Becoming a Fabulous Dish Diva

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Aug. 24, 2005

You are a fabulous woman, so why are you making yourself miserable while trying to lose weight? Instead of depriving yourself, how would you like to become a Dish Diva, a woman who knows how to have fun and be healthy! Carolyn O'Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous, chats with Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, to explain how you can lose weight, eat smart, and have a great time doing it. They joined us on Aug. 24, 2005.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live. Our guests today are Carolyn O'Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous, and Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

ZELMAN: Welcome Carolyn O'Neil, I am so excited to have you join us today. Carolyn is the co-author, along with Densie Webb, of the hot, new girl's book The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. This '50s style, easy-to-read and fun book offers very simple and practical ways to improve your diet.

First, let's talk about you. How did you and Densie come together to write this girlfriend guide to being fabulous?

O'NEIL: I am a registered dietitian and was always interested in nutrition education. Who knew that a dietitian would end up on national and international television!

I joined CNN in 1982 and launched the network's food and nutrition coverage. Some very exciting times in the '80s when we first stared to learn that nutrition and diet really played a very strong role in health.

The news in the '80s, however, was pretty negative. It was all these stories about what you eat can kill you, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and the links to the bad stuff in our diets.

Happily, in the '90s, we started to report on more of the good news and how nutrition and diet can promote health and all of the things we should be adding to our diets, like more olive oil, oat bran, fruits and vegetables; the nutrients in fruits and vegetables that help prevent cancer, heart disease.

For me as a registered dietitian, those stories were really much more powerful and I think valuable -- people could make positive changes.

ZELMAN: Isn't it wonderful to be able to encourage people with good things to eat instead of what not to do.

O'NEIL: That is the reason for writing The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. I teamed up with another dietitian, Densie Webb, who's a PhD, RD, so she's really smart.

Densie wrote about diet and nutrition for the New York Times while I was at CNN -- both of us covering the roller coaster of nutrition news and research. And we really came to the conclusion we wanted to share this message: the more you know, the more you can eat.

Now, what we mean by that in The Dish is the more you know about nutrition, the more you can enjoy all kinds of foods in the proper balance, whether it's chocolate or oranges or milk or merlot. Again, The Dish is about how all of these foods and beverages can fit into a healthy lifestyle, but you have to have the nutrition know-how.

In The Dish we share nutrition 101 -- the diet basics to arm you with that important information so you can live a modern-day, multi-tasking life: eating in, eating out, entertaining, traveling, whether you're picking up a snack at a convenience store or airport. Real-life solutions.

ZELMAN: I love it and could not agree with you more. Eating healthy is really a pleasure and it is easier than most folks think. Your experience as a CNN correspondent and 20-plus years as a registered dietitian shine through in yours and Densie's pearls of wisdom throughout the book. The dish divas have their finger on the pulse with sage advice peppered on virtually every page of the book.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you and Densie came together to write this girlfriend guide to being fabulous. How can the busy woman use the book and incorporate your stylish lifestyle attitude?

O'NEIL: The first chapter in the book I feel is the most important. If you visit a registered dietitian they will not hand you a diet on a piece of paper and say follow this, bye-bye, see you next week. They will ask you questions about yourself. It really is all about you.

Before we can get into tips, before we can get into diet plans, The Dish encourages the busy woman to read Chapter 1, The Dish on you and Your Diet, so you can take a snapshot, if you will, of your food likes and dislikes, your lifestyle and what makes you hungry, when do you find yourself snacking, and what you snack on. Then you can go to the appropriate chapter in the book.

Let's say you really like desserts and you want to learn how to incorporate desserts into your diet. In the questionnaire you find out one of my challenges is 'I have a sweet tooth, I love desserts.' Why not skip to Chapter 8 then, The Dish on Cheating.

We all know moderation is one of the three cardinal rules: moderation, variety and balance. This chapter we could have called The Dish on Moderation, but no one would have read it. Moderation is one of the most boring words in the English language, so we called this chapter The Dish on Cheating.

There we explore the science behind food cravings. We address how to incorporate splurge foods into your diet, and again, your splurge might be chocolate, another friend's might be tortilla chips. So we offer snacking secrets in how to enjoy splurge foods.

