We live in a country where we have many choices, including many food choices. For example, the Food Marketing Institute estimates that the average number of items carried in US supermarkets in 2016 was 38,900 products. Sometimes it seems that the number of choices available in the average aisle of a supermarket is both overwhelming and absurd.
And the abundance of choice exists not just in the grocery aisle. Restaurant eating accounted for 48% of the American family food dollar in 2017 (compared to 25% in 1955). That demand has brought about an abundance of choices. In the town where I reside, if I want pizza, I can choose from 42 different establishments. If I want Mexican, I can choose from 15 different restaurants. For dinner in a hurry, I will have to make a choice among 37 contenders for my fast food order.
Our busy lifestyle combined with an abundance of choices contributes to the difficulties that we often face when trying to make healthy food choices.
There are several good strategies for combating the impact of these excessive number of choices on our dietary habits:
Cook at home: Recent research (2017) showed that people who eat home cooked meals more than 5 times a week (as opposed to less than 3 times a week) not only consumed more fruits and vegetables, but also were 28% percent less likely to be overweight and 24% less likely to have an excess percentage of body fat. This is not surprising because when you cook at home (from the limited food choices in your kitchen) you know what is going into your meal and you can adapt recipes to accommodate your health goals. Yet, life is busy and, for many, cooking at home most nights of the week seems unrealistic.
Get Educated: Reading Nutrition Facts labels can certainly help, but with so many choices to evaluate, even that strategy is of limited benefit. We are busy people. The Hartman Group did a study (2016) that found that even when people were watching their weight, only 59% frequently or almost always read Nutrition Facts labels on food products. When it comes to dining out, a recent study (2016) showed that while 1 in 4 consumers had a restaurant-specific app on their smartphone, only 16% had looked up nutritional information while dining in a restaurant. Detailed nutrition facts about the foods available to us can be very useful in making healthy food choices, but only if we take the time to study them.
The truth is that, sometimes, I am in a hurry. I am out and about and don’t have time to go home to make a meal and didn’t have time to make a meal to take with me before I left the house. The truth is that, sometimes, I am distracted. I am preoccupied with reading, writing or socializing and I don’t have the mental bandwidth to investigate 4 different nutrition facts labels before I make my food choice.
I recently remembered another strategy that has helped me greatly in making good food choices, even when I am busy and distracted. That strategy is prayer.
Last October, I was in my busy day and had to stop for a quick lunch. Based on my location, I had two choices of where to eat lunch: Culvers and Panera Bread.
It was the last day of the Indian Summer and I really wanted my lunch to also be an opportunity to savor the last warm day of the year before the cold weather began in earnest. As I pondered my choices, my first thought went to Culvers. I could get a kid’s meal that had a small cheeseburger, small fries, small drink and a small serving of frozen custard. That cool frozen custard appealed to me as the perfect way to savor the last really hot day of the year. I don’t believe in labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, but I knew that, based on what I had eaten so far that day and had planned for dinner, this particular meal was not the best choice for me at that moment. But, I wanted it anyway.
And so, I prayed a prayer that helped me then and has helped me many times since. “Lord, please help me to choose what is better.” As soon as I silently spoke those words, God answered my prayer by reminding me that Panera Bread had outdoor seating. I could order a cool salad and a cool flavored water and sit outside on that sunny and hot day to enjoy experiencing the last warm day of the year. It was perfect! I had a healthy meal and a great experience.
Life is about choices.
In the classic story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), Mary and Martha both had choices. Martha was corrected not for choosing something bad, but for failing to choose the best option. Mary was commended because, considering her two choices, she had “chosen what is better.”
In talking with the Corinthians about their freedom to make choices (1 Corinthians 10:23), Paul provides some clarification to their statement, “I have the right to do anything” by reminding them that:
“…but not everything is beneficial.”
“…but not everything is constructive.”
There are many ways to go about making good food choices. In a perfect world, we would all take the time to cook at home and take the time to research the nutritional value of the foods we eat at home and in the restaurant. But most of us don’t live in that perfect world. And for most of us, there are other factors that influence our food choices, such as our social interactions and our physical and emotional state.
With so many choices coming at us and so many confounding variables that affect our choices, may I suggest that one important part of making good food choices is simply to pray the following prayer:
“Lord, among the food options available to me,
please help me to choose
what is better, beneficial and constructive.”
How about you? Have you considered prayer as an effective way to help yourself make good food choices? Will you commit to praying this prayer this week? May God help you as He helped me on that hot day in October!
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About the author:
Hello! My name is Ginger Hill and I am a Christ follower and a wellness professional. Over the years, I have personally and professionally seen the benefits of healthy living and I have also seen the hardships of struggling to practice good health habits in the midst of a busy and sometimes stressful life. I am passionate about helping myself and others to live a healthy lifestyle and I believe that good health is essential in helping us to do the good works that God has called us to do. Because I am a work in progress, I write these blog posts to encourage myself and I share them with others in the hope that they may be encouraged as well.
Psalm 92:12,14 (NLT)
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