Think you ate like crazy during the holidays? You might be consuming more calories now than you were when you were loading up on sugar cookies and eggnog.
That's the word from a new study published in PLOS One. For the study, researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab tracked the supermarket spending habits of 207 households and found that, while shoppers filled their carts with more calories during the holiday season than they did throughout the summer and early fall, they bought even more after the New Year than during the holidays.
From January to March, they purchased 890 more calories per weekly serving (the total number of calories purchased for each person in the household to eat per week) than they did prior to November and 450 more calories per weekly serving than they did during the holidays, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. Surprisingly, the bulk of the calories didn't come from avocados, walnuts and other calorie-dense, health-promoting foods, but from foods filled with added fat, calories, sugar and salt.
But that's not to say that New Year's resolutions don't work. It's just proof of how hard habits really are to break, says study coauthor Drew Hanks, PhD, assistant professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University, who was the lead analyst for the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at the time of the study.
"After the holidays, people are buying more healthy foods, but they aren't letting go of their purchases of the unhealthy foods that they made during holidays, so they end up purchasing and consuming even more calories," Hanks says.
Not to mention, many people may use the spinach and Greek yogurt in their carts as an excuse to grab a candy bar while waiting in the checkout line, says Hanks, who recommends writing a shopping list before hitting the supermarket. "That way, you aren't going into the store on a wave of unhealthy momentum," he says.
Don't just focus on adding healthy foods to you diet—substitute them for unhealthy foods, advises dietitian nutritionist Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, LD, founder of YES! Nutrition, LLC. For instance, if you're stocking up on healthy grains like quinoa and freekeh, you can cut back on the white rice and refined grans, she says. And if you're buying berries and bananas, remember their natural sugars are meant to replace those in the candy aisle.