Dieters looking for a healthier substitute of their favorite high-fat food—such as a bag of potato chips—typically have two choices in the grocery aisle: a smaller package of the exact same food or a larger portion of a “light” version.
The big idea
Dieters looking for a healthier substitute of their favorite high-fat food—such as a bag of potato chips—typically have two choices in the grocery aisle: a smaller package of the exact same food or a larger portion of a “light” version. In a series of studies, we put this choice to consumers and found that people who frequently try to cut back on their eating or are essentially always on a diet—known as “restrained eaters”—prefer the larger portion size of the light version, even though both contained the exact same number of calories. Participants who indicated that they rarely dieted tended to pick the smaller size with the full flavor.
Our first study involved a vending machine choice between a medium-sized bag of Lay’s Baked BBQ potato chips and a smaller package of the regular version—both 150 calories. Participants who took a survey in which they reported frequently trying to cut back on their eating—for example, by taking smaller servings and skipping meals—opted for the larger bag of baked chips. We got similar results over four additional studies involving other snacks, such as popcorn and cookies.
Why it matters
People tend to want food to be tasty, healthy and filling. Our study’s restrained eaters were definitely interested in choosing a snack that seemed healthier, but their choice of the larger size suggested they wanted a snack that they felt would make them feel full as well—possibly at the expense of taste. Feeling full can help people consume fewer calories overall.
Read more at University of Pittsburgh
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