Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder found that using incentives like money can help motivate people to change their dietary patterns -- for instance, add more fruits and vegetables to their diet -- even for a prolonged period of time. The team noted in their report that while self-monitoring can be used to motivate people to improve their lifestyle, their adherence declines over time. When incentives are added, long-term adherence to these changes.
In the study, the team took 128 participants classified into two groups – the first group comprised healthy people with no desire to change their weight. Meanwhile, the other group had overweight and obese individuals, all of whom joined the study with the goal of changing their lifestyle. For 21 days, the participants underwent diet intervention which included the consumption of fruits and vegetables. During the diet intervention, the participants reported self-assessment on food intake and measures on psychological factors. Moreover, the first group was only tasked to consume fruits and vegetables and conduct self-monitoring on their diet. The second group, meanwhile, received incentives amounting to $1 for every fruit and vegetable serving, a maximum of $5 a day, in addition to self-monitoring.
After analyzing the self-monitoring reports submitted by the participants, the researchers discovered that those who ate fruits and vegetables without incentives were eating 0.58 less servings in the last day of the intervention compared to how they consumed on the first day. Meanwhile, those who received incentives consumed 0.06 more servings in the last day compared on the first.
Moreover, using the subjects' reports on psychological factor measures such as stress, the team found out that even in stressful situations, those who received incentives persisted on keeping the healthy diet intervention. They consumed more healthy food on stressful days compared to those who did not receive money. According to the experts, this suggests an individual’s resolve in engaging in healthy behaviors can be bolstered through the help of monetary incentives -- even in stressful situations.
“These studies suggest that incentives may be a novel method for buffering against the negative effect of daily stress on eating a healthy diet. Diet is a key factor of human health, and additional research is needed in order to understand the psychological causes, consequences, and moderators of dietary behavior,” the researchers wrote.
Their study, titled “Stress and number of servings of fruit and vegetables consumed: Buffering effects of monetary incentives,” was published in the Journal of Health Psychology.
How the participants who received incentives responded during stressful situations holds potential, as in real-life setups with no incentives involved, people who suffer from stress are prone to engage in an unhealthy diet.
During stressful times, the body releases a hormone called cortisol -- a hormone responsible for elevating a person’s motivation, including eating. This is where the term “stress eating” came from. It is also called as emotional eating, where a person eats food not to fill his stomach but his emotional needs. This results in overeating.
Aside from stress, it can be caused by other emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness resentment, shame and boredom or the feeling of emptiness. In addition, it could be a result of childhood habits and social influences.
To handle stress and avoid emotional eating, it is important to do regular exercise, have enough sleep, allot time for relaxation and connect with other people. (Related: 6 Supplements for natural stress relief.)
Visit Food.news to learn more about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.