Do you only eat at healthy restaurants and painstakingly avoid those infamous fast-food establishments that serve greasy food – in hopes of losing weight? If so, your plan could backfire. According to a new study, eating healthy restaurant food may cause you to overeat – sometimes significantly.
Healthy Restaurant Food and the Health Halo
In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers made the discovery that weight-conscious eaters who dine on healthy restaurant food eat healthy, but eat too much. It seems that healthy restaurants and healthy restaurant food has a “health halo” in the eyes of consumers. This is the idea that certain foods and restaurants deemed “healthy” are so virtuous you can eat all you want. When consumers see buzzwords such as low-fat, sugar-free, low-calorie, organic, all-natural, and good for you, they automatically think it’s okay to indulge.
Need proof? Researchers gave two groups of people the same food. They told one group the food came from Subway Restaurant, a sub chain that’s known for its healthier fare, and the other group was told their food came from McDonald’s. When they asked them to estimate the calories, the group who believed they were eating food from Subway thought the food had 21% fewer calories than when the food was wrapped in McDonald’s wrappers. People also underestimate the calories in packaged foods too. When they see words such as organic, natural, low-calorie or low-fat, the health halo goes into effect again.
How to Avoid the Health Halo Effect When Eating at Healthy Restaurants
Even healthy calories can sneak up on you. To avoid overeating due to the health halo effect, do your online research before eating at a so-called healthy restaurant. Most chain restaurants now publish their calorie counts and nutritional information, so you can plan before you dine. Sites such as Red Lobster even have a special calculator where you can play your meal and have the calorie count pop up as you do. Know what you’ll order and how many calories it contains before you head into the parking lot.
If you’re eating at a non-chain healthy restaurant that doesn’t publish nutritional information, read the menu online before you go, and choose items that are prepared in a healthy manner and seem lower in calories. If you know what to get before you arrive, it’s less likely you’ll make a bad decision. A good rule when you don’t have the calories in front of you is to estimate the calorie count and add 40% to the total.
The Health Halo and Healthy Restaurant Food: The Bottom Line
Healthy isn’t calorie-free. Don’t be a victim of the health halo effect. Choose what to eat wisely and limit your portions sizes – even if you dine at a healthy restaurant.
Medical News Today. “Health Halos That Make Us Fat”