3 Keys to Better Eating Habits Revealed By Research
When it comes to changing habits and setting goals, health related items usually top our list.
Exercising more, losing weight, or eating healthier. It doesn’t really matter who you are, we’ve all had one of these on our self-improvement checklist.
Changing our behavior is never easy, but a recent study gives us some clues how to do at least one of these things.
Develop better eating habits.
Why Do People Snack?
A new article published in the British Journal of Health Psychology explored why people might snack when their long term goal is to actually be a healthier eater.
To start, researchers surveyed participants with sets of questions. They gauged levels of motivation, intentions, current eating habits, views on the costs and benefits of a healthier diet, and their level of self-control.
Over the next two weeks, the participants used an app to record what they ate along with a number of other details. This included if it was a meal or snack, their current mood, if other people around them were eating, and other possible situational cues related to eating.
The app would also have participants report on these factors at random times throughout the day (as opposed to when they were just eating.)
What did the data reveal?
Biggest Factors That Lead to Snacking
The researchers concluded that:
The results demonstrate that snacking is largely guided by momentary cues and that motivational-level factors may be less important in guiding snacking than previously thought.
What’s that mean exactly?
They found the strongest factor in whether someone chose to snack or not depended less on things like willpower, intentions, and past behavior. Instead it was a person’s social and environmental cues that were more likely to lead to snacking.
Here were the biggest factors – or cues – that led someone to snack
- Other people eating snacks nearby
- Stress and low mood
- The availability or easy access of snacks or fast food
3 Keys for Healthier Eating
The study complements a bunch of other research relating to health, willpower, and habits. Here are 3 important ways it adds to other research on healthy eating (and habits in general.)
1. Don’t rely on willpower. Yes, there will be occasions where you might need to resist snacking. Especially when Diane brings in a big box of donuts and leaves them in the break room.
For one, research shows that we overestimate our self-control. We think we have ironclad willpower, when in reality we’re just human. This leads to goal failure.
To be fair, researchers did see that those with more willpower consumed less calories snacking. But this wasn’t as big a factor as the other cues. Emphasizing that willpower should be a last line of defense, not a first resort.
There are two other things we can do instead…
2. Avoid Temptation. There is growing research that those who are more successful in achieving their goals don’t actually have better willpower. They’re better at avoiding temptation all together.
The best way to avoid temptation is being aware of what triggers your eating behavior. Then do your best and plan ahead and limit your exposure to those types of situations.
3. Change Your Environment
People don’t realize that many habit cues come from our environment and social situations. Our emotions and moods have also been shown to influence our motivation for long term goals.
like having snacks within reach or line of sight. Find out how you can change your environment to promote the behavior you want.
So managing your stress or moods can go a long way in helping you stay on track. Making sweets less convenient to retrieve, like putting them out of sight or hard to reach spot, can nudge you in the right behavioral direction and promote healthier eating.
Willpower has been linked to a lot of positive life outcomes. And the media can tout it as the way to better living.
“Want better eating habits? Then boost your willpower!”
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that. Self-control is still important, but it’s not the amazing life hack that people make it out to be.
Science and researchers are not only rethinking willpower, but studies are showing us it’s not the best or most effective route. This most recent study is another example of what we should be doing instead.