• Justine Chriqui, McGill Dietetics Student

Nudge Theory for Clients

Habits can be hard to change, so it is not surprising that helping our clients choose healthy meals and snacks to suit their preferences, lifestyle or otherwise is sometimes a challenge. But what if there was a way to help “nudge” them toward their goals? Coaching our clients to adopt strategies of the nudge theory may do just that.


What is nudge theory?


The nudge theory was developed by behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The concept was made popular by their 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.”


Per an overview by Thaler, nudge theory proposes that the public is constantly “nudged” in planned directions by “choice architects,” or the individuals who influence the choices we make, like cafeteria or grocery store designers.


Have you ever walked into a grocery store and seen the items on sale that week right at the entrance to the store? That choice architect is trying to nudge shoppers toward buying more of those items.



How can my clients benefit from nudging?


The systematic review by Arno and Thomas (2016) found that adults chose healthier foods 15.3% more (on average) when they implemented nudge strategies. Some of the strategies included: changing the location of healthy snacks, increasing availability of healthy options, changing the size of the snack’s serving bowl or container, adding nutrition labels to restaurant menus, and more.


But are there certain nudges that work better than others? The meta-analysis by Chandon and Cadario (2019) says yes. These researchers categorized nudges into 7 types and 3 categories (cognitive, affective and behavioural), with behavioural nudges being the most effective and cognitive nudges being the least.


Behavioural nudges include size enhancements (i.e. changing the size of the portion or the size of the containers, plates, bowls etc.) and convenience enhancements (i.e. putting healthier options, like pre-cut vegetables, front and centre).


Affective nudges include pleasure appeals (i.e. using wording that makes the item sound attractive/appealing) and healthy eating calls (i.e. using signs/posters or verbal encouragement).

Cognitive nudges include visibility enhancements (i.e. healthy options on the first page of a menu), evaluative labeling (i.e. traffic light system on foods), and descriptive labeling (i.e. listing nutrition facts).


It’s important to remember that nudging doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating; it means reconstructing so individuals can make a different choice. For example, say a client is finding it hard to incorporate a healthy snack into their routine because they love chips. Nudging doesn’t mean that they stop buying chips, but maybe that they’ll move the chips to a new location and place a fruit in that location instead!


Can Nutrioso help nudge my clients toward their goals?


Yes! There are various ways Nutrioso can nudge clients:


1) Goal setting: Nutrioso allows you or your clients to set goals on their dashboard, to keep their intentions front and center. Plus, they can mark goals as achieved to celebrate their successes!


2) Resources: Nutrioso allows you to pin recommended recipes and resources to your client's dashboard. Clients can print the recipes and resources or keep them on their phones/devices to keep on track with their goals!


3) Reminders: Nutrioso offers automated notifications for upcoming appointments, and reminders if they have not responded to a message. Having these reminders can prompt clients to think about their goals more often and keep them motivated!


The nudge theory can have applications to various areas in our day-to-day lives. Stay tuned for part two for ways you can use nudgy strategies to enhance your productivity!


-Justine Chriqui, McGill Dietetics Graduate Student

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