Full Title: Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose InchesCinch! by Cynthia Sass
Author: Cynthia Sass
Publisher: HarperOne (2010)
Number of Pages: 304
How long it took me to read: 6 days (but I’m continuously referring back to it, at least once on Sundays when I plan my weekly meals)
Where I bought this book: At a not so local Barnes and Noble
ISBN: 978-0-06-197464-9

Like a Moth to a Flame

I was reading the January 2011 issue of Shape at the gym, and came across an article about Cynthia’s new book. Turning to the first page of the feature was like opening the package of answers I ordered so many years ago—it had finally arrived. The message leapt off the page, jumping so high it had time to make love to the moon. I bought the book the next day. I probably should have bought my husband one of Cynthia’s other books, Your Diet is Driving Me Crazy. We went grocery shopping for the first part of the plan the same day…after spending a couple of hours polishing off the first half of the book at our favorite bubble tea cafe.

Favorite Five

Whittling 15 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “One study found that among twenty-five thousand married women, those who claimed to be in an unhappy relationship gained an average of fifty-four pounds during the first ten years of marriage.” (p.232)

4. “Currently 26.4 percent of men and 24.8 percent of women are obese [in the United States]. Yet the prevalence of obesity among vegetarians and vegans ranges from 0 to 6 percent, according to published data. On average, the body weights of both male and female vegetarians are 3 percent to 20 percent lower than those of omnivores.” (p.200)

3. “Taking too many calories from any food (even veggies!) gives you an overall surplus, and any excess fuel your body doesn’t need either gets socked away in your fat cells, causing you to gain weight, or supports the excess fat you already have, keeping it on your body.” (p.197)

2. “Although I don’t believe in ignoring calories altogether, the research and my clinical instincts tell me that the quality of every calorie is even more important than the total quantity.” (p.191)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Organic foods are richer in nutrients. This means they improve satiety and naturally help regulate body weight…Plants produce antioxidants to protect themselves from pests like insects and to withstand harsh weather. When they’re treated with chemicals such as pesticides, they don’t need to produce as much of their own natural defenses, so the levels are lower.” (p.203)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

In preparation to begin…

“Sass references a lot of statistics and predictions, painting a depressing picture of how our world will look in years to come if we don’t make changes today. What she doesn’t talk about is how our work culture may be contributing to the insanity. In a life where you have to wake up before 5:00 a.m. and where you close the laptop around 9:00 p.m., when is there time for 12 hours of exercise each month, room to plan meals and sleep a full 8 hours a night? Street-side cafes are far from lining our avenues, and for good reason – they would be out of business in the first month. Who has the time?

“I agree with so much of the book, and maybe I’ll even agree with all of it once I’m finished working through the plan, but what I don’t understand is how balance can be achieved in a culture so obsessed with work.”

“I’m most definitely starting off with the 5-Day, 5-Food Fast Forward plan. I definitely get excited when I have the chance to learn about new ways to lose weight and following a regimented and limited eating plan simplifies things, which motivates me tremendously since abundant selection can so quickly spiral out of control in my world. The idea of eating the same meals all week is already a habit I’ve adopted in my workaholic household, and yes, I admit it, I experience a certain level of frustration at facing the unknown when meals aren’t prepared (or at least planned) in advance. But after all, Sass says it herself,

“…structure provides a powerful punch. Structure tells you what to do, but it also allows you to free your mind so you can explore your emotional connections to food.” (p.17)

“So, with that open admission of my reverence to control and order, I’m ready to start fast-forwarding…almost. First, a day at the races!”

“Overactive mind alert! It’s the day before I start the plan, and I’m worrying about how much work it will be to prepare the meals after Day 5. After all, it took 3 hours, 3 grocery stores and a couple of desperate moments in the produce department to gather all the goods for the first 5 days. Note to self: I think I’ll make the parfaits in advance so they’ll be ready for the week ahead, but that still leaves the other meals, the alarms I’ll have to set to remind myself to eat at the prescribed intervals, and the inevitable caffeine withdrawal.

“Did I mention I’m only allowed a quarter of the coffee I normally drink in a day?! Good luck to those who cross my path this week! You’ll need it!”

