink (25 calories)

Sample 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan


Entrée: Dunkin’ Donuts Sausage, Egg White & Cheese Wake-Up Wrap

Drink: Dunkin’ Donuts Medium Iced Coffee

Morning Snack

Mott’s No-Sugar-Added Natural Apple Sauce


Entrée: Subway Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Drink: Club Soda

Afternoon Snack

Ready Pac Carrots with Ranch Dip Snack Pac


Entrée: Amy’s Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Vegetable: Fresh Express 5-Lettuce Mix (1 bag)

Side: Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers Balsamic Breeze Vinaigrette Dressing (10 sprays)

Side: Campbell’s Vegetable Beef Soup at Hand

Dessert: Jolly Rancher Popsicle Ice Pops (1 pop)

Drink: Water or coffee

9. Walk. Yes, walk every single day for at least 30 minutes MORE than you were walking before you started the plan.

Follow this plan and you will lose weight. Granted, this is a very basic version of the first phase of the program, but it should give you a jump-start. If you want to continue on the program, you’ll need to figure out your daily calorie needs, subtract 500 calories per day and develop a plan with the appropriate Phase 2 calorie levels. Go to this website:, and NEVER eat FEWER THAN 1,200 calories per day.

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