3 Reasons Single-Serving Snack Packs Might Be Harmful to Your Health Goals
Single serving snack packs can seem like a great way to control your snacking, but using them too often can have downsides.
At first glance, single-serving snack packs can seem like a great tool to keep yourself in check around snacks or forbidden foods. If you’re prone to overeating in the afternoon or evenings, a 100-calorie snack pack can seem like a perfect solution to eat what you want without getting ‘out of control.’
Perhaps you routinely dip your hand into a bag of chips only to find yourself eating the whole bag. With a snack pack, you can be sure that you’re eating only one serving.
Some dietitians even recommend this strategy, but for the most part, I don’t.
In this article, I’ll be sharing all of the reasons why I’m not a fan of using single-serving snack packs, as well as strategies to feel confident around eating, even at snack time.
Before I dive deep into this topic, I’d like to put a disclaimer.
Just like other things related to my nutrition philosophy, I’m not an all-or-nothing gal. Yes, I keep individually wrapped packs of non-perishables like crackers, granola/nut bars, and nuts in my office, my purse, and sometimes my car.
When unexpected things happen in my life (which can be super common as a busy mom of 3!), I know that I have something nourishing to tide me over until I can get a proper meal. Plus, these foods can stay fresh in my office desk drawer for several months.
However, I’m not a fan of making single-serving or 100-calorie snack packs a consistent part of your overall food plan.
However, I’m not a fan of making single-serving or 100-calorie snack packs a part of your overall food plan.
Here’s why this dietitian doesn’t recommend single-serving snack packs:
1. Single-serving snack packs encourage mindless eating.
Open your snack pack and munch away without the fear of eating 10 servings!
Sounds great, right?
Using these individual serving packs doesn’t help you learn to tune into your hunger and fullness signals.
Quite the contrary!
They (single serving sized packs) rely on the belief that there is an appropriately sized snack and that eating exactly that amount will be appropriate for you every day.
- If you’re full but the bag isn’t empty, you’ll probably finish it anyway, because you don’t want to waste it.
- If you finish the bag but you’re still hungry: too bad! That’s all you deserve today.
This external control of portions is diet culture wrapped in a tiny package.
Human bodies don’t work this way. Some days you’re more hungry, and some days less.
Furthermore, these rules will likely bleed into your other meals too. Using these snack packs makes you more likely to eat everything on your plate – no more, no less.
Being able to tune into your hunger and fullness signals takes time AND practice. (Oof! I know! We want to be ‘good” at skills right away.)
If you had a full bag of chips and mindlessly ate them while you worked or watched TV, you’d probably get some feedback from your body in the form of extreme thirst or a stomachache. Eventually, these physical feelings might prompt you to take a look at the way you are eating.
While I don’t believe distracted eating is a moral issue, distracted eating does do one thing really well: it robs you of the ability to truly experience food. And if you think about it, why would you want to do that?
Would you spend the money to see a play or concert and then stare at your phone while you were there? No! Then why do you multitask while eating?
When I work with clients to help them get more satisfaction from food, I help them tune into all their senses. Appearance, texture, smell are all important elements that are significantly diminished when you eat while watching TV, looking at your phone or driving.
If you struggle with mindless eating, you are definitely not alone! And I bet you can relate to the next reason I don’t recommend single-serving snack packs.
2. Single-serving snack packs perpetuate the belief that you can’t be trusted around certain foods.
Part of the reason these single-serving snack packs are so popular is that they prey on our feelings of vulnerability around forbidden foods.
You might never buy a package of Oreos to keep at your desk, but 100 Calorie Oreo pack? Yes!
I understand the feelings of anxiety so many women have around certain foods. I’ve been in this exact position, and making peace with food (Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating) is often one of the most difficult for women to embrace.
But, you need to know that continuing to believe that you can’t be trusted around certain foods is a big part of what is keeping you stuck.
- Are you convinced that you can’t be trusted around certain foods because you have the proof?
