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Jun 29, 2013 07:58 PM

NYT: Healthful food options making us eat unhealthily?

From the NY Times in an article, titled "Why Healthy Eaters Fall for Fries," the paper looks at what a Duke Professor, Gavan J. Fitzsimons, has termed the “vicarious goal fulfillment” phenomenon.

Money quote from the article:

In studies, [Prof. Fitzsimons] has presented participants with a range of menu choices — sometimes just unhealthy items, sometimes neutral items (like a fish sandwich) and sometimes healthy choices like salad. It turned out that including a healthy option did change people’s behavior — by making them eat more unhealthily.

“When you put a healthy option up there on an otherwise unhealthy menu, not only do we not pick it, but its presence on the menu leads us to swing over and pick something that’s worse for us than we normally would,” Mr. Fitzsimons said.

Full article here:

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  1. I have a problem with the assumptions involved in labelling as healthy or unhealthy. We need some fat ...some carb...some protein ..some veg. It doesn't have to be "balanced" at each meal ...just balanced overall. This guys work seems like pop (junk) science.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sal_acid

      Did you read the article or just the OP's quote? Fitzsimons' research is just of a number sources the article cites. Fitzsimons 'studies consumer psychology' at a business school. He's not doing basic nutritional research (what macronutrients do we need), but the way consumers think and buy. For the purpose of his research, how most consumers categorize these foods is more relevant than how the fan of a particular diet (low-cal v low-fat etc) would classify them.

    2. I think that a lot of this goes to indicate that for many, eating out - whether it's Dunkin Donuts or a fancy restaurant - is seen as a treat.

      While I like to think that I try to eat healthy in restaurants - I also know that there are foods that I'll eat in a restaurant, "as a treat" that I'd never eat at home. If you're eating out in a restaurant once a week or so, then the "treat model" probably isn't so unhealthy overall. The problem becomes for people who are eating out regularly but never get entirely away from the treat model.