Can Smaller Food Packages Help You Eat Less?

By Robert Ehrman, MD

Can Smaller Food Packages Help You Eat Less?

There are two different ways to prevent or fight obesity: eat fewer calories every day, or burn more calories through exercise. In some ways, burning more calories is easier—if you don’t do any exercise, you can start doing some. And if you already do a little exercise, you can always do a little more.

For many people, eating less can be more of a challenge. There are many different ideas out there about how to achieve this goal, but experts are always looking for new ways to make this happen. According to the results of a new study, single-serving food packages could help some people eat less.

What are single-serving food packages?

A single-serving package is when enough food for 1 serving comes in a single bag, box, or other container. For example, a single-serving package of apple juice might be an 8-ounce bottle, instead of a big bottle that has 64 ounces. A single-serving package of crackers might be a small bag with 10 crackers, rather than a big box with 100 crackers.

How might this help with weight loss? Past research has shown that sometimes people eat more food just because it’s available to them, not because they’re hungry. For example, when plates are larger, people tend to eat more food at a meal. This is because more food can fit on a larger plate, and people tend to eat all the food that is on it. Therefore, if you use a smaller plate, you’ll be eating less overall. The small plate can’t hold as much.

The research

The study included 64 people. Some of them were overweight, and others were at a healthy weight.

Half of the people were given 20 bags that each had a single-serving of pretzels—one ounce. The rest of the people were given 2 regular-sized bags of pretzels, which were 10 ounces each. That means that both groups had the same total amount of pretzels, but divided differently.

Everyone took home their pretzels for 4 days and were told they could eat them whenever they felt like it. Each person kept track of how much they ate and when they ate them.

At the end of the 4 days, the researchers looked to see which group ate more total pretzels. They wanted to know if the group that got the single-serving bags ate fewer pretzels than the group with the regular-sized bags.

The results

The results of the study showed that, in general, people who were at a healthy weight tended to eat less than people who were overweight. However, when the researchers compared the group with the regular-sized bags to the single-serving group, they were a little surprised by the results:

  • For people who got the large bags of pretzels:
    • People who were overweight ate nearly twice as much as people in the healthy weight group
  • For people who got the single-serving bags:
    • People who were overweight actually ate less than people of a healthy weight (the opposite of what researchers expected)

What do these results mean for you?

This study was very small, and it can’t make the promise that single-serving packages will help you lose weight. More studies would be needed to prove that.

However, it does show that portion control is a useful way to help some people eat less. Plus, there is really no downside to single-serving containers.

Even if you can’t find your favorite foods in single-servings packages, you can make your own at home. Here are a couple of options:

  • Small Tupperware containers
  • Baggies or zip-top bags
  • Re-use small plastic or glass jars and bottles for soups, sauces, juices, and other liquids

The take home points

  • Weight gain results when you eat more calories each day than you burn.
  • Eating less each day can help tip the scales in favor of weight loss.
  • Having food packaged in single-serving containers could help you eat less and therefore lose weight.
  • Use baggies, zip-top bags, or Tupperware to make single-serving containers of your favorite snacks–even if they’re homemade.





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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

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Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

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Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

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