fresh produceMost of us are raised to eat around emotional situations. When we have something to celebrate, we go out, have a “nice dinner,” and raise our glass. When we mourn the loss of a loved one or celebrate the birth of a child – or when we get fired or accept a new position; when we end a relationship or start a new one – we recognize the event with food and drinks.

And let’s not even get started on the holidays. They can be all about indulgence.

Of course, after a night of indulgence, you may wake up and feel horrible, in all senses of the word. Your body feels heavy and bloated, energy levels are low, and you just feel slow.

The comfort and pleasure of instant gratification has given way to something that can feel more like withdrawal.

You may feel grumpy, short-tempered or heavy with feelings of regret, guilt, and even shame. Your conscience may start to bother you as you calculate the calories, carbs, and sugar you enjoyed.

But just as there can be negative emotional responses to unhealthy eating, there are positive emotional responses to healthy eating.

In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that those benefits come relatively quickly. Analyzing food diaries from more than 12,000 Australian adults, the authors found that

Increased fruit and vegetable consumption was predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being. They were up to 0.24 life-satisfaction points (for an increase of 8 portions a day), which is equal in size to the psychological gain of moving from unemployment to employment. Improvements occurred within 24 months.

For one real-life example of the effects of swapping out sugary, hyper-processed food for the real deal, check out the story of this guy who quit sugar and alcohol for just one month:

As ever, the best way to eat healthy food is to buy real food. There are no labels on raw fruits and vegetables.

Of course, sometimes the hardest part of eating healthier is letting yourself accept that fruit and vegetables actually taste good. Really good. There are more ways of preparing these foods than you might imagine – so many different cooking methods, seasoning options, and uses! If you don’t typically eat a lot of fresh food today, you may need to “trial and error” a bit before just *knowing* that you’re not going to like it. So throw some spinach in your lasagna. Try spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles. Wrap that taco in a lettuce leaf. Sautee some onions and green peppers to add to your egg and cheese omelet.

For other easy ways to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in your meals, browse these recipes to see just a few alternatives to our standard carb-filled plates. (There are plenty more out there!)

And instead of recognizing a colleague or family member with indulgent but not exactly healthful food, consider a different kind of treat. For instance, why not spend the money on an activity or gift card toward a fun way to spend time (movie tickets, art exhibit, escape rooms, or just a couple of hours of PTO)?

After all, there’s something else science shows: Experiences are more meaningful than things.

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