"Eat This! Not That!" presents the solution to the wrong problem

“Get yourself a copy of ‘Eat This, Not That,’” someone told me recently. “It’s flying off the bookstore shelves.”

I did pick up a copy. And I’m confused.

Written by David Zinczenko, the editor-in-chief of “Men’s Health” magazine, “Eat This, Not That” is highly accessible and fun to read. The premise is simple: You don”t have to change your lifestyle to lose weight. Don’t eat less. Keep eating out. Fast food is OK. Just make some simple food swaps and you”ll shed pounds, be healthier, feel better, and ultimately be more successful.

Zinczenko presents thousands of simple “swaps” that you can make, most of them at popular chain restaurants. About 125 of these swaps are presented on two-page spreads, with a photo of the “healthy” alternative (Eat This!) on the left, and a photo of the “unhealthy” alternative (Not That!) on the right. These swaps, he says, can save you “10, 20, 30 pounds — or more!”

Zinczenko makes a lot of promises: The book will help you “strip away belly fat, build lean, firm muscle, and look and feel fitter, healthier, and happier, than you have in years.” Not only will you reshape your body and enjoy greater physical well-being, says he, you will also gain the respect of your coworkers and bosses, potentially earning 20% or more than you currently do.

Which is all good. I’m all for Americans getting healthier. I would love to boost my income by a fifth. And I don’t doubt for a moment that there are better and worse alternatives at Taco Bell, Burger King, and Dunkin’ Donuts, some of them surprising. For example, one spread notes that that a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder without cheese (Eat This!) has 410 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 730 milligrams of sodium, versus a McDonald’s Premium Grilled Chicken Club (Not That!) which has 570 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 1,720 mg of sodium.

But. Wait. What are we doing in the drive-thru window in the first place? I thought we wanted tight abs. I thought we wanted leaner muscles. Does it really matter what we’re ordering as long as we’re sitting in our cars, placing a food order into a clown?

In a way, it definitely does. After all, it’s good to know that if I’m ever at an Outback Steakhouse, I should avoid the Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing, unless I am prepared to ingest a whopping 2,900 calories and 182 grams of fat. (Holy Gut-Buster, Batman!)

But let’s get back to that McDonald’s example. To actually lose 20 pounds simply by switching from a Premium Grilled Chicken Club to a Quarter-Pounder without cheese (a difference of 160 calories, which drops to 120 calories if you hold the mayo on the chicken club), I’d need to be eating at McDonald’s 37 times casino a month. Thirty-seven times a month. To reach the 30-pound goal, we”re talking 55 times a month.

Dude, if you’re eating at McDonald’s more than 30 times a month, I’m willing to venture your food challenges are bigger than which sandwich you order.

Yes. I know that many, many people genuinely can”t afford healthful foods. And I know also that many people live in neighborhoods that are “food deserts,” where fast food is the only foodlike substance available. But my hunch — and it”s just a hunch — is that those folks aren”t the target audience for the book. You know, because people who can”t afford good food don”t tend to drop $19.95 on books. And in my experience, food deserts also tend to be bookstore deserts.

I”m pretty sure that the target audience is … well … the rest of us.

And it”s true: occasionally we do wander in to fast-food establishments and chain restaurants. Say, on road trips, or when the kids are cranky and starving. But if it really is “from time to time” — if we’re really limiting it to a once-in-a-while experience — do we really need a book to help guide our choices while we’re there?

The thing is, Zinczenko’s not just devilishly handsome and wildly successful. He”s also smart. He knows all about real food. At the start of the book, he recommends that we eat spinach and yogurt and carrots and blueberries and black beans every single day. He’s deeply (and correctly) concerned that America’s teens have “crossed under the golden arches to a likely fate of lifetime obesity.” In his previous book, “The Abs Diet: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean,” Zinczenko warned that trans fats and high fructose corn syrup are two of the worst things one can ingest.

And yet the majority of these pages are dedicated to helping people make smart choices by purchasing foodlike substances from companies who fill their products with those very things.

So, yes. I’m confused. There are other things that confuse me, too. Like, how a packet of Skittles, or a Milky Way Bar, or Tyson Buffalo Chicken Wyngs, or a factory-made Rice Krispie Treat, could ever deserve to wind up on an “Eat This!” page. Is there room for those products in a healthful diet? Maybe  — although I personally wouldn’t go near those “Wyngs” with a 10-foot cattle prod. But how much room is there, exactly? Enough that we need a whole book steering us toward them?

