Too Much of a Good Thing? Holiday and weekend eating habits can jeopardize diets, study finds

Issue Date: 
December 14, 2009
J. Jeffrey InmanJ. Jeffrey Inman

The holidays can be challenging for even the most diligent dieters. But are weekends just as detrimental? Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., found that weekend eating patterns change significantly.

J. Jeffrey Inman, a University of Pittsburgh professor of marketing and associate dean for research in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, and his coauthor, Adwait Khare, Quinnipiac University professor of marketing, studied two years’ worth of data on consumers’ eating behavior and found that the quantity and quality of foods eaten at mealtimes and over the course of a day during the week differ considerably from those consumed on weekends and holidays.

Just as important as the daily caloric increase on weekends and holidays is the nutritional value of the food consumed, according to the research, which was published in the Fall 2009 issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Labor Day barbeques and Thanksgiving Day feasts focus on family and friends bonding over tables laden with high-calorie foods. Because the quantity and quality of food consumed changes during these times, Inman suggests that the U.S. Department of Agriculture incorporate recommendations for holiday and weekend eating into its food pyramid guidelines.

Understanding eating patterns and knowing that a weekend can be just as dangerous to the diet as a holiday dinner arm consumers, doctors, and nutritionists with more knowledge to fight obesity, says Inman.

Inman says his advice for consumers interested in monitoring their intake during the holidays is “don’t insult your mother-in-law by skimping on the meals, but maybe take a pass on that extra glass of eggnog.”

This research is the follow- up to a 2006 study by Inman and Khare on the habitual behavior in American eating patterns—a behavior that may lend itself to developing more effective strategies for maintaining a healthy diet. According to the previous study, people are most habitual when eating breakfast—rather than lunch or dinner—possibly because breakfast is usually eaten in the same environment and under greater time constraints. Results of the previous study also indicated that the food consumed for breakfast has a larger effect on what is consumed for lunch and dinner of the same day, because people pay more attention to meals within a single day than to what was consumed on a previous day.

Inman and Khare would like to follow up this most recent research with a study of the impact of intervention programs on sweetened beverage consumption.