Can Eating Healthy Actually Make You Gain Weight?

Can Eating Healthy Actually Make You Gain Weight?

When the average person thinks of healthy eating, they think of losing or maintaining weight, feeling good on the inside and looking good on the outside. Though healthy eating can achieve these and more, a recent study shows that this may not always be the case.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found people eat foods that are labeled "healthy" tend to eat more than the recommended serving size. Because these foods are generally perceived as less satiating, participants often overate, subconsciously believing they weren't full and opting for more, leading to uncontrolled binge eating.

The study, published in the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research, took part in three phases. First, participants were shown photos of healthy and unhealthy foods and asked to relate them to words associated with "filling" and "not filling." People more often associated the unhealthy foods with feelings of being full.

Second, researchers measured hunger levels of participants after eating the exact same cookie, in different cases labeled healthy or unhealthy. Those who thought they had eaten a "healthy" cookie reported being hungrier 45 minutes later than those who thought they had eaten an "unhealthy" cookie.

In the final phase, participants were asked to order as much popcorn as they'd like, with popcorn portrayed as healthy, unhealthy, or nourishing. Those who thought they were eating the healthy stuff ordered more than the ones who believed their food was unhealthy or nourishing.

The study did not conclude that individuals overeat healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. It looked more closely at consumer's perception of the word "healthy" and at its use on packaged foods - signaling that, while healthy food itself might be better for us, the associations we create based on food labeling can impact how much we eat.

It's all well and good when talking about natural, whole foods, but what happens when you come across a packaged food that claims to be healthy? Words like "nutritious," "wholesome," "fresh" and others are not regulated by specific standards of practice, so you might be binging on something that isn't actually good for you.

Do you think you over consume healthy food? Do you order larger portions when you think a food is good for you? This study's findings are a crucial conversation starter among obesity experts. Maybe making the right food choices isn’t the issue, but deciding how much of those foods we actually eat can make all the difference.

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Triathlon Coach

Comment by Valsue51
February 11, 2016
No, and the foods mentioned above as used in this survey are not healthy eating (cookies? popcorn?) Healthy eating is eating food which is unprocessed, organic (where possible) and as close to its natural state as possible. I have found that since focussing on eating healthily in this way I am more conscious of portion size, I eat more slowly rather than gulp it down, make more blasts and soups, chew solid properly, and enjoy my food, and I don't feel hungry between meals.
No Avatar

Thank you for your comment! It is pending approval and should be posted shortly.