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EATING FREE, by Manuel Villacorta, RD, MS, CSSD – a book review

On the back of award-winning dietitian Manuel Villacorta’s new book, Eating Free, is the headline, “Lose Weight and Look Great Without Gimmicks and Guilt.” This is from a man who proposes that potential pound shedders eat carbs and exercise less. On the face of it this sounds like the proverbial snake-oil salesman of old, with his bottles of magic elixir to cure lameness, or baldness, or both. It just sounds impossible; the stuff of fairytales.

my recipe, but I think manuel would approve!

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 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.

And now to my recipe. I think Manuel will approve of this one!
Quick Rosemary and Olive Potatoes

Miss R’s Track of the Week: Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Love Will Set You Free,” Britain’s entry for the the ‘cheese-fest’ that is the Eurovision song contest, being held in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday (yep, for Saturday only, Azerbaijan is considered European!)

This is a great idea to have up your sleeve to enliven almost any workaday meal, or even something with a bit more oomph, such as my Spinach and Feta Cheese Pie. I love the way the strong, herbal flavours make side dish potatoes much more than a boring after-thought. The fact that it is made super-quick in a pressure cooker is a bonus. OR, you could take the longer route to savoury nom-nom-ness by baking them in a covered pot in the oven for 25 minutes. Either way, it is delicious and easy. The leftovers are even nice cold – just ask Mr A. This is one of my oldest, and most-often made, potato recipes.

500g (1lb) new potatoes, scrubbed and halved (this helps to soak up the lovely, savoury juices)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
handful of black dry-cure olives, stoned and roughly chopped (I just whack each with the side of a heavy knife and prise out the loosened stone)
1 heaped tbsp fresh, minced rosemary (approximate)
2 tsp olive oil
140ml (5 oz) light vegetable stock OR water 

Heat the olive oil in a pressure cooker, then add in everything, bar the stock/water. Let everything sauté until the garlic is softened – about three minutes. Pour in the stock/water, and pop on the pressure cooker lid, locking in place. Bring up to the boil – full hiss – then turn down the heat to a lower but steady hiss, and wait for five minutes. You should now have succulent, herbal potatoes. Serves 4 as a side dish.

spinach & feta cheese pie – best friends with rosemary and olive potatoes!

29 thoughts on “Quick Rosemary and Olive Potatoes and a Diet Book with a Difference (Review & Giveaway)

  1. Anne says:

    Yummy, yummy. I’m definitely going to try both of these recipes! And, if I read the book, too, I won’t have to feel guilty about it! Thanks Kellie!

  2. Thank you for the awesome review! LOVE the recipe!!! I will make it this weekend. Here is to potatoes!!!

    1. Yay potatoes! It was a pleasure reviewing such a sensible book. All success to you and your team.

  3. I look forward to reading this book. As someone who has lost weight through a number of “plans” I now know the only “plan” that work in the long run is sensible eating. And your reference to the author’s philosophy “45 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 25 percent fats” rings true with what I learned in a nutrition course 2 years ago (although I learned 40/30/30).

    Happy to give you a shout out on Twitter @PocketGail and Face Book ( to encourage more readers your way.

    1. Thanks so much Gail. Yeah, MAnuel has tweaked the oft-quoted formula, but it seems to work for his clients, without hunger, deprivation or boredom.He is a convincing writer.

  4. Thanks for this review –and the recipe of course! It really wasn’t until I embraced more sensible and relaxed relationships to food and exercise that my weight stabilized and my body felt better (probably from not over exercising). I also learned that I generally make healthy choices when left to my own devices and didn’t fall head first into a pile of whipped cream (but, if I did, it would be temporary and I wouldn’t feel bad about it!). Anyway–thanks again for sharing!

    1. That echoes what Manuel ‘preaches’ so I’m not surprised eating this way has worked for you. He calls for a relaxed and convivial relationship with food too.

  5. sweetcraving says:

    Hallelujah! That is probably the most sensible post I have read in a long time. I am all for a healthy lifestyle whilst enjoying the things you love. Lifes too short to not eat delicious things!

    1. Absolutely! All for eating what we like but in the context of looking after ourselves – sleeping well, have an eye on portion control, exercising in moderation, keeping a rein on stress. If we attend to these aspects of ourselves the eating thing often sorts itself out without us actually dieting.

  6. bzmomma says:

    Great review and great recipe! Gave you a twitter shout out too (@bzmomma). Can’t wait to try this, though I will need to go the oven route…no pressure cooker. Would I just combine everything and bake it or certain ingredients at a time?

    1. Thanks for the shout out (2 entries for you!). As for the oven method, what do do is saute all first then slide them into your baking pot, add the stock/water, cover tightly and cook for about 25 minutes. Should be great! Gives you time to get on with the remainder of the meal.

