Don’t NAG your family, instead NUDGE them towards better nutrition
As I was writing this column, my husband came home from a bike ride and opened the pantry and then the fridge. I know he was after potato chips, but instead ended up munching on a ready-made plate of veggies and dip. Nutrition nudging was at work.
While there is no exact definition for nutrition nudging, you experience “nudging” every day from a wide range of marketers and advertisers in just about any type of business you can think of. The sales tactic of nudging involves making an item look appealing or easy to grab. The key with nudging is to walk the fine line of not being so subtle the cue to make a decision is lost and not being too forceful that the cue to make a decision repels.
If you are the health leader of the family and have struggled to sell the benefit of a healthy diet to your significant other or kids, you may have been met with resistance and limited success. Instead of trying to nag or coax them to eat healthy, try the gentler and likely more effective approach of nutrition nudging.
One of the reasons change is hard is because we are wired to seek pleasure and repel pain. This concept, known as the pleasure principle, makes it hard to change a habit.
Expecting an unmotivated family member to take the time to chop up raw veggies for lunch or wake up earlier to eat a healthy breakfast is destined for failure. You may not like the fact that you need to chop extra veggies and prepare an extra breakfast, but you have removed one barrier in creating the path of less resistance.
The same goes for family members who adore junk food. It is very difficult to come into the kitchen and choose between fruit hidden in the fridge drawer or cookies in a jar on the counter. If you want them to eat the oranges or watermelon, then the cookies need to be out of sight and the watermelon and oranges need to be sliced and ready to eat.
Being wired to take the path of least resistance also means that one of the best ways you can support a family member with hard to manage sweet or savory foods that are frequently overindulged is simply buying smaller portions less often. This may sound like common sense, but I am often surprised how often someone who does not struggle with overeating will become frustrated when a family member can’t display the same level of willpower as they do.
As a chocoholic, married to a potato-chip-aholic, as a family we do best not stocking our pantries full of chocolate and chips. We also don’t choose to restrict these foods but instead buy these in package sizes that are designed to be eaten all at once (after all most of us eat packages not portions). Stockpiling family-size, two-for-one bulk packages would be grounds for frequent eating frenzies, that would be eaten more than necessary to satisfy a craving.
Keep in mind we are all subject to what researchers call sensory specific satiety, which means our senses (taste, smell and sight) get overwhelmed and numbed when we experience the same repetitive stimulus. This means that although it may be cheaper to buy a ten-pound bag of apples this week, it may limit the amount of fruit your family wants to eat this week. It may be more effective to spend a bit more on six different types of fruit at the grocery store to encourage your family to eat more fruit.
Our eyes are much more in charge of what we eat than our stomach. The more variety, often the more we eat. One of the reasons people commonly overeat at a buffet, for example, is due to the fact we love to sample a variety of things.
If you want your son or daughter to eat more vegetables at supper then be sure to offer two different types. More vegetables overall will be consumed if you offer cucumber slices and steamed peas with carrots than if you just offered steamed peas alone.
On the other hand, if you have a family member that needs to reduce the portion size of their supersized meat serving at dinner, lecturing them to eat less as they are dishing up will likely be doomed for failure. If instead you intentionally cooked and served a few ounces less (or cut off oversized portions and left these on the counter for lunch tomorrow instead of the dinner table) you may be far more successful achieving change.
While nutrition nudging does create more work and planning, it can be far more effective than nutrition nagging.
Article originally appeared in the Calgary Herald Newspaper
Need help with nutrition nudging in your home? Contact us about a personal nutritional counselling program to create strategies and tools to nudge your home towards better nutrition choices.