All too often we find ourselves getting hung up on what we are or aren’t putting in our mouth to achieve a healthy weight, or health in general. While putting the right things into our mouth is a big piece of the puzzle, it is often a challenge given our fast-paced environment and demanding lifestyles.
Could it be something as simple as expressing gratitude that can have a positive impact on our eating behaviour? Quite possibly, according to a recent study by the University of California!
The researchers investigated the capacity of gratitude to motivate individuals to eat more healthfully. The main study involved over a 1,000 adolescence which ran for four-weeks with a three-month follow-up (following an initial smaller, shorter study).
Participants were assigned to one of four groups; participants in the first three groups were tasked with writing a letter of gratitude each week to someone who either helped them with their health, helped them with their academics or did something kind for them. Participants in the fourth (control) group was asked to list their daily activities.
Participants of the first three groups also engaged in a self-improvement activity, and additional reading and writing tasks before writing their letters, to further evoke the feeling of gratitude. Those in the control group focused on the importance of being organised. No participants were instructed or guided on how to eat healthfully for the study.
The study monitored eating behaviours before the experiment and upon completion, then again three months later. A range of negative and positive emotions was also measured each week.
Those who wrote letters of gratitude reported healthier eating behaviours than the control group after the four weeks, and still (but to a lesser degree) three months later. Interestingly, this was applicable to all of the gratitude groups, not just the group that focused on health. The researchers also found that their reduction in negative emotions exerted more influence over better eating habits than changes in positive emotions such as connectedness, elevation, indebtedness, humility.
“The effect of gratitude on healthy eating, though small, is particularly striking when considering that small changes in diet among youth may aggregate across an individual’s lifespan.” The gratitude researchers concluded.
So how can we all get a little more gratitude onto our day?
- Find gratitude in challenges- not just positive experiences.
- Appreciate the small things, not just the big ones- you’ll be thankful more often.
- Do more things that make you happy- being happy can make you grateful.
- Volunteer- giving back make you appreciate things you may take for granted.
- Take time each day to focus on the positive things in your life and what you are grateful for.
- Spend quality time with your favourite people and appreciate it more.
- Express your gratitude- don’t be afraid to thank people!
While practising gratitude isn’t going to overhaul your eating behaviours, it can definitely have a great impact on both mind and body. These benefits include reducing stress, improving sleep, strengthening the immune system, and healthier eating! As the study highlighted, the negative pressures in our life our are more likely to impact our eating behaviours. I’m sure most of us can relate to reaching for chocolate, ice-cream or a bag of chips when we are feeling negative emotions, such as upset, stressed or bored. But this is rarely the case when we are feeling positive about life.
So instead of focusing only on things like- how much I ate, what I can’t I eat or what I should be eating, maybe we should all take little time to stop, think and be grateful. Is this another piece of the balanced approach to eating puzzle we have been looking for?
Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults. Fritz, M.M., Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.08.011
By Jennifer Peters, ANutr
Public Health Nutritionist