Don't let warehouse deals from Costco or Sam's derail your diet! Follow these healthy eating strategies to save money on bulk foods without gaining weight
Attention shoppers! Living close to a “big box” retailer or supercenter—places like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Costco—may supersize your risk for obesity, suggests a new study from Georgia State University. Lots of research, particularly from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, has found a connection between food stockpiling, bulk packaging, and overeating too. While these superstores sell plenty of healthy and organic items, you can still over indulge when it comes to the good stuff. (Psst! Here are 6 New Healthy Foods to Throw In Your Cart.)
“I’ve belonged to these big box stores for years, and I’m a big believer in the savings,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell’s lab. “But you need to set up controls for yourself to avoid overdoing it.” Avoid the hazards of the bulk superstore with this easy advice.
“If you go to grab a snack and you see one apple or 20 bags of chips, you’re going to go for those chips every time,” he says. Why? Your brain wants to get rid of the chips and even out your supply, he explains.
To combat this “stock pressure,” Wansink advises storing most of what you bought in a place where you won’t see it every time you go for a snack. For example, if you bought a five-box pack of energy bars, put a few bars in your pantry and stuff the rest in your basement or storage cupboard—somewhere you won’t see them unless you go looking for them, Wansink suggests. These tips to Fight Food Cravings Without Going Crazy could also help curb those midnight munchies as well.
The Georgia State study authors say white-collar jobs may also be contributing to rising obesity rates. How? These desk jobs make it possible for you to eat all day while you conduct business. That may be especially true if you buy huge packages of snacks from big box stores, Wansink says. Plop a supersized bag of trail mix on your desk, and you’ll keep sticking your hand in whether or not you’re hungry, he says. The solution? Pack small snack bags at home to bring with you to work, Wansink recommends. Try throwing a few of these 31 Grab-and-Go Meals to your lunch routine—they're all under 400 calories too! (Buying reusable snack containers can reduce waste, which is one of the advantages of buying in bulk to begin with.)
Those jumbo-sized packages are just as problematic at home as they are at work. In fact, one of Wansink’s studies found people eat 33 percent more—even if they say the food tastes bad—when served from a large dish compared to a small one.
The solution: Grab a tiny plate or bowl and pour out the amount of snack you want to eat. Close the package and stash it back in your pantry. If you leave the big bag nearby, you’re more likely to grab it and refill your dish—even if you’re not hungry.
Multiple studies have linked variety to overeating. One example: People offered M&Ms in 10 different colors ate 43 percent more than those offered the candy in just seven colors. (That’s especially crazy when you consider all M&Ms taste the same.) Even the perception of variety drives over-eating, Wansink and his colleagues say.
The takeaway: That “variety pack” of different snacks or dips could persuade you to eat more than if you only had one option, Wansink says. Cut back on variety, and you’ll curb overeating, his research shows.
Preparing meals takes time and energy. If you buy a jumbo pack of ground beef or fish sticks, you’re more likely to cook a whole bunch and feed off the leftovers for days, Wansink says. That’s especially true if you’re worried about part of the package going bad. It’s also likely that you’ll make more—extra big burgers, or a greater quantity of fish sticks—if you know you’ll have a ton leftover in your fridge.
You can probably guess Wansink’s advice: Repackage your meat or cooking purchases into small-ish, meal-sized portions. If you bought something healthy and you want to make enough for lunch the next day, that’s great, he says. But re-portioning can keep you out of trouble with fatty meats or other unhealthy meal ingredients. If you're looking to do weekly meal plans, but struggling to start them, these Genius Meal Planning Ideas for a Healthy Week can put you on the right track.