If you frequently BYOB—as in bring your own bags when you grocery shop—you probably feel pretty awesome about decreasing your impact on the environment. And you should! But unfortunately, a new study suggests that toting your groceries in reusable bags could actually make you more likely to fill them with weight-sabotaging food.
For the study, published in the Journal of Marketing, researchers performed a series of experiments to figure out how grocery bags influenced people’s purchases. For the first trial, the study authors looked at data from a grocery store’s loyalty cards for more than two million shopping trips. Then, researchers compared the purchases of the same customers when they brought their own bags and when they didn’t. The researchers found a strong correlation between bringing your own bags and buying foods filled with empty calories (like cookies and chips). Plus, they were also more likely to load up on organic goods. That’s head-scratching stuff, right?
For the second experiment, researchers asked 111 participants, a majority of whom were women, to visualize a hypothetical shopping trip at a faux grocery store. The shoppers were asked to stroll through an imaginary store, which they were given a map of, and pick out the 10 foods they were most likely to purchase. All of the shoppers had the same grocery store map and the same foods categories to pick from; the only difference was that some had their own bags, and some didn’t. After reading through the shoppers’ picks, the researchers found that those who were given their own totes bought significantly more “indulgent” items. But unlike the other study, most participants didn’t disclose whether the foods they bought were organic or not.
So what the heck is it about grocery bags that make you want to fill your cart with treats? The study authors hypothesize that opting to bring your own bags might make you feel that you’re doing something for the greater good, as well as influence you to buy organic goods. And because of that, you may feel entitled to treats.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the influence of grocery bags on shoppers with kids wasn’t as strong as those sans babies. The study authors suspect this is because shoppers with kids are more concerned about their kiddos’ needs than their chocolate cravings. (Also, have you ever taken a child down the candy aisle? Ugh).
Of course, the researchers say that more studies are needed to investigate the connection between junk food and grocery bags. But now that you know the link may be there, you can shop more consciously the next time you hit the supermarket.