If you’re trying to follow a healthy diet, perhaps even lose some weight, could hidden obstacles be preventing you from staying on track? Here’s a look at two traps not to fall into, based on studies published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Don’t judge a food’s healthfulness by its name. In a study from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and Loyola University in Baltimore, dieters rated a dish as healthier and more nutritious when it was called a salad versus a pasta dish, even though the ingredients—diced vegetables, pasta, cheese, salami and dressing over a bed of lettuce—were identical. Dieters also ate more candies when they were called fruit chews instead of candy chews.
As the authors point out, the food industry does a good job of confusing people by altering the names of products to make them sound healthier (and lower in calories). Sugary drinks, for instance, are marketed as flavored waters, potato chips are called veggie chips and milkshakes have become smoothies.
Take-home lesson: “Focus on the ingredients of foods rather than their names, as many foods are healthy in name only,” says lead author Caglar Irmak. Pay attention to portion sizes, too, of course.
Beware of the influence of overweight people on your eating behavior. Contrary to what you may think, you are more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods if you see someone who is overweight, according to a study from the University of Colorado. Participants filled out questionnaires that included a photo of either an overweight or normal-weight woman. Afterwards, when given the chance to dip into a candy bowl, those who had seen the photo of the overweight person took significantly more, on average. Similarly, people ate more cookies after viewing an image of an overweight person. This study offers more support for the notion that obesity can be socially contagious. As shown in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, people are more likely to become obese if they have family and friends in their social network who have become obese.
Take-home lesson: “Reminding yourself of your personal health and weight goals can help you stay on track and avoid overeating, whoever you are with,” recommends lead author Margaret Campbell.