Food and nutrition: the health psychology perspective
Health psychologists use theory and interventions to understand illness and chronic conditions and to promote general well-being. Health psychologists are skilled in supporting people to deal with the psychological and emotional aspects of health and illness; this includes promoting healthier behaviours and supporting people to find ways to improve their health. They use their knowledge of psychology and health to promote general well-being and understand physical illness. Health psychologists are also well placed to help improve health care systems and improve patient outcomes.
My journey into health psychology began after my undergraduate and MSc Health Psychology degrees, as I worked as a researcher at UCL (smoking cessation) and Education for Health (asthma and allergy self-management). I joined the University of Leicester as a researcher and enrolled onto a PhD to evaluate integrated diabetes specialist care clinics. Studying the development of the clinics helped me to realise how valuable health psychology could be in medical care: supporting self-management and adherence, health behaviour change continuity of care, as well as improving psychological health and patient outcomes.
After my PhD, I trained in clinical skills and qualified as a Health Care Professions Council Health Psychologist through supervised practice to support people with physical activity and behaviour change.
At the University of Derby, I am now programme director for an online MSc Health psychology programme. My current research is in stress reactivity, behaviour change interventions and the social aspects of health behaviour. Earlier this year, I was appointed as Head Editor for the Practical Health Psychology blog by the European Health Psychology Society. The blog translates health psychology research into practical tips for health professionals to use with patients in consultations. The topics include forming healthy habits, goal setting, mental imagery for health behaviour change and most recently, how we can use behavioural science to respond to covid 19 challenges.
Nutritank’s mission to improve knowledge about the importance of nutrition in maintaining health, recovery and preventing ill health as the first step towards supporting patients and the general population blends well with what we are trying to achieve in health psychology. Behaviour change techniques and interventions (e.g. goal setting, self-monitoring, social support, to name a few) are incredibly important in improving nutrition, but crucially we also need to focus on attitudes, beliefs and emotions around nutrition and eating behaviours. Health psychologists have much to offer here: from training health care professionals in brief behaviour change techniques to psychologist-led clinics or interventions providing one-to-one or group support to improve nutrition and eating habits, alongside a multi-disciplinary team.