What is it like to change nutritional habits?
A couple of months ago I have finalised a year-long study on behaviour change in nutrition for my MSc thesis. In the study I have interviewed participants who have had at least three consultations with nutritional therapist registered in the UK. The interviews consisted of a list of open-ended questions focusing on exploring the process of change from the perspective of the participant. This revealed several factors that can facilitate the change, as well as multiple barriers that participants came across. During this experience I have learnt about the process of planning, organising, conducting and writing up a research but, what is more, I have had an opportunity to explore a subject that is very close to my heart. I have always felt that ‘providing information’ or ‘educating’ wasn’t enough and that we all somewhat know what to do. It is making the change happen that becomes a huge challenge. Since the beginning of the research I have learn about several behaviour change theories as well as useful techniques that enable me to really support and motivate my clients on their journey to optimum health. During the first couple of consultations we focus on specifying the goals, managing expectations and evoking the motives for change, as well as identifying potential barriers and facilitators. Only then a person is ready for more and I found this programme schedule to be very successful. I am also very excited to announce that my research summary has been published in a newsletter for members of the professional body and that I have a huge appetite for more!
I present a summary for those who are curious about the study results:
“In summary, the results of this small-scale study suggest key areas that affect individual’s ability to change in NT – evoking readiness to change supported by strong motives, modifying social environment, managing expectations towards the process, changes and possible outcomes, and addressing practical aspects of nutritional change.
It seems more likely for people to achieve goals when they are specific agreed on at the beginning, and broken down into small steps over a longer period; however, the pace and frequency of consultations is best adjusted to individual needs. Moreover, the clients should gain confidence in their ability to change by acquiring necessary skills related to food sourcing, meal planning and cooking. It is also important for them to learn how to manage stress and seek rewards in activities that do not involve eating. Furthermore, it is advised that the clients look and ask for support within immediate social environment and look for peer support groups. NTPs can aid in a transition between stages of change by exploring and strengthening clients’ motivation. They may also encourage observation through progress tracking tools and thus developing a mindful approach to eating, as well as offer prompts and praise that allow clients to keep the momentum.
Furthermore, skills and knowledge of both qualified and student NTPs strongly influenced the clients’ results or their perception of the BC process. Although present curriculum for NT training ensures that NTPs gain necessary competencies, it seems that their practice could greatly benefit from further training on improving communication and using BC techniques as they require time and practice and thus are difficult to acquire during the initial training. Therefore, a more focused training plan could be a part of the CPD curriculum for qualified practitioners, especially during the first year of their practice.
Despite several studies measuring the outcomes of nutritional BC intervention on obese or overweight subjects, up to date there was no data available on managing other health problems that are subject to NT. Therefore, this study significantly contributes to the knowledge about the process of NT in the UK, the barriers and facilitators that the clients are faced with, the degree to which the BC techniques are being used in NT consultations, as well as offers a view on the positive NT outcomes, such as improved wellbeing, menstruation, sleep, energy levels, digestion, mood, immune system, and weight loss.”
Have a great summer!