Anyone who’s tried to give up a particular food knows it can be next to impossible to bid it a firm and final adieu—never are cupcakes, potato chips, or Diet Coke as delicious as when you’ve promised yourself that the next bite is the last one. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there’s new evidence that the all-or-nothing approach is a less than optimal one. According to a series of experiments conducted at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, “Vice-Virtue Bundles”—meals that mix virtuous foods alongside the less impressive—can provide one key to managing appetite.
Notably, the study’s author, Kelly L. Haws, an associate professor of management (not a medical doctor) directed her findings primarily at restaurant owners and food vendors. Haws observed consumers found meals to be ideally satisfying (achieving a high level of satiety and satisfaction) when they were as little as one quarter “vice”—meaning, just 25% of the meal could be taken up by, say, a small serving of French fries, leaving the other 75% for virtuous fare.
Haws recommends business owners eschew menu options that were all-vice (jalapeno popper quesadillas) or all-virtue (poached salmon over sautéed kale), instead mixing both elements: “With the right marketing and the right choice sets, we believe that vice-virtue bundles offer exciting directions for future research and practice aimed at maximizing health without compromising tastes,” Haws concludes in her report.
If nothing else, Haws’ findings point to what we may very well see on restaurant menus in the future. What we’re taking from this: A small amount of sin goes a long way—and if indulging a little bit prevents a full-fledged dietary meltdown, it was probably worth the extra calories.