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Even though many chain restaurants are required to display calorie counts on their menus, many studies show that having access to this information doesn’t sway those of us jonesing for a burger to opt for the salad instead.
But what if the menu went one step further by telling you just how long you’d have to work out to burn off the heap-load of calories you’re two seconds away from devouring? Would it make you think twice about ordering your beloved chili cheese nachos?
A new study that takes all the fun out of overindulging says “yes.” Researchers at Texas Christian University assembled a group of 300 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 and gave them each one of three menus. One was a regular menu with no mention of calories; another provided standard calorie counts; and the third listed how much brisk walking was required to burn off each menu item. All of the menus offered the same food, from burgers, fries and chicken fingers to salads, soda, water and dessert.
While the menus with and without calorie counts had no impact on what people ordered, the menu that listed calories in terms of exercise caused diners to order fewer calories and to eat less. And no wonder: According to the study, it takes two hours of brisk walking to burn off a double cheeseburger. Add some fries and a soda to that and we’d need to install a treadmill in our bedroom and pray that we sleepwalk.
While I think it’s important for people to be aware of how many calories their shoveling into their pieholes, it does seem like those who are most likely to be influenced by this new information are those who are already somewhat health-conscious. People who live and breathe Burger King or Heart Attack Grill are the ones most in need of an intervention, but the least likely to care. Conscientious types are probably already eating grilled chicken most days of the week, anyhow, and are painfully aware of how many calories the occasional splurge is costing them.
In a way, it’s almost no different from the pop-up restaurant that we wrote about earlier this year, which promised a calorie-free dining experience -- by way of working out between courses. It’s true that the only way we can maintain our current weight is if we burn every calorie we eat, but telling you just how much you have to sweat to indulge in a piece of birthday cake seems like it’s just setting us up for a dysfunctional relationship with food.