About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

#85 - Eat This, Not That!

OK, this is as far as I'll push the limits of what I define as actual reading. The DIY gardening and home decorating books I've been perusing will not be added to the official count, I promise.

But this one ... ah, hell. C'mon, you know you've seen it at the bookstores, too. If you share my fascination with bright, shiny covers, you may even have flipped through it once or twice. Well, there it was at the library, just calling me, so ... I had to do it.

Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds -- or More! by David Zinczenko (New York: Rodale, Inc., 2008).

Jacket Summary: "Eat what you want, when you want -- and watch the pounds disappear! You can burn fat and build the body you want -- not by eating less, but by making smart, healthy food choices. And now, the right choices are simple!

"Whether you're in the frozen food aisle, the fast-food drive-thru, the local Olive Garden, or even your own kitchen, you're faced with dozens of food choices every single day. Which ones will help you look and feel fit and trim -- and which are loaded with hidden calories, fats, and other nasty stuff? You'll never know -- unless you have Eat This, Not That!

"Did you know:
  • An Egg McMuffin is a healthier breakfast choice than a bagel? (You'll save 210 calories!)
  • White chocolate can cause depression -- but dark chocolate can cure it?
  • A Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut has 130 fewer calories than one from Dunkin' Donuts?
  • Choosing a Subway turkey sub over the Panera version will save you 510 calories? (Make this swap once a month for a year and you'll shed nearly two pounds!
With this simple illustrated guide to thousands of foods -- along with the nutrition secrets that lead to fast and permanent weight loss -- you'll make the smartest choice every time!"

Table of Contents:
  • Introduction - Special Preview 10 > Top Swaps: The simplest ways to change your body forever
  • Chapter 1 - 8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day: Plus 20 to avoid at all costs
  • Chapter 2 - At Your Favorite Restaurants: The best and worst meals at 60 fast-food and chain restaurants
  • Chapter 3 - Eat This, Not That! Menu Decoder: Strategies for eating right at any restaurant
  • Chapter 4 - On Holidays and Special Occasions: The Eat This, Not That! holiday survival guide
  • Chapter 5 - At the Supermarket: The complete Eat This, Not That! grocery list
  • Chapter 6 - Drink This, Not That: The ultimate healthy beverage guide
  • Chapter 7 - What to Eat When ... You're Tired, Stressed, or in the Mood: The right foods for every conceivable situation
  • Chapter 8 - Eat This, Not That! for Kids

My Take:
If you can overlook the gross overstatements on the back cover, and aren't too distracted by the exploitation of all those defenseless exclamation marks, this is kinda fun to read (in an "EW! How can people eat that?" train-wreck sort of way) and, depending on what you know and how you eat right now, possibly even informative.

Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about books like this one. On the one hand, they're targeted at folks with minimal nutritional knowledge, and just might provide them with some much-needed information. Take, for example, the section in Chapter 1 on "The 20 Worst Foods in America." If you still equate "smoothie" with "healthy" or "low-calorie," you might be surprised to learn that one particular 30-ounce "chocolate power smoothie" at Jamba Juice contains 900 calories, and as much sugar as 2 pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Likewise, if you automatically think "turkey burger" = smart choice, well ... Ruby Tuesday's Bella Turkey Burger has far more fat and calories than a simple 7-ounce sirloin. And as for what the authors dub "the worst food in America" -- the 2,900 calorie, 182 grams of fat, 240 grams of carbohydrate gut bomb that is the Outback's Aussie cheese fries with ranch dressing -- what can I say but EW?

If you like to eat out (especially if you enjoy the fast food and chain places that form the bulk of the book, though there is a more generic "menu decoder" for non-chain BBQ joints, steakhouses, Japanese restaurants, etc. in Chapter 3), and are trying to maintain your weight or take off 5-10 pounds, you might get something useful out of this book. Some people, for example, might think that it's always better to choose chicken or fish entrees over red meat, or that one roast beef sandwich is just like any other. Well, t'ain't necessarily so. While it seems pretty obvious to me that deep-frying fish, or slathering your chicken breast in cheese, negates any positive health effects, trust me -- I know that's not the case for everyone.

However, and here's the long-awaited "other hand," the book's claims are grossly overstated in some areas and downright misleading in others. If you enjoy eating at Chili's or Applebee's, and would like to make lower-calorie, lower-fat choices when you do so, then sure, bring this book along. But there's the rub: just because the "eat this" item is lower in fat and calories than its "not that" counterpart doesn't make it low in fat or calories, nor is it necessarily a smart choice on which to base your diet if you want to lose weight. Sure, the Starbucks "eat this" meal is almost 400 calories less than the "not that" meal on the facing page, but it still contains half the calories and fat I need to eat in a day ... and if all I have to tide me over till dinner are a latte and upscale Egg McMuffin, it's gonna get ugly. Likewise, Jamba Juice's peach perfection smoothie may be a way better bet than the peanut butter moo'd (though honestly, what self-respecting dieter thinks it's a good idea to order something named after cow noises?), but at 320 calories, it had darned well better be my whole lunch. And while I may know this on my own, I've also been around the weight-loss block a few times. I can't help thinking someone who's new to the diet-and-weight-loss world and doesn't have much of a scientific background (and face it, that's the demographic the books are targeting) might happily hit Starbucks for breakfast, KFC for lunch, Jamba Juice for a snack, and the Olive Garden for dinner ... and then wonder why, since they're ordering all "eat this" items, the pounds aren't flying off like the authors seem to promise.

In short, this WebMD review provides a more exhaustive treatment than I'm prepared to do on my own, but Eat This, Not That! works better as a companion to a real weight loss program, rather than a diet plan in itself.

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