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Dieters: Read this, not that

By Doug Most
Globe Staff / January 5, 2011

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Q. What did you eat for breakfast?

A. A spinach and feta wrap from Starbucks. It’s in the 280 calorie range with lots of fiber. I usually start my day, if I am on the go, with a venti nonfat latte. I have said in the past that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight.

Q. So what triggered this idea for “Eat This, Not That’’? Was there a moment?

A. I had written an op-ed for The New York Times [in 2002], titled “Don’t Blame the Eater.’’ It highlighted a handful of obese teenagers who sued McDonald’s for making them fat. The point was before you ridicule these kids and call it frivolous, they might have a point. With no calorie disclosure, it’s hard to be calorie-conscious.

Q. Do you have any way of tracking if people are actually using your “Eat This’’ application and not just downloading it?

A. That’s generally proprietary information. But the original one was downloaded over 100,000 times.

Q. What attitudes toward food differ from men to women?

A. Women are a lot more health-, food-, and calorie-conscious than men are. Guys tend to eat what they want, believing they can exercise it away. We tend to have more muscle, so weight loss is a little bit easier. But the idea that you can exercise your way to a flat belly is a little off. Flat bellies are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. That’s why I hate the idea of diets. Diet to me is a four-letter word.

Q. But a lot of people swear by diets, especially around now, and have great success with them.

A. Most of the time you go on a diet, it’s restrictive, you lose weight in the form of muscle and fat, and then when you go off the diet, you gain the weight back and the muscle is replaced by fat. Now your metabolism is slower than before.

Q. But we know people will diet. Isn’t that what you hear most often going into a new year?

A. Yes, that their biggest resolution is to lose weight, and they haven’t been able to do it in the past. Studies show that two-thirds of resolutions are kaput by St. Patrick’s Day.

Q. So then what’s the best advice you can give to lose those five pounds after the holidays?

A. Cut out empty calories like soda. We’re drinking 450 calories a day. There’s no nutrition in soda. That alone is 30 pounds lost. Do at-home exercises. Like five to 15 minutes in the morning. It gets your metabolism revving for the day. And if you can eat at home more often, you can lose 10 pounds in a year and save money and time.

Q. Please tell me that even you have some guilty pleasures, right?

A. I have a soft spot for Cold Stone Creamery; I’m on a first-name basis with the folks there. I love pizza and burgers. And fries. For me it’s about finding the best source of all the favorite foods.

Q. As you’ve learned about foods, was there one personal disappointment for you?

A. I was surprised to learn you could have a milkshake at Baskin Robbins or Cold Stone in excess of 2,000 calories with three days’ [worth] of saturated fat and the equivalent of three-fourths cup pure sugar. I’ve been most shocked about the trend toward healthy-sounding foods that aren’t — wraps, or smoothies or salads — and turning them into these caloric calamities. An entree like PF Chang’s double pan-fried noodles has 7,700 milligrams of sodium. You’re getting a week’s worth of sodium there. What was surprising to me is that I had grown up an athlete, pretty fit, I joined the Navy Reserve out of high school, and it was surprising to me that you can walk into a restaurant and two burgers can be 1,000 calories apart.

Q. But do you anticipate restaurants ever really changing their ways? Is that realistic?

A. We’ve seen big changes in the industry. The CEO of Macaroni Grill flew to New York and pledged to change his entire menu to take 70 percent of calories and fat out of the menu. He carried through on that promise. The last three years we have pushed for nutritional disclosure. If you don’t disclose, you get an “F.’’ A number of places then changed and posted calorie counts. Red Lobster didn’t post at first, and then when they finally did, we took a closer look and saw it was one of the healthiest sit-down chains. Now they’re getting the credit they deserve.

Interview was condensed and edited. Doug Most can be reached at dmost@globe.com.

WHO
David Zinczenko
WHAT
The editor of Men’s Health magazine has become the country’s conscience when it comes to healthy eating at restaurants and in the kitchen. His small “Eat This, Not That’’ column has led to eight books with 7 million copies in print, a popular mobile application, and a steady diet of “Today’’ show appearances. We rang him up at the start of the new year to see what’s on his plate these days.