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Healthy Eating Behavior: Psychological Factors and Motivation


The problem of motivation and motives of behavior and activity aimed at a positive result is one of the central problems in psychology. Moreover, these issues are also important in the processes that are directly related to the individual’s health. The problem of overweight and obesity has its own medical, social, economic, and psychological aspects. This is due to the serious consequences and the growing epidemiological frequency of morbidity in people with nutritional disorders (Monaghan et al., 2018). This paper analyzes the way goals, mindsets, and personal beliefs affect motivation to engage or disengage in healthy eating behavior.

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Goal setting refers to the motivational domain of an individual when they are faced with an achievement situation that calls into question a person’s sense of competence. Traditionally, psychological research has distinguished two categories of goal achievement or motivation: the motivation for success and the motivation for avoiding failure. Hangen et al. (2019) have proposed a new model in which the following types of motivation are distinguished. First, focus on achieving mastery (the desire to feel competent through personal effort). Second, the focus on avoiding the demonstration of mastery (the desire to avoid feelings of incompetence). Third, focus on achieving a demonstration of the result (the desire to be competent in the eyes of others). Fourth, focus on avoiding the demonstration of the result (the desire to avoid incompetence in the eyes of others). Analysis of the literature shows that the main theories of motivation were obtained from various sources: theories of the self, internal and external motivation, self-determination theory; as well as expected value theory (Deckers, 2018).

Concerning the distinction between skill and efficiency, three theories are frequently discussed in the literature: intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, self-determination theory, and expected value theory (Deckers, 2018). A high degree of interest in the task at hand is a good predictor of intrinsic motivation for achievement. Self-determination, or a person’s desire for choice and autonomy, is also a good predictor of skill motivation.


There are four types of mindsets relevant to the discussion. First, it is a growth mindset which is the belief of a person that his intellectual abilities can improve throughout his life if efforts are made for this (Dweck, 2016). Unlike a fixed mindset – the belief that human intelligence is a fixed feature, a growth mindset is based on the fact that a person can develop constantly. People who have a growth mindset are not afraid of difficulties and failures, but on the contrary, they have a positive attitude towards such things. Negative experience is the most important experience, without which moves towards the goal is often impossible. A growth mindset is a positive attitude towards change, the ability of a person to leave their comfort zone quickly. Second, a solution-oriented mindset is associated with practical issues and is based on the generalization of practical experience. This type of thinking focuses on solving emerging problems and, thus, affects the decrease in the level of procrastination (Brenner et al., 2016). Third, the curiosity mindset, as the name suggests, focuses on asking questions about life’s phenomena and finding answers to them. An essential feature of this type of mindset is generating many original ideas in unregulated conditions of activity, developed verbal creativity and insight, a high level of reflection, inquisitiveness, fantasy, and self-control of emotional states (Brenner et al., 2016). Finally, the abundance mindset, according to which, in the world, there is plenty of everything, everyone is more than enough, and if someone has something, this does not mean that the other is experiencing a shortage because of this, and in general – life is not a kind of race in which people constantly compare and compete with each other (Yost et al., 2019). Moreover, when people share their successes, knowledge, and joy with others, the benefits do not diminish; on the contrary, there are more of them. However, although all these four types focus on positive thinking and bring strengths and advantages to empower a person, the solution-oriented mindset is the most appropriate for a motivation to engage in healthy eating behavior to emerge and stabilize.

Personal Beliefs

Helplessness is a state that occurs in a situation when an individual feels that external events do not depend on them, and they can do nothing to prevent or modify them (Trindade et al., 2020). If this state and the features of motivation and attribution associated with it are transferred to other situations, it means that “learned helplessness” is evident. A concise history of the uncontrollability of the surrounding world is enough for the learned helplessness to begin to live, as it were, its own life, to control the individual’s behavior itself. Learned helplessness is considered a psychological disorder that plays a significant role in forming unhealthy eating behaviors, such as addictions (Bullivant et al., 2020).