We also found that people who are a part of the National Weight Control Registry are folks who have lost weight and kept it off for significant number of years. And one thing they have in common is that they know how to splurge and when to splurge. That's why in The Dish we embrace these kinds of food but then teach you how to incorporate them.

ZELMAN: One size does not fit all. As individuals we need to evaluate what works for each one of us. Should we focus first on our weaknesses?

O'NEIL: Yes. Because many times when people go on a diet or decide to eat more healthfully, they remove their favorite foods, often the splurge foods. "I can't eat ice cream; I can never have potato chips and dip, and french fries." But that is unrealistic.

It's better to embrace your splurge foods and as I said, learn how to accept them, and add them to your diet. Even the new dietary guidelines and the new My Pyramid.gov allows for a certain number of calories per day called discretionary calories. The government always comes up with such sexy terms.

Again, these are the splurge calorie. I think that for instance, you can have 2,000 calories a day, which is sort of the reference diet, depending on how much exercise you do, and you can have between 200 and 250 splurge calories per day. I do want to mention we dedicated an entire chapter of the book to eating out. That really is a very important part of the modern woman's lifestyle.

MEMBER QUESTION: What would you say is the healthiest food?

O'NEIL: That's a very good question. One of the chapters in the book we called The Dish on Super Foods. We felt that a food belonged in this category if it met two requirements, either it was a terrific source for one particular nutrient, or it was a good source of a whole bunch of important nutrients, kind of like one-stop shopping for a variety of nutrients we need. Let me give some examples.

  • Orange juice that is fortified or enriched with calcium, we felt this belonged in the super foods category, because it's giving you the hundreds of compounds in orange juice and has a significant amount of calcium you need to good towards your daily needs.
  • Yogurt is another super food, because not only does it contain dairy nutrients, calcium and all of the other nutrients found in dairy, but it has something special that we call probiotic, and these are the friendly bacteria, if you will, that are in the cultures used to make yogurt.

Remember, no food is nutritious unless it's eaten, so if I told you, let's say you didn't like okra but I told you it was a very healthy food and you didn't eat it, it's not nutritious at all for you.

What I'm saying is we all need to be consuming more fruits and vegetables, make that a No. 1 priority. Think of the colors of the rainbow, and I'm not talking about M&Ms here. The deeper the color the better; it will tell you there's more of a concentration of plant nutrients.

The healthiest foods, I would say -- prioritize fruits and vegetables and then whole grains. We're hearing a lot about whole grains today. An interesting fact: There's more than just fiber in the whole grain, so when you chew whole grain bread you're not just getting fiber, you're getting the bran, the exterior part of the wheat kernel. Those are more plant nutrients and antioxidants.

ZELMAN: Are you a fan of fortified foods?

O'NEIL: Some fortified foods make perfect sense, like fortified milk. When oat bran hit the news as being good for our heart health and digestive health, and it is a terrific food, companies then came to the marketplace with oat bran donuts and oat bran beer and oat bran potato chips, so I think: consumers beware.


"The very phrase 'small changes' is so empowering!"

MEMBER QUESTION: Do you have fast-food suggestions for busy parents on the go?

O'NEIL: Yes, and that is such a common concern. In fact, there was a survey done by Harris Interactive, recently. They asked adults where they eat on the go, and 51% who have children eat on the go in the car. So 51% of adults with kids are eating in the car, and 37% without kids eat in the car. My advice: look for the healthier alternatives at fast-food places today.

I was in the car with my daughter Katie and her friend Jennie and we were driving to Florida. We stopped at Wendy's. They're 14 years old I was amazed that they both decided to get the fruit salad that is an option now -- not the french fries. Wow! They said, "Well, it's healthier." Sometimes kids know more because they're watching the commercials on TV and can educate the parents about fast food.

ZELMAN: Don't you think it is because you are a good role model?

O'NEIL: Actually, the decision came from Jennie, my daughter's friend and her parents are not in the health field. I know they have a very busy two-career household and eat out a lot.

As for convenience stores, even there we don't have the junk food excuse any more, because convenience stores have an amazing array of healthier snack options: orange juice, grapefruit juice, nonfat yogurt smoothies. Dannon makes one that fits in the cup holder in the car. There are little bags of almonds, peanuts, or nutrition bars in all kinds of flavors.

