Tag Archives: Eating Habits

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Eating healthfully right after the holidays is relatively easy: in all likelihood, you’ve feasted on as much eggnog, christmas cookies, and latkes as you can, and your body is craving healthy, whole, clean foods. It’s maintaining your healthy resolutions a few weeks later that poses the most difficulty: in fact, according to John Tierney, co-author of “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” one third of Americans will have already broken their resolutions by the end of January.

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The reason? As humans, we run out of willpower, which is an exhaustible resource, just like physical energy. Willpower is like a muscle: use it enough, and you’ll exhaust it. Studies have confirmed that we have a limited supply of willpower, and when it’s used up, it’s very difficult to exert self-control. According to the lead author, William Hedgecock, Ph.D., of one study, “if you exert a significant amount of self control at one time, you’ll have a hard time exerting it later.” So if you’re able to resist a plate of high-calorie appetizers on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be far less likely to resist the all-you-can-eat champagne brunch the next day. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, calls this state “ego depletion.” And in an ironic twist for dieters, our willpower reserves are actually fueled by glucose — found in tempting cookies, cakes, and pasta.

Baumeister believes that the smartest way to follow through with your New Year’s resolution — and to deal with the limited supply of self-control that you have — is to anticipate those limits. In his study, published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, participants’ reactions to temptations were tracked throughout the day. Researchers noted that those who are able to resist temptations the most were those who planned ahead of time to avoid those temptations in the first place. By avoiding situations in which they would have to exert great amounts of self-control — like the bakery section that always has tasty samples — they reserved their willpower for tempting situations they had not been anticipating.

To put this knowledge to good use, identify the situations in your life that make it difficult to stick to your healthy eating habits. If you can’t resist your bagel-and-cream cheese breakfast every morning from the shop around the corner, reroute your walk to work. Or if cocktails are your weakness, skip happy hour; catch up with friends over tea or on a hike. Likewise, plan for occasional splurges: if you plan on having a slice of cake at a wedding, you’re not using up any willpower. But if you tell yourself “No dessert!” every time you go out to a restaurant and then give in once the dessert tray comes around, you’re simply exhausting your self-control again and again.

There’s other ways you can build up willpower, too. Just like other muscles, you can strengthen it. These tips will help you bulk up your willpower:

1. Eat balanced meals and snacks containing fiber, protein, and healthy fats. These help maintain steady blood sugar levels, which keeps glucose flowing to your brain at a steady pace. According to the American Psychological Association, “brain cells working hard to maintain self-control consume glucose faster than can be replenished.” Feeding your body with nutritious food at regular intervals has benefits beyond self-control, though: it’ll keep you from bingeing on fatty foods, desserts and drinks later on in the evening at holiday parties or happy hour.

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2. Pick the right motivation: if your motivation for eating healthier is intrinsic — say, eating healthfully because it makes you feel good — as opposed to extrinsic (eating healthfully so you can fit into your skinny jeans), you’ll have more success, says a study from the University of Albany. Similarly, if your goals are more long-term than short-term, you’re likely to keep your resolution. In a study from Columbia University, participants were better able to resist tempting foods when they thought about their long-term health goals, rather than the instant gratification of tasty foods.

3. Make a fist: a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that participants who clenched their muscles were better able to exert self-control when faced with tempting foods. So next time you find yourself in a tempting situation — walking down the candy aisle, for example — clench your fists to resist falling for your favorite unhealthy foods.

4. Ignore this article! A 2010 study from Stanford University found that those who believed their willpower was exhaustible were most likely to have their willpower depleted. But those who believed that willpower was in unlimited supply were better able to exert self-control.

An Easy Way to Start Eating Healthier

Here on ThreeApplesADay, I often recommend cutting out processed foods and adding more whole foods to your diet as much as possible: munch on veggie sticks instead of chips for the same crunch or sip green tea instead of soda for the same energy boost. Other websites, magazines, and nutrition experts offer the same advice with quick fix headlines: Cut out 100, 200, even 500 calories a day! But unfortunately, it’s not so simple or easy.

