The "side salad illusion"
contributes to the "dieter's paradox"
Which meal below is lower in calories?
A hamburger with a side salad
In a scientific study of a thousand people, people were asked to estimate the number of calories in a number of unhealthy meals, such as a bacon and cheese waffle sandwich, beef chili, a meatball pepperoni cheesesteak, and a hamburger.
Half of the people saw the meals alone, while the other half saw the meals with some sort of healthy side item, such as celery sticks, an organic apple, a bunch of celery and carrots, or a salad.
If a meal had a healthy side, people estimated that the meal contained less calories then people who viewed the meal alone.
Somehow, our brain thought the healthy items were reducing the total number of calories.
Did people think that eating foods like celery somehow burned calories? No, nobody believed that.
But it gets stranger.
Who believed most strongly in the illusion that a healthy side lowers the calories of an unhealthy meal?
The people who were most concerned with managing their weight.
Researcher Alexander Chernev explains:
“People think of food in terms of vice and virtue—healthy and unhealthy... The easiest way to diet is to categorize into good and bad; you aim to minimize the bad and maximize the good. The more you want to lose weight, the more likely you are to categorize foods into vices and virtues. So when we add something healthy to an unhealthy food, we think it makes the entire meal healthier. And because we often confuse a meal’s healthiness with its calorie content, we think that healthier meals are also more diet-friendly. Hence, we assume that the vice/virtue combination is not only healthier but also has fewer calories than the vice alone... virtue makes the vice seem less ‘vicey.’ ”Mr. Chernev also says this works with pricing. If you add a cheap item to an expensive item, people think the combination has less value than the expensive item alone.
(By the way, just for my own amusement, in the photos above, the hamburger is real and the side salad is fake.)
- A Dieting Conundrum. Why dieters underestimate calorie counts of meals. Kellogg Insight, Northwestern>>
- Fake salad from Just Dezine it>>