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Health Food Halo is No Guarantee Against Weight Gain

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The ideal situation for anyone is to always eat healthy foods. But in addition to this, it will always matter how much you eat. The Federal Trade Commission has identified this fat loss lie told by some advertisers: "Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods.”

Beware of any weight loss product that claims that you can eat all you want and still lose weight. Losing weight requires smart food choices. The old rule still applies: if you consistently maintain a caloric surplus (consume more calories than you burn), you will gain weight! You don’t need to strictly count calories but you should have a good handle on your metabolic rate and calorie needs.

So, what’s the theory behind the “health food halo” effect? The following findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Research:

1. The study showed that people eating at restaurants claiming to be "healthy" estimated they ate only 56 percent as many calories as they actually did. The problem was these people tended to reward themselves by eating more chips, fries, and cookies, according to authors Pierre Chandon of INSEAD and Brian Wansink of Cornell University.

2. In one experiment, people were given the same food but told it was from McDonalds or Subway. Even when eating the exact same food, people estimated the sandwich in the Subway wrapper contained 21 percent fewer calories than the one in the McDonald's wrapper. The problem, said Chandon, was "People can eat more at these 'healthy' restaurants, but they think they ate less, so they then opt for a dessert."

3. According to Wansink, the solution to avoiding the health food halo effect is this: "If you're eating at what you think is a healthy restaurant, take your best estimate of the calories in the meal and double it. You'll be a lot more accurate." Another approach is to think twice as to whether the "healthy" positioning of the restaurant is relevant for everything they serve.

Here are my five rules to follow when eating at restaurants, healthy or otherwise:

1. If it's fried, let it slide. Eat food baked, broiled or cooked in its own juices.

2. Don't go to your dinner date on a completely empty stomach. You're likely to eat more. Also, restaurants usually serve extra large servings. Immediately put half of your meal in a doggie bag.

3. Don't fill up on bar snacks, appetizers or bread while waiting for your entree.

4. Get your carbohydrate fix at home with fruits and vegetables.

5. Keep menus of your favorite restaurants at home so you'll have an idea of their nutritious, low-fat and low-calorie offerings.

Happy, healthy eating!


Laura Smith, Cornell Food & Brand Lab
Federal Trade Commission

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES, CPT is a Certified Personal Trainer and former NCAA Division I athlete. Mark is the owner of My Fitness Hut, Her Fitness Hut, Sports Fitness Hut and My Nutrition Hut. Mark’s Fat Blaster Athletic Training System has been proven to give his clients the fit, sculpted and athletic-type bodies they want. Visit Mark’s main site:

Your Fitness University http://yourfitnessuniversity.com

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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