100-calorie war: Do portion-sized snacks help control weight or fuel bad eating habits?

You can’t eat just one — that’s the slogan for Lay’s potato chips. But it seems to characterize Americans’ attitudes about snacking in general.

A full-size bag of chips: gone. A 16-oz. bottle of soda: gone. A king-size Snickers: gone. That may be your typical afternoon snack, but those sugary treats nearly exceed the recommended calorie intake for the entire day. We Americans can’t stop — just like the Lay’s slogan — and we blame our obesity on portion sizes (at least partially).

Enter the expanding world of 100-calorie snacks. With everything from cookies, crackers, chips and chocolate to cakes, muffins, jerky, popcorn and more, manufacturers have jumped on the 100-calorie bandwagon, marketing these individually packaged products to the calorie- conscious, primarily weight-watching women and busy moms who want snacks for kids.

Lina Upham, of Marco Island, buys the 100-calorie snacks in all sorts of flavors and varieties. Since giving birth to her daughter, Karla, 7, Upham says she has struggled to lose the extra 45 pounds she gained.

She likes the concept of the 100-calorie snacks, but so far, except for the 100-calorie beef jerky packages, none have cured her snack attack.

“I keep trying different kinds, but nothing seems to kill the appetite,” says Upham, who has come to learn which foods fill her up and which don’t. “I’d have one, two, three (servings of a snack) and I still have an appetite.”

As this sank in, Upham says she realized she’d be “better off to eat a cheeseburger from McDonald’s” than consume so many empty calories.

Dr. Robert Korolevich, a concierge physician in Naples, agrees.

“One hundred calories is 100 calories, but what are those calories comprised of” — that’s what really matters, he says.

Korolevich recognizes everyone gets cravings, and the 100-calorie snacks are a good way to take the guesswork out of measuring portions properly. And because the packages are individual, Korolevich believes it could be easier to limit yourself.

“Most likely, you won’t open more than one package,” he says of the 100-calorie snacks.

In the land of the larger-than-average portion sizes, Americans have become accustomed to big helpings. From “super-size me” options at fast food joints to heaping servings from restaurants, overindulgence has become the norm.

“We are supersizing everything, but particularly snack foods. So even if you eat just one portion, it can really be like three portions, and that can definitely derail your diet,” Noralyn Wilson, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told WebMD for its online publication on 100-calorie snacks.

Keith Dameron, of Marco Island, thinks it’s deceiving the American public to package snacks in this way.

“These 100-calorie things, in my opinion, it’s a scam, a marketing ploy … and nobody is doing anything about it,” said Dameron.

As someone who gained about 50 pounds over the course of 10 years, Dameron watched as the scale kept climbing higher and higher, but he didn’t do anything about it; not until he made a lifestyle change and committed to maintaining a sensible diet. (He says he has shed about 20 pounds in six weeks.) “It’s not the food’s fault, not the wine maker, it’s mine,” says Dameron, of his struggle with portion sizes and overeating. He grew up believing he must clean his plate before exiting the dinner table.

Korolevich, who sees Dameron as a patient, stressed the opposite.

“I believe in eating frequently and in small amounts,” and to never stress about cleaning your plate, he says.

Even Korolevich fails to control his cravings at times, especially with Oreos, he admits. “I'll eat a whole sleeve” in one sitting, despite knowing the side effects of overindulgence. With an influx of that much sugar, he says, one will experience a yo-yo of highs and lows.

“Within an hour, you’re going to be tired, a little sleepy.”

Instead, he suggests eliminating soda completely and limiting yourself to one snack a day.

“These (100-calorie) snacks are good — if used properly,” he believes.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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