The theory of self-efficacy explains the dependence of activity on the objective level of a person’s abilities and their assessment of their own competence and confidence that they will be able to apply their skills to achieve the goal successfully. In Bandura’s theory, special attention is paid to the dynamics of the development of self-efficacy: personal results, their assessment by others, observation of other people’s behavior can lead to strengthening or weakening of self-efficacy, and this, in turn, affects the choice of behavior in the future and the assessment of future results (Williams & Rode, 2016). This explains the difficulties that arise in testing the hypothesis of a causal link between self-efficacy and eating healthy. As a result, it is customary to talk about the mutual influence of two factors: low self-efficacy stimulates the desire to avoid eating healthily or delay its implementation, weakens persistence in achieving goals and overcoming difficulties, and negative experiences accompanying unhealthy eating, such as guilt and self-blame, maintain self-efficacy at a low level.

As Drewelis et al. (2018) state, mastery beliefs are “people’s beliefs about their ability to influence and change life circumstances” (p. 789). Mastery beliefs are inextricably linked with the individual’s idea of ​​self-efficacy and the formation of learned helplessness. Healthy behaviors and a person’s motivation to engage in them are intrinsically linked to these three concepts and are impossible without their realization of their self-efficacy and mastery beliefs.

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When eating is disturbed, food gradually becomes loved and hated, controlled and controlled. In the process of psychotherapy, the victim should be taught a healthy way of satisfying his needs, without fear of feeling emotions, needs, accepting them, and meeting them in real life in contact with other people. For example, food serves to strengthen relationships, safety, reduce pain, feelings of loss, and disappointment. Traumatic experience leads to an unconscious form of psychosomatic reaction, which results in such forms of manifestation as learned helplessness. Lack of mastery beliefs and an appropriate mindset, as well as self-efficacy and self-regulation, leads to a lack of motivation to engage in healthy eating behaviors or failure to adopt a new lifestyle routine. Thus, to ensure that the change in a person’s behaviors is successful, a psychologist needs to guide the formation of these critical elements in their patients.


Brenner, W., Uebernickel, F., & Abrell, T. (2016). Design thinking as mindset, process, and toolbox. In Design thinking for innovation (pp. 3-21). Springer.

Bullivant, B., Rhydderch, S., Griffiths, S., Mitchison, D., & Mond, J. M. (2020). Eating disorders “mental health literacy”: A scoping review. Journal of Mental Health, 29(3), 336-349.

Deckers, L. (2018). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental. Routledge.

Drewelies, J., Chopik, W. J., Hoppmann, C. A., Smith, J., & Gerstorf, D. (2018). Linked lives: Dyadic associations of mastery beliefs with health (behavior) and health (behavior) change among older partners. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 73(5), 787-798.

Dweck, C. (2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review, 13, 213-226.

Hangen, E. J., Elliot, A. J., & Jamieson, J. P. (2019). Lay conceptions of norm‐based approach and avoidance motivation: Implications for the performance‐approach and performance‐avoidance goal relation. Journal of personality, 87(4), 737-749.

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Monaghan, L. F., Bombak, A. E., & Rich, E. (2018). Obesity, neoliberalism and epidemic psychology: Critical commentary and alternative approaches to public health. Critical Public Health, 28(5), 498-508.

Trindade, I. A., Mendes, A. L., & Ferreira, N. B. (2020). The moderating effect of psychological flexibility on the link between learned helplessness and depression symptomatology: A preliminary study. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 15, 68-72.

Williams, D. M., & Rhodes, R. E. (2016). The confounded self-efficacy construct: Conceptual analysis and recommendations for future research. Health psychology review, 10(2), 113-128.

Yost, P. R., Terrill, J. R., & Chung, H. H. (2019). An Economy of Abundance: From Scarcity to Human Potential in Organizational and University Life. Journal of Applied Business & Economics, 21(7).

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