Daughter and senior mother cooking, cutting vegetables in kitchen
Success looks different for every individual.

Realistic expectations

An individual approach helps to create a dietary strategy that’s realistic and manageable.

When it comes to optimising dietary intake and improving dietary behaviours, it’s important to have positive realistic expectations.

Barriers to change

Changing dietary behaviour can be a very challenging process. For individuals experiencing negative mental health states, the barriers to change could be particularly persistent and include:

  • behavioural, motivational, social and financial challenges
  • cognitive difficulties and psychological symptoms
  • physical fatigue and lethargy
  • medication side effects and interactions
  • co-morbid physical conditions
  • addictions and substance misuse
  • disordered eating.

Depressed mood, stress and anxiety also hinder any attempts to make positive dietary changes. Having an empathetic and supportive environment is critical.

In healthcare settings, treatment of mental health conditions requires collaborative multidisciplinary approach to provide dietary and psychological counselling and to address various biopsychosocial issues.

Strategies for success

It’s important to define and understand what success looks like based on individual needs. For example, success may mean decreasing consumption of sweetened carbonated drinks to 2-3 serves per week or developing basic food shopping skills or fully adopting a new dietary style.

Individualisation of strategies for success should include:

  • identifying barriers to change and addressing these with a specific individualised approach
  • adopting strategies according to cognitive and behavioural capacity
  • setting, reviewing and adjusting SMART goals
  • addressing substance misuse, for example smoking, and accounting for this in dietary intervention (eg increasing healthy snacking)
  • normalising eating behaviour, particularly regulating eating intake and stabilising sleeping/waking cycles; working on recognition of hunger/satiety cues; practising mindful eating
  • providing support and accountability resources, such as food diaries, daily and weekly food planners, examples of shopping lists and simple resources
  • building skills to support social interaction and reduce stress and anxiety associated with new activities
  • managing positive realistic expectations and behaviours.

Your task

Analyse your own dietary style and identify the main barriers to change (or sustain) an optimal diet.

Which of the barriers would you like to address?

Share your thoughts and respond to other learners in the comments, keeping in mind that you can like and reply to develop threads that most interest you.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University