Unless you’re a serious athlete or on a serious diet, you probably have no idea how many calories you ate yesterday at lunch. That’s true even at fast food restaurants that post calorie counts on menus; one study last year found that most of us underestimate the calorie content of a fast food meal by nearly 200 calories.
These photos, which come from Wisegeek, are a quick reminder of exactly what 200 calories looks like.
It’s one thing to know that celery has fewer calories than cheese, and another to actually see it on a plate: The pile of celery, weighing in at 1425 grams, barely fits, while the cheese is 96% lighter and the size of a couple of tiny cubes. After looking at these pictures, numbers that might have seemed meaningless on a nutritional label suddenly have context.
Why did the site choose 200 calories? “We could have chosen any amount of calories for this project, but we wanted something that gave tangible volumes for the entire range of items,” writes author L.S. Wynn. “We felt that 100 calories of butter or oil would have yielded diminutive portion sizes; on the other hand 500 calories of celery would have been virtually incomprehensible.”
It’s the sort of visualization that might be a useful addition to calorie-counting apps or upcoming gadgets like the TellSpec, which shoots lasers at food to calculate what ingredients are inside. Many of these tools just focus on numbers, and miss the visceral impact of images.
Numbers alone, some studies say, aren’t necessarily likely to change what you eat. When fast food restaurants post calories, people tend keep eating the same thing. That might be because they’re just not reading the menu, or possibly because they don't care. But it also may be because they don't have a good sense of what a particular number means, or how much is too much.
In other words, a lack of knowledge about the calorie count of a specific food probably isn’t why you’re fat. While that might not bode well for the roll-out of the federal law requiring all large fast-food chains to post nutritional info, maybe it also just means we need to think of better ways to make sense of the data.