Making Space
Of course, there's a big difference between knowing what a healthy diet is and maintaining that diet. "The main reasons we overeat are emotional," says Dr. Ann (as Bob likes to call her). Ann is the director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute and an expert on weight control. "We can't stop this behavior unless we become aware of the feelings driving us." Her session this afternoon is designed to help Amy, Yolanda, and Kerri identify their triggers.

First order of business: a guided imagery exercise. Ann asks the women to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and picture a typical scenario in which they want to raid the fridge. She runs through a list of questions for them to consider: "What time of day is it? Are you feeling exhausted? Lonely? Angry? What do you expect the snack will do for you?"

After the women open their eyes, they share their thoughts. When it's Kerri's turn, she says, "The danger zone for me is when I'm tired and I have 3,000 things in my head. I need a breather. Two years ago, I would have a slice of pizza or a brownie sundae. Now, for comfort, I usually go to the gym...."

Suddenly tears are welling up in Kerri's eyes. "I don't know why I'm crying," she says, genuinely puzzled.

"You were saying how positive it is for you to work out," Ann prompts her.

"Right, but it's a constant struggle," Kerri continues. "I'm always afraid I'll fall off the exercise wagon because I have so little time. I stretch myself too thin. I feel like I have to accept every dinner invitation, talk my friends through their crises, drop what I'm doing to help people whenever they ask me to be there."

"We often have to make sacrifices to create room for healthy behaviors," Ann says. To keep up her gym routine, Kerri will need to relinquish her role as the go-to confidante for her family and friends, and start taking care of herself first. Echoing the question Bob posed to the group earlier this morning, Ann asks: "What do you deserve, Kerri?"

Kerri dries her eyes and runs a hand through her hair. "I deserve to say no."

"Yes!" says Ann, with a fist pump.

As the last rays of the afternoon sun move across the room, a waiter arrives with a snack: apple tea lattes—black tea steeped in fat-free milk that has been simmered with honey and chopped apple, then strained. Calorie count: 108. The women clink their white porcelain cups and toast their first day.

Day Two

The next morning, over breakfast at the Spa Café—ginger waffles (made with yogurt) and a selection of teas (black, oolong, green, and white) containing heart-protective compounds called polyphenols—the talk turns to how rare it is to enjoy such a leisurely morning. Most days Yolanda wakes at 6 A.M. to a ringing phone: her mom's nurse calling with an overnight report. Amy goes straight from bed to the kitchen to fix breakfast for her kids. And Kerri runs through a long mental to-do list as she dresses for work. But here at Bacara, they can enjoy the moment.

After a three-mile hike into the Santa Ynez foothills ("If you're going to walk for exercise," Bob says, "you've got to have inclines"), the women gather in the kitchen of Bacara's haute cuisine restaurant, Miró, where executive chef David Reardon has laid out ingredients on a prep table. He and Janis are going to teach the boot campers to make healthy versions of their favorite foods: French fries, sloppy joes, mac and cheese, and chocolate pudding. "We're hard wired to crave fat and sugar because our caveman ancestors needed all the calories they could get," Janis explains. "But you can trick your palate into thinking your body's getting lots of calories with food that's good for you."

Chef Reardon begins with his favorite substitute for matchstick fries—roasted root veggies (which have half the calories of potatoes). He mists julienne slices of parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots with vegetable oil cooking spray and tosses them with fresh chopped rosemary; then he puts the vegetables in the oven to brown.

"So, do you think these might replace my obsession with everything potato?" Amy asks.

Janis assures her she'll be satisfied: "They're crispy on the outside and soft and starchy on the inside. The cooking spray adds just enough fat to keep them from drying out."

For the sloppy joes, Reardon browns finely sliced onion and sweet pepper in a large skillet, then adds 95 percent lean ground beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, cloves, cinnamon, cider vinegar, and a half teaspoon of brown sugar. He makes the mac and cheese with a puree of butternut squash, 1 percent milk, and yogurt (instead of cream), shredded part-skim Jack and Cheddar cheese, and whole wheat macaroni. The chef's finale is the pudding: He brings unsweetened cocoa powder, solid dark chocolate, cornstarch, sugar, and nonfat milk to a boil, then ladles the mixture into three martini glasses to cool until this evening.

Eager to sample the dishes now, the women spoon the sloppy joe filling onto whole wheat hamburger rolls. "You would never know this was lean meat, it has so much flavor," Amy says. She decides her family will also like the "fries"—but only with ketchup. Janis suggests a low-sodium ketchup alternative: Make some fresh tomato salsa and pump up the flavor with onion, cilantro, jalapeños, a little lime juice, and a dash of salt.

The mac and cheese is the biggest hit, especially for cheese-lover Kerri. Yolanda had warned everyone that she doesn't like whole wheat because it's "gritty," but even she is sold on the pasta: "I can't tell it's healthy!" And Amy feels confident her kids won't be able to detect the butternut squash.
Photo: J.R. Mankoff


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