Peter A. Ubel M.D.

Scientocracy

Death by Salad: Two Reasons "Healthy" Food May Make You Fat

Subconscious satiation

Posted Jun 06, 2018

Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock
Source: Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock

In an effort to lose weight, you pass on the steak sizzler at your favorite family restaurant and settle, instead, for a healthy salad. But you might be in for a dieting double whammy. First off, the salad probably has more calories than you realize. For example, Applebee’s Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad packs a whopping 800 calories170 calories more than a Whopper. When you order that salad thinking you’re cutting calories, you’re wrong.

As if underestimating the calories wasn’t bad enough, there’s a second problem with that salad: Your body is about to play a sinister trick on you. As you gorge on all 800 calories, your brain, certain that the salad is healthy, convinces your stomach that it is not full. That's because when people believe food is healthy, they experience that food as being less filling.

Not convinced? Consider this: A team of researchers gave college students a cookie to eat, telling half of them the cookie was “healthy” with “high levels of proteins, fibers, and vitamins” and telling the other half it was “unhealthy” with “high levels of sugars, fats, and carbohydrates.” Immediately after eating the cookie, and then again 45 minutes later, the researchers asked people how hungry they were. They found that people who ate what they thought was a “healthy cookie” were hungrier.

Journal for the Association of Consumer Research
Source: Journal for the Association of Consumer Research

In another study, they let students eat as much popcorn as they liked, while telling some of them that it was healthy popcorn, others that it was nourishing, and others that it was unhealthy. When convinced that the popcorn was healthy, people ate more of it.

Journal for the Association of Consumer Research
Source: Journal for the Association of Consumer Research

That’s right: People ate more than twice as much “healthy” popcorn as "unhealthy" popcorn.

I used to think that my stomach knew when I was full. I trusted my body to tell me when I needed to eat. Now I realize that hungry feeling I experience after I eat a healthy meal is not my physiology kicking in to tell me I’m in caloric deficit; it’s my subconscious overriding this physiology. My belief that healthy food won’t satiate me causes me to feel unsatiated.

When it comes to food consumption, the most important organ is our brain.

Previously published in Forbes.

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