A post over at the Nudge blogtells us about a recent study from Alexander Chernev at the Business School at Northwestern. He shows that people asked to estimate the number of calories in a high caloric meal (e.g., bowl of chili) provide higher estimates for the item alone as compared to when the item appears next to a healthy side dish such as a salad. So, the folks who saw just the bowl of chili estimated that the meal contained 699 calories, whereas the folks who saw the same chili plus a salad estimated that the meal contained 656 calories. Wild, huh?
People don’t like to admit it, but we’re all pretty bad at estimating things and we’re all subject to biases. This is why tools that provide objective measures of weight, behaviors, and activities are so useful. It is also why tips and tricks such as pre-measuring portion sizes (i.e., not eating from the box or bag and not serving family style) are effective ways to prevent overeating.
Although studies such as these make for good headlines, they are often limited by the fact that estimating calories is one thing, but what you eat might be another. That is to say that having a (low calorie, nutritious) salad prior to chili could very well result in fewer calories consumed if you eat less of the chili.
The bottom line is that it is good to be aware of our biases and it is good to remember that foods do not have negative calories. Otherwise, eat a variety of fresh, nutritious food and listen to your body to tell you when it is almost full.
Have a great weekend and don’t forget to visit your farmers markets!