In many ways, “Eat This! Not That!” is a successful package. It’s got great graphics, lots of stats and tips, excellent menu decoders. Zinczenko rightfully takes chains to task for their unwillingness to divulge their foods” nutritional profile, and he is plenty funny at times. But in the end, any book that implies I can achieve tight abs and better health by eating meals prepared by Burger King, Chili’s, KFC, Popeyes, or Pizza Hut, probably isn’t the book for me.

It”s apparently the book for 2 million others. That’s how many folks are carrying it to the drive-thru. And I genuinely hope it works for them.

But me? I”m not buying it.

10 Responsesto “"Eat This! Not That!" presents the solution to the wrong problem”

  1. I recently came across this in an airport bookstore and the title caught my eye…  on closer examination, my conclusion was ‘is he serious?’.  I guess 2 MILLION people think so…

  2. Jack at F&B says:

    You can tell that people are STILL desperately clinging to the possibility (HOPE) that you can eat something healthy at a chain restaurant. Too bad Zinczenko wasn’t brave enough to tell the real truth; healthy meals don’t really exist at chain restaurants. But, that wouldn’t have sold any books. So ya got what ya got.
    So your dead right, Ali – we don’t need another book promoting the possibility of healthy chain restaurant food. Just don’t eat at these places! How hard is it to understand?!

  3. Debs says:

    Oh god.  Another calorie-counting, don’t-change-your-lifestyle endorsement of the way we live now?  No thanks!
    Sounds like I’d like to line up a whole list of good books next to this one with a sign pointing toward them that says, “Read this!” and another toward this one, saying, “Not that!”

  4. tasterspoon says:

    The “Aussie cheese fries with ranch dressing” made me laugh. 

    I know if I’m reading this site I should be horrified at the prospect of patronizing a fast food chain for a million reasons (human rights! animal rights!), but, well, sometimes one gets in late for that meeting in Wichita and, well, the Fresh Fruit Parfait and the Apple Slices in a Baggie aren’t so bad.  Are they?  Don’t my choices have some nudging effect on the ever-evolving menu? 

  5. Ali B. says:

    Tasterspoon – I agree with you; while it’s possible to avoid all fast food, it’s not easy in today’s world. Late for a meeting in Wichita? Sure, what else are you gonna’ do.

    And, yes, in those cases, I’m grateful for a bag of apple slices (I went to Subway recently — had hungry children and very little time before a baseball game. I was delighted to see apple slices and yogurt and rBGH-free milk and even the FlatEarth veggie chips).
    I think that what bothers me most about the book is how unambitious it is. A ton of work went into it, and it’s certainly colorful and entertaining. And I can hear the clearly-ambitious Zinczenko’s voice in my ear, saying “Who YOU callin’ unambitious, lazy lady?” And in a way he would be right.
    But I don’t think that we’re really going to make a dent in diabetes, or obesity, or lifestyle-related diseases, until we actually start being honest with folks: Americans do need to change how AND where they eat. They’re not going to get to the healthful idyll that Zinczenko promises without making that change. Sure, there are less-bad alternatives at these places. But they’re less-bad. They’re not good. Early in the book, he dismisses brown-bagging lunches, saying essentially, “but who wants to do that?” He tells people to eat black beans and blueberries and spinach every day, but I don’t see a lot of those things on fast food menus.
    It all feels somehow like false hope.
    Wichita? Sure. Just maybe not every day on your lunch break. Or, I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you can stay healthy this way:
    (but I’d rather not).

