I tell myself that I’m going to eat more healthily almost every day. Yet, I still eat things I know I shouldn’t, even as I tell myself I shouldn’t. This might be the reason why…
The House of Commons Health Committee recently published a report looking at the impact of physical activity and diet on health.
It is an interesting read in many respects, but I was interesting in this perspective on why I eat biscuits:
Most people value their health yet persist in behaving in ways that undermine it. This gap between values and behaviour can be understood using a dual systems model of human behaviour, a model that is well supported by recent evidence from behavioural- and neuro-sciences. This model describes behaviour as shaped by two systems. The first system, guided by conscious processes, is goal oriented and driven by our values and intentions. It requires cognitive capacity—thinking space—which is limited in all humans. Most traditional approaches to changing behaviour depend on engaging this system, for example, by providing information about the benefits of a healthy diet, not smoking, consuming less alcohol or being more physically active. At best these approaches have been modest in their effectiveness at changing behaviour. The second system, guided by nonconscious processes, is driven by immediate feelings and triggered by our environments. For example, despite intending to lose weight we still buy the chocolate bar displayed at the checkout till. Such environmental cues combine with the attraction of immediate and certain pleasure (having an extra mince pie) over larger less certain and more distant rewards (such as reduced weight and improved health) make unhealthy behaviours more likely. This second system guides the majority of human behaviour.
The implication for food policy is that we need to rethink. Sending logical messages to individuals may not be the answer. Trouble is, we’re not really sure how to talk to our nonconscious selves. There is some suggestion that population level intervention might be the way: or perhaps city level intervention. So come on Birmingham, what can we do to change the way we eat?