Earlier this year, I learned about the “sunk cost fallacy”, a behavioral finance term that describes our tendency to throw good money after bad. When a person makes a decision about money, she generally looks at the entire history of the decision instead of focusing on the present. For example, she might continue to repair a toilet because she’s already spent so much trying to get it to work, whereas the best course of action might be to buy a new one.
The classic example of the sunk cost fallacy comes from poker. In poker, you bet on your hand as it exists at the moment (and its potential for the future). If you’re playing Texas Hold’em, for example, and have a pair of jacks on the deal, you might bet them strong in order to scare off other players. But if the flop reveals three hearts, and the turn yields another one, it’s best to get out of the game. But many people will stay in because they’re “pot committed” — they figure they’ve already risked so much to be in the game that it can’t hurt to bet a little more. This is dumb. It’s the sunk cost fallacy in action.
How does this relate to food?
Many people are taught from a young age that they must clean their plates. “Think of all the starving babies in Africa,” our parents told us, and then they forced us to sit at the table until we’d finished our dinners. One way the sunk cost fallacy manifests itself in dieting is the irrational compulsion to finish everything on your plate.
This way of thinking rears its head in other ways, too. What if you’re at a nice restaurant enjoying a meal that you can’t take home? If you’re like me, you feel compelled to eat every bite. I’ve paid for the food, and by God I’m going to eat it!
Or what about when you make a mistake? In the move that prompted this post, I just had a Snickers bar. About midway through I realized that:
- I wasn’t hungry.
- I wasn’t enjoying the candy.
A logical person would stop eating the Snickers bar. Being an emotional eater, I kept munching. “I’ve paid for it already,” I thought. “And besides, there are just a couple bites left.”
One key to eating sensibly is to listen to your body. When you’re full, stop eating, regardless of how much you like the dish or how much you’ve paid for it. It’s fine to take pleasure from eating, but don’t eat more than your body needs or wants.