Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lose weight and save money by slowing down your food buying

Have you made any New Year's resolutions for 2015?

Do they relate to fitness?  Weight loss?  Eating better?  You are not alone.  Over 60% of people in the US do this, at least infrequently, me included (though I'm even behind on that this year!).

Losing weight is the most common New Year's resolution, followed by getting organized and spending less.

From an earlier post, yet still true!

There's a way to help you meet all of these goals at the same time, according to a new study.

Yes, making and breaking resolutions is common enough to become the subject of scientific studies.

This new one studied food shopping habits of 207 families in months before, during, and after the US holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Years). The food and nutrition researchers found that family food spending increases by 15% over the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year), with most of the increase due to stocking up on more junk food.

Stocking up on more than junk food-- the holiday downward progress
image: TrainerJack

What surprised the researchers was that the families studied extended their larger purchases into the post-New Year's period. The consumers started buying more fruits and vegetables after the holidays, in line with the annual goal of keeping a more healthy diet, but they didn't stop buying the more indulgent, high-calorie holiday treats, turning their goals into "res-illusions" that expand both spending and waistline.

This graph is from the published paper and shows the additional calories of the foods purchased by the participating families during and after the holidays - that is, beyond their "normal" rest-of-the-year food expenses. You can see that the participants bought more foods in both the "healthy" and "unhealthy" categories after New Year's Day.

The "additional calories" purchased (and likely consumed) in the holiday and post-holiday seasons
compared to the pre-holiday baseline expenditures. 

People started buying more of the less-healthy items during the holiday season and kept at it all through the weeks immediately following this season. They also increased their purchases of healthy items post-holidays, suggesting to the researchers these nutritious items might have provided a “health halo" that allowed the participants to keep buying junk food too. Like having your cake and eating your broccoli too.

How can we avoid hanging on to holiday fun via our grocery purchases?

If this sounds like you, you might try buying and eating the types and amounts of foods you ate during the summer and early fall (before the holiday season), rather than the quantities you inhaled during the holidays as a good way to return to your “pre-holiday” status quo, and not remain at your “holiday” status quo.

The researchers recommend using written grocery lists to discourage impulsive junk food purchases (yes, you have to stick to the list) and substituting as much junk food as possible with fresh produce and nutrient-rich foods. You know the ones -- veggies, fruits, whole grains, fish or lean meats if you are so inclined.

An easy way to do this is to visually divide your grocery basket so that nutritious foods make up at least half of your purchases. In other words, replace the buns, chocolates, Cheetos, and processed meals with fresh produce and other nutritious foods.  I take this to mean that we need to start budgeting time to cook wholesome meals again.

All this listing, visual recording, and time management will get you into an organization frame of mind, as well as help you spend and eat less. Voila. Goals achieved.

Tried and true ways to stuff yourself silly on game day
image: AHelicopterMom

And this includes Super Bowl Sunday week, which, along with Christmas week, was the week of top food spending by consumers in this study!

So, if you are going to spend more on food, the timeless and sometimes-boring recommendation is still ---STILL! --- buy and eat more veggies.


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    1. Thanks Nirmala - it is so much easier to make food choices in the grocery store than in my kitchen!

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