  6. Erika says:

    I liked it…

  7. Kyle Matthew says:

    Ahh..I don’t mean to intrude on everybody but..I would like to make a comment on those who commented on this book being the wrong solution
    or something.  First, I think the book is great. I was intrigued with the Abs Diet and am intrigued with this book as well. Yes, eating healthy, fresh and organic foods is the best when it comes to health. But it is also true that David Zinczenko is ambitious.  I also include the book being ambitious, if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be made to be portable for the use outside. It would be on the bed or shelf for someone to follow up his/her readings. And, yeah, Americans do need to change their habits in eating and where to eat. The book never said that it was  THE OVERALL solution to America’s problem but it was made to be a SOLUTION to America’s problem.  And yes, it couldn’t hurt also to do some exercise and build muscle. Believe me, an organic lifestyle is the best you could ever do with your health but even a change in your fast food choices, or restaurant choices coupled with some exercises that build muscle works wonders in par with an organic lifestyle. I am not saying that ALL ORGANIC ENTHUSIASTS are like this, but there are some that really are good with their food choices in terms of being organic but they fail to exercise because they(some only) think they don’t need it anymore.  Now, this does not go with the elderly and those who are not capable of exercise (my respects to them, no offense at all). Ahh, Ali makes a great point that Eat This, Not That is not THE solution. I beileve this is true because it got something to do with the fast food being less evil but still evil. Yes, we can’t deny that. But, it’s a great choice choosing the lesser evil. I believe it’s economical. Actually you can have fast food because it is food nonetheless. You just need to balance out your lifestyle and the fast food or restaurant fare that you choose. In which, I think the book gives light on both.  And the book never said that you should eat Fast Food everyday. It said to have better FOOD CHOICES everyday. It has only emphasis on the Fast Food because most people can’t control their lifestyle and tend to make the wrong choices in these establishments. Some even gorge. I believe that David Zinczenko is very innovative, and this book is one mastermind. For me, his really bridging the gap of awareness in people who eat at chain restaurants.  Oh and for the organic enthusiast, ahh even if ever eat or cheat once in a while, the book is good too cause it gives you the choices for a good cheat.  Yes, cheating is bad but at there is some lesser cheating going on. You have a flat tire(less damage) you might as well slash the other three, that right( less is still evil or wrong so you might as well do the whole thing; slash the other three, that way you wouldn’t be committing to doubt if it’s evil or less evil, right?) Oh and by the way, the food choices doesn’t have to be all McDonalds or Krispy Kreme, there are other restaurants as well. I’m all up for organic and fresh good nutrition living, but in my opinion this book is good and people shouldn’t be making things like “Is presenting a solution to the wrong problem.”  It really gives a bad wrap to the book. It’s TRYING to help. The solution still lies in the American society.  Thank you for understanding, and I meant no offense to anyone here, but if anybody wants to talk or make a comment about me being a bad guy. I respect that. Sometimes you have to be a villain in order for some people to see the good in life( i meant for this as a saying not an insult). Thanks for understanding..Arigatou..

  8. Ali B. says:

    Hey, Kyle – here’s my perspective: the book is based on the premise that you can’t control your environment. He even says that in the intro to the book – that most of the time, people don’t have control over where they eat. That is precisely what seems so unambitious to me — the ceding of control to forces beyond us. It’s a world view that accepts chain restaurants as inevitable parts of the everyday. And yes, I mean every day, or at least thereabouts — many of his #s don’t add up to his promised, “10, 20, or even 30 pounds” unless you are eating at these establishments with alarming frequency.
    I’m glad you like the book (you, too, Erika!). You’re not alone. Lots and lots of people like the book. Look around at reviews, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much criticism.  But I looked at the book and my reaction was totally different.
    Mind you, I don’t think it’s a bad book. It is enormously entertaining, and I applaud the way he calls out the restaurants like Ruby Tuesday’s that aren’t forthcoming with their nutritional info. And, you know…2900-calorie fries? Folks need to know that. I just think that overall it promotes – or perhaps I mean capitalizes on – a world view that’s defeatist. (I mean, seriously – the guy’s got Skittles on an “Eat This!” page).
    Can it help people make better choices during an individual trip to Subway or Long John Silver’s? Sure. But will it actually help people be healthy, including remaining at a healthy weight, long term? I just really, really doubt it. I hope I’m wrong here. I genuinely hope I’m wrong. I guess time will tell.

  9. Jack says:

    Kyle says, <i>”Oh and by the way, the food choices doesn’t have to be all McDonalds or Krispy Kreme, there are other restaurants as well. I’m all up for organic and fresh good nutrition living, but in my opinion this book is good and people shouldn’t be making things like “Is presenting a solution to the wrong problem.”  It really gives a bad wrap to the book. It’s TRYING to help.”</i>
    Sorry, but I’m with Ali here. This back encourages you to eat at fast food and chain restaurants, and that’s not only bad advice, but there’s no way those who do will not continue to gain weight. Frankly, I don’t believe you when you say you’re “up for organic”, etc., as you’re not walking the walk, just talking.
    Again, you have a million food choices every day. If you choose the worst choices – chain restaurant and fast food and (most) processed food – you’re making the wrong choices and will pay with weight gain, etc. I’m afraid you’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.
    A healthy food lifestyle does not at all include trips to McDonalds, Krispy Kreme or the Outback Steakhouse.

