What You See Is What You Eat

A survey of more than 11,000 people determined that three quarters of obese respondents claim to eat healthily and 40 percent apparently think they are exercising more vigorously than their actual weight would indicate.

A critic points out that the respondents were not asked how much they ate, which is an important variable. But “how much” is not an objective measure, anyway, as evidenced by an experiment in which 85 adults at an office reception allowed to choose one of two different bowls. Those who picked the bigger one filled it with 31 percent more ice cream than those who chose a bowl half the size — another corollary to Parkinson’s law: food expands to fit the container. And the 85 people were food experts and nutritionists!

Both findings reinforce just how easy it is to rationalize unhealthy behavior, and they show that obesity results not simply from a failing of will power but from a contradictory tangle of perceptions of the kind that tell you food you eat on vacation has no calories.

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