Diet heuristics: The real reason why you are fat

Ever pick a meal at a restaurant based on the calorie count displayed on the menu? What about at the supermarket, ever chose something because it simply said “Made with whole grain”? Do you even know what a whole grain is?

Your brain uses heuristics to help solve problems quickly. Think of heuristics as a set of statistics you maintain in your head to justify your decisions. They become your personal rule of thumb. The problem is, in our overcomplicated world we have become heavily reliant on heuristics and quick decisions. We forget that we may have our facts skewed or have become too reliant on arcane logic. The ramifications can affect our waistlines.

Purchasing a food item because it has the label “Whole Grain” is an example of a heuristic. Somewhere, perhaps long ago somebody told you that whole grains where good for you. It could have been something you seen on TV for example. Not knowing what a whole grain is you subconsciously equate it with being healthy. Forget about the fact that the box of cereal you just picked up at the grocers is loaded with sugar, because it says it is made from whole grains you feel better about making your decision.

Here is another example: Let’s say you are in the market to buy a new cellphone. You see two phones, one manufacturer is Samsung the other is Ardinilus. Which one would you likely buy? Recognition is a very strong heuristic. People tend to equate recognition with trust. Because you simply recognize the name Samsung over the other brand you are more likely to perceive Samsung as having greater value. This is why branding is so important to retailers.

The same is true in dieting. You may see a snack bar made by Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers and instantly think you can get away with eating a dozen of them. Another brand may be cheaper, better for you, etc. but because you do not recognize it you go with the option you think carries less risk. Rather than physically pick up each snack bar from the shelf and read each label you instead rely on brainless branding.

Busy, over taxed minds are most susceptible to this. A tired mind will always rely on heuristics when making choices which is why they say never go to the supermarket when you are hungry or tired. You will blindly throw stuff in your cart based on labels because you simply want to get in and get out. This is why the key to weight loss is to first fix your tired mind! A vibrant, energetic mind makes more informed decisions (insert shameless plug for my book here) a tired mind doesn’t.

Take a moment and reflect how you can make smarter decisions when it comes to what you eat. Try to understand the logic you use behind your decisions and see if it still relevant. This small effort alone can  set you on a faster path to weight loss.

One thought on “Diet heuristics: The real reason why you are fat”

  1. Good stuff here. Sugary whole grains are a good example of how marketers can take otherwise healthy foods and create an unhealthy product. It’s more devious too. We all know candy apples are not a good way to get your fruit, but we’re not as well versed in some areas like grains.

    For the record, whole grains are unprocessed and still contain the bran and germ. Much healthier than when those are removed as is the case in most wheat products. My favorite marketing trick is selling “wheat” bread. It’s brown too, so it must be healthy right? Except all bread is made with wheat and brown dye is in the ingredients list. What you were really looking for was whole wheat or whole grain. You just paid for unhealthy “brown” white bread.

    So just as you said, diligence is needed when making food choices and patience to check the labels.

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