Research has shown that people trying to lose weight may overestimate how healthy their diet is.

A small American study found that most people believed they had improved the quality of their diet over the course of the 12-month study, but experts reported little change.

This could, they say, lead to frustrations about failing to meet weight loss targets, with the team calling for more research in this area to help improve healthy eating habits.

Study author Dr Jessica Cheng said: “We found that while people generally know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, there may be a disconnect between what researchers and health care professionals consider to be a healthy and balanced diet compared to what the public thinks is a healthy and balanced diet.

“People attempting to lose weight or health professionals who are helping people with weight loss or nutrition-related goals should be aware that there is likely more room for improvement in the diet than may be expected.”

The team looked at the diets of a group of 116 people aged from 35 to 58 in the Pittsburgh area. Participants kept a record of what they ate and drank for 12 months using their Fitbits.

At the start and end of the study, researchers calculated a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) rating based on the participants’ eating habits. The rating could range from 0 to 100, with a healthier diet resulting in a higher score.

Participants were also asked to score themselves, with a difference of 6 points or less between the researchers’ score and the participant’s perceived score considered to be a ‘good agreement’.

Researchers found that at the end of the study, only 1 in 4 participant scores were in ‘good agreement’ with the researcher-assessed score. On average, the perceived score by participants was 67.6 compared to the average HEI score of 56.4.

Dr Deepika Laddu, an assistant professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and chair of the American Heart Association’s Council on Lifestyle Behavioral Change for Improving Health Factors, said: “Overestimating the perceived healthiness of food intake could lead to weight gain, frustrations over not meeting personal weight loss goals or lower likelihood of adopting healthier eating habits.

“While misperception of diet intake is common among dieters, these findings provide additional support for behavioural counselling interventions that include more frequent contacts with health care professionals, such as dieticians or health coaches, to address the gaps in perception and support long-lasting, realistic healthy eating behaviours.”


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