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How to Tell if Holiday Eating Advice is Truly Healthy

What would you rather eat: dark turkey meat or white turkey meat?

Let’s say you love dark meat.

Now if it appears like this in a magazine:

The Chubby Choice: Dark Meat Turkey
Three ounces of dark meat (about the size of a deck of cards) contains 165 calories and unhealthy saturated fat.

Slim Swap: White Meat Turkey
Three ounces of white meat contains only 100 calories. Bonus: Lean protein like white meat increases satiety, making you feel fuller longer.

Calories saved: 65

What would you rather eat: the chubby choice or the slim swap?

Sounds like the decision has already been made for you, right?

Sure you may reach for the dark meat, anyway, but you may think twice or feel a pang of guilt.

According to Cosmo, where this helpful advice comes from, you can totally pig out – but only on the virtuous foods like that white turkey meat, steamed veggies and “healthy” mashed potatoes, which are the slim swaps, of course.

To make matters worse, these are the first two sentences of the article: “The average T-day meal packs a whopping 3,000 to 4,000 calories. Add in second and third helpings and you can end up looking like someone stuffed a pumpkin into the back of your skinny jeans.”

Is the pumpkin comment supposed to be funny or a serious word of warning?

Even the American Dietetic Association gives us the same old diet-type of tricks – cloaked in seemingly “healthy” advice – like running away from the buffet table; only having a taste of something to satisfy a craving, which I’m assuming means a measly bite (why can’t I have an entire piece of cake again? what’s so horrible about that exactly?); and choosing low-calorie foods. Yawn.

Michelle of The Fat Nutritionist (a fabulous blog) included the above infuriating links in her post on following eating rules and regulations versus putting your trust in…you.

If I didn’t know better, I would’nt know what to do during the holidays. Do I eat what I want? No, I can’t! That’ll make me gain ten pounds. Do I bring my own  low-fat food to the party and eat that? No, that’s silly. Do I just not eat the food there? Umm..but I might get hungry, and I may want to sample the delicious fare. Can I have a few bites? What if I want more?

Sometimes, you may feel like you’re engaged in an inner war: The devil (i.e., piece of cake) sits on one shoulder, while the angel (i.e., carrots, or nothing at all) sits on the other. Who do you listen to?

That’s what many publications and eating resources create: a needless culinary struggle that typically leads to sheer confusion; food preoccupation, obsession and outright fear; overeating; and poor body image.

Reading these resources makes you think you have to be on a diet to be healthy; you have to restrict your intake at all times; dessert should be a rare indulgence (and a guilty one at that!); and gaining several pounds is disastrous and disgusting. Dieting is what everyone does. It’s what everyone recommends. And it’s the only way.

This kind of advice has led us incredibly and terribly astray. To clear up the confusion, I’m going to feature a short series of posts on preparing for the holidays, including how to actually enjoy your holiday parties.

So to start…

Last month, I had the great pleasure of interviewing registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall of A Weight Lifted, and today, I want to highlight some specific advice she gave, which I think is tremendously helpful.

Here’s Marsha on how to tell if holiday eating advice is truly healthy:

  • If [the advice] smacks of restriction or reinforces a focus on weight, it’s likely to exacerbate struggles.  In my opinion, the “you better watch out and curb that out-of-control eating” advice is enormously off-track because it sets external limits on our eating, instead of encouraging us to listen to our bodies to determine when we’ve had enough.  External limits set most of us up for feelings of deprivation, thinking we can’t have something or can’t have as much as we want.  When we almost inevitably have it, we often eat more than we normally would out of guilt or a belief that “I better eat it all now because tomorrow, I’ll go back to being “good.””
  • “To know if advice is healthy or not, think about who it gives the power to. Does it set  the individual up for being a potential victim, rather than someone who can think for herself?  Who’s in charge?  When we’re in charge, making decisions that we think are right for us in the moment, it generally means we’re paying attention to how we feel and thinking our choices through.”
  • “Also consider whether the advice promotes feelings of guilt or deprivation. Typical advice identifies certain foods as something we shouldn’t eat much of because it’s too rich.  Yet how could anyone know it’s too rich for a person without knowing what that person eats over time?  All it does is make us question whether we’re doing something bad to our bodies when we eat it.  Given all the confusion about healthy eating, that can be pretty anxiety-producing and hence damaging.  Usually a rich food is not going to create problems if we eat in moderation, which is what we will intuitively do when we feed ourselves well, pay attention to our internal cues for eating, and live a generally healthy lifestyle.”

How do you deal with the barrage of holiday tips? Any advice that you find particularly confusing?

How to Tell if Holiday Eating Advice is Truly Healthy

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2009). How to Tell if Holiday Eating Advice is Truly Healthy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Dec 2009
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