Many of us use the New Year as an opportunity to reboot and change unhealthy habits, such as poor eating choices. But as anyone who has tried to diet can attest, it's not always easy when there are Peanut M&M's at hand.
Dr. Sherry Zhang says one key is tuning out the noise. "We have all this bombardment from advertising," says Zhang, a longtime genetics and nutrition researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin who now heads a startup called Genopalate. "The food industry [tells us] 'This is a good diet, this is the next big thing,' and all these distractions make it harder and harder for us to really listen to the cues in our bodies."
A technique called "intuitive eating" may provide more benefit than simply cutting calories or carbohydrates, she says. The cues are linked not just to the types of foods, but also to feelings of hunger and satiety, Zhang explains, and to how food is linked to an emotional response.
She suggests starting simply. "[Eliminate] all this high-sugar, processed food. If you can really quiet down your body for a day or two, you'll be able to have a very good intuition for what is really agreeable to how your body is programed."
Zhang also points to services like 23 and Me, Ancestry.com, which sequence DNA, and her company, which looks at that genetic data and how it can inform what foods to eat and what to avoid. "All these great platforms can give you additional insights."
But more fundamentally, she says, we should all approach our meals with a side-order of mindfulness.
"Many people are stress eaters. When we have the wanting to use food as a tool to solve those emotional problems, just sit back and say, 'This is the wrong way of using food.' Food is for our nutrition, for your health, for pleasure. If you can go back to that mentality, then you are one step closer."