Want to curb your appetite? Start by calling “snacks,” “meals.” Research published in Appetite found people ate less when they were told they were eating a meal rather than a snack. For the study, 80 women, ages 19 to 21, received an equal portion of pasta and were either told it was a meal (meal label) or a snack (snack label). The participants were further assigned to eat their pasta either from plastic containers using plastic cutlery while standing (snack presentation) or on ceramic plates using metal cutlery while sitting (meal presentation). This resulted in four groups: a snack label/snack presentation group; a meal label/snack presentation group; a snack label/meal presentation group; and, a meal label/meal presentation group. After ten minutes, all participants took part in a taste test in which they tasted an assortment of cookies, candies, and savory crackers and rated the taste characteristics and desirability of each food. The women were then encouraged to eat as much as they wanted for the next ten minutes. By examining the taste test results, researchers found:
Participants in the snack label groups ate more sweets than those in the meal label groups.
Participants in the snack presentation groups ate more calories than those in the meal presentation groups.
Participants in the snack label/snack presentation group ate more calories, sweets, and savory foods than those in any of the other groups.
These findings align with previous research showing that external factors, such as eating environment and food labeling, may trigger overeating. While the mechanisms of this connection are still unclear, researchers theorize that it may be easier to become distracted while snacking, or that our brains may record memories of a snack and a meal differently, making it harder to remember how much we’ve eaten. Whatever the reason for these findings, as obesity rates rise and we increasingly find ourselves grabbing a snack as we dash out the door, this research is a good reminder to slow down, sit down, and eat a meal.