Trying to Eat Better? Think Positive, Not Negative

Out of the Cornell Food & Brand Lab comes a new study that shows when it comes to helping you and your loved ones eat better – focus on the positive.

Instead of dealing with frustration and feelings of deprivation that results from thinking “no, no, no”…think yes!  Yes, I can eat this delicious fruit, and Yes, it will make me healthy, and Yes, I’m doing something good for myself that will make me feel good about me!

The study showed that it’s not useful to tell someone that “you’ll get fat if you eat that cookie”.  It’s far more effective to focus on the positive – “Here’s the good news!  Eating more vegetables will make you healthier!”

The study showed that public health campaigns that focus on fear – bad  consequences like getting fat from eating candy or drinking chocolate milk – aren’t effective.  Staying positive, pointing out benefits and affirming healthy behaviors is far more valuable than negative messages.

As reported, it’s better to focus on Do rather than focusing on Don’t.

good food bad food

Collating the data from 43 published international studies showed that for nutrition professionals like registered dietitians and doctors, negative messaging reaffirmed their knowledge and toughed their beliefs.  But for the average consumer, learning why it is a good idea to eat that apple – what were the health benefits – was better than hearing why eating that cookie was a bad idea.

So the take-away is for healthy weight management campaigns should focus on the positive – that’s what people respond to.  As Brian Wansink, PhD director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and author of Slim by Design said, “If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers.”
For people who are thinking about losing weight, first set a goal – a realistic one.  How do you lose weight?  One pound at a time.  Each day that you make healthy choices, and get some deliberate activity  – walking fast, taking the stairs, dancing, swimming, hiking – is a day that builds on itself.  The more consistent you are at saying “yes” to healthy, whole foods the more your body will respond to your choices.
These findings compliment a recent 2015 publication in Nutrition Reviews, and it will be presented at the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior’s Annual Conference 2015 in Pittsburgh by Brian Wansink, PhD and Lizzy Pope, Ph.D. University of Vermont (previously with the Cornell Food and Brand Lab).

The Food and Brand Lab was founded at the University of Illinois in 1997 by Professor Brian Wansink and moved to Cornell University in 2005. The Lab is an interdisciplinary group of graduate and undergraduate students from psychology, food science, marketing, agricultural economics, human nutrition, education, history, library science, and journalism along with a number of affiliated faculty.

Their research is independently funded by grants and consumer groups. It focuses on better understanding consumers and how they relate to foods and packaged foods. Their research has driven the creation of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN)—two programs devoted to the funding, conduction, and dissemination of research concerning children’s health. Research from the lab has been reported in dozens of magazines along with coverage on CNN, 20/20, ABC News, NBC News, and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.