Celebrity Tricks and Tips for Healthy Eating

What works for Julia Roberts, Sela Ward and Matt Damon?

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Lawrence Olivier is said to have eaten an apple and a bit of pungent blue cheese for lunch each day to maintain his weight. Why? The stronger the flavor of food, the more satisfied he felt. Lord Larry knew what he was doing -- highly flavored foods are one of my favorite ways to make a meal exciting and enticing, but not fattening. At my company, Diet Designs, we've taught many Hollywood stars easy tricks and tips for planning meals packed with taste, not calories. But you don't have to be invited to the Oscars to use these simple secrets.

Pump Up the Flavor!

Call it the Olivier Principle. Satisfy yourself with flavor-rich foods, and you'll eat less and enjoy it more.

  • Roasted garlic makes an amazing spread and a fragrant addition to sauces and soups -- it's a big hit with Julia Roberts. Just preheat the oven to 450, place the whole unpeeled head in a baking dish, and roast it for half an hour. You can put it on bread or rolls, in soups, spice up chicken with it, or spread it on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.
  • Use multiple varieties of mustard as an alternative to mayo, butter, and heavy dips for sandwiches, crackers, and hors d'oeuvres. Go crazy with mustards: three-grain, rosemary, Dijon, try them all. Sela Ward adores mustard, and how great does she look?
  • Make a fabulous fresh marinara sauce with a few cans of (low-sodium!) tomatoes, sliced black olives, and lots of onion, garlic, and herbs. You can use this sauce on pastas or as a base for pizza -- Matt Damon loves it.

Sassy Substitutions

You can enjoy the "decadent" dishes you love if you substitute a few healthier ingredients.

  • Sela Ward loves southern food, so we'll make a mock fried chicken. Instead of using flour, lard, and milk, then frying it, use cornmeal with yogurt, and saute the chicken in a little corn oil. The yogurt moistens the chicken and gives it a delicious flavor.
  • You don't have to give up cheese: just go light on the high-fat kinds and stick with tasty, tangy, more nutritious varieties such as feta, goat, and ricotta. Feta (one of Jennifer Aniston's favorites) is a huge flavor booster. Combine feta with spinach in phyllo dough for a yummy spinach pie. Ricotta is a good cheese to use for baking. It tastes delicious spread on a toasted English muffin with a pure fruit strawberry jam and cinnamon.
  • You've probably heard of substituting applesauce for fat when baking brownies. Even better, date puree, made of dates and water, whips up a chocolaty treat Donnie Wahlberg devours. Just substitute the puree, one-to-one, for your fat. Then, use cocoa powder, which is already fat free, and mix in a little fructose instead of sugar. Voila, you have a decadent, fat-free brownie.

Stocking and Purging

You'll eat better without effort if you purge problem foods from your kitchen and stock up on tasty, good-for-you options.

    Purge these foods:
    • High-sodium, high-fat canned or packaged goods, such as soups with more than 300 mg of sodium in them. Top Ramen might have sustained you as a starving college student, but it's time to let it go!
    • Packaged cookies and crackers. If you're going to indulge in sweets, avoid the heavily processed ones and try sweet substitutions like those date-puree brownies.
    • Most carbonated beverages. Even if they're low- or no-calorie, the bloating will make you feel heavier.
    • Most frozen foods and "quick meals." If you need them for convenience, try nutritionally sounder brands like Amy's and Healthy Choice.

    Stock these foods:
    • Spices, spices, spices! Cilantro and cumin to liven up Mexican dishes, lemon grass for Asian food, rosemary for more savory dishes, like a delicious lemon rosemary chicken with garlic. Try to keep fresh herbs on hand and add them generously.
    • Salsa, with lots of nutrients and few calories, makes a great snack paired with fresh crunchy vegetables or homemade tortilla chips, or as a topping for a tangy egg-white omelet.
    • Water. Yes, you know you should drink more water. Instead of lecturing you, I'll tell you how: keep a pitcher of cold water in the fridge, a quarter orange, a quarter lemon, and a quarter of a cucumber sliced into the water. It tastes so good you'll want to drink it all the time.
    • Vinegars and marinades, to add moisture and flavor to all dishes. Chicken in a lemon-dill marinade overnight will be bursting with flavor the next day. Stock up on apple cider, rosemary, tarragon, and of course rice wine vinegar for Asian dishes.

Remember, stay away from fad diets that encourage you to cut entire food groups out of your diet. You risk depleting your body of valuable nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C. When you're short on nutrients, I guarantee that eventually you will feel deprived, which can result in failure.

Instead, use these tips and tricks as part of a very simple approach: Eat fewer calories than you burn through exercise, from a wide variety of nutritionally powerful foods. Don't deprive yourself. Food should be pleasurable and fun, so you stick to a lifetime program -- why would anybody want to eat a plain steamed chicken breast and vegetables when you can eat gourmet sauces, pizza, and dessert?

Originally published Jan. 30, 2004
Medically updated Dec. 9, 2004

Carrie Wiatt, MS, is a nutritionist and president of Diet Designs, a consulting company that creates individualized food programs for celebrities, as well as for ordinary people in search of healthy eating solutions. Wiatt holds a master's degree in nutrition and food science from California State University Northridge.

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Last Editorial Review: 12/22/2004