Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Healthy eating

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Healthy eating:
What motivates healthy eating and how can this be fostered?
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.

Overview[edit | edit source]

This chapter looks at the factors behind why people eat an unhealthy diet and explains what an individual can do to foster the motivation to eat a healthy diet instead. There are many researches done into different factors which may affect what an individual chooses to eat; some of which will be shared in this chapter.

Why eat a healthy diet?[edit | edit source]

Check out this yummy salad.

There are many reasons as to why an individual would want to eat a healthy diet, such as:

  • Health (Prevention of illness equals a longer life)
  • Healthy ageing
  • Look good and feel good
  • Lose weight (Getting the perceived body of your dreams)
  • Save money (Fruit and vegetables are cheaper)
  • Increased amount of energy
  • Save the planet (Vegetarianism)
  • Spiritual beliefs (Can be cultural; for example Hindu's are vegetarian as they do not believe in the violence of killing animals)
  • Social pressure

What triggers unhealthy eating?[edit | edit source]

An individual must ask them self before starting to alter their diet to a healthier one, What went wrong in the past whilst trying to achieve a healthy diet? Were you perhaps too strict and did not allow any indulgences? Or maybe you allowed too many treats on a regular basis. There are usually certain situations or stimulants that trigger the need to eat unhealthy foods. Lechky (1995) suggests after having conducted studies, that strategies can be set in place with the assistance of a health professional to prevent unhealthy eating triggers. Lechky (1995) suggests that there is not enough communication between health professionals and patients, which leads to avoidance of healthy eating as an individual cannot always understand all the information put forward by the media. Lechky (1995) believes this may cause poor motivation and unless an individual makes a conscious effort to gain a more thorough knowledge of healthy eating the motivated behaviour of an individual will be blocked. Lechky (1995) recommends that people use less statisitical methods of analysing food and instead implement other strategies such as, visualising butter instead of fat in foods that are high in fat (for example how many pats of butter does a particular food contain rather than fat?) Lechky (1995) recommends the use of multiple strategies for avoiding the consumption of unhealthy food on a regular basis. Lechky's studies (1995) suggest that by looking into reasoning as to why a person may fail to adopt a healthy diet and implementing strategies to assist in motivating individuals to eat healthy and avoid unhealthy foods more people may swap to a healthier life style.

Economic theory[edit | edit source]

It is believed that the economic theory is what individuals base their foods choices upon whilst shopping or eating out (Finkelstein et al, 2004). The acronym TECHV is what the economic theory is based on, it stands for Taste, Economy (food prices and income), Convenience (opportunity costs), Health (including weight), and Variety (Finkelstein et al, 2004). Most people whilst shopping consider some if not all of these factors and make a decision accordingly, therefore Finkelstein et al (2004) believes that to adapt a healthy balanced diet at least one of the TECHV factors must be influenced. Finkeltein et al (2004) suggests that individuals need more of an education of how the nutrition content of foods is translated into actual health and from lack this knowledge therefore make bad food choices. Finkelstein et al (2004) states that due to advancements in technology, food in general and high energy-dense foods in particular; unhealthy foods have become less expensive and more convenient. This may mean that individuals need to start thinking outside their normal economic routine and consider alternatives that may not be more expensive such as fruit and vegetables. An individual just needs to consider trying new foods and anticipate spending more time preparing meals to stay motivated to eat in a healthy manner.

