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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

A New Year's Resolution to Wellness
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By Curtiss Hunt

 Happy New Year!!  What a great time of year!  Now is the time of year when I make resolutions to improve things.  And now is also the time when I promptly fail to follow through on those resolutions.  My resolutions seem to fail because I pick goals that are nearly impossible to attain, such as "Lose Weight."  There are two logical ways to lose weight:  exercise more and eat less.  However, for me, "exercising more" conjures up all kinds of negative images of things I don't want to do, including those of jogging on my treadmill, mile after mile.  The bottom line is that I do not exercise enough despite full knowledge that physical exercise has many proven health benefits.

 "Eating less" also conjures up negative images: wasting food, finding space for leftovers, feeling unsatisfied, and showing potential disrespect to the cook.  Even so, eating less is the part of the 'losing weight' equation where we can exert preemptive control. 

 Here's an approach that might be helpful, especially as we approach the most wonder "food" time of the year.  In Okinawa, Japan, grandmothers advocate the idea to "eat until you are 8 of 10 parts full" and they have named this concept hara haci bu.   These sage elders have given this advice for years.  Perhaps as a direct result of eating to 80 percent of being full or from making other healthy lifestyle choices, Okinawans boast the world's longest life expectancy.  Naturally, if this dietary habit is implemented incorrectly, meaning too severely, or at vulnerable life stages, meaning too young, too old, or during pregnancy, there will be potential health concerns.

 So, how can other successfully adopt the concept of eating less to reduce body weight?  Readjusting thought processes may help.  For example, if I say to myself, "I've got to stop eating so much," solving the weight problem automatically shifts to the future.  Instead, if I think at every meal, "eat until 8 of 10 parts full," there would be the instant gratification of success and I would have a much better chance of remaining in control.  Additionally, there is the benefit of not having to concentrate so much on counting calories or thinking about individual dietary components like fats or carbohydrates.

 Americans have the ability to make the concept of 'eating less' a national reality.  We have already made it socially acceptable to support each other while breaking the habit of smoking.  Now, let us leave it to American ingenuity to establish 'eating less' as a fun and socially acceptable action.  For example, perhaps reconfigure some perceptions as to what constitutes superior dining service.  Being served just one piece of mouth-watering bread before the main course could be considered a sign of respect for the customer's health, with additional servings always available, but only upon customer request.

 Reconfiguring personal eating habits could also be helpful.  Dr. Brian Wansink, a food psychology professor at Cornell University, found that we often fall prey to powerful, but inappropriate, environmental cues for determining whether we are full or not. He refers to these cues as "hidden persuaders" and they lead to "mindless eating." For example, he found that the size of the serving dish is very important.  On average, we will eat 50 percent more five-day-old, stale popcorn if it is served in a large-sized instead of medium-sized container.  This means that visual cues can actually overwhelm food quality cues.  Also, we usually take more food as plate size increases.  Very surprisingly, Dr. Wansink found that simply believing that a meal tastes good (i.e., seeing a classy name on a wine bottle) will lead us to eat more of everything at a meal.

 Prolonged food scarcity has plagued humankind far longer than food abundance.  Even today, food insecurity occurs in about 10 percent of American households at least part of the time.  However, in this era when food is relatively abundant, over consumption is a major problem for many.  Here's to a New Year's resolution of doing less for a change!

Last Modified: 2/9/2007
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