Nutrition Over Easy

Nagging People to Eat Their Vegetables Doesn’t Work. This Does

A simple tool that 5x your vegetable intake

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the latest news from the CDC: Only 1 in 10 Americans actually meets the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.

Except that this is hardly news.

The government has been nagging people to eat their vegetables for over two decades now. Why? Because our crappy eating habits cost the government (and the private sector) billions of dollars a year, in the form of medical costs related to diet-driven diseases.

As a nation, we’ve thrown a lot of money at the problem, investing millions in public health campaigns and messaging, urging people to eat their vegetables.

And what’s the return on investment?

Vegetable consumption declined.

Nagging doesn’t work. So what does?

This doesn’t mean that behavior change isn’t possible. It just suggests that we need to design better interventions.

I’ve spent much of the last two decades poring through the scientific literature on behavior change — and coaching thousands of people on their health habits. I’ve concluded that in order to be effective in motivating behavior change, an intervention must do 5 things:

  1. Instill confidence. People not only need to believe that what you’re asking them to do will benefit them, they also need to feel confident that they can actually do it.
  2. Reduce complexity. People cannot pay attention to everything. Therefore, you need to help them pay attention to the right things.
  3. Balance don’ts with dos. Don’t just discourage the negative; promote positive behaviors.
  4. Counter perfectionism. All-or-nothing approaches (or mindsets) rarely lead to long-term change.
  5. Focus on means, not extremes. We tend to over-estimate the impact of our most extreme behaviors. In fact, it is your most typical behavior that determines your results. Focus on those.

These five principles (plus a whole lot of epidemiological data) underlie a simple approach that I developed seven years ago to motivate healthier eating habits in the people I coach.

It worked so well with my own clients that I made it publicly available in the form of a free smartphone app.

The data show that this ridiculously simple approach has a striking impact on vegetable consumption (as well as with several other key dietary behaviors).

But why not see for yourself? You’ll find the Nutrition GPA app in the Apple and Google App stores.

To learn more about the science supporting this approach or how to use this tool most effectively in your own practice, feel free to contact me.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, is the host of the Nutrition Diva podcast, co-host of the Change Academy podcast, and creator of the Nutrition GPA app.

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Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN

Nutritionist, podcaster (Nutrition Diva, Change Academy), coach, life-long learner, spreadsheet addict, amateur gardener, professional opera singer