Why am I trying to change my diet?[edit | edit source]

This could be an important question when it comes to healthy eating that everyone should ask them self as it may change your perception of why you really want to change your diet to a healthier one. Putterman et al (2004) conducted a study on two of the main reasons why people change their diet; to change their bodily appearence and to improve their health. Which reason is setting you up to fail? Putterman et al (2004) found that individuals who were motiavted to change their diet in order to change their appearence were more likely to start using drastic dieting strategies compared to those who were motivated to change their diet to improve theri health, this put them at higher risk of harming themselves. Putterman et al (2004) also found through their studies that individuals who were changing their diet to change their appearence were more likely to score higher on measures of disinhibited eating or eating without restraint, however those individuals who changed their diet to improve their health came across fewer negative situations in which they may fail to retrain themsleves around unhealthy foods. The results from the study conducted indictated that the "typical dieter" (those who attempt to change their diet regularly) who stricted unhealthy foods completely experiences long periods of greatly restrained eating yet more periods of of over eating or binge eating of unhealthy foods (Putterman et al, 2004). These results show that setting a healthy eating goal that is too strict or restrained may lead to failure and relapse of unhealthy eating or binge eating (Putterman et al, 2004).This suggests that eating to improve overall health is associated with more positive eating behaviours (Putterman et al, 2004). This indicates that people may be setting themsleves up to fail eating a healthy diet only to change their bodily appearence, and are better of changing their diet to improve their health as they may benefit more from this approach (Putterman et al, 2004).

Elimination of obeseogenic determinants[edit | edit source]

What sorts of environments encourage unhealthy eating and how can we avoid sabotaging our health when this obeseogenic environment seems like it’s everywhere? Brug (2008) conducted studies into the determinants of motivation, ability and environmental factors related to nutrition behaviours. Brug (2008) believes that attitudes are an important determinant of motivation, as they are based on subjective weighing of expected positive and negative consequences of our behaviour . Other related determinants are decisional balance, outcome expectations and perceieved threat (Brug, 2008). Brug (2008) suggests that an individual believes that short term outcomes are more important than long term outcomes, for example taste, satiety and pleasure are short term outcomes of eating particular foods. However taste preference can be learned and unlearned depending on the surroundings or the company in social situations, for example an individual is not born liking the bitter taste of coffee it is usually learned through a process of operant conditioning (psychologically learning a behaviour through positive or negative reinforcements), this explains however why people learn to dislike the foods that they are allergic or intolerant to (Brug, 2008). Since unhealthy energy-dense foods provide these strong positive reinforcements, people often don’t associate them with negative effects and they do not have a large impact on individual choice towards unhealthy food (Brug, 2008). These results suggest that an individual should make an effort to understand their food choices and focus on long term consequences of food as well as short term consequences (Brug, 2008).

Brug’s study (2008) indicates that self-efficacy or perceived behavioural control is a strong determinant of one’s abilities, as this determines a person’s confidence in their ability and skills to engage in certain behaviours (for example if someone believes they can cut back on sugary foods even when faced with difficult barriers than they have a strong sense of self-efficacy and will have a better chance at succeeding). Brug (2008) suggests that self-efficacy is strongly related to practical knowledge of a topic as well as skills in the area, this means the more practical knowledge and skills a person has on how to eat a healthy diet the more likely they are to have a stronger sense of self-efficacy and therefore the more likely they are to succeed.

Healthy eating barriers many men face[edit | edit source]

Many people do not realise the difficulties many men face that prevents them from eating a healthy diet. Gough et al (2005) realises that men may have difficulties sticking to a healthy diet and has therefore conducted research into this issue. Gough et al (2005) suggests that much literature on men’s health highlights forms of masculinity as a negative factor which may affect men’s health behaviour. Gough et al (2005) found results in their study which suggest that two main barriers exist in men preventing them from eating a healthy diet, these are cynicism about the Government’s health messages and initiatives and rejection of healthy foods based on poor taste and lack of satisfaction. Gough et al (2005) interviewed 24 men on based on their opinion of the reasoning behind the lack of healthy eating in their life styles. There were many different reasons such as time constraint and expense, however most of the men mentioned criticisms towards the Government, such as the Government being overly intrusive (Gough et al, 2005). Other points were touched on such as the messages from the media being too “extreme” and “ineffective” and some men’s perception of a healthy diet was a particularly strict diet involving no or limited personal choice in foods consumed (Gough et al, 2005). Overall there appears to be a negative view held by many men aimed towards the Government and the healthy eating messages being presented, as many men describe the information as misleading, ideological and associated with great confusion (Gough et al, 2005).

