What Does Science Say: Self-affirmation & Eating.



If you’ve ever tried to stop eating sweets or tried to start drinking more water (half of your weight in ounces per day), I’m sure you know how hard it is to change health behaviors. 


Studies have shown that self-affirmation can positively influence healthy eating behaviors like eating more fruits and vegetables or help to avoid eating junk food[1].


What is self-affirmation, you might ask. Self-affirmation is words or actions that increase your positivity. It reduces your defense response (i.e., “I wasn’t going to start today anyway, I’ll start tomorrow”) and increases your motivation of changing a behavior[2]. 

One study showed self-affirmation strengthened individuals’ self-control over snacking, especially in those who think avoiding snacking will be too hard[3].


Another study showed self-affirmed individuals are more likely to increase their fruit and vegetable intake compared to non-affirmed individuals[4].


Lastly, after 2.5 months, women who completed a value and self-affirmation form at the beginning of a study weighed less, had lower BMI’s, and smaller waistlines by the end of the study than those who didn’t[5]. 


Self-affirmation not only has mental health benefits by increasing our positivity and making us more open-minded and receptive to messages1 about our health but in full circle benefits our nutritional health and well-being.


So how do we practice self-affirmation regarding changing an eating behavior...


Step 1: Choose one of your values relating to healthy food or eating

Example: Eating 3 cups or servings of vegetables each day


Step 2: Why is this important to you, and when in your life has this been important (a time)?

Example: Eating more vegetables will help me feel more energized throughout the day. Eating more veggies, in the long run, will lower my risk for cardiovascular or gastrointestinal diseases, which runs in my family. This is important to me when working or studying, I feel less fatigued when I have more vegetables in my diet.


Step 3: Create a statement(s) to repeat to yourself in tough times that will remind you of how valuable this health behavior change is to you.

Examples: “I feel great when I eat more vegetables,” “Nourishing my body feels great!”


That’s it! You have self-affirmed. Self-affirmation helps individuals deal with threats head-on by accepting them as reality and taking steps to deal with them directly[6].


Try it the next time you are making a new change in your diet or eating habits. This may sound silly at first, but research has proven self-affirmation has incredible benefits for health behavior changes! 


References


1.           Epton T, Harris PR. Self-affirmation promotes health behavior change. Health Psychology. 20081124;27(6):746. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.27.6.746


2.           Psychology of the Real Self: Psychoanalytic Perspectives | Elsevier Enhanced Reader. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.27055-4


3.           Churchill S, Jessop DC, Green R, Harris PR. Self-affirmation improves self-control over snacking among participants low in eating self-efficacy. Appetite. 2018;123:264-268. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.12.028


4.           Harris PR. Combining self-affirmation with implementation intentions to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Psychology. doi:10.1037/hea0000065


5.           Logel C, Cohen GL. The Role of the Self in Physical Health: Testing the Effect of a Values-Affirmation Intervention on Weight Loss. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(1):53-55. doi:10.1177/0956797611421936


6.           Affirm Yourself. Psychology Today. Accessed May 20, 2020. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/redirect/201203/affirm-yourself

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Scarleth Castro,BA Nutritionist, Health & Fitness Educator

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