If you’ve made it this far into 2020 saying no to sugar, yes to more vegetables, choosing mocktails over cocktails, or just ordering less take-out – congratulations! Today is “Quitter’s’ Day,” the day that most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions, according to research conducted annually by Strava, a social network for athletes.

Quitter’s Day is based on data about exercise, but other studies have shown similar, seemingly gloomy results. One study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed that just 71 percent of people hold to their resolutions for two weeks, and after six months that number drops to 46 percent.

That’s the glass is half-empty view. Another study by the same researcher shows that you are 10 times more likely to change if you make a New Year’s resolution than is a “non-resolver” with a similar goal.

Now, what will it take to get you through the rest of the month and even longer, until that hopeful resolution you made on Dec. 31 becomes a solid, year-round habit? We spoke to several Mainers who have given up their bad eating and drinking patterns, or are in the process of doing so — trying one of the new, not-so-scary plans with comparatively reasonable goals. They’ve signed on to social movements like Veganuary, as a way to try a vegan diet, for example, or Dry January, giving up alcohol for a month.

Here’s what they have to say about their experiences, along with a few tips for holding to whatever your New Year’s resolution may be:

JOSH BERRY

Executive chef, Union Restaurant, Portland

Josh Berry is an expert in self-denial. In 2017, the chef gave up eating meat for an entire year. In 2018, he went gluten-free. By dramatically changing his diet, Berry stepped into the shoes of the vegetarian and gluten-free diners who eat at Union Restaurant in The Press Hotel. The chef believes his personal experience helped him serve those customers better.

Last year, Berry kicked sugar out of his life. It was his most difficult challenge yet. One of Berry’s favorite binges is fries and ketchup, but ketchup is packed with sugar.

“Why does peanut butter have sugar in it?” he asked, irritation creeping into his tone. “You put jelly on it, or honey or chocolate. Juice is one of the most perfect sugar delivery systems. It’s bad.”

Berry allowed himself only the occasional spoonful of honey. “Sometimes,” Berry said, “you just need it.”

In his personal life, keeping to the challenge was, well, a challenge.  If Berry went out for pizza, he had to worry if there was sugar in the sauce. He made his own jam from dried figs and honey for PB&J for sandwiches. He read every label. “Once you really start digging into it, ” he said, “all these processed foods – crackers, everything —  has sugar in it.” He missed the opening of the dessert-only Gross Confection Bar in Portland, and salivated over the pastries that the owners of Belleville, also in Portland, posted on social media.

“It takes a lot of willpower to do this,” Berry said, and may cost more, too. “You’ve got to know what you’re getting into.” Processed foods, like salad dressing, often contain sugar and also often are cheaper than buying fresh ingredients to cook from scratch.

At work, Berry looked for ways to eliminate refined sugars from the Union menu. The pastry chef  ditched the refined sugar in the granola, substituting honey and maple syrup instead. (Union raises honeybees on the hotel’s roof.) “I had a motto of ‘trees and bees,'” Berry said. “Maple syrup was OK, and honey. How can I incorporate these natural things into our cuisine more?”

For those who would follow in Berry’s footsteps, he offers these tips: Plan ahead. Have recipes ready to go, and find creative snacks that won’t knock you off the sugar-free wagon. Ultimately, he’s optimistic that anyone can do it:  “I’d say if you can go 30 days, you can keep going.”

Berry (who plans to tackle intermittent fasting and portion control this year) ended his own sugar drought just as everyone else was setting their resolutions for 2020. After a crazy-busy New Year’s Eve dinner service at the restaurant, he stopped at a convenience store on the way home, bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream “and crushed the whole thing.”

“I had a stomach ache the next day,” he said, “but it was worth every bite.”

MATT PLACE

Territory manager, Athletic Brewing Co., Portland

For Matt Place, like many of the rest of us, the holidays were filled with cookies and rich dairy foods. Then there was that prime rib for Christmas dinner. He was feeling sluggish, and his weekend eating and drinking habits were starting to affect the early part of his work week.

