How the Marriott Hotel Taught Me How to Eat Better

If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. Simple as that. So a lot of people that want to loose weight start counting their calorie intake. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but is has a major downside to it. People start to feel guilty over every calorie that they eat or drink. They no longer enjoy their food and beverages. Life is too short for that. And it doesn’t make it easier to keep up a healthy lifestyle. My stay at the Marriott Hotel in Curacao taught me how to keep the extra pounds off and still enjoy a good meal. All I had to do was to start subtracting instead of counting.

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When winter arrives I like to fly off to a warm and sunny beach. And when I do, I don’t mind spending money on a good hotel. I like the feel of it. The glamour of a fancy hotel bar, roomservice around the clock and returning from the beach to a freshly cleaned room. It all works for me. If I won the lottery jackpot tomorrow, I would probably check in at the Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen and never leave. So if you see me wandering in my pajamas in the lobby of the hotel a couple of years from now, you know I have made it big.

What I also like to do when on a holiday trip is to go all inclusive in the hotel. I find it very convenient and relax to pay for all the food and beverages in advance and not having to think about those expenses at all during my stay. The reason behind the good feeling is the psychological concept of loss aversion.

What is loss aversion?

Loss aversion is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. A €100 bet where you would double your money if a coin comes up head and losing your money if it comes up tails, is not considered attractive by many people. But neither is an upside of €110 or even €150. For the bet to become attractive, most people would require the bet to pay up a minimum of €200 if head comes up. At least when it is a one-off bet and can’t be repeated over and over again. Losses have a greater impact on people than similarly sized gains. That is why most experiments considering loss aversion come up with a win that needs to be twice the size of the loss.

Loss aversion is seen as irrational by behavioral economists. A Euro is a Euro, regardless whether you win it or lose it. You win some and you lose some in business and life. The field of evolutionarily economics has quite a different perspective. The rationality given to loss aversion is that you don’t just win some and lose some. It is win, win, loose, loose and you are out of the game. Either by bankruptcy or worse. And it isn’t that hard to imagine at all. If I doubled my income overnight I would be thrilled, but it wouldn’t change my life that much. Maybe an upgrade of my wardrobe and an extra holiday in Dubai, but nothing substantial. If on the other end I lost all my income overnight, it would have massive consequences. Rent and groceries can no longer be paid for. Now that is a substantial and negative life change.

But rational or not, both schools of thought agree that losses loom larger than gains. That is why the Marriott Hotel offers all inclusive in a smart fashion.

Loss aversion at the Marriott Hotel

The Marriott Hotel in Curacao is a typical Caribbean high end hotel with its huge open spaces and relax attitude. Like a lot of hotels it offers its customers the option of making their stay all inclusive. All food and beverages are paid upfront by a fixed amount. The loss aversion is therefore minimalized, because you only feel the pain of paying once and enjoy the cold beverages and flavored cuisine multiple times a day for your whole stay.

Where a lot of hotels give their all inclusive guest a wristband to identify them as such, the Marriott Hotel doesn’t. It makes all their guest, all inclusive or not, sign off their bill with room number and signature. If you are an all inclusive guest it will be registered to your account, but not billed since you already payed for it in advance. But here is the thing. If I stay in a hotel which offers a wristband, I never see any bills. Now I see a bill after every meal. When I go for lunch at the seaside restaurant and order the Caesar salad with shrimps, extra bread and two bottles of water, I receive a bill for $26 to sign. In my mind I immediately subtract the bill from the upfront payment I made to be an all inclusive guest at the hotel. This bill is a reminder of receiving value and it comes multiple times a day after every meal. It gives me a good feeling everytime, while the pain of paying was there only once and far in the past.

The Marriot Hotel reminding me after lunch how great loss aversion is.

Start subtracting your calorie intake

Your calorie intake is important in managing your weight. So people start to count the calories of every bite they take during the day and feel guilty about it. Not much fun to feel guilty all the time and not very supportive of keeping up a healthy lifestyle. So why not do it like an all inclusive guest at the Marriott Hotel and use loss aversion to your benefit?

The Dutch organization Voedingscentrum estimates that an active man of my age needs on average 3000 calories per day. So that number includes my gender, age and most of all my active lifestyle. That is the upfront payment I made by going to the gym in the morning hours. Now I can use the upfront payment to enjoy my food and beverages and not feel guilty about it. The choice of food and beverages I consume is of course very important, but I do no longer have a negative feeling after every meal as long as I stay within the limit of 3000 calories a day.

Loss aversion can be used in many shapes or forms by both people and organizations. Applying it to your calorie intake is just one of them. I hope that by considering your workout as an upfront payment in calories, you are more able to enjoy your meals and uphold a healthy lifestyle. So stop counting calories and start subtracting.

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About the author

Sander Palm (1980) is a behavioral economist and fitness enthusiast. He has a Master of Science in Marketing from VU University Amsterdam. He lives and works (out) in The Hague. Want to know how you can get your marketing, communication and sales in better shape? Drop an email at sander@behavioralinsight.nl


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