A Review of "Eat This, Not That" by David Zinczenko
Learning to Navigate Dietary Landmines
Weight loss is a frustrating, challenging, and oftentimes downright mysterious process. How many times have you been "good" all week, only to get on the scale and find out that you haven't lost a single pound, or, worse yet, have actually gained weight? You're probably frustrated, confused, and can't figure out where you are going wrong.
Let Me Ask You Two Questions:
Do you eat out a lot?
Do you eat a lot of prepared/prepackaged foods?
If your answer to either of these questions is "yes", then you need to read Eat This, Not That! .
Authors David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, editor-in-chief and food-and-nutrition editor of Men's Health magazine, respectively have compiled what the book's cover boasts as "The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution": By knowing which menu items, prepared foods, or beverages have the most calories, you can avoid ordering/buying them and choose a healthier alternative.
Each section of the book is devoted to a different situation in which you will be confronted with food choices, such as: "At Your Favorite Restaurants", "On Holidays and Special Occasions", and "At the Supermarket". By showing us actual meal/drink/food options (including brand names), Zinczenko and Goulding help us to not only make good choices, but to also develop a deeper understanding of how food is marketed to sell, rather than to nourish.
Some of the Eat This, Not That! comparisons are mind-boggling:
- At Dunkin Donuts, the ham/egg/cheese breakfast sandwich has 190 fewer calories than their multigrain bagel with "lite" cream cheese. The "Super Roast Beef" at Arby's has 370 fewer calories than the healthier-sounding "Roast Beef and Swiss Market Fresh Sandwich".
- At Ruby Tuesday, a full steak dinner ( 7oz sirloin, green beans, and sauteed mushrooms) has less than half the calories of a turkey burger with fries.
- Even similar-sounding menu items (such as Quiznos' "Honey Bourbon Chicken on Wheat Bread Sub" at 310 calories and its "Honey Mustard Chicken Sub" at 550 calories) can have dramatically different calorie counts.
- And who would have thought that a "veggie burger" could pack in 953 calories? Not me, and I'd wager that most of the people ordering it won't either.
Equally important, however, is how Eat This, Not That! shows how popular conceptions of what is "healthy" are manipulated and distorted in marketing prepared foods to consumers. Food marketers use terms such as "natural", "organic", "fat free", "cholesterol free", and "whole grain" with little concern for portion size, cooking/preparation method, or overall nutritional value. Expect to burn a few calories getting angry at the way menus (i.e. sales copy) capitalize on consumer ignorance in order to sell more food.
Finally, the book includes a number of good suggestions and tips for reducing calorie consumption while eating out, such as quieting a ravenous appetite with a low calorie cup of soup before a meal, asking for only half an entree to be brought to your table (while the other half has already been bagged/boxed for you to take home), and ordering thin, instead of thick, crust pizza.
A Few Things to Watch For When Using this Book
While I heartily endorse this book, there are a few criticisms/cautions that I need to make:
1. Eat This, Not That! features American brands and restaurants. Recipes, portion sizes, and ingredients can vary from country to country, even if the brand name is the same.
2. For some reason, the authors chose to list sodium, fat, and calorie counts for the featured foods, but neglected to include carbohydrate information. Since many people are watching their carbohydrate intake, this information would have been helpful.
3. The thrust of the book is on selecting foods that are lower in calories: Weight loss/maintenance is the goal, rather than consuming the most nutritious foods. Because of this, some of the "recommended" food choices may seem a bit odd. To be fair, there is a lot of good supplemental information on nutrition beyond calories in this book, and careful readers will have no trouble finding it.
4. The restaurant meals being compared typically include the main entree and one or two side orders. This is fine if the entree normally comes with these side orders as part of the entire meal. However, in some cases the authors pair an alacarte menu item (such as a breakfast sandwich) with another alacarte item (such as a full-fat, sugar syrup sweetened latte). While I understand doing this to show the overall impact of what might be a "typical" meal for someone, I also think that it can be misleading.
5. While Eat This, Not That! touts itself a "weight loss solution", the recommended restaurant meals, with few exceptions, are still high in calories. If someone really wants or needs to lose weight, they will need to cut back on how often they eat out and/or practice very careful portion control when they do.