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Are Healthy Menus Sabotaging Your Orders?

Ahmed Rabea / flickr

Here’s one from the odd files: Simply thinking about passing up a Philly Cheesesteak in favor of a healthy salad is enough to quell your desire for healthy eating, regardless of what you actually order and eat.

After analyzing the restaurant ordering habits of more than 70 diners, Duke researchers found that people were significantly more likely to choose the least healthy option when the menu included a single healthier option.

“Because the healthy option is there, it somehow satisfies this eating goal in them and then they felt liberated to sort of go crazy and choose something really, really bad for them,” explained study author Gavan Fitzsimons, Ph.D.

For example, 37 percent of study participants chose a bacon cheeseburger when the alternatives included a veggie burger and grilled chicken sandwiches. But when the veggie burger/chicken sandwich wasn’t on the menu, just 17 percent picked the bacon cheeseburger.

Similar patterns were seen when salad was included with French fries, chicken nuggets and a baked potato (more people chose fries), and when people were offered 100 calories worth of Oreo cookies along with original Oreos, chocolate covered Oreos and golden Oreos (more picked the chocolate-covered cookies).

Think your willpower is too strong to fall into this trap? According to the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people who thought they had high levels of self control were actually more likely to make indulgent choices when offered a healthy option than people who didn’t keep such a tight rein on themselves.

The bottom line: If you want to order a salad while at McDonalds, expect to order a Big Mac instead. Your best bet is to stay away from all fast food establishments and other unhealthy restaurants that dangle healthier options—also called bait—on their menus. Check out our guide for cooking all your lunches and dinners at home for under $50.

About The Author

David Schipper – David began writing for CorePerformance.com in 2008, after spending six years at Men's Health magazine digging up the newest scientific research in health, weight loss, nutrition, muscle and cardiovascular fitness.

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Tags: Health, Eating Out, Weight Loss