Writing down feelings after food can lead to healthy eating

Teaching people to observe and document how they feel after eating certain foods can be a highly effective way to encourage healthy eating and other positive lifestyle changes, researchers report.

To measure the effectiveness of behavioral change programs on patient well-being, students from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University partnered with Eating for Your Health, a New Jersey organization that promotes healthy eating, to conduct a 10-day healthy eating challenge.

“Working with the Eating for Your Health team not only impacted my personal idea of food and lifestyle but transformed my vision for pharmacy and showed me the multidimensional role we play in health care,” says Marta Galagoza, a Rutgers doctoral student in pharmacy and a co-researcher of the project.

Fifty-eight Rutgers health care professionals, staff, and students enrolled in the study, representing a variety of health care fields, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, physical therapy, social work, nutrition, and pharmacy.

Researchers showed participants how to prepare healthy breakfast recipes and asked them to observe, document, and reflect on how they felt after eating.

These observations, called How You Feel is Data, are a pillar of Eating for Your Health‘s educational approach, representing the connection between how food affects both the body and brain as an important step toward living a healthier life.

In addition to meal preparation instructions, participants received nutritional resources, encouragement, and a platform to communicate with each other.

After the 10-day challenge, 37 participants completed a survey detailing their experiences and whether their eating habits had changed as a result. Findings of the survey included:

  • 86% of participants said they were confident that they would change their eating habits moving forward.
  • 84% said they would eat a wider variety of foods and 46% said that they would eat more fiber.
  • 62% said they planned to prepare food in larger batches and the night before to improve their eating habits.

Typically, health care providers have limited time to engage with patients about lifestyle choices and healthy habits, but Mary Wagner, an associate professor in pharmacy and the lead faculty member of the study, sees opportunities for change.

“Pharmacists can create niche spaces in their practices to provide health coaching to patients, but to help patients reverse harmful habits, they first need to figure out what motivates people to change,” says Wagner. “Implementing specific tools, such as the How Your Feel is Data method, can allow health care providers to empower their patients to foster mindful eating habits and other positive lifestyle changes.”

“While behavior change can be difficult, this study shows that observing, journaling, and self-discovery can support the process and improve the long-term health of patients,” says Marion Reinson, executive director of Eating for Your Health.

“Experimenting with foods and recipes and listening to and understanding your body’s reaction is a self-directed, effective, proactive first step toward discovering a sustainable and stabilizing way of eating that works for you.”

Wagner and her students are continuing to work with Eating for Your Health to develop evidence-based curriculums, such as diabetes and bone health, for Rutgers University and other community organizations.

Researchers will present their findings at the New Jersey Pharmacists Association’s annual meeting.

Source: Rutgers University

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