We’ve all seen the 100-calorie snack packs in the grocery store, convenience store and in vending machines. It seems like every snack food is available in one of these handy packages. And while they’re convenient, a recent study published in The Journal of Consumer Research reports that they aren’t exactly healthy. Especially if you’re dieting.
100-calorie packs debuted in the marketplace in 2004 and peaked in 2008 when 190 new 100-calorie packs entered into the marketplace, but their popularity has seemed to wane in recent years.
The strategy behind these snack packs is to help people control their calorie intake while still being able to enjoy their favorite snack. Researchers at Arizona State University wondered if this strategy was succeeding or if it was actually harming people in their efforts to lose weight.
How did consumers in the study react to the mini-packs? There was no single answer. It turned out that each person’s response hinged on his or her relationship with body weight and food. To appreciate the findings, it is helpful to know what is meant by a couple of terms:
A restrained eater is someone who resists physiological urges to eat in order to lose weight or to maintain a reduced weight. Often, restrained eaters group foods into good and bad categories and prefer to know calorie content of a food before eating it.
An unrestrained eater usually goes by internal signals that he or she has eaten enough.
Both groups, restrained and unrestrained eaters, thought of the mini-packs as diet food. All of the study participants predicted they would want to eat less if the food was in the mini-packs as opposed to normal-size packs. But when it came to eating the food, the restrained eaters ate more from the mini-packs than did the unrestrained eaters. More often than not, the restrained eaters ate all of the mini-packs available to them whereas the unrestrained eaters ate some and left some.
This study shows us that food packaged in mini-packs doesn’t really help anyone. It doesn’t fool anyone either. People have a basic need to feel there is enough food and that doesn’t happen with food served in mini-packs.
Food security comes from having a reasonable amount of food offered at predictable times throughout the day. Approaching meals and snacks in this way lets you pay attention, eat as much you want, and enjoy it. This study is proof that it’s more important to eat mindfully than to calorie count.