Optimism linked to healthier eating among women

March 30, 2014 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News

Optimism linked to healthier eating among women

Women with a positive disposition may also have an easier time adopting healthy habits, according to a new study from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Researchers found that women who were more optimistic were better able to follow healthy eating guidelines, both when they were instructed to do so and when they chose to make changes on their own.

The researchers noted that the biggest help for making diet improvements is not necessarily optimism itself, but the skills that tend to go with it.

People who want to make lifestyle changes should focus on skill-based factors that can help them whether or not they are an optimist, the lead researcher said.

The study used data collected as part of the Women's Health Initiative, a study of a national sample of postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79.

The researchers analyzed data from two groups of women: more than 13,500 who had been part of a program to improve their nutrition - mainly by decreasing fat intake - and another 20,000-plus who were not asked to make any changes to their diet.

The women's optimism levels had been evaluated with a questionnaire as part of the study. Another survey aimed to evaluate the overall healthfulness of participants' diets at the beginning of the study and one year later.

The team found that the most optimistic one third of the women saw the most improvement in their diets, whether or not they had completed the nutrition program.

The least optimistic women also started out with less-healthy diets, on average, than those who had positive dispositions.

Yet optimism itself is almost beside the point, say the researchers.

People who want to adopt healthier behaviors - whether quitting smoking, eating more vegetables or getting more exercise - should instead focus on the skills that tend to make optimistic people successful at those ventures.

One such skill is self-regulation, or being aware of one's behavior as it is unfolding. In the case of healthy eating, that includes monitoring eating habits, whether by making a mental note or keeping tabs in a journal.

Self-regulation is "choosing what you are eating and making a conscious decision in that moment.

Another strategy to successfully adopt a new habit is finding healthy ways to cope with unpleasant emotions and stress instead of, for example, eating junk food or smoking. For junk food addicts, that means getting the unhealthy foods they tend to reach for when stressed out of the house, and channeling frustration into something more productive.

The goal is to help you move past that stressful moment instead of reaching for food.

Optimistic people may also have better social support, whether as a cause or a result of their more-positive thinking. That's important because the support of friends and family can make it easier to get healthy.

"It doesn't really matter if you're an optimist or a pessimist. Either way, you can make positive changes to your diet," the lead researcher said.

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online February 21, 2014.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.