But, from the first chapter, ‘Why everything you’ve been told about weight loss is wrong’, Villacorta recounts real world examples – his own experience, those of his clients (with pictures), and populations that eat sensible portions of carbs and stay slim – of how “eating free” makes sense for keeping weight off long-term.
As a registered dietitian , Villacorta uses two guiding principles for keeping at a healthy weight: 1) the body needs fuel to survive, and 2) eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. This is practically heresy to some: news to the ear (and stomach) to others.
In the first part of the book, Villacorta uses his clients’ own struggles with losing weight through the fashionable maxims of denial and personal hardship to show that calorie restriction and manic exercise can’t work in the long-term. Villacorta says that such methods are contrary not only to the basics of nutrition, but also contrary to our very nature as humans. “We need to eat. We want to eat. We should eat. And yet everything in our culture tells us eating is like a dirty secret, a guilty pleasure that tempts us every day.”
I know in my own work that not a session goes by without someone using the word ‘naughty’ to describe eating a small piece of chocolate, or some such food. We have been conditioned to see some foods as having a moral implication, that we are weak or bad for ‘giving in,’ or virtuous for denying our hunger. Not so in other countries, other countries where weight is not such an issue, and food is not a battleground. He gives as an example Peru, his home country, where potatoes and rice are daily staples rather than forbidden, evil tempters of the weak and wobbly. Growing up in Peru there was no such thing as forbidden food, but when he moved to America all of a sudden there were rules and diktats restricting the foods he had eaten as a boy: meat, rice, potatoes, bread, sweets, even fruit, all were freighted with moral judgement. You weren’t supposed to eat when you were hungry; but you were to run on treadmills and eat protein bars. And, dear reader, guess what happened to Manuel? Yes, he gained weight. He observed that once he became obsessed with weight, he gained it. Does that sound familiar?
But of course it isn’t as simple as getting rid of food guilt and deciding ‘to hell with it I’m having that bag of chips.’ There are many factors that keep us from being at our ideal weight. Villacorta spends a whole chapter on explaining how the interplay of out-of-control hunger (from our denial of food), excess exercise, poor time management, stress and lack of sleep can impact on fat stores and ultimately on our weight. He basically proposes that we “embrace our hunger,” not fight it as so many diet books encourage us. “Once we start denying our hunger, we’re disturbing our bodies ability to lose weight.” And this is all down to the basic principles of metabolism, which Villacorta elegantly explains. He also outlines his “core principles of controlling hunger” which are: eat breakfast, don’t skip meals, combine proteins and carbohydrates at every meal and snack, stay hydrated, and eat when you like but not just before bedtime (70% of calories before dinnertime and 30% at dinnertime). Moderation and portion control are also expounded.
Sounds a bit complicated, doesn’t it? Well, Villacorta holds our hand throughout the book, showing how his simple eating free philosophy is applied not only to eating, but also exercising, resting and de-stressing. And it is well worth reading.
The book is laid out into four parts. Part One is his eating free philosophy based on the acronym Food, Rest, Energy Expenditure, and has two chapters to motivate and inspire. Part Two concerns food itself, why it isn’t evil, how to lose weight while actually eating enjoyable foods, what is a satisfying balance of macronutrients, and eating free at home and on the go. Part Three concerns REST – rest, energize, sleep, time for you, and how to use these to control weight. Part Four is all about how we use energy from a metabolic standpoint and how this applies to weight loss– it’s not about constant exercise either. He shows us that by using what he calls the 80/20 rule of 80 per cent nutrition and self-care, and 20 per cent exercise, weight loss and weight maintenance become much more achievable and enjoyable. I found this chapter especially illuminating, so please don’t just read the beginning and skip to the recipes at the end! And to the end, the last section offers some very simple recipes that sound delicious. As I write this I am planning on making his “Asian Noodle Primavera” for an easy, flavourful lunch.
And this wouldn’t be a diet book without some charts and calorie-controlled food plans. Chapter Four details what for many is the heart of any diet book – the actual plan of attack. Villacorta encourages us to find our own personal ‘optimal deficit,’ which is basically the calories you need to keep within to lose weight, and he provides the tools to do so. But for him the calorie thing is almost incidental and it feels as if he is almost embarrassed bringing it up. His main thing is that the optimal combination for weight loss and to keep your brain and body fuelled is 45 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 25 percent fats. As a health educator with dietetic and nutrition training this sounds about right to me, too. There will be some groups of people for whom this needs adjusting, perhaps less protein if there is a problem with kidneys, but overall the way he sets it out and the way he encourages readers to make healthy choices, it seems healthful and sustainable. Not something you can say for many diet-oriented books.
I think people who read this book will put it down with a huge sigh of relief. Not because they’ve finally finished reading it (it’s not a thick book though – 246 pages) but because it’s a positive book with a doable plan. In the average bookstore, filled to bursting with “Drop a Dress-size” in Two Weeks”-type books, this stands out for its attention to how we actually live, not how much we can restrict ourselves. This is perhaps one of the most holistic approaches to weight loss that I have read. I knew a lot of the information that it contains, but for me it is great to have it all there in one place, in black and white. For others it may contain the sense that they suspected all the time, hidden underneath the admonishing and contradictory messages we get from media, food companies and diet gurus alike: food is not evil; we can eat what we love and lose weight. Our forebears ate real food, so why can’t we?
Manuel’s sincerity and expertise, as well as his chatty style, make this an easy and enjoyable read. It is a terrifically sensible and nonjudgmental book that deserves its place on the bookshelf of not only those struggling with weight, but anyone interested in health.
I have one copy of Eating Free to give away to a lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post, or follow me on Twitter (@foodtoglow) and tweet about this with a direct link here. If you do both you have double the chance of being randomly selected. I’m not on Facebook (shocking!) but any Facebook mentions that I am aware of will also count as an entry. Good luck!!
Just so you know, although I have received this book for free, it was given without obligation. The review is entirely my own opinion and I am receiving no payment or other incentive. See eatingfree.com for details on how to get a copy, as well as more details about how to eat free, lose weight and keep it off forever.