“Buy a thing of arugula from the store. Dump it in a bowl.” This is the beginning of Mandy Levy’s Buffauxlo Chicken Salad recipe from her new book Calorie Accounting: The Foolproof Diet-by-Numbers Plan for a Skinnier New You, a humorous and self-deprecating weight-loss book that feels more like your best friend telling you about her new meal plan than your typical holier-than-thou diet tome. Levy consciously nudges the concept toward something more lighthearted.
“It takes itself so seriously, the dieting world,” she says. “And I just wanted everybody to lighten up.”
A former temporary Cincinnatian, Levy (who helped launch local creative collective ProjectMill in 2008) is hilarious — one of the book’s photo spreads features her dressed up as the poop emoji — but that doesn’t mean Calorie Accounting isn’t chock-full of practical tips, like to pre-plan your munchies before you go out on a Friday. Levy’s advice: Have a lovely platter of fruit and veg waiting for you in the fridge so you don’t reach for the pizza rolls. It’s all about treating calories as currency — counting, saving and spending as your budget permits.
CityBeat recently caught up with Levy via phone as she was driving from Austin to Phoenix on her current Calorie Accounting book tour, which makes two stops in the Queen City this week.
CityBeat: Why did you decide to write this book?
Mandy Levy: It’s kind of like my own diet diary. Four years ago when I moved to Brooklyn from Cincinnati, I was quite heavy for myself. I had like 30, 35 pounds to lose and I had to figure out how. There were so many times in my life that I had done Atkins or little fad diets and I’d lose 10 or 15 pounds here and there. Those little fad diets just were not working for me, and I had to figure out something else. I found this sort of mathematical equation, just based on calories in and calories out, and it was working for me. I was like, “Oh, if this little equation works that will be hilarious, cause it will be so easy — it will be just way too easy, and that’s impossible in the world of dieting.” But then this little equation, it worked! And it actually was that easy, and it was actually kind of fun. I was becoming obsessed with it, and because I was sort of obsessed with what I was experiencing, I was writing about it every day.
CB: What are your best tips for someone looking to take off a few pounds?
ML: Activities and exercise are super, super important. I think the best tip is just to approach the idea of a treadmill like a seriously daily must-do. But you don’t have to do anything more than walk on it. You just don’t. It doesn’t matter. One hundred calories comes from one mile, whether you sprint that or walk that or jog that, crabwalk it or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Going to the gym doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world; just turn on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, walk two miles on the treadmill, and you’ve earned yourself a nice Lean Cuisine.
The other thing is knowing yourself. I talk a lot in the book about the fact that, for me, I am a compulsive snacker. I like snacks; I don’t like meals. If you know yourself and you understand what makes you tick, what makes you happy, what’s going to keep this sustainable for you — which for me is the ability to be constantly shoving food down my throat — and so how do I do that? I do that by dipping grape tomatoes in buffalo sauce and pretending they’re wings. It’s really just understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are ... and then you can build your budget and your calorie accounting equation around that.
CB: What’s your favorite meal to make?
ML: Cucumbers dipped in hot sauce and everything hummus. There’s a new everything hummus from Athenos, and it’s like an everything bagel and it’s 50 calories per serving. If you go crazy and end up eating the entire thing, it’s only 400 calories, and that’s really not terrible. My favorite thing in the world, though — it’s magic sauce — is Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce. And it’s zero calories! … I’m no cook — I’m still like a college student to the bone. And so I just find things that I can just snack on that are essentially pre-made for me.
CB: If you had to choose between chocolate and cheese for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
ML: Cheese! No question.
Mandy Levy’s CALORIE ACCOUNTING tour makes a stop 5:30 p.m. Friday at Kaze in Over-the-Rhine and
2 p.m. Sunday at Barnes & Noble West Chester. More info: calorieaccounting.com.