- Does this proof look like eating a pan of brownies, a box of Girl Scout Cookies, or a party-sized bag of chips?
- When you eat those foods, do you do it standing over your kitchen counter, or while sitting in front of the TV?
- Are you flooded with feelings of guilt and shame afterwards, as you vow to get back on your diet tomorrow?
- And then do you throw away all the treat foods and swear you won’t eat them again, only to find yourself eating them in a week or month? – Again, here’s more proof that you can’t be trusted around this food!
I’d like to present you with another theory – one that has quite a bit of science around it. And if you are a parent or spend any time around kids, this will make perfect sense.
These treat foods are so attractive because they are forbidden to you! Just like a toy that a child can’t have, these foods take center stage in your mind.
You are caught in a restrict > binge > guilt cycle:
So, while these 100-calorie packs might make you feel ‘in control’ and able to eat these foods, you aren’t doing anything to improve your ability to eat full-size servings of this food.
In fact, you might find yourself eating greater quantities when at a party because these foods are still holding power over you.
The key to feeling neutral around these foods is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat them. Want to know how? Check out my article, 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food: Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating (insert link)
And speaking of practice, that brings me to my third and final reason that I don’t recommend single-serving snack packs for regular use…
3. Single-serving snack packs stifle your ability to learn and grow as you tune into what food your body needs.
In this way, I think of single-serving snacks as training wheels when it comes to food and nutrition. They MAY help some people eat foods that they might have previously avoided, but they don’t allow for the full experience.
It’s time to take the exciting step and remove those training wheels when it comes to food!
The only way to achieve peace with food is to practice being around them, without rules or judgment. This means that you keep those forbidden foods around, in unlimited amounts and do the systematic work of eating that food and learning from each experience. Does that sound like practice again? It does to me!
What does the process of learning to eat challenging foods look like?
Let’s take a former client of mine:
When we started working together, she ‘had a problem with chocolate.’ (Her words, not mine!)
She ate chocolate every day, after a long day of work. She would allow herself to eat one piece of chocolate every day, but it felt like an addiction to her.
This chocolate was powerful and it consumed her thoughts. Kind of like a single-serving pack, right? You allow it, but you’re not really learning from it. In Intuitive Eating, we call this pseudo-permission. It’s when your body says “yes!” but your brain says “no”!
As a part of our work together, I asked her to purchase many of her favorite chocolate bars. I also coached her through what it would look like to eat them without rules.
- On the first day, she ate more than 2 bars. She journaled about the experience.
- The next day was similar. She kept doing the work, using curiosity instead of the usual judgment and shame around her eating experience. (This is where having professional support is so helpful. I provide my clients with the exact steps they need to take to practice eating their forbidden foods, and then help them explore their feelings and experience around the practice.)
- Gradually, she started to notice that a certain amount of chocolate was satisfying and felt good in her body.
- Her body, her rules!
- She laughed when she noticed 3 bars of this chocolate in her house that she hadn’t thought about in a while.
The chocolate was now powerless. She could enjoy it when she wanted it but the addictive pull of the food was gone!
Would she have gotten to this place of peace by continuing to ration her chocolate? Her years of prior experience have told her NO. Can you relate?
If you’re ready to start exploring an exercise like this, download my free PDF Make Peace with Food Workbook today!
There’s a time and a place for single-serving snack packs of food. They can provide us with a simple way to have snacks when we are at work or on the go. But, I highly advise against using single-serving snack packs as a strategy to control your food consumption.
Might it work for some time? Yes.
But, to really have food freedom, you need to learn to eat foods according to what your body needs, not arbitrary rules by food manufacturers. Your body, your rules.
If you are struggling because you’re afraid to bring certain foods into your house, you are not alone! So many women have the same experience.
The good news is that you don’t have to continue to live with obsession and worry about food. You can finally make peace with food and become an intuitive eater.
I’ve created a workbook to help guide you through this process!
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”