FEATURE – How often do we hear the saying, “You can’t have too much of a good thing?” Especially after the holidays, this aphorism seems untrue, or at least in need of qualification. Each January, it’s pretty common to feel burdened by all we’ve partaken in over the holidays, hence the New Year’s resolutions to eat better, spend less and exercise more.
Resolutions are good things, but in the same way Newton’s Third Law of Motion says there’s an equal and opposite reaction to every force a body receives, it seems that for each New Year’s resolution we make, there’s often an equal and opposite failure in willpower. With February’s arrival, those failures may already be painfully obvious for some of us.
We got used to having leftover pie around the house in December, and when New Year’s Day rolled around and the scraps were gone, we may have felt a bit deprived, then dug into the chips and dip more than we otherwise might. It’s as if by not eating the piece of pie, we feel we’ve earned a “credit” toward overindulging in something else.
Research shows that our tendency to lose our resolve is heightened when we are depriving ourselves of other things we want. I don’t think there’s a magic trick for overcoming this; it’s human nature to set a goal, fall short and try again. But there are ways to perceive change as a positive thing, rather than a deprivation.
If eating better was one of your New Year’s resolutions, and now perhaps your February renewed resolution, my suggestion is to add things to your diet instead of focusing on taking them away. Having a pantry stocked with treats would undermine anyone’s healthy eating goals, so removing temptation is part of the equation. But while you’re choosing not to replace the Christmas candy with more junk, you have an opportunity to add things that will satisfy you, as well as help you meet your goals.
When trying to use more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein in your meals and snacks, try thinking of how you are adding variety, rather than abstaining from “bad” foods. A simple, achievable goal is to add one vegetable or grain dish to your evening meal. You might try adding “five vegetables I didn’t eat last week” to your shopping list, choosing vegetables that catch your eye at the grocery store and then looking up simple ways to cook or otherwise incorporate them in your meals.
Try the same thing with grains and beans. If you have kids who are picky eaters, allowing them to choose new foods and helping prepare them piques their interest to taste them.
With snacks, portion control can be the most challenging part of eating right (this is a place where you have to be careful about adding). Try pairing each snack you eat with a full glass of water. You’ll feel fuller and give your body the cleansing hydration it needs. It also helps to put your snack on a plate, just as you would a meal, rather than eating out of the box. You’ll be surprised at how full the plate looks, and feel less inclined to grab another handful. And try making your snacks more than just one thing; for example, crackers and apple slices rather than a double portion of crackers.
When it comes to food, adding a variety of healthy items will short-circuit that pull toward indulgence we feel when we focus on cutting things out of our diets.
Written by Emily Updegraff for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Updegraff teaches biology at Northwestern University. She studied plant genetics in her doctoral work and now enjoys reading and writing about food. A native of St. George, she lives with her husband and two children in the Chicago area.
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