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Rating Calorie-Control Diets For Seniors

Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss for Seniors

Dr. Howard M. Shapiro, a weight-loss doctor to the rich and famous in New York City, has developed a weight-loss strategy that helps dieters develop "food awareness."

Quick Take

  • Raises your awareness of food so you can make better choices
  • Uses photographs to help you visualize your options
  • Says there are no "bad" foods
  • Has no calorie counting

This Diet Is Best For

People with a lot of self-control and determination. Even if you decide not to follow his plan, the visuals can help you make lower-calorie substitutions.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

If you're looking for specific day-to-day guidance on what to eat and what not to eat, then this diet may not be for you. However, if you can take this book as a starting-off point and you're willing to do a little calorie and serving size research of your own, you may find it helpful. If not, you could end up getting far more calories than you should.

The Premise

By visually demonstrating the choices you can make in your diet (one fat-free, sugar-free muffin has the same number of calories as 1 whole pineapple, 1/2 cantaloupe, 2 pears, 1/2 papaya, 5 ounces grapes, 1/2 kiwifruit, and 2 whole-wheat rolls together, for instance), Shapiro says you'll be able to make better food choices -- choices that will allow you to eat any food you want and yet lose weight.

In more than 100 pages of photographs, he shows you how to get more food for fewer calories. In his 20 years of counseling people about losing weight, Shapiro says he has learned that there is no single weight-loss program that can work for everyone.

The Rationale

The rationale behind Shapiro's diet is one found in several other diet plans -- it's the calorie concentration of foods that is the key to controlling weight. You can eat more of foods that have a lower calorie concentration than you can of those with a higher calorie concentration. Through clear explanations and graphic illustrations, Shapiro shows you which kinds of foods are more concentrated. And he dispels a lot of myths about low-calorie choices.

Think you're being virtuous by having a dry bagel? Well, it turns out that only one-third of that dry bagel provides the same number of calories as a vegetarian ham sandwich on light bread with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and a pickle. The sandwich will fill you up more, and it also is more nutritious. Shapiro frowns upon deprivation because it leads to cravings, which lead to overeating.

Instead he recommends that you understand the choices you make and adjust your diet accordingly. He considers portion cutting an "ill-advised exercise in a false kind of willpower." You don't need to have smaller portions but rather larger portions of lower-calorie food. He doesn't discourage eating carbohydrates -- either sugar or starch, asserting that a calorie is a calorie, no matter what it is made of or when you eat it. Shapiro encourages dieters to keep a food diary to increase their food awareness.

Eating on Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss

The diet allows anything your heart desires, as long as you keep your calorie count under control. While it gives no guidelines for daily calorie intakes, it encourages dieters to stick with low-calorie foods that are high in volume. He doesn't offer any menu plans, recipes, or food exchanges. According to Shapiro, there are no bad foods and there are no correct portions. It's all up to your ability to visualize the calorie counts and portion sizes of foods and make the right choices.

What the Experts Say

If you can trust the calorie comparisons in the photographs, then his idea makes some sense. Eating more for less (fewer calories) is a concept all nutritionists try to teach. But, according to Kathleen Zelman, R.D., nutrition consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, dieters should double-check the portions, since some of the photographs appear to underestimate the serving size of high-calorie foods and overestimate the serving size of low-calorie foods.

In addition, Shapiro's complete focus on caloric density seems to overlook the nutrient density of foods. Choosing foods that offer the most nutrients for the fewest calories is also an important weight-loss strategy.

Although Shapiro's basic idea is a good one, he seems to have sidestepped nutrition. Almost no consideration is given to making sure you get enough calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, folic acid, or any of the other nutrients that are so important for your continued good health now that you're over 50. Neither does he mention the possibility of getting too much of some nutrients, such as sodium.

If you follow his concept carefully, you should lose weight and feel more satisfied, but there's no guarantee that you'll be getting all the nutrients you need. One chapter of the book is devoted to exercise and gives a broad overview of how to get fit. While it's more information than some diets offer, there is very little in terms of day-to-day guidelines on what kind of exercise to do and how much of it to do.

Calorie quota: There is no set calorie count. There are a few "before" and "after" menus that show dieters saving as much as 2,500 calories a day by following suggested substitutions.

Yes: Eating for pleasure and satisfaction by choosing less calorie-dense foods

No: Everything is allowed, but the idea is to choose primarily those foods that are least calorically dense

Other similar diets: Volumetrics, The Pritikin Principle

To learn more about senior health, see:


Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.