Madison, WI — When it comes to food, our stomachs may know very well when they’re full, but the brain has veto power. And, it turns out it’s pretty easily tricked.
Studies in the latest Journal of Consumer Research looked into just how context and comparison derail even the best intentions. They point to critical learnings for brands trying to support people with chronic disease through meaningful behavior change out in the very tempting real world.
Lesser temptations are harder to resist
Say you’re on a tight budget. While out shopping, you see a gorgeous pair of red-soled Louboutins for $900. Obviously you cannot buy the Louboutins. But in the next window you see a nice pair of Nine West sandals on sale for $99. Now your brain doesn’t outright reject the idea of the new shoes – that you have no money for – immediately. It’s a lesser temptation. One that’s harder to resist.
The same thing happens with food. It’s easy enough to reject the molten chocolate lava cake on the dessert menu, but harder to turn down the light cheesecake with fresh fruit or the bite-size dessert samplers.
For our chronic disease suffers, it means the Friday night pizza isn’t the only problem. It’s the sides, the tastes, the lesser tradeoffs that invisibly add up.
Healthy choices derail health decisions
Including calorie counts on menus does seem to have an impact on nudging both restaurants and customers to make healthier choices.
But, the impact may actually be reversed when all those “good” options are organized in a “healthy choices” section of the menu.
Researchers found that consumers consider the healthy menu separately (will I eat from there or from the regular menu?). Having the low-cal options nearby makes people feel better about the overall menu, but less likely to actually make a healthier choice.
That’s in part because people believe healthy food tastes differently, particularly that it’s rough and less appealing (this brownie study is a prime example).
Some restaurants, including Burger King, have even turned that research to their advantage, making healthier options, like Satisfries, even more rough in texture than they might naturally be to trigger that instinct about what healthy feels like.
For our chronic disease suffers, that means we have to foster better experiences with better-for-you foods, breaking down these perception barriers and helping them find good choices that don’t feel like a sacrifice or a punishment.
Health claims have a biasing effect
People tend to eat more calories at restaurants that have a health halo, like Subway, than at those considered down-right unhealthy, like McDonalds.
Researchers call this “vicarious goal fulfillment.”
People underestimate the calorie count of meals at healthy restaurants, they order more sides, and generally make less healthy choices.
“Remarkably the biasing effect of health claims on calorie estimations are as strong for consumers highly involved in nutrition as for consumers with little interest in nutrition or healthy eating,” the study said.
For our chronic disease sufferers, that means we have to create new aphorisms and memorable “food rules” that make it way easier to interrupt the marketing and understand its real meaning.
Posted by: Leigh Householder