Gough et al (2005) found that another major reason why men find it difficult to adhere to a healthy diet is that many of them associate it with a failure to satisfy. A preference for better tasting foods that are considered unhealthy or “bad” was evident (Gough et al, 2005). However many men rationalised their poor diet based on the perception that they were in fact already in a healthy state and did not see a great need to change their diet (Gough et al, 2005). One point that was mentioned was the distinction between masculine foods and “vegetarian” feminine foods, as some men believed that healthier options would not provide them with enough energy required for the day’s work and they would have to starve themselves in order to adhere to a healthy diet (Gough et al, 2005). Overall Gough et al (2005) found that much of the men interviewed had perceptions of eating that were linked to masculine conventions. To overcome this dilemma men could always take a step up and research healthy eating themselves if they are not satisfied with the Government’s representation of healthy eating, or join a healthy eating group or visit a nutritionist or dietician and learn from others that healthy eating is not about starving yourself or denying loved foods and it really does make a difference to your health and how you feel. Men may feel more motivated to adhere to a healthy diet by challenging their friends to join them in becoming healthier or by making an effort to try new healthy foods every day.

What do intentions have to do with it?[edit | edit source]

Some theories suggest that by forming intentions that match one’s regulatory orientation, (that means a person is pursuing a goal in a way that maintains their own personal values and beliefs) one is more likely to succeed in changing a behavior. Tam et al (2010) conducted a study into the effect that forming implementation intentions which match with one’s regulatory orientation have on unhealthy snacking habits. Tam et al (2010) found through this study that there was a difference in effectiveness in strong versus weak snacking habits. People with a weak unhealthy snacking habit snacked more readily on healthier foods once they had formed an implementation intention in general, however people with a strong unhealthy snacking habit broke their unhealthy snacking habit only when they had formed implementation intentions that specifically matched their regulatory orientation (Tam et al, 2010). Tam et al (2010) found that when people with strong unhealthy snacking habits failed to form an implementation intention which matched their regulatory orientation their unhealthy snacking behaviour was similar to or was than when they made no implementation intentions at all.

Tam et al (2010) identified two main processes involved with healthy snacking behaviour resulting from regulatory fit in food consumption habits; they are heightened motivation and intentional control of eating. This suggests a “value from fit” component is present which occurs when the behaviour of an individual is changed through the process of intensified motivation through fitting intentions with regulatory orientation (Tam et al, 2010). Tam et al (2010) has discovered that heightened motivation intensity is important in translating intentions into behaviour, if lack of motivation intensity is present than a person will struggle to achieve the desired change in healthy snacking or eating behaviour. Tam et al (2010) also suggests that heightened motivation assists in bringing the undesired behaviour under intentional control. Therefore to successfully achieve a change in unhealthy snacking or eating behaviour an individual must plan implementation intentions which match their regulatory orientations in order to heighten their motivation intensity and therefore bring their behaviour under intentional control (Tam et al, 2010).

Protection motivation theory[edit | edit source]

This theory presents the idea that motivation towards protection results from a perceived threat or the desire to avoid potential negative outcomes (Floyd et al, 2000). Floyd et al (2000) conducted an analysis on previous studies on the protection motivation theory, testing the effect this theory has on various health issues, although it is obvious how it can easily relate to the pursuit of a healthy diet. Floyd et al (2000) suggests that a cost-benefit analysis component is present in this theory in which individuals weigh the cost of taking precautionary action against the threat and the benefits expected from following through with that action. The results show that people when faced with a perceived threat tend to change their attitude and behaviour to conform to the threat, also when certain factors change such as threat severity, threat vulnerability and self-efficacy, adaptive intentions or behaviour is facilitated (Floyd et al, 2000). Floyd et al (2000) also determined that adaptive behaviour is further increased by a reduction in maladaptive rewards (Benefits of behaving in a disturbing manner) and adaptive response costs (Disadvantages of behaving in an appropriate manner).

