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Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH

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The 100 Calorie Pack: Portion Control Supporter or Saboteur?

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Oct 16, 2008

If you walk down the chip, cracker, or cookie aisle of the supermarket today you will see shelves stocked with 100-calorie "snacks." While many calorie-conscious consumers believe these single-serving packages are perfect for controlling portions, new research shows that the 100-calorie "snack" can quickly turn into a 400- or 500-calorie "meal."   

In a previous post we described research that found that people consume more when given more and that one way to cut down on high-calorie foods is to serve them on smaller plates. Given this, you would think that eating chips from a 100-calorie snack pack instead of 28-ounce bag would be a good choice. While the verdict's still out, some marketing studies are saying "No!" After performing a series of experiments in which researchers served study participants tempting foods in smaller and larger bags, a few conclusions were made:

  • People perceived the savory snacks in the small bags to be more like "diet" food.
  • People also believed that four smaller bags contained more calories than one large bag.
  • This conflict between thinking that the smaller bags are both "diet" food and higher in calories created anxiety and stress for some study participants (e.g., dieters), leading to a lapse in self-control and overconsumption of the food.
  • Study participants that were chronic dieters (labeled "restrained eaters" in the study) consumed more calories from smaller bags than "unrestrained eaters."
  • When tempting foods come in large packages, consumers think before they eat and are less likely to consume the food; small packages that contain small amounts of food, on the other hand, may be thought of as "small sins" that don't have to count toward one's daily calorie intake.

What do you think? Do 100-calorie packs help you control your portions? Or, are you more likely to say "okay" to a 100-calorie pack of cookies (thinking it's a "small sin") than opening up a large tray of cookies?  

Scott, M.L. (2008). The effects of reduced food size and package size on the consumption behavior of restrained and unrestrained eaters. Journal of Consumer Research. 35(3), 391-405. 

Coelho do Vale, R (2008). Flying under the radar: perverse package size effects on consumption self-regulation. Journal of Consumer Research. 35(3), 380-390.