Americans may be eating even more than usual after the winter holidays, pigging out on comfort food but adding on healthier foods out of guilt, a new study suggests.
So those New Year’s resolutions may not actually be helping, Lizzy Pope and Brian Wansink of Cornell University in New York and colleagues found.
“What we found was in January, people are buying more healthy food than they are buying any other time of the year. They are just buying more junk food as well,” said Pope, now at the University of Vermont.
The Cornell team recruited more than 200 households and looked at their shopping habits from July through March. They worked with a local grocery chain that rates its products on a scale from zero to three stars for healthfulness – zero for candy and cake, one for something like oat bran pretzels, two for fresh fish and three for fresh produce.
On average, people spent about $105 a week on groceries from July through the end of November. But as the holiday season started, they spent 15 percent more, or $121 a week.
In January, the healthy eating resolutions kicked in. Sales of food rated anything but zero spiked more than 19 percent over the holiday period and 29 percent more over the summer baseline.
“Unfortunately, sales of less-healthy foods remained at holiday levels ($72.85/week holiday period vs. $72.52/week post-holiday),” the researchers write in their report, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One.
It's well documented that Americans gain on average a pound or two over the winter holidays and almost never lose the weight. Over a lifetime, it adds up.
So people are buying junk food and just adding healthier foods on top – not a great strategy for better eating, Pope said.
“Why, psychologically, is this happening?” she asked. “Maybe you get used to buying a certain type of food during holiday time and you have a hard time getting out of it,” she said.
Plus the Super Bowl’s coming, and all the snack-related buying that goes with it.
Or maybe the stores are the blame.
“I was at the grocery store this week and they already had the Valentine’s Day candy stocked,” Pope said. “Maybe we are still in the holiday period until March.”