Floyd et al (2000) determined that all components of the protection motivation theory is linked to healthy outcomes and the decision to take protective action is a positive approach as one must believe that they are at risk of being harmed. To adopt a coping process one must believe that this coping response will avoid dangerous aspects and that they have the ability to follow through with this coping action and behaviours (Floyd et al, 2000). Floyd et al (2000) discovered that the cessation stage of the coping process was most strongly related to a change in behaviour or intentions than in the initiation stage, this suggests that the protection motivation theory is more effective in getting an individual to stop performing a behaviour compared to starting a new behaviour. One way of looking at this point is to rather stop eating unhealthy foods to avoid chronic illness compared to start eating a healthy diet, as this may be a better coping method.

Healthy eating guidelines for Australia[edit | edit source]

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a food guide for Australia which reflects the multicultural nature of the Australian population and which is relevant for all sectors of the Australian food system to use and as a nutrition education and information tool for everyone. This section gives a quick overview of the current Australian healthy eating guidelines booklet. There are in fact five main food groups referred to by health professionals there are:

  1. Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
    multigrain bread
  2. Vegetables and legumes
  3. Fruit
  4. Milk, yoghurt, cheese
  5. Meat, fish, poultry (chicken and turkey), eggs, nuts, legumes

These main 5 food groups provide the body with the most important nutrients that the any body needs to function optimally. Extra foods are to be eaten occasionally and in moderation. Quantity: (For people over the age of 4 years old only)

  • Breads, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles= 4-5 serves daily (e.g. 1 serve= 2 slices of bread)
  • Vegetables and legumes= 5 serves daily (e.g. 1 serve= 1 cup of salad vegetables or 1 potato)
  • Fruit= 2 serves daily (e.g. 1 serve= 1 medium banana or 2 small apricots)
  • Milk, yoghurt and cheese= 2 serves daily (e.g. 1 serve= 250mL or 1 cup of milk or 40g or 2 slices of cheese)
  • Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes= red meat 3-4 serves weekly, 1-2 serves of fish weekly and include poultry throughout the week (e.g. 1 serve= 2 small chops or 1 third of a cup almonds)
  • Water= 8 glasses daily at least (more needed during physical activity or in hot weather)

To have a read through the guidelines follow this link:

References[edit | edit source]

Finkelstein, E., French, S., Jayachandran, N. V., & Haines P. S. (2004), Pros and cons of proposed interventions to promote healthy eating, American Journal of Preventive medicine (issue 27), 163-171. doi: 10 1016/j.amepre.2004.06.017

Floyd, D. L., Prentice-Dunn, S., & Rogers R. W. (2000), A meta-analysis of research on protection motivation theory, Journal of Applied Psychology (issue 30), 407-429

Brug, J. (2008), Determinants of healthy eating: Motivation, abilities and environmental opportunities, Family Practice (issue 25), 50-55. doi: 10 1039/fampra/cmn063

Gough B., & Conner M.T. (2006), Barriers to healthy eating amongst men: A qualitative analysis , Social science and medicine (issue 62), 387-395. doi: 10 1016j.socscimed.2005.05.032

Lechky, O. (1995), Persuasion techniques can motivate patients to change eating behaviours, symposium told, Canadian Medical Association (issue 4), 583-585

Putterman. E., & Linden W. (2004), Appearance versus Health: Does the reason for dieting affect dieting behaviour?, Journal of Behavioural Medicine (issue 27), 185-204

Tam, L., Bagozzi R. P., & Spanjol J. (2010), When planning is not enough: The self-regulatory effct of implementation intentions on changing snacking habits, Health Psychology (issue 29), 17-21

External links[edit | edit source]

Some helpful websites for those seeking more information on how to change to a healthier diet