HEALTHY EATING: Be selective on splurge-worthy food

By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC

This just in: University of Pittsburgh researchers observe that we eat more on weekends and during the holidays.

After studying two years’ worth of consumers’ eating behavior, professor of marketing J. Jeffrey Inman and colleagues found that the quality (“This homemade fudge is fantastic!”) and quantity (“I’ll have some more homemade fudge, please!) of foods consumed during weekend and holiday meals is considerably different from regular weekdays.

Inman suggests that Americans need special dietary advice for special occasion eating to help in the battle against obesity.

So today’s column serves up some smart tips on eating healthy and having a fabulous time during the holidays.

Ashley Spotkill/AJC Special

Ashley Spotkill/AJC Special

Trim the trimmings

Go all out and deck the halls with boughs of holly, glitter and lights, but when it comes to holiday food, accessorize with care.

To shave calories, go easy when adding nuts, cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream — additions that don’t add much to the meal but can add plenty to your waistline.

Trim calories wherever you can so you can use them on the splurge foods you don’t want to miss.

For instance, I ate a small salad for lunch because I knew I was going to Miller Union restaurant for dinner. Instead of steamed vegetables, I savored each bite of chef Steven Satterfield’s root vegetable gratin, deliciously rich with butter, cheese and crispy bread crumbs. And instead of saying no to dessert, I split the rustic apple tart and caramel-honey ice cream with a friend.



Savor every bite

Even dietitians give the green light to enjoying holiday favorites and offer their own philosophies on navigating holiday dinner parties, traditional treats and big buffets.

And guess what? There’s not one suggestion to eat celery instead of your favorite splurge.

“Start small and savor it all. The first few bites of a meal are the most enjoyable. So, start with a small portion and take time to enjoy it.” — Marisa Moore, president of the Georgia Dietetic Association

“The idea of splurging in this society also smacks of guilt. When we understand that occasionally eating richer foods is part of normal eating, whether eating the foods is part of a celebration or just because we like the taste of something and want some of it, we can go with the flow, letting our bodies guide us in eating in a way that makes us feel great.” — Marsha Hudnall, director and owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run, Ludlow, Vt.

“Splurge on things you really, really, really love. Too often we eat things that are mediocre or even bad. How many times have you been halfway through a Christmas cookie and thought, ‘This just isn’t that good.’ Holiday buffets are frequently covered with high-calorie muck. Slice-and-bake sugar cookies with reindeer on them? Processed cheese log? Eeewww. Why bother? Homemade toffee? French champagne? Now you are talking. Ask yourself, ‘Is this worth the calories?’ If so, dig in and savor it. If not, make use of that little cocktail napkin, or the friendly dog, and get rid of the offending food.” 
— Sanna Delmonico, family nutrition expert,

“I agree that splurging is OK. If we eat only healthy foods all the time and feel guilty when we indulge, then we are not living. Life should be enjoyed. Food is a large part of our lives. It is important to indulge occasionally in order to stay on track. If you don’t indulge, then you are holding yourself to a standard that will probably make you fail. We should set ourselves up to succeed.” — Sarah Ludmer, senior nutritionist, Del Monte Foods

“Eating healthfully is a lifestyle, which includes permission to step outside of the ‘healthy food box.’ Coming prepared to holiday events is your key to success. Never show up starving; eat a small, healthful snack prior to dining out. Peruse the offerings and after waiting a minute or two if you still really want it, then it is more than an impulsive selection. … Feeling that you are controlling your choices will help you feel good during and after the meal.” — Annette Schottenfeld, Nett Nutrition Inc.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at

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3 comments Add your comment

Lisa Cain

December 23rd, 2009
8:37 am

These are great holiday eatings tips. My favorite website for healthy snacks is

Chris McNeil

December 23rd, 2009
11:40 am

I am very much in agreement with the “no forbidden foods” philosophy.

I’ve seen people gain control of their eating by consciously eating and enjoying foods where before they were on a deprivation/binge cycle.

Chris McNeil, founder
FitMenu Restaurant Nutrition and Healthy Dining

Byron Mathison Kerr

December 24th, 2009
12:00 pm

Great article!!!

It is not about being hungry nor completely eliminating your favorite foods. It is about portion control, nutrition, package labels, several small meals per day, weighing, and some modest exercise. But most of all, it is about intentional living and priorities.

I lost my ultimate goal from 199 down to 159 lbs from May to September and no longer have to spent $100 copay each month on cholesterol reducing drugs!