We tend to believe that foods described as healthy, low fat, and light are a perfect match with our dieting goals. Ignore the label and focus on the food.
By: Alexander Chernev
Our food choices are clouded by our tendency to stereotype foods into virtues and vices and to rely solely on these stereotypes — rather than on the actual nutritional content — to select what and how much to eat. Stereotyping foods into vices and virtues polarizes our judgment, canonizing foods we consider healthful and demonizing foods we regard as indulgent. We can reduce this stereotyping bias by following these simple rules:
- Beware of the “health” halo. Even those who know the difference between healthy eating and dieting are often fooled by the aura of healthiness of many “virtuous” foods and ingredients like granola, oatmeal, protein, and fiber, believing that healthy products are also more diet-friendly. Not all healthy food is low in carloies.
- Beware of the “brand” halo. We tend to think of brands like Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Subway as having a healthy, low-calorie image, whereas McDonald’s, Burger King, and Chili’s are viewed as bastions of indulgent, high-calorie meals. In reality, however, “vice” brands frequently offer options that are healthier than the options offered by “virtue” brands. Focus on the food, not the brand.
- Beware of the “label” halo. We tend to believe that foods described as healthy, low fat, and light are a perfect match with our dieting goals. These labels blindside us, eclipsing more pertinent nutritional information. Ignore the label and focus on the food.
- Pay attention to quantity. Stereotyping also makes us lose sight of quantity. Our relentless focus on whether the foods we eat are virtues or vices causes us to discount the fact that, depending on quantity, many foods — like bread, chocolate, and even wine — can be our best friends or worst enemies. Remember it’s not just about good or bad. How much we eat is often more important than what we eat.
Copyright © 2011 Alexander Chernev, author of The Dieter’s Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat
About the Author:
Alexander Chernev, author of The Dieter’s Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat, is a psychologist who is studying how people make choices. He holds two doctoral degrees: a Ph.D. in Psychology from Sofia University and a second Ph.D. in Business Administration from Duke University. He is a marketing professor at Northwestern University, where he teaches behavioral decision theory, marketing management and strategy, and consumer research.
Dr. Chernev has won numerous awards for his teaching and research, including the Early Career Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association for his contribution to consumer psychology. His research has been published in leading psychology journals, and a recent survey ranked him as the most prolific scholar in the top marketing journals in the past 20 years. He has been widely quoted in the business and popular press, including Scientific American, Business Week, Forbes, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, andHarper’s Magazine.
He is not on a diet but often adds a healthy option to his meals.