Then, his employer, which makes non-alcoholic beer, teamed up with Baristas + Bites in Portland – a mostly vegan eatery on Fore Street – to promote Dry January and Veganuary. Together, they are marketing Athletic’s beer to customers who are cutting out alcohol for the month, as well as food specials such as the Resolution Power Bowl, made with lentils, kale, tomatoes, Fauxmaggio “cheese” and tomato vinaigrette. Learning about Veganuary inspired Place to do some research. He watched The Game Changers, a documentary about plant-based food that presented the environmental impacts of eating meat, and decided to try a vegan diet himself.

“Every meal before January in my life had some kind of protein,” Place said. “The vegan thing is a huge change to me.”

Inspired, he went a step farther: This fan of craft brews, who has worked in the beer business his whole career, decided to give up alcohol for a month as well. “Even in my new job, I still enjoy craft beers,” Place said, “but working for this company, it’s opened me up to the benefits of non-alcoholic beer.”

A couple of weeks in, Place said things are going “quite well.” He has more energy, and he’s performing at a high level at work and in his exercise routine. The most difficult adjustment, he said, has been navigating the vegan learning curve. He reads labels at the grocery store, always checking to see if the product contains dairy or egg, or searching for a “vegan” logo. He is cooking more, and packs a vegan lunch every day so he won’t be tempted to cheat. Honey-roasted chickpeas have been a blessing.

Will he continue with the diet after January? He’s taking it one week at a time. He expects he’ll probably do a modified version, saving meat for holidays and other special occasions. Cutting out alcohol has worked out so well that Place is considering extending his dry spell until his birthday in March.

How to stay motivated? Place says listen to your body. “I feel great when I’m not drinking,” he said.

BARBARA GULINO

Former team leader at Whole Foods Market in Portland and longtime Maine resident, now retired in Intervale, New Hampshire

A few years ago, Gulino tried a plant-based diet, but drank so many green smoothies she developed thyroiditis. In 2017, she went on the Paleo diet, which lowered her blood sugar, helped her heal from a herniated disk, and melted away 30 pounds.

Then she attended some weddings and birthday parties, with lots of cakes, pies, dessert bars and other temptations. “I started to go off my diet, just in small amounts,” she recalled. She gained five pounds, and didn’t feel well. “I knew I needed to start again.”

What she needed, she ultimately decided, was not another diet but a “reset.” So she and her husband, Len, agreed that this January they would follow the Whole30 plan. Kind of like a New Year’s resolution on steroids, Whole30 is an elimination-style plan that bans entire food groups, supposedly resetting the eaters’ systems and letting them figure out which of their health issues is caused by diet. After the 30 days are up, they slowly add back the various foods.

For 30 days, the Gulinos are giving up grains, legumes, added sugars, alcohol and dairy (“Oh man, that’s a killer,” said Gulino, a cheese lover who likes half and half in her coffee.) An easier-to-follow rule: No weighing yourself for 30 days.

“Within four or five days, I could really tell a difference,” Gulino said. “I feel more clear-headed. I’m sleeping better. I’m not so up and down in energy.”

Gulino has only been tempted once, by a bag of Lindt chocolate balls she discovered in a rental property, left behind by a guest. Gulino admits that she could easily “pop those suckers like popcorn.” No one would ever know if she had just one or two, she initially told herself. But then she confessed her temptation to her husband, and the chocolate went into a cooler, untouched.

At the end of January, Gulino plans to reintroduce sugar and dairy to her diet to see what happens. Of the two, she’s hoping sugar will be the problem, since she’d hate to banish cheese from her life.

Her advice to others interested in the Whole30 plan? “It’s all about planning and prep,” she said. Gulino began cleaning out her cabinets right after Christmas. She makes appropriate dishes ahead of time, with plenty for leftovers, to ensure something is always available to eat — a pot of Asian soup without the noodles, coleslaw with added fruit, chicken salad served on a bed of greens or with half an avocado. When meal time comes around, she’s hungry and ready to eat. But she isn’t worried about sticking to her monthlong plan. “I know I’m going to be able to finish it,” she said.

