Most of us intrepid dieters have noticed them in the stores–little bags of this and that labeled as 100 calories per serving. My gut reaction has been to agree with a dietician’s comment I read: “100 calories of junk is still junk.” At the same time, I like the idea of pre-portioned snacks. At least that gives people a sense of how many M&Ms they probably can eat without inflicting too much damage. And it’s far better than those candy bars that list a serving as 1/3 of a bar. Do you know anybody who cuts their candy bar in thirds and saves the rest for the next 2 days?
So I was interested to see that a group of researchers from Arizona State had actually looked at how people respond to the 100-calorie snack packs . It appears that the overall impression of the packs is conflicted. People thought of the packs as “diet food,” but actually overestimated how many calories they contained. When the researchers divided participants into “restrained” eaters (or chronic dieters) and “unrestrained” eaters (people who do not watch their weight/calories, I assume), they found that the packs posed the greatest threat to the restrained dieters, who ate more of the small-portioned food than regular food. Oops.
The researchers might have produced clearer results using the Jenny Craig profiles of different eaters. According to Jenny, I am an unconscious eater…somebody who sort of grazes along without paying enough attention to what I’m doing. One of the hardest things I had to do on Jenny is to change the habit of grabbing a few grapes as I passed our fruit bowl. Fruit was now a “counted” food. For people like me, the idea of pre-packaged food is perfect, but that may not work equally well for other types of eaters. I do get some funny looks at the Nautical Bean when I arrive for my afternoon coffee with a little baggy containing a carefully counted out Jenny snack: 12 lowfat Wheat Thins, 1 wedge of La Vache Qui Rit cheese (one of my favorites), and 4 cashews or macadamia nuts. But hey, without this portion control thing, I think the Costco cashew jar would be the single serving….
Scott, M., Nowlis, S., Mandel, N., Morales, A. (2008). The Effects of Reduced Food Size and Package Size on the Consumption Behavior of Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters. Journal of Consumer Research DOI: 10.1086/591103