So living off the land -- in the car on the go -- there's more to choose from out there. Don't forget, you can stock a little cooler and have that in the car, running from here to there with the kids, doing errands. Things like little bags of baby carrots, grape tomatoes and water, 100% fruit juice. All these little portion-controlled packets or containers that are available today will not only have more healthier food in the car, but planning ahead will save you money, too.

ZELMAN: Most women take care of everyone else before themselves. What are your favorite tips on fitting nutrition into a hectic lifestyle?

O'NEIL: I think every time you are making a decision on what to eat, whether you are having a fun lunch with girlfriends or you are preparing a quick meal at home for the family, think about what you are adding to your plate.

So rather than thinking "I can't have," scan the menu for items that add health to your diet. If something comes with a side of steamed seasonal fresh vegetables, look around the room, see if you can spot the portion size. Often it's really small. Then ask your server to double the vegetable portion, biggie size it, if you will, and there you're adding more nutrition to your plate.

Another tip in a restaurant, we all hear about splitting entrees or ordering appetizer portions, splitting desserts. Yes, all good options, but in The Dish we recommend you engage your server's help first, saying, "If you help us eat a little less, we'll tip you a little more." The server's likely to say, "Oh, don't get this, that's a dumb thing to split, get this." The end result: Bigger tips, smaller hips!

ZELMAN: The Dish covers every topic from soy to the raw diet. But every day a new study sheds light on health and nutrition, adding to the confusion that already exists. How should we interpret the news -- whether or not to eat salmon? Is organic worth the extra money? Should we take supplements? In light of your motto -- "don't tell us what is new, tell us what is true" -- how can we figure out new from true?

O'NEIL: This really goes back to "The more you know, the more you can eat."

The Dish is your hand-held registered dietitian. I think in order to digest the latest nutrition news, you have to have a baseline of knowledge, and reading The Dish gives you an edge. So when the latest, greatest, diet or supplement or food hits the headlines, you'll have a way to put it into perspective.

For instance, blueberries have been getting a lot of attention because of research indicating they contain nutrients which may help our memories. Now, there are foods other than blueberries that may contain antioxidants, but maybe the blueberry council got their message out louder and stronger.

Again, when you see a headline about a certain food that contains these antioxidants, it doesn't mean it's the only food that does.

ZELMAN: I love the way you take the science and sizzle it down into no-nonsense, useful, and very amusing advice. You really tell it like it is!

O'NEIL: Learn nutrition basics so you have the knowledge to be able to make the differentiation. Then we all know that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Consider the source of the information.

For instance, when you read stories or studies on WebMD it always gives the source of the information, whereas one of the tabloids in the store may have a sensational nutrition story, such as Celery Cures Arthritis and maybe it says, from a study done in Peru. How do you even chase that down? Or they quote experts but don't say who those experts are.

So I would be sure the information is coming from a credible source. I'm just a real proponent of everyone learning about nutrition science. It's exciting that so many universities are offering Nutrition 101 and it's very popular. When students take a basic nutrition course, whether they're going to become a lawyer or architect, those are life-survival skills for themselves and for their families in the future.

ZELMAN: Can you lose weight with your guidance or is it more about being healthy?

O'NEIL: The book is really dedicated to the No. 1 nutrition concern of our readers, and that is weight control -- but weight control with the benefits of good health. The original reason for nutrition is optimal health, meaning a glow in your skin, a sparkle in your eye, shine in your hair, and pep in your step.

We really want to help our readers not only achieve and maintain the body weight they want, but we want them to do it in a way that makes them feel fabulous. That is the payoff in adding nutritious foods to your diet, as opposed to seeing how few calories you can consume in a day. So when you stand on the bathroom scale you see the numbers going down.

When you look at food, say "what have you done for me lately," not "how few calories can I consume." And Kathleen, we know as registered dietitians that people don't know automatically what that means, how to eat healthy; they have to learn how to do it.

It's a simple term, but it's the customization to your lifestyle -- what foods you should be adding. Our publisher asked Densie and I if we were going to include a diet plan in the book. You know, the kinds of things that say, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; I never really liked those.

