Healthy eating – can it get easier? Wondering if there is a way to master healthy eating? If healthy eating was a habit and less of a task, it would be easier, right? But for most of us healthy eating is hard. Especially when holidays are around the corner, it can be hard to turn dieting into a routine. A little snack or dessert during a family dinner, a meeting or to kill boredom, can sometimes become more than a little snack!
Our mind gets confused between “nourishment and limitation” vs. “mindless eating and regret”. Let’s understand how to promote healthy food choices on your food shelf and the psychology behind healthy eating.
What is a Nudge?
Well, Behavioral scientists and researchers have got us covered. Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in Economics and is the author of “Nudge”. It has been front and center in the interest of researchers and policymakers. A simple definition of nudge is “an intervention that attempts to influence behaviors without using economic incentives and while preserving freedom of choice.”
What is Choice Architecture?
In simple terms, nudging or choice architecture is defined as “changing our environment so we can change our behavior without any force or influence.” Grocery stores and marketers have been using nudging for a significant amount of time to nudge customers toward buying more profitable items.
A meta-analysis of real-life experiments drawn from food science, nutrition, health economics, marketing, and psychology, identified seven healthy eating nudges. The behavioral nudges seemed to be the most effective. A behavior is a nudge that can facilitate an action rather than providing knowledge or inducing feelings. Research findings summarized that behavioral nudges can reduce daily energy intake by up to 209 kcal, the same number of calories as in 21 cubes of sugar.
We all use nudging behavior in our daily lives, don’t we? For example: setting a health intention before eating or being mindful of our food choices. But can we make little adjustments to where we place the food and make healthy eating easier? Yes, we can! Here are 7 strategies to “nudge” healthy eating.
Cognitive Nudges: What do you know? Using reason and judgment to make decisions
1. Descriptive Nutritional Labeling
Focusing on the calorie or nutrition labeling before you eat or purchase from the grocery store.
2. Evaluative Labeling
You can use green stickers for “heart-healthy” foods and place red stickers next to “unhealthy options”.
3. Visibility Enhancements
Place healthy foods as visible as possible. You can place them on an eye-level shelf or in transparent containers. Example: You can keep fruits on the kitchen counter or next to your workspace, so it’s the first thing you notice when you reach for a snack.
You could also place the produce in the refrigerator at an eye level. Keeping the chips in the “out of sight zone” reduces the chances of reaching for it. When it’s “out of sight”, it can be “out of mind too”!
Affective Nudges: How do you feel? Listening to emotions underpinning food and eating habits
4. Healthy Eating Calls
Using written or oral injunctions to consciously choose a healthier option. You can use statements like, “Make a fresh choice today”, “when you go to the kitchen, have a fruit first” or “Have a well-balanced meal for lunch”. You can also prepare a meal plan ahead of time, so when hunger strikes, you already have a plan in place!
For unhealthier choices, you can use statements like, “Your meal doesn’t look balanced” “Would you consider having half a portion” etc.
5. Pleasure enhancements
We are all attracted to “organic beetroot juice” or “organic green smoothie” rather than buying fresh kale or beetroot! Displays, photos, and containers of healthier/organic packaging can be an attraction. For example, you may choose to make zucchini noodles instead of regular noodles or place your berries in a beautiful container.
So it can inspire you to like the berries and enjoy the noodles as well. You may notice that this can transform the zucchini, beets, and berries into much more attractive options than a bar of chocolate!
Behavioral Nudges: What do you do? Directly engaging or changing the behavior.
6. Convenience Enhancements
Placing healthier options on the kitchen countertop like pre-sliced fruits or pre-portioned meals can increase the chance of making a healthy choice. You can easily select or consume. Placing unhealthier options at a less accessible or harder-to-reach spot would help you return to an already chosen healthier food. Example: You can place a bowl of nuts or pre-sliced fruits on the kitchen countertop, so when you feel bored or hungry, the chance of making a healthy choice is high.
You can see it and it’s ready for a “grab and go”! Example: When you are heading out, you can pick up an apple. So you have something to nibble on instead of a bag of chips!
7. Size Enhancements
We all love to enjoy an occasional chip or cake. However, it is important to place the “treat” into a small bowl while eating, rather than eating it from a bag or container. This works effectively to keep portions to a reasonable size. If you want a second serving, that’s completely fine. And don’t forget to savor every bite of the “treat”, because you deserve it!
Which Nudge works the best?
Compared to cognitive and affective nudges, behavioral nudges have been identified by researchers to be the most effective. When it comes to healthier choices, knowing more doesn’t always result in doing better. Whereas, a behavioral nudge reinforces a behavior to occur. Behavior involves an action or response to external or internal stimuli.
When we consciously start engaging in the behavior, it slowly starts to form a habit loop. And next time it becomes a routine that occurs repeatedly. The learned response starts to unfold into an innate, natural process, thereby allowing us to make a healthier choice!
Remind yourself that we can’t always eat healthy or healthy eating is not “perfect eating”. We can always strive to make a “healthier choice” instead. Eat mindfully – enjoy, savor, and relish every bite!
Looking to sleep better, eat a bit healthier, move more, build a practice of self-care, or just want to feel more energy each day? Let Shapa be your virtual coach. Shapa focuses your program based on YOUR lifestyle and YOUR goals so you can build healthy habits and achieve lasting results. Learn more about the Shapa difference
About the author:
Sujatha is the study manager and content creator extraordinaire on the Shapa Health team. With a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from India, she furthered her academic skills in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University, Indiana, USA. Currently, she resides in Chandler, Arizona. She has 4+ years of expertise as a mental health professional trained in psychometrics and psychotherapy working with children, adolescents and adults. Over the past 2 years, Sujatha developed a passion for mindful living, neuroscience research, human behavior and decision making, and is driven by curiosity and gratitude. As part of the Shapa Health team she designs personalized missions utilizing behavioral science and mindfulness techniques to improve the personal health journey of the Shapa community. When not at work, she enjoys baking, hiking and spending time with family. Connect with Sujatha on LinkedIn.