To Improve Your Diet, Chart a Plan of Action
Planning and picturing helps attain your goals.
Credit: Sergey Galushko | Dreamstime

To improve the way you eat, making an action plan and visualizing yourself carrying it out will help you reach your goals, according to a new study.

People who planned to eat fruit and visualized carrying it out for a week ate twice as much fruit a day as they usually eat, the study said. 

If people make a concrete plan about what they are going to eat, they are better at acting on their intentions, said study researcher Barbel Knauper, professor of psychology at McGill University in Canada.

"Telling people to just change the way they eat doesn't work," Knauper said in a statement.  

The researchers asked 177 students at one of McGill University's residence halls to set a goal to consume more fruit for a period of seven days. They also categorized the students as high fruit consumers or low fruit consumers.

All the students in the study ate more fruit over the course of the week than they had before the study began.

But among the students who classified themselves as low fruit consumers, those who made a detailed diet plan — that included when, where and how they would buy, prepare and eat fruit — and visualized themselves completing the plan, ate an average of 3.85 servings of fruit a day. Those who didn't make a plan ate 2.23 servings of fruit a day.

High fruit consumers ate slightly more fruit a day than the low fruit consumers, but within this group, there was not a big difference between those who visualized and planned to eat fruit compared with those who didn't.

These kinds of visualization techniques are borrowed from sports psychology, Knauper said.

"Athletes do lots of work mentally rehearsing their performances before competing and it's often very successful," Knauper said, "so we thought having people mentally rehearse how they were going to buy and eat their fruit should make it more likely that they would actually do it."

"And this is exactly what happened."

The study was published last week in the journal Psychology and Health.

Pass it on: If you want to eat better, make a diet plan and visualize yourself going through with the plan.

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This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.