Book Review: Barry Estabrook’s Just Eat

Many Americans have a fraught relationship with food. Some fear it, some love it, some think of it as medicine while others believe much of it is toxic, there’s the judgmental “good food versus bad food” camp, and myriad variations on all of the above. That’s one reason the weight loss industry is a 70+ billion dollar one—we all want someone to tell us when to eat, what to eat, and how to eat it for optimum health and wellness. And we want it to be easy and painless.

Investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook has delved into the issue of nutrition, diet, and weight loss in his new book Just Eat: One Reporter’s Quest for a Weight-Loss Regimen That Works. When his doctor told him he had to lose a significant amount of weight or face grim consequences, Estabrook embarked on a journey to find a way to eat that would help him lose weight, get his elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure under control, and, he hoped, prevent him from becoming yet another male in his family to succumb to cardiovascular disease at a young-ish age.

Over the course of four years, he explored highly-marketed and wildly popular diets like Whole 30, South Beach, and Weight Watchers, as well as lifestyle eating like the French Paradox and the Mediterranean Diet. Through it all, he experienced what any dieter will recognize—the yo-yo of dramatic weight loss followed by a gain of everything lost and then some.

Estabrook digs into the science and history behind dieting, and unlike many books written by doctors, nutritionists, or diet gurus, he presents well-researched information in a highly readable and sometimes humorous way. He’s not shy about presenting his own experiences with self-deprecating wit: going out to dinner with colleagues who are chowing down on oodles of delicious regional specialties while he sips sparkling water and nibbles at a salad; the battles with intestinal upsets, irritability, grumpiness, and sleeplessness; and the boredom and tediousness of eating a restricted diet and keeping track of it. Anyone who’s ever been on the diet treadmill will relate.

Never a dieter in his life, Estabrook comes to the conclusion that he’s still not one. Yet, he’s managed to lose weight, get off the pharmaceuticals for his blood pressure and cholesterol, and become a thinner, fitter version of himself. He did it by taking information and pieces of wisdom from every plan he tried and every expert with whom he conversed. He incorporated what he learned into a way of eating and drinking that fits with his lifestyle and allows him to experience the joy of eating well. His method may not work for everyone—nor does he intend that to be the point of the book—but he saves the reader the time, expense, and frustration of trying so many diets that, by their very nature, doom most people to failure.

Estabrook says he still enjoys a good grassfed steak once in a while as part of his quest to eat the highest quality food he can find and to consume less of it. He’s eliminated the so-called bad actors – food that he recognized contributed to his weight gain, whether a loaf of home-baked whole wheat bread or a bag of potato chips. He’s changed his relationship with alcohol and takes the time to focus on food when he’s eating, rather than on the work on his desk. And he’s added an hour of physical activity to his daily routine. 

For anyone who’s been frustrated with the pounds-off, pounds-on rollercoaster of trying to lose weight, Just Eat is an entertaining revelation. You don’t have to “diet” to be healthy. You just have to find what works for you. And stick with it.