It’s easy to maintain when the changes are small: Exploring environmentally motivated dietary changes from a self-control perspective

Wehbe, L. H., Banas, K. and Papies, E. K. (2022) It’s easy to maintain when the changes are small: Exploring environmentally motivated dietary changes from a self-control perspective. Collabra: Psychology, 8, 38823. (doi: 10.1525/collabra.38823)

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Reducing meat and dairy intake is necessary to mitigate the effects of animal agriculture on global warming. Here, we examine the experiences of environmentally motivated meat and dairy reducers. Specifically, we examine whether shifting towards and maintaining sustainable eating behaviours requires self-control. We conducted a pre-registered qualitative online study surveying 80 participants to explore their experiences of reduction, particularly the role of self-control, habits, identity, and social norms. We analysed the data using reflexive thematic analysis and generated three themes. Theme 1 captures participants’ incompatible short-term and long-term motivations, which led to experiences of conflict and required self-control to manage. Theme 2 describes aspects of food and social environments, such as social feedback and food availability, cost, and appeal, that hindered or supported participants’ attempts at reducing meat and dairy intake. This theme also revealed that most reducers did not want to identify with specific dietary groups, particularly flexitarians. Theme 3 captures strategies, varying in effort, that helped participants overcome internal conflicts or challenges from the food and social environment. Examples include avoiding choice situations, or behavioural substitution, which facilitated behaviour maintenance through small and comfortable changes that fit with participants’ taste, skills, and habits. Our findings highlight the need to temper negative social feedback and introduce more availability and favourable social norms to support meat and dairy reduction. Interventions that aim to support the transition to sustainable eating also need to consider the social identities of consumers.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Banas, Dr Kasia and Wehbe, Ms Lara and Papies, Dr Esther
Authors: Wehbe, L. H., Banas, K., and Papies, E. K.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Collabra: Psychology
Publisher:University of California Press
ISSN (Online):2474-7394
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The Author(s) 2022
First Published:First published in Collabra: Psychology 8:38823
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
306403Using consumption and reward simulations to create desire for plant-based foodsEsther PapiesEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/T011343/1Psychology