Posted on August 22, 2018 by Jenny Cromack

Changing Our Eating; It’s Not All About Looking Good

How to change our eating habits

As Personal Trainers we get a lot of questions regarding how to change our eating habits, and peoples motives are very often image driven. I’ve spoken previously about not relying on the scales for image. Good nutrition, however, is not all about looking good. Appearance is a valid excuse to want to change our eating habits. But does it have enough of an emotional or fearful effect to change our behaviour though? There are several models and theories associated with behaviour change and nutritional habits, but this short article will overview one; the Protective Motivation Theory (PMT).

The Protective Motivation Theory

The PMT (Rogers, 1975, 1983, 1985) is a theoretical concept based on a health belief model that was originally devised to predict health behaviours. Within the theory the authors suggest two appraisals people make when considering the behaviour in question (e.g., changing dietary behaviours). These appraisals are threat appraisal and coping appraisal. 

  • Threat appraisal refers to external threats that may cause an individual harm associated with the behaviour in question.
  • Coping appraisal is related to the individuals ability to carry out and manage the behaviour.

Within these appraisals are five components: Severity, Susceptibility, Fear, Response Effectiveness, and Self-Efficacy. Severity, Susceptibility, and Fear are part of the threat appraisal. Whereas, Response Effectiveness and Self-Efficacy are part of the coping appraisal.


This component refers to illness or diseases associated with not changing dietary habits. This will obviously be specific to the behaviour in question. Even within nutrition this could be related to a specific aspect, such as a high fat diet. For example, individuals may be made aware of the severity of an illness/disease, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD). These beliefs and thoughts make up the severity component. These attitudes on severity will help individuals make an appraisal on the threat of not changing their eating and training habits.


Susceptibility is a similar component to severity. It refers to the perceived risk of developing the disease in question (e.g., CVD). Again, individuals may be educated on the increased risk of CVD with higher fat intakes and a lack of physical activity. Using this information the individuals may then make an evaluation on their personal risk of developing CVD. Alongside severity, susceptibility will feed into the individuals intention to change their behaviour, and hopefully reduce their fat intake (as an example).


This is relatively recent addition to PMT, which refers to the emotional (fearful) response to illness/disease related information. By experiencing fearful emotions it may influence people to consider a change in their behaviour.

Response Effectiveness

Response effectiveness refers to the relation the behaviour has on the individual directly. This consists of the knowledge and belief that the behaviour in question (i.e., reducing fat intake) would improve one’s health and reduce the risk of perceived threats (e.g., CVD). The more positive the perceived response of the behaviour, the more likely one is to change their behaviour.


This component relates to the individual’s self-belief and confidence that they can engage in, and successfully change, their behaviour. For example, if an individual is confident that they can alter their fat intake, not buy as many high fat foods, or find alternatives then they are more likely to engage in the desired behaviour.

How Can We Facilitate This Process?

To ensure we help others (or ourselves) to change our nutritional behaviour in relation to the PMT, education is a key factor. By offering sound, scientific, and valid education on nutrition related illness and diseases, it can help inform people of the severity and susceptibility of the certain conditions in relation to their nutrition. We do, however, need to be mindful that we do not just scaremonger people as this can be off-putting. Instead we should make sensible and evidence-based inferences between illness and nutrition. Education can be delivered in many ways;

  • At an institutional level – government, policies, etc.
  • Sector level – in schools, work places etc.
  • Individual – home/family/peer based (e.g., in PT sessions)

Alongside education reagrding the threat appraisal, to make sure we encourage positive response effectiveness and self-efficacy we can offer people examples. These examples can come from case studies or focus groups that expose people to the benefits and successes associated with nutritional changes.

Take Home Message

Nutrition is not just about appearance. By taking a more health-focused approach we can help both others or ourselves to attribute the change in nutritional behaviour to improvement in health and reduced risk of illness and disease. This approach appears to be effective in changing both intended and actual behaviour.