According to Dr. David Kessler, the combination of fat, salt, and sugar that is so prevalent in packaged and processed foods alters our brain chemistry in a way that makes us crave these foods more. “The salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate the diner’s brain to crave more…and the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want,” says Kessler. In fact, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, going cold turkey on sweets and high-fat food results in the same withdrawal symptoms that junkies go through. In the study, rats who were accustomed to a diet rich in sugar and chocolate and then had those treats taken away showed five times the normal levels of corticotropin-releasing factor, the same stress factor that is released when drug addicts try to quit.

So what is a sugar-fat-salt addict to do? It’s all about the baby steps: instead of quitting your favorite packaged and processed foods immediately, swap them out for healthier and healthier versions until you reach healthy, nutritious, clean foods. Spend about three weeks at each step; obesity researchers from New York Presbyterian Hospital determined that 21 days is the minimum time required to properly form a habit and stick with it.

Unhealthy: Potato chips
Potato chips are a dangerous snack food: their small serving size (one ounce, about 12 chips) and high calorie, sodium and saturated fat counts makes it easy to go overboard. But potato chips also contain acrylamide, a carcinogenic byproduct formed when foods are heated to high temperatures.

Healthier: Flax or bean chips
Chips made with wholesome ingredients, like Beanitos Black Bean Chips, are still processed — but they provide far more nutrients than potato chips. Beanitos Black Bean Chips, for example, offer 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of filling fiber per 1 ounce serving — making them satisfying enough to stop at one serving.

Healthier: Kale chips
It would be difficult to overindulge in kale chips: one cup has just 34 calories. Plus, it boasts considerable amounts of vitamin A, C and K, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that boost eye health. If you want a vehicle for your favorite dips, pick carrot chips — all the flavor is in the dips, anyway!

Unhealthy: Sugary cereal
According to the Environmental Working Group, 56 popular cereals contain more than 25% sugar by weight. These cereals are also refined and stripped of their nutrients, including satiating fiber, so you start your day off with uneven blood sugar levels, low energy, and a poor mood.

Healthier: Half sugary cereal and half whole grain cereal
By cutting your portion of sugary cereal in half and adding in half a serving of whole grains, you cut out half the sugar and add in satiating belly-filling fiber. Look for cereals that list a whole grain as its first ingredients, at least five grams of fiber, and fewer than 7 grams of sugar.

Healthier still: Instant oatmeal
Oatmeal is rated as one of the top satiating foods — it’s filled with fiber and a surprising amount of protein. It’s also praised as a weight-loss food: researchers from the University of California at Berkeley found that people who ate cooked cereal for breakfast had a lower BMI than any other breakfast-eating group. Instant oatmeal is an easy transition from sugary cereals, as it’s often sweetened and comes in tasty flavors like Maple Nut and Chai-Spiced.

Healthiest: Steel cut oats
Steel cut oats are the least processed type of oatmeal (as opposed to instant oatmeals, which are chopped, flattened, pre-cooked, dehydrated, and flavored with sugar and salt). With plenty of protein and fiber, steel cut oats are lower on the glycemic index than other oatmeals — so you’ll get through your morning with plenty of energy. Plus, they contain all B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants.

Unhealthy: French fries
An average order of French fries adds about 430 calories to your meal; that’s a lot of calories, considering they’re just a side. But calories alone don’t make French fries unhealthy. In supersizes, their excessive amount of starch is quickly converted to sugar, which causes a spike in insulin production and ultimately increases your risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Plus, fries contain the same dangerous carcinogen (acrylamide) as potato chips, as well as saturated and trans fats.

Healthier: Sweet potato fries
Sweet potato fries offer up just as many calories and unhealthy fat grams (and the aforementioned acrylamide) as regular French fries. But they have some redeeming qualities: they have a lower glycemic index, making them a better choice for maintaining steady blood sugar levels and satiety. Plus, they’re high in vitamin A and fiber.

Healthier still: Baked sweet potato fries
Without sacrificing flavor, the difference between restaurant sweet potato fries and homemade baked sweet potato fries is huge — 270 calories and 15 grams of fat. Those calories come from saturated and trans fats, leaving you with the nutrient-dense calories of a sweet potato.

