"It was an education in portion size": Experience of eating a healthy diet and barriers to long term dietary change

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The aim of the study was to explore the expectations and experience of actually eating a healthy diet and using this experience to identify barriers to healthy eating and sustainable dietary change. Fifty participants (19-63yrs) were provided with a healthy diet (i.e. complied with dietary recommendations) for three consecutive days. Afterwards a semi-structured interview was carried out to explore expectations, experience and barriers to healthy eating. Using a thematic analysis approach eight dominant themes emerged from the interviews. Four related to expectations and experience of healthy eating; realisation of what are appropriate portion sizes, an expectation to feel hungry, surprise that healthy diets comprised normal food, the desire for sweet snacks (e.g. chocolate). This demonstrated there are some misconception about healthy eating and distorted views of portion size. Four more themes emerged relating to barriers to healthy eating; competing priorities, social, peer and time pressure, importance of value for money, a lack of desire to cook. Poor knowledge of healthy eating or a lack of cooking skills were the least common barrier, suggesting that future interventions and policy to improve dietary intakes need to focus on social, cultural and economic issues rather than on lack of knowledge or skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-419
Number of pages9
Early online date25 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the staff in the Human Nutrition Unit at the Rowett for designing and preparing all the meals in the study for the participants and in particular the unit manager Mrs. Sylvia Stephen for helping to co-ordinate the study. The funding for this study came from the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Services (RERAS).


  • healthy eating
  • time pressures
  • value for money
  • barriers
  • portion size
  • qualitative research


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