“I don’t think that the biggest adjustment for the week ahead will be eating the mounds of spinach or even the Costco-sized tubs of non-fat Greek yogurt. I think it will be the set schedule and the ‘no snacking’ rule. I’ve become a master of eating high water, high air, high fiber, low fat, low sugar foods. The problem with that is you end up eating all the time because the feeling of being full only lasts until your first post-meal pee. Eating actual meals like a normal person – that’s the scariest part of all.”

Fast-forwarding complete.

“I just crossed the 5-Day, 5-Food Fast Forward finish-line 5 point 5 pounds lighter than when I started. I had absolutely no caffeine withdrawal. Instead, I savored every last drop of my strong Russian espresso each day, which, thanks to the mercy of the Eastern Block Coffee Gods, did not leave me asking for more. On top of that, I didn’t miss salt at all. I’m completely cured of heartburn and I can finally give myself permission to go back to slurping vinegar—an indulgence I didn’t allow myself because I thought it was contributing to my stomach acidity. That’s the good news but the relentless chaos of life insists on bringing a bit of bad news to the table, too. An important interview and a movie premier now stand between me and a 5-day holiday to Hawaii. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound as bad as it did in my head. In any case, I’m going to have to get creative to stay on the plan.”

“Ok, so I gratefully returned from Maui a day before all the resorts were evacuated on account of the Tsunami warning coming from Japan. I have no intention of hanging myself on a miserable rope of unpleasant numbers that presumably await me on the scale, but I will say that I tried my best. I timed my perfectly balanced meals until dinner on our first night on the island. I sprinkled green tea over my Dr. Kracker cracker and sucked on my string cheese between carefully chewed bites of baby carrots. I even packed some LÄRABARs for our long road trips and beach-hopping adventures. Now I have a 10-person birthday dinner party to plan, inspired by the exotic delights of the Asian kitchen. Oh dear!”

“I’m enjoying the taste of each meal as much as when I treat myself to haute cuisine (except that these meals don’t wake me up to pounds of retained water the following day). Each meal is an indulgent surprise of flavor combinations that I honestly wouldn’t have thought of putting together myself. I’m not bored of homemade meals anymore.”

“Tomorrow’s my first day on the new job. I’ve planned my meals, sent out my supportive other half to do some last minute grocery shopping, and aside from a dreaded dentist appointment and the challenge of learning a new commute, this promises to be a week full of potential. Maybe I’ll at least get back down to that post-Fast-Forward weight (no, I haven’t weighed myself since I got back from vacation).”

End of Week 2 Reflection

“I’ve always been an advocate of fasting and cleansing. Clean eating is a way of life I’d like to think I strive to achieve each day. Yet it’s always such a humbling experience to go through the process of cleansing the body for the umpteenth time only to realize how much I have left to learn about the conditions required for it to function optimally. The 5-Day, 5-Food Fast Forward proved no exception to this pattern of learning that I hope I’m becoming increasingly equipped to recognize.

“For me, the first two days of a cleanse are the most challenging part of the detoxification process. In fact, I’m beginning to recognize distinct phases of the cleansing process – the first hump is representative of the detoxification process when the body is given the room to purge itself of some of the pollutants housed in its cells. The next stage, the one often associated with an increase in energy coupled with deeper sleep cycles and a more optimistic outlook, is associated with the recalibration period. This is when the body becomes unencumbered by the stresses of operating within a limited scope of its potential, and bodily functions become more and more optimized.

“By the end of the fifth day of Cynthia’s plan, I was flying high, my gums were no longer swollen (a common place for the body to release toxins), and I was free from the desire to eat for pleasure, comfort, or just plain old entertainment. Food was fuel again, and I had finally learned a way of combining the different types of fuel to optimize the body’s performance.

