Updated: 10/25/18 According to a recent study in Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, people tend to eat more when food is labeled "healthy." Why? It may be that subconsciously we think that healthy food is less filling, and therefore we eat more of it to compensate. In contrast, subjects who ate food labeled as nourishing did not eat more—indicating that the word is associated with being more filling to the belly.
In one part of the study, 50 students were given a cookie (the same cookie) but told it was either "healthy" or "unhealthy." Those who were told it was a "healthy" cookie indicated feeling hungrier 45 minutes later in comparison to those who thought they were eating an "unhealthy" cookie.
In another part of the study, 70 students were given popcorn described as "healthy," "unhealthy" or "nourishing." The students could have from one to 10 cups—as much as they thought would prevent them from getting hungry. Who ordered the most? The researchers found that students ordered more and ate more if they'd been told the popcorn was healthy, compared with students who were told it was unhealthy. Those told the popcorn was "nourishing" ate less than those in the "healthy" group, but more than those in the "unhealthy" group.
Finally, students were shown pictures of healthy and unhealthy foods. They were asked to label them as "filling" or "not filling." Unhealthy foods were labeled as "filling" more often than healthy foods.
The lesson: How you talk to yourself about what you eat matters to your food choices and mindful eating. When you are trying to decide what to eat, one trick may be to tell yourself to choose nourishing foods. Also, be alert, attuned and even more mindful when you see foods labeled as “healthy.” It may lead you to eat more than you realize. Unfortunately, some foods are advertised as healthy when they really aren't (as a marketing strategy). Overall, just notice how language, labels and self-talk can impact your food choices.
What are some of your strategies when practicing mindful eating?