Oftentimes it's those kinds of diets you fail at, because real life gets in the way. For instance, Wednesday lunch: tuna fish sandwich with light mayonnaise with whole-grain bread, small apple, carton of nonfat milk.

OK, you're at your desk, it's Wednesday, the phone rings. A colleague says, "Oh my gosh, it's Diane's birthday, we need to take her out to lunch. Remember she took you out to lunch for your birthday." And then you think, "Oh, no, today is tuna sandwich, apple, milk day and it's only Wednesday and I'm already falling off my diet."

To help that woman escape those feelings of failure we designed the last chapter, What to Eat Today and Everyday, depending on the kind of day you're having.

We use real-life examples like the last minute birthday lunch, or what should I eat when I have to drive in the car for three hours, etc. We also wanted to give a gold standard, a template for healthy eating. So we did a three-day plan that we called "In a Perfect World." A reader knows this is an example, and knows it's for "in a perfect world," so they're off the hook if they can't stick to it meal by meal.

ZELMAN: At WebMD Weight Loss Clinic we feature a customized, individualized approach to losing weight and being healthier and dare I say, 'fabulous.' Your advice is similar to Mireille Guiliano -- author of French Women Don't Get Fat -- and is quite sensible. I love the way you recommend a bite of something wonderful rather than more of food or drink that is less exciting. The real trick is to make small changes. But how do we go from knowledge to changing behavior?

O'NEIL: That very phrase you used, "small changes," I think is so empowering. Because when someone is looking at a weight loss goal it seems impossible, insurmountable. But those small changes are doable and sustainable.

We have a chart in the book for the 100-calorie club, because nutrition research shows if you cut 100 calories a day, you won't gain weight; it will help you maintain your weight over the long haul. So knowing that, when you get the hamburger, don't get the slice of cheese, and you save 100 calories. Or use light mayonnaise instead of full-fat mayo. Small changes.

I think information is powerful. We have a chapter The Dish on Drinks and there we have a nutrition chart for the calorie comparison of drinks. How many calories in a pina colada, for example, as compared to a glass of dry Riesling or champagne, which are the lowest in calories. Small changes.

ZELMAN: The title of the book is great -- quite whimsical and somehow I suspect one of your ideas. How did the title come about?

O'NEIL: I think people want to know what they're getting when they see a diet or nutrition book. We wanted people to know what the payoff would be for eating healthy: being fabulous! The term "the dish" can mean different things. The dish -- the gossip. The dish -- the truth.

Our web site is dishdivas.com. The readers that go to our web site and email us, they consider themselves dish divas. They have this new knowledge that empowers them to enjoy food and be healthy and be cute.

The cover, I'm sure this is the only diet book with a cosmopolitan on the cover and there's three dishy gals at a very hip and groovy looking restaurant. And the cover of the book is a beautiful array of foods, chocolate dessert, olive oils, avocado. We wanted it to look like a lot of fun. One of our first reviews say it's like Sex and the City meets food and nutrition. Another one was, it reads like a beach novel.

We hit our mark there, because Densie and I decided in the beginning if we had fun writing this book, people would have fun reading it. As a dietitian, Kathleen, you know sometimes nutrition can be a little nerdy, boring, and we wanted to sex it up a little bit.

One more thing about dietitians: you may have a girlfriend who knows all about finances, she's your financial diva; you may have another who's into fashion, always looks great and who got one piece on sale at Sak's and the other piece at Target, she's your fashion diva. Well, dietitians are your nutrition divas, your dish divas; you can turn to your gal-pal dietitian, who knows a lot but also loves to eat and have fun and cook and all that good stuff.

ZELMAN: I have to admit, it was fun, bedside reading and I have given copies to girlfriends as gifts to rave review. The retro-neo pink and green artwork was a perfect complement to the information.

Carolyn, thank you for taking time to share with us your tantalizing tidbits and sensible advice. You and Densie have done an amazing job translating the science into useful tips that empower women to improve their health and of course, we all want to be fabulous.

O'NEIL: I'm very, very pleased when I speak to so many women today, they are getting it -- that food is their friend. Food is fun, it's fabulous, and enjoying what we eat and staying slim and trim can reside together. Taste and health are coming together in a beautiful way more than ever before. We will be keeping track of all the nutrition news on WebMD. Stay informed.

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