Large packages, large Americans

While reading Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, I came across an interesting idea.


Large packages can save you money and delay a store trip, but have you ever thought that large packages contribute to overeating? In Mindless Eating, Food psychologist Brian Wansink shows us how what’s around us influences how much we eat.

For example, two groups were asked to make a spaghetti dinner. The cooks in one group were given a medium box of spaghetti, a medium jar of sauce and 1 pound of ground beef. Another group of cooks were given a large box of spaghetti, a large jar of sauce, and 2 pounds of ground beef.

The results?

The cooks with larger packages prepared 23% more food.

Did they eat it all?


Typically people eat 92% of the food that’s served. The larger packages resulted in more calories being consumed.

When a package is large we naturally pour more. The bigger the package the more we eat. We may only eat 20% more, but over time this extra consumption can increase the size of a muffin-top by say… 20% (muffin-top: The flab that spills over the top of the waistband of low rise jeans).

For snack foods, overeating is more dramatic.

In another study, a group of movie-goers were given a 1/2 pound or a 1 pound bag of M&M’s. The group that was given a 1/2 pound bag ate 71 M&M’s on average. Those with the 1 pound bag ate an average of 137 M&M’s. Almost twice as many M&M’s – 264 more calories.

Ouch! I knew there was a good reason to avoid 1 pound bags of M&M’s.


I enjoyed reading Mindless Eating – it’s fascinating and fun, rather like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Wansink describes the many influences behind overeating: package size, labels, lighting, family and distractions like TV.

Why do you think we overeat?


  1. I know with me, a lot of it has to do with where I’m eating. If I’m actually sitting at a table talking to my husband, I’m less likely to just keep stuffing food, but if I’m eating in front of the tv, I’m zoned out and don’t even pay attention to how much I’m consuming. The death of the “family dinner” probably contributes to the expanded waistline, too. Excellent post!

  2. Honestly, the study about cooking spaghetti doesn’t register for me because I regularly deal with large packages and scaling down as far as I can for only two people. I know about how many noodles will make us one meal with one meal of leftovers and that is what I cook, although I buy in large quantities for the price break. However the snack food study? — Guilty as charged. I adore potato chips, much as I hate to admit it and if I put a serving or so on my plate and leave the bag in the cabinet, I don’t do so badly. If, however, I bring the bag to the table with me, look out. It’s a fat and salt binge right there. The same goes for chocolate. Mmmmmm…

    I don’t need a scientific study to prove this to myself, but it is definitely interesting. Thank you for the post.

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