Positive messaging: The key to successful healthy living changes

I often feel that as doctors we are trained to tell people what they shouldn’t do or what they shouldn’t eat if they want to stay healthy. But, given our human nature, the minute we are told we shouldn’t eat something, we just crave it all the more. Instead, we ought to be putting across a more positive message – helping people to understand what they should be doing rather than what they shouldn’t. It’s far more effective thinking this way.

That’s why, at Vavista Life, we always try to get people to focus on the positive rather than the negative…e.g ‘I must cut the calories to lose weight’ is a negative frame of mind and much better replaced by ‘I am going to work on getting fit…and the weight-loss will follow’. Starting any diet, or health change in a negative frame of mind is hardly a recipe for success, after all. I saw a quote recently that read:

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t… you’re probably right.”

That sums it up really. How you see things can really shape your actions and successes. Apparently, three quarters of our work successes are linked to optimism and how well we manage and deal with stress, rather than our IQ. And, positivity can influence our food choices too, according to a study from Cornell.

positive messagingPositive messaging in nutrition

The study, which looked at positive and negative messaging in nutrition, found that experts often give out fear or loss-related messages but the majority of people reacted better to positive messages. In other words, most of us would rather be told which foods can help us to be healthier, as opposed to lists of foods to avoid. It lets us focus on the positives – what these foods will do for our health and wellbeing, which in turn helps us to look forward to a healthier future, full of all of the benefits that these foods could bring us. I also loved the message to parents from lead author Brian Wansink…

‘It’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers.’

Not sure I have the PR skills to make broccoli seem attractive to my kids though, however hard I try! That said, I certainly think it’s a message that more doctors could take on board when dishing out advice – and one that we can all use in our day-to-day lives.

How can we introduce positive thinking into our lives?

Don’t start off your day thinking about the chocolate bar or other sugary snacks that you shouldn’t be eating. Instead, think about the delicious and wholesome foods that you can eat that will provide your body with the nutrients and energy it needs to keep you feeling happy and healthy. You may not be accustomed to positive thinking, but studies show we can train ourselves to be more positive – so keep persevering and eventually, putting things into a more optimistic light will become second nature.


Wansink, Brian (2015, July 27). Which Health Messages Work Best? Experts Prefer Fear-or-Loss Related Messages, but the Public Follows Positive Gain-related Ones. Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2015 Annual Conference. Pittsburgh.