Healthiest: Baked butternut squash fries
Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable, whereas butternut squash is technically a fruit. Although their tastes are similar — and they both contain high amounts of skin-boosting carotenoids — sweet potato contains more than twice as many calories, carbs, and sugars as butternut squash. One cup of butternut squash packs just 63 calories, 16.4 grams of carbs, and 3.1 grams of sugars; it’s also rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin E. With fiber and high water content, butternut squash is also filling — much more so than 430 calories of French fries!

Unhealthy: Buffalo Wings
Healthier: Baked Hot Wings
Healthiest: Homemade sesame chicken

Unhealthy: Soda
Healthier: Natural sodas
Healthier still: Sweetened tea
Healthiest: Green tea

Unhealthy: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Healthier: Annie’s Shells & Creamy White Cheddar
Healthiest: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Unhealthy: Fettuccine Alfredo
Healthier: Shrimp Scampi
Healthiest: Linguine Fra Diavolo

Eat Healthfully While Traveling Abroad

Eating healthfully can be hard enough when you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen, with Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and recipe books at your disposal. But traveling abroad adds a new set of nutritional diversions: bad airport and plane food, the excitement of sampling new cuisines, a different language, bouncing from hotel to hostel to bed and breakfast…

I recently spent two weeks in Argentina and Chile visiting my sister, who lives in Bariloche. As the always-hungry person I am, I had to prepare for a brand new food culture as well as long days traveling (it took us 30 hours to get home). With these tips and a bit of research, you can maintain a healthy diet half way around the world.

Plan for the airport and the plane.

When you’re travelling abroad, you may spend a whole day – or more – in airports, on planes, and in cars. Take these steps to ensure you have healthy, nutritious food for your long traveling day!

Pack a whole meal – or more. Airport food can be both ridiculously expensive and limited in healthy choices (McDonald’s, Cinnabon, and Dunkin’ Donuts are the most common). And plane food – unless you’re flying first class – is generally horrible. On your way to the airport, pick up your favorite healthy sandwich. Once you’re sitting on the plane, you’ll be happy to have a healthy meal while your fellow passengers eat Big Macs and fries.

Pack fruits and vegetables. Planes are pretty skimpy with food these days, so you’ll need healthy snacks to tide you over. Instead of resorting to convenience store treats and candy, pack fruits, vegetables, and nuts in your carry-on. Before you leave, make a stop at the grocery store to pick up apples and bananas. Bite-size produce – like blueberries, baby carrots, and snap peas – are ideal because they travel well, and their similar-to-candy size helps keep M&M and Skittles cravings at bay. Pick up some nuts at the grocery store, too; unlike airport trail mixes, they won’t be mixed with heavy ingredients like yogurt-covered pretzels and banana chips. Filling yourself up with fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts will help you maintain your already healthy diet and keep you energized through your long day.

Order a special meal. When you book your tickets, most airlines allow you to choose a “special meal.” Many have broad choices these days that cater to a wide range of diets: diabetic meal, gluten intolerant meal, Hindu meal, and low-calorie meal are just a few of the options. Opt for a low-fat or low-calorie meal – not because fat and calories are inherently bad, but because those meals are simply healthier. Their virtue lies in the fact that the meal comes with lean protein and vegetables and most importantly, without the heavy, creamy sauces that usually ruin (in taste and nutrition) the regular meals. On our plane down to Chile, my parents looked on with jealousy as I ate my fruit plate and high-fiber cereal; their regular breakfast was pancakes covered in a sugary fruit compote.

Travel with nutrition boosting “condiments”.
Foods like chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and hempseed are tiny packets of big nutrition. Such “condiments” can add a considerable amount of protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, vitamins, or antioxidants to a meal that might need a nutrition bump. A tablespoon of chia seeds, for example, has 68 calories, 2 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of fiber, and 4.5 grams of fat. I always carry a mix of chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and cinnamon to add to oatmeal and cereal, as well as Justin’s Nut Butter Squeeze Packets, which add protein and fiber to toast or apple and banana slices. Research shows that adding fat or protein to high-carbohydrate meals lessens the impact on blood sugar, making these foods a great pairing for the white toast and refined cereal your hotel might serve.

