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Want to Eat Less Junk Food? Serve Yourself

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If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier, you should be taking control of your food—in the literal sense. A new study finds that if you serve yourself, you eat smaller portions of junk food and desserts, as the Science of Us and The Wall Street Journal report. The study, led by USC marketing researcher Linda Hagen, found that the more people are physically involved in serving their food, the less interested they are in unhealthy snacks.

The researchers tested their hypothesis out over the course of five tests. In one, they invited students to help themselves to either dried fruit or Reese’s Pieces off a table. Sometimes, the table setup required students to scoop their own snack out of a bowl, while other times, the cups were already set out with 45-gram portions of the snack. The researchers later measured how much of the snacks in bowls or cups had been taken. In another test, people rated how healthy they felt after eating certain snacks, either pre-portioned or not.

Overall, the researchers found that participants were more inclined to choose large portions of unhealthy food if they didn’t portion the snacks out themselves. But there was no effect when people served themselves healthy food.

Eating choices affect how people see themselves, so when people choose to eat unhealthy foods, they feel bad about themselves. Previous research has found that eating in front of a mirror can help make people enjoy dessert less, since people have to confront their own choices in an immediate way. The researchers found that people felt less responsibility for their choices when served by someone else, and thus they felt better about eating unhealthy food.

However, slicing your own cake isn’t the only way to make healthier choices. Other studies have found the best way to increase self control is not to exercise greater willpower in the face of temptations but to take away those temptations altogether. So put away the pie. But if you must, don’t let anyone else slice it for you.

[h/t Science of Us]

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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