  10. Kyle Matthew says:

    Yo…hmmm..I wonder where to start..Ahh first Ali. You make a good point and it was really a good explanation about your view of the book. I really respected that. You may be right that the book doesn’t provide much for long term unlike more holistic approaches(Tosca Reno’s Eating Clean book or others) but it can help even a little. I just wanted to stress that out. I will not deny that it does not provide the benefits or the ideal food and nutrition that the organic lifestyle, but we cannot deny that it does help. For one thing, calories matter even at a stage of weight loss.  This is my view of it, it’s not just that most people can’t control what they eat, but also because people are not able to transition from say, an obese state to a normalized person state( blood files ok, and other factors of good health). Most of the people do not know how to. Especially one from a fast food background or a gorging scavenger background. The moment they take a day and start eating clean(from the persons i have observed) they start to have the withdrawal method.  This is the response on transitioning from eating bad to eating good. Some people can’t handle that both in practical and emotional terms. But that is just a little factor. The main factor is that yes, it is unambitious as stated by Ali in terms of long term because I believe no one will eat fast food everyday(costs much). But, I believe that the book is ambitious in getting people to start adapting to a healthier lifestyle through calorie control and calorie shaving. Controlling the calories by shaving the excess in the ingredients used in a meal. I believe this is a great stategy. I know it’s like an accepted fact that fast food is within us everyday but it doesn’t have to be that way. People can eat healthy. But, I just think that eating way too drastically is a bad start. When you think about it, there should be a meal and nutrition timeline. If one is a frequent goer to fast food chains, the book will help in making decisions and it helps to transition even a little if you add in your home a meal that is healthy, like cauliflower recipes(cruciferous vegetables), eggs and fish. Even a meal with these foods will count. From there you can transition to adding another meal to your lifestyle per day. That for me is good transition. That is also depending on the the situation. The book helps? For me, yeah. The book focuses on a lifestyle that is not ideal? Yeah, i will not deny that, yep. But, the book helps especially for good transitions. I think the only problem is that if people will make the transition. We cannot deny the benefit of this book with exercise as well. The book does the calorie shaving for you, not just in fast food joints but also in restaurants and even in the grocery aisle. The exercise will stimulate hormones and increase metabolism which is really in sync with your diet. They both transition. The diet from fast food control to eating healthy and exercise, from metabolic stimulator to metabolic furnace. The hormones will balance as well. I would like to stress the point that if people followed the habits of the “Old Country”, I really don’t think everyone will be obese. But, I guess that is an ideal that is not present in the book. I understand what you mean. For the long term, yeah, i’m thinking that the book will not help. I just think that the book will help in transitions(depending on the situation) and that the book is innovative because people don’t have the right choices whenever they are going to a fast food joint. The only thing missing there probably is exercise with which I think is really important. Oh yeah, the “save 10, 20 or even 30 pounds” thing. Yeah, if you’re a frequent goer to fast food, you can save up to 30 pounds by cutting down the excess calories and bumping up the nutrients you have each meal in that restaurant. If not, but you do have an overeating pattern of bad food( doesn’t have to be a burger) you can save about 10 pounds or 20 pounds with the right amount of exercise and metabolic control through that exercise which I think the book stressed; is muscle.  I would also like to say something to Jack. Man, I believe you. It is wrong to eat fast food everyday. I’m not saying it is right. I’m just saying that people don’t know how to transition to good eating habits without (some people) puking. That taken into consideration, some even have messed up hormones because of too much growth hormone in processed meat. But, the body is an amazing thing. Even with Fast Food the body adapts. But, it does need time. So I’m saying that the book does help you because(if you are a frequent goer) lets your body eat the foods your adapted too but of a lesser evil. That makes up the grounds for transitioning by adding a good healthy meal a day. This is a good plan to avoid much gastrointestinal distress. And it really does help if people exercise. I think right now, it’s one of the most important things. Oh, I saw your response in me not being able to walk the walk because I just keep on talking. Well, it’s basically your choice of you believe me or not whether I am up for organic living. I want to say this, really, I am. Why? because I’m a fan of the “Old Country” in each country. I believe in vegetables eaten raw(washed of course) to preserve the enzymes that it holds. I believe in eating fruits in season because their enzymes are unsurpassed. And it doesn’t hurt to add some plain yogurt now and then to get those good probiotics which along with some enzymes deal with good protein utilization. I also believe in detoxification and fasting. In which, fruits really help and vegetables as well because of what i said earlier; enzymes. Some antioxidant sources won’t hurt either and good fats as well as right protein. I also like chopping wood everyday if I can help it or moving rocks to clear the road or running to mountains for physical activity. It really helps getting you lean along with great nutrition timing and balance. Fasting doesn’t hurt as well. Jack, i hope i am not offending, but I support the book, and I really don’t like it when people judge a person by his/her cover or things that he/she supports which is contradictory to the opposites ideals. I like the book and i’m up for an organic lifestyle. I believe you are a good human being to actually say these things because you are aware of what’s happening around you. It’s up to you if you believe me being up for the organic lifestyle. I respect that. That goes for Ali as well. Comments are still good guys. So send them in if you want to discuss more. Thanks and God Bless..Zaijian..