Travel with mini-meals.
When you’re abroad, you often don’t have a kitchen – let alone a refrigerator – to hold the snacks that would normally tide you over between meals. Instant oatmeal and snack bars are whole grain options that only require hot water to prepare. Look for bars with at least 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and no more than 18 grams of sugar – Larabars, KIND bars, Pure bars, and Bumble Bars are good choices. They’ll give you the energy you need to trek around town (or up a mountain) and to your next meal.

Check out the grocery store.
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to avoid the grocery store. Stock up on grab-and-go fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, carrots, and snap peas. Having produce on hand for snacks is especially important, since you’re most likely dining out more than normal and forgoing tedious salads for local specialties. In most countries, you’ll also be able to find yogurt – a convenient, fast breakfast or snack. Look for varieties without added sugar; luckily, most other cultures actually prefer plain yogurt to the sickeningly sweet American varieties. Bonus: the probiotics found in yogurt will help improve digestion, which can get out of whack when traveling.

Embrace the local food culture.

Savor the local delicacies, but don’t go overboard. When you travel abroad, you’re sure to find that each country has a few culinary specialties. Some are healthy, and some are far from it – but that doesn’t mean you should completely avoid them in the name of nutrition. Argentina, for example, is famous for its huge offerings of meat. Asados, the Argentinian barbecue, consists of course after course of meats: ribs, steaks, lamb, pork, chorizo, and blood sausages are common in just one meal. And Bariloche, specifically, is known for milanesa – breaded, fried meat piled high with melted cheese – and fondue (there’s a large Swiss and German influence). But next to these cheesy, fried, fatty cuts of meat, there’s also a healthy choice: Bariloche is a mountain town based around a lake, so fresh and smoked trout make an appearance on most menus. Most other cuisines have specialties that end up on both sides of the spectrum: Japan has sashimi and tempura, France has moules mariniere and croque monsieur. The key is in enjoying the local delicacies in moderation – you don’t need to eat them every day! Find a restaurant that specializes in what you really want (or better yet, if you have friends in the area, get an invitation to a home-cooked meal!) and savor each bite. Sandwich your indulgent day with healthy, vegetable-packed meals.

Pick up some new recipes and eating habits.
With more than two-thirds of the population obese or overweight, America is the fattest nation among those with advanced economies. With a culture based around fast food and little exercise, we could stand to take a couple of pointers from our healthier-eating counterparts. When you’re abroad, take note of the healthy recipes and eating habits that you encounter. In Chile and Argentina, instead of caffeinating with whipped cream and caramel-covered frappuccinos, the locals prefer to start their day with yerba mate, a tea-like infusion made from leaves of the holly tree. The drink is filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and provides the same boost of coffee without the crash. From South America to Europe to Asia, there are plenty of other eating habits to emulate: eat your sandwiches open-faced to cut out refined sugars like the Swedes, eat small dishes like the Chinese’ dim sum or Greeks’ mezze, and use a heavy hand with spices as in Thailand and India.

Learn a few phrases in the local language.
If your Spanish/French/Thai/Arabic language skills are poor, ordering meals in restaurants can be difficult. Of course, having a sister who is fluent in Spanish is your best bet for ensuring a delicious and healthy dinner; arming yourself with a dictionary with culinary terms is also helpful. Memorize a few phrases that will always improve the nutrition of any meal. Because many restaurants (all over the world) rely on heavy amounts of butter and oil for flavor, ask for your fish, meat, and vegetables to be prepared sin aceite (without oil) or sin mantequilla (without butter). It’s also helpful to learn adjectives that describe the preparation of a food; the difference between vegetales al vapor (steamed vegetables) and vegetales salteadas (sauteed vegetables) is huge.

Maintaining your healthy diet while traveling abroad will give you the energy to explore and enjoy a new country. And while it is tempting to completely indulge – you’re on vacation, after all – stuffing your body with excess fats, sweets, and alcohol will only weigh you down. As long as your keep your daily calories in check, remember that at the end of the year, your body won’t remember a two-week stretch where you barely ate a single vegetable. Upon returning to your beloved kitchen and local grocery store, load up on fresh produce, whole grains, lean protein, and nuts to continue your healthy eating plan.