Will power is not enough if you want to eat healthily

Consuming the right amount of fruit and vegetables every day is down to planning ahead, effort and motivation.

This is the finding of a study by researchers at the Lisbon University Institute published in the British Journal of Health Psychology today.

Researchers looked at the impact of potential obstacles to healthy eating and ways participants planned around this (coping planning). They also considered whether people were keeping track of their daily eating choices and making an effort to attain their goals (action control).

In a study conducted over three weeks, 203 participants aged 18 to 50 years, 85.2 per cent of whom were women, were asked to complete an online questionnaire at weeks 1, 2 and 3. Participants were asked to give responses to questions on a seven-point scale ranging from one (totally disagree) to seven (totally agree) on what they would expect the impact on their health to be when consuming the recommended daily intake; how they felt they might achieve the daily recommended intake; whether they intended to achieve it; how they might overcome barriers to achieving it, and the self-regulatory efforts behind their behaviour.

Participants were then asked to record how many items of fruit and vegetables they had consumed on a typical day in the previous week.

The study found that an understanding of the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, and the confidence in their own ability to do so, was key to an individual’s good intentions to consume the recommended daily intake. However, actual consumption was optimized when people had strategies in place to deal with situations that can undermine their healthy eating plan. Keeping track of their daily dietary choices, and making an effort to regulate them whenever their goals are not being met, also helped.

Cristina Albuquerque Godinho said, “We found that having strategies in place to deal with a range of eating situations that could undermine good intentions is very important, and helps people to regulate their daily dietary choices. Planning menus or taking fruit to the workplace are examples of strategies some people use to help them achieve their goals.”

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