Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Livin' Lean Topic Tuesday: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat

The United States is big on diets. No other country in the world has as many diet products, weight-loss books, television shows and lean cookin' blogs (had to throw that one in there) than the US. At the same time, as a country, we have the largest proportion of overweight individuals. Isn't that interesting?

This is something brought to my attention by researcher Alexander Chernev, author of his latest book, THE DIETER'S PARADOX: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat. The Dieter's Paradox explores the psychological reasons why millions of Americans continue to get heavier despite the increased convenience of healthy weight-loss options. Chernev has looked deep into the irrational aspects of our behavior that lead to the failure of our dieting efforts. By categorizing these decision errors, or biases, he is able to better understand and explain the force behind our thoughts and actions about dieting. Take for example the "Balancing Bias". This explores how individuals will balance the intake of healthy foods with unhealthy foods by ordering a side of fruit to go with their bacon-cheddar cheeseburger and fries. The bias creates an illusion and we can't seem to understand why the weight isn't falling off.

Another bias is the "Stereotyping Bias". This is one I think a lot of people do from time to time, including myself. The name sounds healthy, but it can be deceiving. Have a little fun and take the calorie test below.

Calorie Test
By Alexander Chernev

Below you will see a list of 10 meals from popular fast food chains. Write down your estimate of the calorie content of each meal. No need to come up with a precise number; instead just provide a low and high estimate of each meal's calorie count.

For example, if asked to indicate the calorie content of a Big Mac, you might think that it most likely has somewhere between 300 calories (low estimate) and 600 calories (high estimate).

Your goal is to identify high and low estimates such that the right answer falls between the two numbers you write down 90% of the time. In other words, this means that you should get at most one answer (10% of responses) wrong. 

MEALS                                                               LOW ESTIMATE                HIGH ESTIMATE

Dunkin' Donuts multigrain bagel with lite

cream cheese

Chili's citrus fire chicken and shrimp fajitas

Denny's smoked sausage scramble

Krispy Kreme's whole wheat glazed donut

McDonald's Quarter Pounder (without cheese)

Panera Bread's broccoli cheddar soup (8oz) in

a sourdough soup bowl

Romano's Macaroni Grill grilled salmon


Ruby Tuesday's turkey burger (with fries)

Starbucks' grande 2% white chocolate mocha

and a bran muffin with nuts

Uno Chicago Grill's classic deep dish pizza


Now, let's find out how you did


Dunkin' Donuts multigrain bagel with lite cream cheese: 490

Chili's citrus fire chicken and shrimp fajitas: 1,360

Denny's smoked sausage scramble: 1,480

Krispy Kreme's whole wheat glazed donut: 180

McDonald's Quarter Pounder (without cheese): 410

Panera Bread's broccoli cheddar soup (8oz) in a sourdough soup bowl: 880

Romano's Macaroni Grill grilled salmon teriyaki: 1,230

Ruby Tuesday's turkey burger (with fries): 1,393

Starbucks' grande 2% white chocolate mocha and a bran muffin with nuts: 900

Uno Chicago Grill's classic deep dish pizza (individual): 2,310

If you got all answers right or made only one mistake, you are an exception. If you did not -- don't get depressed. Most people don't. On average only half of the answers to this quiz are correct, significantly below the 90% target.

As you might have guessed by now, this was not just a test of your knowledge of calories but also a test of your confidence in your own knowledge. As this quiz shows, most of us are overconfident, thinking that we know more than we actually do.

© 2011 Alexander Chernev, author of The Dieter's Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat

Overall, I think The Dieter's Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat brings a lot of things to our attention. It makes us reflect more on our behavior and the thoughts which drive our behaviors. Are we being honest with what we are eating? Are we being deceived by the names of foods and putting them in undeserving "healthy" categories? Do these biases get in the way of our weight goals? With all of the resources available for achieving a healthy weight, there has to be an explanation as to why so many people still struggle with weight loss. Because humans are complex in nature, there is no simple, cut and dry solution or explanation to any struggle. Chervev allows us to view weight struggles of dieters through a psychological lens. Sure, there are other perspectives to the weight dilemma that are spot on for certain people. This is one that the author has researched well and written in a way that is easy to understand. It is one big piece of the puzzle.

This book is an eye-opener. It may even be more effective for some people than any diet has even been. Here's why. It gets inside our thoughts and behaviors; the driving force to our eating. To succeed at something, we should truly understand what it is we are doing. There is a great benefit in knowing why you are eating; perhaps even more than what you are eating. Or maybe we just need a strong combination of both.

Have a fabulous Tuesday!!

For more information on the book and the author, please visit http://www.dietersparadox.com/, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. In my view, it's rather simple. Dieting doesn't work because deprivation doesn't work. The more a person tells themselves they "can't" have something, the more they think about that thing until it becomes, one might say, all-consuming.
    Also, "diet" food is often downright unpalatable. Perhaps it tastes like cardboard, perhaps it simply isn't satisfying. Or perhaps it really isn't good for the body. Extreme diets that cut out whole food groups, for instance, are in the long run doomed to fail.

  2. This is true. I went on a 30 day diet where I had to stick to certain meals & only those meals for 30 days & it would guarantee that I'd lose 10 lbs. Well guess what, it didn't happen & I felt so angry at the end of it. Now I just keep track of what I eat, when I exercise, & stop eating carbs after 6 & I lose weight. No diet, just keeping track of things & it works!



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