In a quick and dirty version of “Well, I coulda told you that”:

According to a study to be published later this year by the International Journal of Research in Marketing, people who eat “light” snacks and drinks such as baked potato chips or diet soda are likely to eat 13 percent more calories than people eating full fat snacks. That’s because it’s easier to justify overindulging when a food is labeled as healthier, according to the study’s lead author, Joost Pennings, a finance and marketing professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Pennings told The Huffington Post that while the snacks themselves can be effective, it’s a matter of how we react to the label.

“‘Light’ products may help, but behavioral responses to the light claim may wash out the positive effect,” he said. “Understanding the psychological effect of the claim that a product is ‘light’ need further investigation to ensure that ‘light’ results in a lower calorie intake by consumers.” [source]

This is why so much of the language around ‘snacking’ troubles me so.

The idea behind “eating lighter snacks” is, for many people, just as opportunity to feel comfortable snacking without worrying about calories. Now, I get it, but we also have to be honest about what the ultimate goal is in many cases: to eat as much as you need to get full, without gaining weight.

You also have to pay very close attention to the wording in the paragraph above. People who eat “light” snacks—meaning the fat, which has more calories per gram than carbs and because of that is generally more filling, has been removed in favor of adding more carbs—eat so much more of their chosen snack that they’re eating more of it than they otherwise would if it were the full fat version. Which means that the switch to lighter snacks ultimately means consuming far more carbs. Yikes.

The greatest problem with snacking is that it has been taught to so many of us as mindless eating. You sit on the couch with your chosen treat and veg out. No portion control. No regard to hunger or fullness. It’s just supposed to be this “spontaneous” thing that makes us dig right in.

That’s nuts.

Many people wind up eating snacks when they really need meals, and overeat junky snacks with far less healthy fat and protein, an ultimate downside, almost eating another meal’s worth of calories. The snacks fill them up for just enough time to last until the next meal, where they eat a full meal’s worth of calories again.

Worst of all, the way that people actually eat these lighter snacks seems to skirt the largest issue of all: it discourages people from setting boundaries to help them develop and maintain will power. We all have to learn how and when to stop. We also have to learn that some things, no matter how tasty they may be, are not filling unless they’re in portions so large that they run counter to our goals. And, we have to be able to cut our ties with the foods that make it difficult to set those boundaries.

I’m not surprised in the slightest by this, and I suspected it a long time ago. I’m just glad more people are realizing it today.

For more information on snacking:

Photo credit: credit: flickr.com/trekkyandy