“Being in a state that I can best describe as feeling completely comfortable in my skin was absolutely wonderful…until I reentered the traveler’s world of restaurants and airport lounges. Needless to say that during the week I spent in Hawaii, all I tasted on my plate was sugar and salt. It’s remarkable how excessive the food industry has become in the way it prepares dishes. It’s even more disturbing how conditioned consumers have become to believing that processed equals delicious; I am by no means an exception to this disturbing reality. Before Cinch!, I thought I was doing everything right. By the end of the first 2 weeks on the program, I learned how faulty my thinking had become. For example, a food doesn’t necessarily have to come out of a box to be considered processed; the further away food gets from its original state, the more processed it becomes—that includes over-cooking and over-seasoning!

“I’ve also learned two other important lessons this week:

  1. Deprivation isn’t a requirement for weight loss success. Denying myself actually ensured that I would fail at maintaining a consistent approach to healthy living.
  2. The secret to satisfying meals is in the seasoning! My obsession with salt is over now that I’ve rediscovered the magic of herbs and spices (which include dried tea leaves!).

“But as I share the skies with the birds flying over the Pacific while on my way home, I realize that I still don’t know how to transfer all the invaluable lessons Cynthia has taught me into a world where I’m not preparing all my meals myself. I acknowledge that it isn’t about perfection, but even a general adherence to the core principles of the Cinch! plan seems very challenging at times. Learning how to make healthy eating choices is a continuous process.

“I’ll make a quick stop to Whole Foods on my way home from the airport to stock up on supplies for a simple 2-Day Fast Forward before continuing onto Week 3 of the plan.”

Some hindsight…

“On Day 3 of the 5-Day, 5-Food Fast Forward, spinach started tasting sweet. On day 60-something, it’s turned into a dessert. Spinach used to be the green glop my mother force-fed me once a month. It used to be what Popeye ate out of a can. Now, beefy leaves fill my bowl, glistening with garlic-infused olive oil, and topped with black sesame seeds and bright green avocado. Dessert has never been easier or more bountiful. Dessert has never helped me breathe in a size 4 before either!”

“Cynthia makes mention of a widely talked about health concern – Bisphenol A (BPA). She points to the study conducted by the Consumers Union reporting on the levels of BPA found in packaged foods in the United States. The report documents that the highest levels of BPA were found in some samples of green beans and soups. Green beans happen to be a zero POINTS® food.”

Lesson Learned: The problem with religiously counting POINTS® or calories is that you leave no room to consider the other effects of the foods you’re putting into your body. Just thinking about all those cans of green beans I ate with such a false sense of security that I was acting in the best interest of my body makes me laugh. No more narrow-minded, blind-sighted approaches for me. No, thank you!

“I struggle with emotional eating until I remember that I never feel any better after mindlessly stuffing myself with food my body doesn’t need. The conscious realization that food doesn’t equal happiness propels me into a new dimension of health living. All the other problems opportunities for improvement in my life don’t go away after a few handfuls of nuts. In fact, emotional eating just brings on the additional challenge of fighting off even more weight.”

“It took me some time to study the Cinch! strategy and to work toward organizing my life into a new flow, but (and this is a big but—thankfully not mine!) it genuinely empowered me to finally reach my goal. Now I’m going to do something I’ve been putting off for years—I’m going to go through my closet and open up all the overstuffed suitcases lining the top shelves of all my closets, and I’m going to release my fat clothes.

“It frightens me, but I know I have to do it. I know that this is one of the final steps of the ‘shedding’ stage of my journey. I know that unless I learn to recondition myself to see my body as slim, I won’t believe that it is. I know that as long as I hold onto the possibility of going back to the shape that inspired me to learn how to live a healthier life, the possibly of going back will always be there. What I’m afraid of, what’s making my hands tremble as I write this, is that I know I will have to jump off yet another cliff into the unknown to truly purge myself of my outdated perception of myself—a perception I’ve been cultivating since the first time someone called me fat, a perception that I reinforced when I was told that I would always be fat, a perception that has defined the way I’ve seen my body since I was a little girl.

“But the more I dig my fingers into the sands of my belief system, the more I rub the grittiness into my palms, the more I realize that it isn’t the me of today that’s trembling—it’s the me of back then. At my core, I’m afraid of not being strong enough to change. I’m afraid that they were right. I’m afraid that hard work and determination aren’t enough. But that’s ok. Being afraid is ok. I’ll just do what I normally do when I’m afraid—I’ll take it one step at a time, as small a step as I want, because in the end, it’s my life to live, and I believe in myself, even if they didn’t.”

