Positive Nutrition: How being grateful for chocolate might improve your well-being

I first came across the term, Positive Nutrition, on a positive psychology blog. Here, it was loosely described as the use of nutritional interventions to increase well-being. For example,  educating children at school about how healthy eating can improve performance at school. Positive psychology as a general practice promotes the highest state of well-being by focusing on positive thoughts, emotions and activities. It targets people’s strengths to encourage them to flourish and thrive; rather than to fix what’s wrong, or to just survive. Its methods are based on evidence from psychological research.

Before we go any further, it is important to address the word, well-being. In basic terms, well-being is when you are a well human being. That is, you are healthy. In more complex terms, well-being – and related concepts, like health and wellness – can be defined with more detail and specificity. The PERMA Theory of Well-Being outlines five building blocks that enable optimal well-being: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. This model has been extended to PERMAH by some people, to include Health. However, for the purposes of Positive Nutrition, it works better to view PERMA through a nutrition lens, rather than view nutrition in the PERMAH Health domain only.

With respect to Positive Nutrition, Positive emotions, like feeling pleasure, can occur when eating chocolate – especially when its delicious taste and rich mouth feel is mindfully savoured (and when a person isn’t already full, and isn’t on a restrictive diet!). That is, the chocolate is enjoyed, and there is no guilt associated with eating it. Being self-compassionate could facilitate this. You could also cultivate a feeling of gratitude to the animals and plants that contributed to you being able to choose to eat eggs on toast for breakfast. Or behold in wonderment the amazing machine that is your alive human body as you take your next poo!

Engagement refers to a state of flow, which is when someone does a challenging activity that completely absorbs them. This could happen for some people when they are cooking, something that may be linked to better nutrition and body weight. Or it might happen when actually eating, or even whilst shopping for groceries!

Relationships are fundamental to human well-being – we are biologically social, pack animals. You’ve undoubtedly felt joy and a sense of belonging during a shared meal, e.g. at the family dinner table when eating Dad’s infamous spaghetti bolognese. Eating such family meals has been associated with improved well-being.

Meaning can be derived from several aspects of what someone eats and drinks. For example, a person may do all that he can do reduce food waste, avoid animal products, or buy fair trade products; in an effort to do his bit for the environment or for the welfare other animals. Deriving a sense of purpose from feeling part of a bigger whole has been associated with well-being.

Lastly, Accomplishment with respect to Positive Nutrition could refer to achieving dietary goals, such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Or, reducing meat intake to help climate change, which may give a sense of accomplishment and meaning.

The concept of Positive Nutrition based on the PERMA framework moves away from negative aspects of nutrition; such as overly-restrictive dieting, shame and guilt associated with eating behaviour, and dining alone. It promotes the relishing of Sometimes Foods and Sometimes Drinks, cooking, meals with friends, doing your bit for other animals or the environment via your food choices, and achieiving realistic nutrition-related goals to improve well-being.

A definition of Positive Nutrition could be: the promotion of the positive aspects of nutrition to optimise well-being and enable thriving, based on scientific evidence; by eating and drinking to maximise Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA framework). In real life, this could be seen in a person who is self-compassionate enough to allow herself to feel pleasure when savouring Fairtrade chocolate with friends during afternoon tea; whilst later in the evening she loses herself in preparing a bean stew so that she meets her vegetable intake goals; before expressing gratitude before she goes to sleep for her wonderful human body. You can see that Positive Nutrition doesn’t involve you forcing yourself to think positively about overcooked Brussels sprouts.

Disclaimer

Material provided on The Real Bok Choy’s website and blog is intended to be of a general nature only. It should not be relied upon for personalised health information, i.e. every person and situation is different; and any changes to a person’s diet should be made after individualised advice is obtained from appropriately qualified health professionals. For example, tailored dietary/nutrition guidance should be sought from an Accredited Practising Dietitan or a Registered Nutritionist.

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