How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

| November/December 1998

Vegetable Gumbo with Cabbage
Spicy Mexican Walnut Mix

If you’re stumped about what to buy for a holiday gift, consider this: Some gifts may transform people’s lives for the healthier.

In a study published in the 1996 Journal of the ­American Dietetic Association, researchers conducted ­interviews with 150 people who had made notable ­improvements in their eating habits. Some of those interviewed mentioned gifts as pivotal ­influences.

“I think when people receive a gift, they feel obligated to try it—or eat it, if appropriate—when they might not do so otherwise,” says Cheryl Achterberg, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State and a researcher on the study. Gifts that may help change a person’s habits include unfamiliar or exotic fruits and vegetables that the receiver wouldn’t normally buy.

“Similarly,” Achterberg says, “an invitation to dinner for a different cuisine—for example, Indian—or a [gift] certificate to a different restaurant might again spur someone to try different foods that he or she may then incorporate more routinely into the diet.”

The findings show that one modest change can prompt several changes that researchers call a “clump.” Just one gift can trigger such a clump.

“Behavior change tended to occur in groups of about six to eight specific changes,” Achterberg says. “The gift of a wok might trigger an increase in ­cabbage and peppers, an increase in rice or complex carbohydrates, and a decrease in meat, as someone uses this appliance on a regular basis.”

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