For a nice Jewish girl, she is shockingly down on bread, bagels and cheesecake. But Esther Blum does recommend butter and chocolate, even to dieters, and is happy to share her recipe for the best vodka martini.
Sarah Jessica Parker reputedly follows this new-age nutritionist’s unconventional advice — which thrills 38-year-old Blum. The enviably trim New York mum says Carrie Bradshaw was a big inspiration for her Sex and the City-style diet book, which is currently attracting more hype than the new Dr Who.
Or perhaps that should be the no-diet book. Eat Drink and Be Gorgeous: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Living Well while Living it Up strives to take the guilt and shame out of the weight-loss game, while imparting tips to bring hope to the dyspeptic, depressed and dietetically disillusioned as well as the merely overweight.
“There is no reason why eating has to be a guilty experience,” declares Blum, as she stirs breakfast porridge in her Manhattan apartment. She’ll have the porridge with pecans and berries, and possibly follow it with eggs scrambled in butter — if she’s hungry enough.
It’s one of her mantras — that you should eat when you’re hungry, but ask yourself what else is going on in your life if you tuck in even when you’re not. Another is to stop halfway through a large meal and wait for the message that you’re full, reassured that you can always come back for more later if you’re not.
But although she would impose no lifetime ban on anyone’s dietary cravings, Blum does see evil in a few staples of the Jewish kitchen, notably bread and margarine.
“Growing up in a kosher home, as I did, puts you at risk,” claims Blum, who used to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and other ills. “Margarine is pure poison.”
And bread is not much better: “It’s a processed food. A piece of challah a week isn’t going to kill you, but flour triggers an insulin response in your body to store excess calories as fat, which isn’t helpful.”
Coffee isn’t good either: “It produces cortisol, a stress hormone which encourages fat storage round your middle,” she explains. “Tea is better, or unsweetened cocoa.”
But there’s a whole list of foods she can’t praise highly enough — like wild salmon, which she calls “a face lift in your fridge”. Chicken soup made from scratch is good for you too: “It’s full of glutamine, which is good for digestive health and the immune system.”
You can’t eat too many eggs, as far as she is concerned — “Hard-boil a batch, and pop one into your handbag for a snack” — and she would positively encourage you to peck on a square or two of good-quality dark chocolate every night, even if you are battling the bulge. “It has nutritional and longevity benefits, and it just makes you feel less deprived.”
While extra tips have been added to a digest of Blum’s pink tome, recently repackaged as the handbag-sized Secrets of Gorgeous, her best tip of all seems not to have made the cut — to eat the protein first when your meat and two veg hits the table. “It turns off your hunger mechanism; even getting just a couple of ounces down before you turn to the potatoes should do the trick.”
A book whose original introduction states “Your body may be a temple, but who says it can’t be a nightclub?” sounds a little dangerous, but Blum does stress responsible drinking: “We live in a drinking culture, both here in New York and in the UK, so it’s not realistic not to address it,” she points out, adding that hard alcohol in moderation is less problematic for most people than beer or wine.
“I’m famous for being the vodka queen who makes some of the meanest martinis in town,” boasts the woman who admits she would rather not envisage a life devoid of cocktails or chocolate.
“I don’t indulge in these foods on a daily basis, but when I have a craving I give in to it. It helps balance my life and reminds me I need to have fun on a regular basis.”