“The Dieter’s Paradox”: Not seeing calories, even when they are right in front of us

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds that healthy food, like fruits and vegetables, has a “halo effect” so powerful that consumers don’t even think they have calories:

[A]nother weight-loss conundrum: if you show people a plate of unhealthy food – say, a burger and fries – and then add some steamed broccoli to the very same plate, most people will say the second plate has fewer calories, even though it demonstrably has more calories on it. The author of the new paper, Alexander Chernev of Northwestern University, calls this “The Dieter’s Paradox.”

This study adds to a body of research that suggests we have difficulty estimating how much food and calories are really in front of us. These findings also remind me of Michael Pollan’s argument that focusing on nutrition, so in this case, seeing the vegetables or healthier food and thinking of how “nutritious” it is, is the wrong way to go about eating.