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Why “Snack Packs” Don’t Help You Lose Weight

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:03am

I’ve talked about this before, in discussing the fallacious “Heart Healthy Lunchroom” of my former employer. Now there is actually proof: Snacks In Small Packages May Lead To Overeating ( Abstract ).

Yet new research found that people actually consume more high-calorie snacks when they are in small packages than large ones. And smaller packages make people more likely to give in to temptation in the first place.

First, these 100-calorie packs are invariably foods that you shouldn’t be eating anyway: chocolate pretzels, cookies, Cheese Nips, granola bars (i.e., candy bars), etc. These are all food products with no nutritional value. In the previous article that I linked to above, I came up with some other “100-calorie snacks”:

Now let’s consider some other 100-calorie “snack packs”. You can have a medium apple at about 75 calories. 30 grapes or 15 raw almonds or 10 oil-roasted almonds - all about 100 calories. Three cups of raw broccoli or 20 large baby carrots or…have I made my point? There are so many healthful 100-calorie options that will actually fill you up and provide some vitamins and minerals as to make the 100-calorie Snack Packs a joke.

Now let’s break down the two findings of the study:

  • Calorie consumption is higher when eating from small packages.
  • Small packages make people more likely to dig in in the first place.

Increased Consumption
These snacks are all high-carb and mostly high sugar. So right from the start, we’re dealing with foods that tend to cause a rise in insulin, with a subsequent drop in blood sugar, driving further consumption as the body seeks to maintain a fuel supply for the brain. You’re also dealing with the psychological aspect of “It’s only 100 calories.” Even for a small person eating, say, 1500 calories per day, that’s less than 7% of the daily caloric intake. It’s easy to write off as insignificant, though we all know that getting 5-10% of your daily calories from junk food isn’t insignificant.

Finally, we are conditioned to eating everything that is put before us. While it’s unlikely someone reaching into a bag of Oreos is going to actually eat less than 100 calories, there is the possibility. But it’s guaranteed that they will eat that many calories when they open a 100-Calorie Pack of Oreos.

Increased Likelihood of Consumption
This isn’t mind-blowing either. It goes with the “It’s only 100 calories” mentality. While you might hesitate to open the big bag of cookies or chips because you know you won’t be able to stop, opening a small package isn’t as disconcerting. You know that you’ll only be eating what’s available in the package. Until sugar and insulin surge through your bloodstream, throwing off the balance of blood sugar and causing you to rip open another package.

It seems that the larger packages, for instance a regular sized bag of potato chips, prove to the person that they are eating junk food. On the other hand, these small packages are marketed as diet food, so even though the eater knows that the food in the package is junk, there is a conflicting message in the subconscious: “diet food” vs “junk food”.

The Bottom Line
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but smaller packages are not designed to keep you from eating as much. They are designed with the main purpose of increasing the “value add” of the food in the package, enabling the manufacturers to charge more than twice as much for the same product. In fact, food manufacturers have the express goal of increasing your consumption. The more you consume, the more you pay.

Actually, here’s an interesting fact: it’s not even the same food. The Oreo packs for instance aren’t even real Oreos. They are filled with just the wafer cookies with no cream. If you’re going to splurge and eat an Oreo, at least eat a real Oreo complete with the cream. Make your cheats worth it and eat a diet of real foods such that you keep hunger at bay.

Do you know people that use these snack packs as a way of supposedly reducing their caloric intake?

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