Eating healthier tops the list of many New Year’s resolutions but despite the best of intentions it is not always easy to do.
One very novel approach to help promote positive eating habits is to cultivate positive emotions. One such positive emotion is the practice of gratitude.
Gratitude is a state where a person acknowledges that they have obtained a positive outcome, opportunity or benefit from an external source such as another person. Grateful people are more likely to have a positive outlook on life, are more likely to be happier, less depressed, more socially connected and even sleep better.
So how could a practice of gratitude affect eating behaviours?
To answer this a research team divided over 1,000 teenagers into one of four different groups. Each group spent five minutes per week over the course of a month writing about one of four different topics.
The topics were: gratitude to someone who helped them with their health; gratitude to someone who helped them with their academics; gratitude to someone who did something kind for them; or a list of their daily activities (the control group).
To reinforce the sense of gratitude, the students also spent 30 minutes each week improving themselves in the area associated with their writing area be it health, study or kindness.
For those in the gratitude groups, they were also asked to read gratitude testimonials and to write about the cost and benefit of the gratitude they felt to themselves and the person giving it.
Students in each of three gratitude groups reported having healthier eating habits as assessed by a diet questionnaire at the end of the month compared to those who just listed their daily activities. Even three months after the gratitude practice finished, they still had better eating habits.
How could gratitude improve food choices?
One reason is that the practice of gratitude can lead to decreased negative emotions such as stress, boredom and sadness. Such negative emotions can drive a person to make poor food choices as they seek out ‘comfort food’ that can have less healthy nutrients.
Practising gratitude is not a ‘quick fix’ solution for overhauling eating habits but it is one that can help move a person in the right direction. Because gratitude takes the focus off ourselves and onto other people, it helps lessen negative emotions and give a more positive outlook to all aspects of life – including a person’s relationship to food.