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The Dieter's Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat Paperback – August 1, 2011
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"Want to turn around your mindless eating? One place to start is with The Dieter's Paradox. It shows that our best intentions can trip us up and teaches us how to rewire our thinking to avoid decision traps such as health halos and the no-choice fallacy" --Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
"With this book Alex Chernev has provided something of immense value. He's shown us how to manage something we all care about by giving us great information hardly any of us knew about" --Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice
"Alex Chernev has discovered that many people believe they can cut a meal's calorie count by an ingenious method - adding more food!" --Scientific American
"The Dieter's Paradox is a must-read for anyone who has tried to manage their weight and does not understand why they failed, and for anyone who has succeeded and wants to know what they're doing right" --Psychology Today
Top Customer Reviews
The book shows clearly many reasons why it's exactly the people who decide to diet that gain more weight on average. The problem is that most people are "intuitive eaters", deciding to stop eating when they are reasonably full. This only leads to a moderate weight gain (~1 lb/yr), whereas when they start to diet they start relying on other, usually less precise methods. Instead of the average pound per year, their weight starts to fluctuate and they gain much more an average.
The book covers many of the psychological ways in which we are fooled when trying to estimate the caloric content of a meal. Most of us are terrible at it and often we are ignorant of this handicap. We are often unconsciously guided by emotions and heuristics that point us in the wrong direction. Before reading the book, write down how much extra calories you think a frosting ornament in the shape of a carrot would add to a piece of carrot cake. The results of actual tests might surprise you. Similarly, would the shape of a bottle change our opinion of the calorie content of a food item?
In a situation where our internal biology wants us to eat more, it is unexpectedly curious but understandable that seemingly opposite properties of food packaging can lead us to err in the same direction. For example, we have a tendency to finish food packages, and finish "what's on our plate". In this case increasing the size of portions leads people to overeat. However, drastically decreasing the size of portions is not a foolproof solution either. The wide availability of small "snack" packages, makes people think that snacks don't have a high calorie value, small enough to neglect, which leads to overeating as well.
It is interesting that marketing professionals are much more familiar with such human psychological pitfalls than most of us. They have researched many ways in which we could be influenced to buy/consume more of their products, a goal which I usually not tied to the good health of the consumers. Dr. Chernev pulls back the veil on this research and provides page after page of examples like the ones above. He has also organized them thematically into chapters and provides a nice action-oriented summary at the end of each chapter.
The book is an intriguing exploration of how bad we are at estimating food calorie values, the ways human psychology can view the same facts from a different perspective, and how we come up with inventive excuses for something we want. The examples in this book based on experiments, many of which the author has performed himself. It is amusing to see that people from all walks of life can fall prey to the same pitfalls, including company CEOs and marketing professionals as well. The common sense advice at the end of the chapters is a welcome guide on how to overcome some of our built-in predispositions. Forewarned is forearmed!!!
The Dieter's Paradox deconstructs a lot of theories and is such a breath of fresh air. While reading this, I had so many "doh!" moments where that makes sense! My favorite part of reading this book where it was a moment of clarity was when you had to choose which item had less calories. One of the examples was between a 6" Subway turkey breast sandwich or a McDonald's regular hamburger. I was naive and chose the Subway sandwich because I automatically assumed that it was the healthier choice. When I read that the burger had less calories, I was amazed to continue reading about other choices.
Dieter's Paradox was a quick and easy read that helped break down a lot of American dieting myths and deconstructs American food stereotypes. I only wish that I read this sooner and will definitely pass this along!
Dr. Chernev asserts that we use faulty reasoning to choose the best foods to lose weight, mostly due to our classification of foods as "vices" or "virtues" from stereotypes (stereotyping bias), instead of nutritional value and calories; our attempts to "balance" healthy and unhealthy, with the belief that adding healthy to unhealthy foods will somehow lower the caloric value of the meal (balancing bias); our thinking in terms of meals, units, or events, instead of the total quantity of food consumed, (unit bias); our propensity to be influenced by the way options are presented (framing bias); our compulsion to be swayed by comparisons to other options, leading us to believe that we are making good decisions when we are not, (comparison bias); our daily behavior being inconsistent with our long-term goals (consistency bias), and our assignment of a higher priority to the other things in our life, such as price, convenience, and comfort, (priority bias). The paradox is that we make decisions contrary to knowledge and common sense.
This is not a diet book, but rather an informative work based on research and written in layman's terms. Dr. Chernev makes it very clear that he is not a medical doctor, nor a dietitian or nutritionist, but someone who studies how people make choices. All seven biases, stereotyping bias, balancing bias, unit bias, framing bias, comparison bias, consistency bias, and priority bias are simply the terms put forth by the author to point out consistencies influencing our decisions regarding food, and are well documented through research. Now that I have frightened you, please read on.
If you are looking for a diet book, this is not it. However, if you try and fail at dieting over and over, and you are looking for an understanding of why this may be happening, you should not pass this book up. Dr. Chernev, who first became interested in the underlying causes of our faulty reasoning as it applies to food choices by listening in on conversations and talking to acquaintances, explains his bias theory through the stories of how people behaved in his, and others', studies and through the stories of the people with which he has come in contact over the years. These stories sometimes leave you laughing because you have been there, and sometimes leave you scratching your head wondering, "Can this be true?" There are also short, fun quizzes that can demonstrate you are not immune to these biases.
I can tell you, as a person who has fought the good fight with my weight throughout my life, I recognized many of the biases in me, and saw myself in many of the stories. Although there are many suggestions regarding how to avoid allowing a bias to influence your food choices, the most important idea to take away from the book is awareness. Once you are aware of what is taking place you then have the tools to change your behavior.
The book is organized with seven chapters that each talk about one of the biases and that, at first glance, appear to be easy to follow. However, I recommend that you do a couple of things before you start. First, at the beginning of each chapter write which bias it is about because the chapter titles do not make it clear. Also, flip to the "In Brief" section at the end of each chapter before reading it because it is rather easy to get so interested in the stories and quizzes, that you forget the whole picture.
At $15.95, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning how to turn their dieting habits into effective dieting habits. I give it 3 stars for including excellent information for a limited audience while occasionally getting bogged down in the details.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
By: Alexander Chernev
The Dieter's Paradox is written by Alexander Chernev, a psychologist, who holds two doctoral degrees in both psychology...Read more