What’s Wrong with a Little Snack?

…Nothing, as long as it does not turn into a big snack.

One of the major factors that has been consistently found to influence weight gain or loss is controlling portion size.  Sometimes this is easier said than done — for example, at buffets where the available portions are seemingly endless.

Researchers at Cornell University (1) recently ran an experiment to test this in a new way.  They gave two groups of people different serving sizes of snack foods (chocolate, pie, and potato chips) — either small or large portions.  Of course, the choice of foods was not ideal (unless you count the health benefits recently coming to light for chocolate), but the point of the study was to look at calorie intake.  Not surprisingly, the small serving group took in fewer calories — an average of 100 fewer.  What was important, though, is that they found no difference in reported satisfaction between the two groups.

This highlights a major principle of our food consumption:  the difference between hunger and appetite.  Hunger is the physiological need for food, detected and driven by the hypothalamus in the brain.  Appetite is the psychological desire for food, which can be the result of numerous factors — one of which might be how much we have available in front of us.

So if you’re going to have a snack, remember these principles:

  • Measure out a small serving of snack ahead of time.  Don’t grab the whole bag.
  • Eat slowly — give your brain a chance to catch on to that feeling of a satisfied appetite before reaching for more.

1.  Van Kleef, Ellen, Mitsuru Shimizu and Brian Wansink (2013). Just a bite: Considerably smaller snack portions satisfy delayed hunger and craving, Food Quality and Preference, 27(1):96-100

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