MELANIE BOLDUC

Sales rep for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits

You might think Melanie Bolduc’s bosses would have a problem with her decision to participate in Dry January, but you would be wrong. They encouraged it, she said.

Bolduc, a Portland resident who believes in the old saying “Everything in moderation,” occasionally takes a break from alcohol to clear her head and be good to her liver. This month is one of those times. “My body feels better when I take a break,” she said.

Instead of having a glass of wine or a cocktail before bedtime to help her fall asleep, Bolduc puts chamomile tea in her French press. She combines the break from alcohol with plenty of vitamins and lots of activity. It’s really more of a cleanse, she said.

“I have mental clarity,” she said. “I get up in the morning and I don’t need water or an aspirin. I feel fresh. I have a lot more energy.”

BRETT JOHNSON

Owner and designer, Maine Street Design Co., Portland

When Brett Johnson’s husband, Rowan, announced he wanted to try going vegan for a “physical reset,” Johnson decided to join him “for similar reasons, but also for our relationship. Things go better when we support each other, especially where our food and alcohol intake is concerned.”

Johnson doesn’t intend to stay vegan after Jan. 31, although he’ll probably eat more plant-based meals going forward. Besides supporting his husband, he’s interested in learning how to cook more plant-based foods “rather than Yankee meat and potatoes.”

When we checked in with him partway through the month, things were going well.

“It ‘s been really fun, especially with some of the ethnic foods, finding vegan or vegetable-based sauces, and learning about how much dairy is actually hidden in things,” he said. “It’s been a real eye opener.”

Johnson has enjoyed discovering the flavor possibilities of plant-based foods, and learning which fruits and vegetables have the most protein. He has also researched vegan alternatives to dishes the couple likes to eat, and he’s trying not to rely on meat substitutes, preferring to let vegetables stand in for the meat.

“Leading up to it, we did a fair amount of research, but I found myself kind of learning as I was going along,” he said. For starters, many standard pantry staples are not vegan. One night, Johnson made pad Thai, a dish ordinarily made with fish sauce. “I found a seaweed-based fish sauce that has a lot of the same flavors. I thought, ‘You know, I wouldn’t mind having something like that in my pantry on a regular basis.’”

The couple did have a period of adjustment. At first, it was hard getting enough protein, Johnson said. “For a while, there was a little bit of a brain fog,” he said. “It definitely changes your digestive system, and that was a challenge at first.”

But things are looking up. Johnson has already dropped six pounds and is eating far less than he used to while still feeling satisfied. He’s a little worried about the rest of the month, however. He is going to Atlanta for a weeklong business trip, and in late January he’s traveling to Florida, “and I’m thinking how much I will miss having seafood.”

“Fortunately,” he said, “French fries are vegan.”

Brett Johnson created this vegan pad Thai recipe for Veganuary. Courtesy of Brett Johnson

BRETT JOHNSON’S VEGAN PAD THAI

Serves 4

10 ounces thin brown rice noodles

1/4 cup sesame oil

1 (14-ounce) package firm tofu, cut on angle

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup vegan fish sauce

1/4 cup tamarind concentrate

3 tablespoons safflower (or other) oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chunky peanut butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more/less to taste

Toppings:

1 cup mung bean sprouts

1/2 cup shredded carrots

3 scallions, thinly sliced

Chopped peanuts, crushed red pepper flakes, and lime wedges

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil and boil the noodles for 10 minutes until tender. Drain, rinse to keep from sticking and cool. Set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the sesame oil in a wok. Fry the tofu, then remove and reserve.

Combine the sugar, fish sauce, tamarind, oil, soy sauce, lime juice, peanut butter, garlic and pepper flakes to make the sauce. Pour the sauce into the oil left from frying the tofu. Stir on low heat and lightly reduce. Add the cooked reserved noodles to the wok and toss to coat with sauce. Divvy up among four serving bowls. Let eaters add toppings to their taste.

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