Think eating food is as easy as putting it in your mouth? It's considerably more complicated than that. Your brain plays a big role in determining what and how you eat. Understanding how your brain interprets food choices is key to managing your eating habits.
It's now common for restaurants to place all of their healthy meals into a neat little section of the menu, or sometimes in an entirely separate menu for easier browsing. However, by grouping all of the healthy eating options together in a different menu, restaurants are gently encouraging you to ignore them.
As marketing experts Jeffrey R. Parker and Donald R. Lehmann note in their Journal of Consumer Research study, placing low-calorie foods in a different section or menu makes diners consider them separately—and ultimately avoid them.
So if you want to eat healthy while eating out, make a conscious choice to keep your eyes on the lower-calorie menu.
You may not consciously avoid eating healthy foods, but something within us dictates that we steer clear of them. In a study appearing in the Journal of Marketing, professors Rajagopal Raghunathan, Rebecca Walker [Reczek], and Wayne D. Hoyer found that knowing a food is healthy before eating it makes us dislike it.
Just the mere label of "healthy" tacked onto a dish's name can make you assume that the food lacks taste. Meanwhile, according to Raghunathan et al., food that is unhealthy triggers our brains in a positive way: we assume that it will taste delicious.
Now that you're aware of this, you can push yourself to try foods that are labeled or described in a healthy way. A little practice will retrain your brain to understand "healthy" can also mean delicious. Once you're accustomed to these new descriptions and foods, you may even start associating different health foods as favorites.
Step away from the salad, or you might end up eating way more calories than planned. Fast food chains offer more "healthy" options than ever before, but unfortunately, according to Keith Wilcox and his team of researchers in another Journal of Consumer Research study, these healthy options fool diners into purchasing other, unhealthy menu items.
For instance, if visitors select a salad at a fast food joint, they feel proud of themselves for making such a healthy choice. As a result, they then load up on salty, fattening sides like fries and soda. The study mentioned above details that we believe choosing the salad is justification enough for chowing down on a plate of greasy fries.
Now that you're aware of this tendency, you don't have to fall into this trap. Focus on how many calories you want to consume rather than your "good" behavior, even if the salads sit right next to the juicy, messy burgers. Making conscious choices and staying aware of what your doing rather than giving in to your temporary impulses will help you shape up your eating habits—and maybe even lose a little weight.
You can also try clenching your fist when ordering fast food to make healthier choices.