It sound like such an easy thing to figure how many calories are in the food you eat every day. The fact is, estimating the number of calories in specific types of food can be altered by the perceptions you have of that food. These calorie estimates can also be affected by the order in which food is served. The reason this is so important is that these caloric perceptions vary widely from person to person. These perceptions can also have an effect on just how many calories you think you’re consuming.
Why Estimating Calories in Foods is So Difficult
The concept is simple. When you sit down at a meal or walk into a restaurant, what you see before you alters your perception of food. In a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and published in the Journal of Consumer Research on Sept. 20, people were shown a variety of food combinations in different orders. For example, when one group of people were shown only a cheeseburger and asked to estimate the calories in that burger, the average answer was about 570 calories. When another group was asked to estimate the number of calories in a salad, and then a cheeseburger, the average guess of how many calories were in that same burger rose to an average of 787 calories, or 38% more perceived calories.
In another test with a salad and a slice of cheesecake, the estimated calorie counts were off even more. Researchers asked people to determine which combination had more calories-a fruit salad with a cheeseburger, or a slice of cheesecake and a cheeseburger. Even though all the test subjects estimated the fruit salad alone to have far less calories than the cheesecake, most folks estimated that the cheesecake-and-cheeseburger combination contained fewer calories.
Some Foods Throw Off Estimated Calorie Counts – and That’s a Good Thing
It’s like the things that folks say about foods and calories canceling each other out-a doughnut or extra french fries are cancelled out by a diet cola. That would be a great trick if it worked. This study provides some new and interesting insight on just how people estimate the number of calories in the food they eat every day. Eating more healthy foods, like a salad before a meal, may actually help a person’s diet efforts in the long run. Dieters can now self-regulate their total, overall caloric intake by simply eating more healthy, lower-calorie food first.
The bottom line is this. Knowing the precise amount of calories in the foods consumed every day is vital to successful and long-term weight loss. Nobody wants to memorize a bunch of information or figure out complicated calorie counts provided by restaurants. If you don’t know the number of actual calories in your food, knowing that the order in which food is presented may positively alter your perceived calorie content in a particular food may help you eat less. Research has shown this to be true. Researchers also know that the basic, foundational rule of weight loss is eating less equals losing weight. So, the next time you head out for a cheeseburger, consider having a salad first. You’ll be eating better, consuming less calories, and on your way to healthy, long-term weight loss.
MyHealthNewsDaily.com; “Food Sequence Matters in Estimating Calories”
WebMD.com; “Calorie Catch in Healthy Fast Food”
LiveScience.com; “Calories Count, Diets Fail”