The Non-Fat Yogurt II: People eat too much ‘healthy’ food

In a sort of Catch 22-type situation, people have a tendency to eat too much of food that has been labeled as healthy – and thus sabotaging their own efforts to follow a healthy diet. “It's quite ironic. The more we put out foods that are labeled healthy, we could be abetting the obesity epidemic rather than combating it,” doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business and author of the study, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Jacob Suher said. “Seek out foods portrayed as nourishing, and think of healthy foods as nourishing. People appear to associate the idea of nourishment with being filling.”

According to Suher and colleagues, people subconsciously deem ‘healthy’ food less filling and therefore eat more of it. Conversely, people could reverse this trend if they are told to associate healthy food with a word that indicates the food is filling, such as ‘nourishing.’ “The word 'nourishing' brings up another unconscious intuition that seems to override the one attached to the word 'healthy,'” said Suher. That begs the question, what are they waiting for to pull a Manchurian Candidate, sleeper agent kind of deal on these people? After all, other experts agree that the subconscious can be very powerful in patterning eating behaviors.

“When people say mind over matter, it really does seem to be a big factor,” registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Joy Dubost said. “What your perception is of the food you eat can be very different from how your body is responding to it. Clearly, we need to start addressing both the conscious and the subconscious in our messages about healthy eating.” In the study, 50 college students were asked to look at pictures of both healthy and unhealthy foods, as well as words associated with either ‘filling’ or ‘not filling.’ The researchers found that people linked unhealthy foods with the notion of being full.

Then, the researchers measured the hunger levels of 40 grad students after they ate a cookie – the students, not the researchers. All the cookies were the same, but some students were told it was healthy while others were told it was unhealthy – the former group ended up feeling hungrier ¾ of an hour later than the latter did. Finally, 70 students were asked to order anywhere between 1 and 10 cups of popcorn that had been labeled as ‘healthy,’ ‘unhealthy’ or ‘nourishing.’ It was found that the students ordered and ate more of the ‘healthy’ popcorn and less of the ‘nourishing’ popcorn as compared to the ‘unhealthy’ popcorn. Suher suggested that people tend to go to extremes, associating healthy with salad and unhealthy with junk food, with not many shades of grey in between. Similar to how people think of Discount Medical Supplies online as cheap medical supplies.

But isn’t that pretty much the way it is? For example, have you ever heard of anyone binging on tofu? For the sake of argument, let’s say you found non-fat yogurt that tastes really good. How could it not have any fat? It's too good. That yogurt is really something, huh? And it's non-fat! You've been waiting for something like this your whole life! And it's finally here! But next thing you know, you’ve gained 7 pounds. How did you gain all that weight? You’ve been doing the same exercises. You haven't been eating anything different. You've been doing everything I normally do. You've been watching my diet very carefully. You exercise regularly. Your only indulgence would be that you eat a lot of frozen yogurt. But it's non-fat. Wait a second. Wait a second. Maybe it's that yogurt. Maybe that yogurt isn't so non-fat.

Related: How does junk food affect your brain?