Does micro-packaging work?

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American portion sizes have been steadily rising over the past few decades along with our waistlines. It’s human nature (and natural for any animal) to eat more when more is placed in front of you. In response to the rising obesity crisis, many food manufacturers have turned to micro-packaging to reduce portion sizes and help us control our appetites, but do these (typically) 100-calorie snack packs actually lead to reduced consumption?

One study looked into the effects of 100-calorie snack packs on both overweight and normal-weight individuals. They wanted to test two questions:

  1. Do these snack packs reduce the calorie intake of overweight individuals differently than normal weight people?

  2. Do they enable people to better track their calorie intake?

All the participants were randomly assigned either four 100-calorie snack packs or one 400-calorie pack to eat while watching television. They wanted to test how well micro-packaging works during distracted eating, since as I mentioned previously, it’s this subconscious eating that often causes the most problems. The researchers theorized that micro-packaging would enable people to better track their calorie intake which enable them to chose to eat less. They were surprised to find that **all the participants underestimated how many calories they consumed by about 60 percent (they believed 176 calories instead of the 384 calories they actually consumed). This goes along with what I’ve been saying for some time that people are terrible at measuring calories consumed.

It still helped overweight people eat less

Even though both groups drastically underestimated their consumption, the overweight group consumed 54 percent less calories when given 100-calorie snack packs. Why did the snack packs help the overweight group more than the normal weight group? The researchers had a few theories:

  1. They believed that multiple snack packs introduced “pause points” into the distracted eating patterns of the subjects that allowed brief moments of reflection. The subjects may not have understood how many calories they ate, but they were quickly able to see how many packages they ate before deciding if they wanted to open another one. However, these pause points seemed to help the overweight group more. The researchers second theory explains why.

  2. Overweight people tend to rely more on external cues verses internal ones when it comes to appetite. For most overweight people, their internal feedback mechanisms concerning hunger and satiety don’t work very well (hence the problem), so they are more inclined to rely on conscious choices and observations to limit their caloric intake. It’s what many refer to as “mindful eating.” Since mindless consumption caused the problem, overweight people have learned to be a bit more mindful in order to correct it (or at least not make it worse).

In general, I recommend avoiding packaged, processed foods as much as possible, but I have found that smaller packaging does help with results. It may be a bit more costly and wasteful, but as I’ve said before, if you’re trying to lose weight spend the money. Losing weight is meant to be a temporary process (even if it takes years), and it’s worth it to spend a little extra to combat all the subconscious tricks your body does to prevent you from succeeding.

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