      1. bzmomma says:

        Great! Thanks 🙂

      2. You’re welcome bzmomma – so love your name!

      3. bzmomma says:

        Do I get another entry for a Pinterest pin? hahaha j/k – though I did PIN it just now 🙂 I’m so excited to try this this weekend!

  7. Desi Chick says:

    As a dietitian, I have to agree. You don’t know how many crazy diets I have seen my students and others on. It seems like the more extreme the better. People love to get together and commiserate and “one-up” each other on the weirdness of their new diet. Eating balanced meals that are full of flavor and exercising regularly is still the “magic” pill. BTW, love the addition of the olives to the potatoes. Oh, and before I forget, I made your goat cheese walnut strudel the other day and it was DIVINE!! Well done Kellie!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback Tahmina – on the strudel and the review. I hate to hear that people feel they need to deny themselves and punish themselves to fit into a certain ideal. Sure it’s good to be at a healthy weight but that can only be healthily achieved by ditching the fad diets and eating proper food in amounts suitable for our own energy needs. A short blast of minding the carbs does help, imho, but long-term we need all the macronutrients in good balance, and of good quality. It’s not just about the calories it’s about pleasure, good nutrition and conviviality too.

  8. Yum, I love using rosemary, garlic and potatoes. What are dry cured olives? I have no idea where to get those here and I suppose you don’t either 🙂 What might an equivalent be?

    1. Miss Emilia I think the dry cure olives perhaps go by another name but really they are black olives that aren’t cured in brine. I’m sure they would be available at the deli counter of a good grocery store, and certainly at a ‘proper’ deli. Here’s a link to olive nomenclature with substitution suggestions. Look 2/3 way down and you will see Moroccan dry-cure, which I think are what you would find – and a pic of them.

  9. Alexiasana says:

    this is a really great book review! I havent often came across such an informative review about cookbooks and diet books, thanks for that! I love how the author points out that we need to “embrace our hunger”. it is so true that we are trained to think that certain foods are bad foods, we are not allowed to show that we are hungry and that we love eating. it seems like its a bad thing in society if you talk about your passion about flavours, food and cooking, except if you are a chef. well, lets embrace our hunger and enjoy the yummy potato dish you were creating! mhmmm

    1. I think Manuel’s book will please and reassure a lot of people. He has the practical weight loss info but also looks at reasons why we gain weight (well most of the reasons) and why any diet that demonises certain foods is doomed to failure. We are programmed to eat and eat we should do We just need to pay attention to the finer details such as he outlines. I think the sleep and stress thing is a major stumbling block for many people. Some of us are so tired and stressed that good eating decisions are hard to make. And the habits we get into by being stressed and underslept can be hard to break without some proper attention paid to them and the cause. Hope that makes sense!

  10. Janet Millar says:

    This is obviously the book for me must have a browse in Waterstones tomorrow to see the price etc. Making the rosemary and olive potatoes tonight sure they will yummy !!

    1. Not sure if it’ll be in Waterstones yet. It’s just out in the US but not sure availability on this side of the world…I’ve just checked and it is on amazon, as book and ebook – £13.99 and £8.31 respectively.

  11. Katie Leoni says:

    Lovely idea for a carb lover like me!

  12. What a great review Kellie! I’ve seen Manuel’s book, but not read it. Looks likes it’s filled with great advice, although I don’t necessarily subscribe to “not eating much” at dinnertime. Although I would not recommend saving all one’s calories up for dinnertime, I think it’s a very indiviual things as to how we space out our meals. I personally can’t eat a big meal at lunch {as they do in many countries}, because it makes me very tired in the afternoon, so I tend to eat a moderate breakfast with 1 or two snacks, a light lunch, and a more moderate dinner. Love your potatoes, especially with the addition of the olives! I make a similar dish, but I roast the potatoes with olive oil, rosemary {fresh from my garden}, s & p, and a little lemon juice. Delicious!

    1. I agree EA & I think I may have misrepresented his dinner plans as they are really just what we all should be eating portion wise, it just seems smaller than the rather large meals many people have. He’s for spreading it out. And of course it does depends on energy expenditure throughout the day, and when and how you exercise. It’s really sensible & what we ‘in the trade’ know, but good for such a book to be read by those wanting to lose weight and keep it off. Not for those trying to fit into a bikini in two weeks! Appreciate your comment. PS I like roasting these potatoes too but I love the idea of steamed potatoes with all the flavour goodies in about five minutes.

  13. bloggeretterized says:

    holy sweet smelling potatoes! I just finished cooking there potatoes! The smell coming out me my kitchen is divine! Can’t wait to eat them!

    1. I hope you enjoyed them 😀 what did you have them with?

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