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Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?

Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?

I’ve long written about how psychological traits—nuanced thinking, curiosity rather than judgment, persistence, patience, self-compassion and self-approval—affect eating. It turns out that optimism also can help improve your relationship with food. 

“Dispositional optimism is defined as the general expectation that good things, rather than bad things, will happen in the future . . . It is a psychological trait that has been associated with positive health outcomes . . .” (“Optimism is associated with diet quality, food group consumption and snacking behavior in a general population,” W. Ait-hadad, M. Bénard, R. Shankland, E. Kesse-Guyot, M. Robert, M. Touvier, S. Hercberg, C. Buscail & S. Péneau, Nutrition Journal vol. 19, Article #: 6, 2020) This study concluded that “optimism was associated with better overall quality and less snacking. It was also associated with consumption of healthy food groups as well as unhealthy food groups typically consumed in social eating occasions. These findings suggest that optimism could be taken into account in the promotion of a healthy eating behavior.”

If tend toward upbeat, you might be feeling pretty good about having this trait and employing it to improve your relationship with food. “Great,” you might think, “I can learn to do this.” If you’re pessimistic, you might be feeling just the opposite, as if the deck is stacked against you. “See,” you might say, (exhibiting your pessimism), “I can’t do much to elevate my eating because I’m not very optimistic.”

One important question is whether optimism is hard-wired—you either have it or you don’t—or whether it can be nurtured and developed so that you can go from being a negative to a more positive person. If the latter were possible, how would you go about making that transformation happen? Having recently completed my next book, which is on self-talk and eating, I would suggest that you start by recognizing that how we view life isn’t about truth and quit being so wedded to your gloom and skepticism about doing better around food. 

Then I’d listen carefully to each thought I had, identify which ones were downers, and change them to make them more positive. Rather than thinking or saying, “I can’t do much to better my eating because I’m not very optimistic,” you could say, “I can become more optimistic by listening to my thoughts and stating them in a more positive way.” If you had a temperament transplant and awakened tomorrow with dispositional optimism, that’s exactly what you’d say to yourself. Start paying close attention to what you think and say to yourself and choose thoughts that will enhance positivity and hopefulness.