It’s easy to maintain when the changes are small: Exploring environmentally motivated dietary changes from a self-control perspective

Lara Wehbe*, Kasia Banas, Esther Papies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reducing meat and dairy intake is necessary to mitigate the effects of animal agriculture on global warming. Here, we examine the experiences of environmentally motivated meat and dairy reducers. Specifically, we examine whether shifting towards and maintaining sustainable eating behaviours requires self-control. We conducted a pre-registered qualitative online study surveying 80 participants to explore their experiences of reduction, particularly the role of self-control, habits, identity, and social norms. We analysed the data using reflexive thematic analysis and generated three themes. Theme 1 captures participants’ incompatible short-term and long-term motivations, which led to experiences of conflict and required self-control to manage. Theme 2 describes aspects of food and social environments, such as social feedback and food availability, cost, and appeal, that hindered or supported participants’ attempts at reducing meat and dairy intake. This theme also revealed that most reducers did not want to identify with specific dietary groups, particularly flexitarians. Theme 3 captures strategies, varying in effort, that helped participants overcome internal conflicts or challenges from the food and social environment. Examples include avoiding choice situations, or behavioural substitution, which facilitated behaviour maintenance through small and comfortable changes that fit with participants’ taste, skills, and habits. Our findings highlight the need to temper negative social feedback and introduce more availability and favourable social norms to support meat and dairy reduction. Interventions that aim to support the transition to sustainable eating also need to consider the social identities of consumers.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2022


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