A Final Note…

“If you’re waiting to find out how many pounds I lost while following Cynthia’s plan, you’ll probably be disappointed with this review. I only weighed myself during the 5-Day, 5-Food Fast Forward, during which I shed some 5 pounds—the same 5 pounds I’d been losing and putting back on for over a year. I didn’t weight myself anymore after those first 5 days—I was truly sick of the scale, and have been for a very long time (I suppose being on Weight Watchers for 20 years will do that to a person).

“The worst part of weighing myself wasn’t that I was associating my self-worth, and subsequently, my mood, with the numbers that appeared on that obnoxious digital display. It was that the numbers weren’t changing anymore—no matter how hard I was working at it, no matter how many inches I was losing and regardless of the dress sizes I was dropping, the numbers just got stuck. So I decided to free myself of my weight and release control of weighing food to the gram at every painful meal. I chose to relax instead. The result: a much more31-Day Cinch! Worksheet Template manageable lifestyle, eating high quality meals made of natural ingredients, no snack cravings and a true appreciation for teachers like Cynthia who have demystified weight loss and proper nutrition.

“…and for those of you who like to track your success on spreadsheets, here is a 31-Day Cinch! Worksheet Template (pdf) that you can use to monitor your progress. I’ve included some of my favorite recipe combinations (and their corresponding page numbers) in the template to help you along.

Post update: July 30, 2011

Cinch! Recipe – Vegetarian Lasagna

Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Cooking Time: 45 to 60 mins


Produce: 4 cups all-natural marinara sauce; 3 cups baby spinach, frozen and thawed (thawing is optional); 1 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped, diced or sliced
Whole grain: 6 oz dry whole grain lasagna pasta
Lean protein: 3/4 cup nonfat organic ricotta cheese; 8 oz organic skim milk; 2 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Plant-based fat: 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
SASS: 1 tablespoon dried oregano; 1 tablespoon dried basil; 1 teaspoon dried thyme; 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper; 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (These are estimates—feel free to adjust the SASS to suite your tastes. Remember that if you want to use fresh herbs, the general rule is to use 3 times the amount of dried herbs, so in this case, you would use 3 tablespoons of fresh basil instead of 1 tablespoon of dried basil.)


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm up the marinara sauce and mix in the fresh mushrooms. If you’d like, you can saute the mushrooms in a hot pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray before mixing them into the sauce. Add in the olive oil and sprinkle in the oregano, basil, thyme and cayenne. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and ricotta. Add the black pepper. Then with a spoon, gently mix in the spinach. Set aside.

Preheat your over to 420 degrees F (215 degrees C). Arrange the racks in your oven so that the lasagna can bake in the center of the oven to ensure uniform heat distribution.

To arrange the layers, start by spraying an 8″ x 11″ oven-safe dish with non-stick cooking spray. (Try not to spray the edges that won’t be covered with the lasagna because baked-on cooking spray is a nightmare to scrub off.)

Ladle in about a cup of marinara sauce onto the base of the pan (you don’t have to be precise with the measurement here—just make sure that the base of thoroughly covered and gives the first layer of pasta a cozy place to rest).

Layer 3 sheets of pasta into the dish.

Cover the pasta with half of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle with 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese.

Top the layer off with half of the remaining marinara sauce and spread it evenly over the layer.

Repeat the process once more.

At the end of the second layer, you should be left with no more ricotta mixture, no more marinara sauce, 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese and maybe a couple sheets of pasta (depending on the size of the pasta sheets you’re using). What I do at this point, is break up the remaining pasta into smaller pieces and spread them out over the top layer. Then I sprinkle the dish with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. You can uncover the dish about 10 minutes before the end to crisp up the top layer if you’d like. You’ll know when the dish is ready when it bubbles on the sides and the pasta is soft.

Tip: I make this dish on a Sunday afternoon and portion it out into 6 weekday meals. Even smushed into tupperwear, it’s amazing!

If you’ve developed your own Cinch! recipes, don’t be shy! Share them with the rest of us!

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