Does paying in plastic pack on the pounds?

Does Plastic Put On The Pounds?

With four growing children, my wife and I are at the supermarket a lot. I mean, A LOT. And rather than take out cash for every visit, the majority of the time we pay with a credit card.

Until now.

I just read some studies done by researchers at State University of New York and Cornell University that are going to change what my wife and I carry in our wallets.1

The first ATM-opener: Researchers analyzed the shopping habits of a random sample of 1,000 households and discovered that when shoppers pay with credit cards they throw more cookies, sugary candy, high-calorie chips and other junk food in their carts than when they pay with cash.

Three subsequent studies used a mock shopping task on a computer screen. Half of the participants were told the virtual store accepted all major credit cards and the other half was told it accepted only cash. Just like the real-life shoppers, the virtual credit-card shoppers spent more money on vice items (over 70 percent more, in fact) than did cash buyers.

So just the idea of using a credit card can lead to bigger bellies.

Why Paper’s Less Fattening Than Plastic

Woman having a grocery

The final two studies did a deeper dive into the psychology behind cash vs. plastic. They confirmed that impulsivity and unhealthiness are highly correlated. That is, we’re not very impulsive about buying healthy foods—whether we’re paying by cash or credit. When it comes to “vice” foods, however, when we pay with plastic, we seem to lose all control. We not only spend more on junk (regardless of price) that we had no intention of buying, but we also regret it more later.

The result? We’re broke, bummed and facing a pantry full of junk food.

Blame it on a principle experts call the “pain of payment.” When you need to dole out the green stuff, you literally hand over something that’s valuable. Doing that makes you more likely to pause a moment and truly consider the cost — to your wallet and your waistline.

Paying with plastic, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like you’re losing anything since there’s such a delay between purchase and payment. So you’ll throw whatever looks good at the moment into your cart without thinking. And on go the pounds!

Green Your Way Thin

  • Before you even head for the store, plan your meals for the week and create a shopping list.
  • Shop on weekends. The study found that shopping on weekends led shoppers to buy fewer impulsive items (like candy).
  • Leave the credit cards at home. Instead, estimate how much money you’re going to spend and bring just enough cash, so you won’t even have the money to stray toward the sweets.
  • Snack on something healthy before you go to the store — some crackers and hummus, or carrots and salsa — so your stomach won’t distract you and lead you down the wrong path (aka the donut aisle).
  • If you don’t like the idea of carrying around cash, use an ATM card with a pre-set amount.
  • If you must shop with plastic, take a good look in your cart before you swipe your card and ask yourself, “Would I still want these [cookies, chips, insert your favorite junk food here] if I had to pay for it with cash?
  • Circle the perimeter as soon as you enter the supermarket. Here, you’ll find most of the healthier items on your list such as fresh produce, dairy foods and meat, fish or poultry products. Then … and only then … walk down just those interior aisles, armed with your list (and stick to it).
  • Walk past the end caps. These colorful end-of-aisle displays typically spotlight packed, over-processed foods that lack any real nutritional value.
  • If there’s a line at checkout, avoid those temptations strategically placed to catch your eye by thumbing through a magazine while you wait.

It may take a little more planning, but I am definitely going to go with cash for my next grocery run. Hey, if it can help me keep away from the Ben & Jerry’s, it’s worth an extra trip to the ATM!

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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1. Thomas M, Desai KK, Seenivasan S. How credit card payments increase unhealthy food purchases: visceral regulation of vices. J Consum Res. 2011;38(1):126-139.

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  1. I wish that nutrition was taught from a place of empowerment. To say that anything “makes you gain weight” is untrue. It’s as simple as not eating more fuel than our body needs. WE are the reason we gain or loose weight, not sweets or dairy or fat or meat or carbohydrates. Education should be done by building people up, not by demonizing any type of food or the way we receive it. It’s frustrating to see the confusion and shame people feel because of the marketing spin of the nutrition industry.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Kay,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! I completely agree with you that one of the reason we gain weight is because of our body’s predisposition. However, it cannot be denied that some food groups does hasten this process. This is why we try our very best to share as much information about such topics to help our readers make the right decisions. Yes, education should be done by building people up. I firmly believe that it is better to inspire and motivate our readers. We aim to provide support and options to those want to make that shift to a healthy lifestyle. Make it a healthy day!

  2. The amount we charge on our credit cards is paid in full every month. When we shop at the grocery store my wife has a list and only once in a while do we pick up something not on it. When using a card it feels like paying cash.

  3. This article hits it on the nail unfortunately there will always be self righteous individuals making negative comments.
    Eating and health habits, managing finances as well character building are greatly influenced by our environments and where we come from; as we understand more about “what makes us tick”as humans, I think our chances to improve our quality of life will increase. I, very often here in NYC, see lots of people whose financial success or lack of it change their groceries shopping lists and sadly not for the better.

  4. I use a debit card, not a credit card. But if I get cash back, it’s gone in no time.

  5. Villa Jean Tiller Mdiv; BA in Behavioral Science

    I remember when we first started using a credit card for groceries. I have commented to my husband about this very thing. We difinitely spent more money because of it. I am an integrative health coach and I shall use this info in my consulting with clients. Thank you.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Villa Jean,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing! I am glad you found the article helpful and please feel free to share with your friends and loved ones as well. Make it a healthy day!

  6. Please post my very good comments. Thank you1

  7. A very totally rediculous article! I pay absolutely everything by credit card even my tithe to my church.I always carefully plan menues and grocery lists. I never am impulsive nor extravagant. I always eat only home cooked or raw very healthy foods.I never buy nor eat nutritionless items like candies, sodas, chips, or bakery goods, processed foods, etc.I eat mostly veggies grown organically in my own yard. I never pay interest because I do not believe in it. I pay off my credit card balance at the end of every month. I buy few stamps or envelopes and use no checks. I receive at least 4 or more free restaraunt gift cards per year from my bank for using my mastercard.I am 82 years old and have great blood pressure, good cholesterol, and sound bones.

    • Bobbie very good for u …lol but u ant normal this article is on the money for me i wish i did as u do. Really God Bless you. But most Americans do this . I wnt spend my cash untill i get were they want take cards. I go to the store to get a gallon of milk & lofe of bread and come out with $120.00 . That i didn’t have to get or realy the time and a lot of junk food that causes me to gain weight. If i had $20 to spend and no other way i wouldn’t be as fat.

    • You have lived a VERY WISE LIFE. I hope you are passing it on to others.
      To Bobbi Sena

  8. Catherine gersht

    Hi I’ve been waiting I think a month for my order and I can’t find my confirmation order. Could some one in your company help me out here? Thank you in advance.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I am deeply sorry to hear that your order is taking so long to reach you. I have asked a member of our RealCare Team to look into your concern and they should be in touch within the day. Again, I am very sorry for the delay and do want to reassure you that we are currently exploring a more efficient means of delivery. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  9. This is the one step I needed mentally. I buy treats but like granola bars, chocolate covered graham crackers, grain chips, garden veggie straws with sea salt, nutella, go gurts., bagels cream cheese, black olives, raisin cinnamon bread, with cash or credit but not all the same time. These are all treats. ???? 20% group?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Julie,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I know it may seem frustrating, at first glance, but with a little careful planning and strong will power, those sugary sweets can be avoided. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

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