This week's lucky "winner"... peanut M + M's!!!
Don't lie*. Peanut M + M's taste amazing. There's something especially seductive about a chocolate-covered nut. What is it? Probably the winning combination of high calorie density, fat, sugar, and a mild habit-forming drug (caffeine/theobromine), in a package that's extremely easy to eat. I also think there's something particularly palatable about fats that are solid at room temperature but melt in the mouth, such as butter and chocolate.
In addition, my girlfriend recently pointed out to me that there's something peculiar about the psychology of eating M + M's and other small food items from a bowl. Since each individual M + M is small and practically negligible from a calorie and health standpoint, and requires nothing more than a hand gesture to eat, the barrier for initiating the snacking episode is very low. You think you can control your portion size. Yet once you start, it's hard to stop eating them until you've eaten a significant number of unneeded calories.
This is different from eating cake, for example. To eat cake, you have to find a plate and utensils, cut a slice, and eat it. You know you're going to be eating a significant amount of food-- the amount you put on your plate. This mental commitment and effort, although small, makes you think about if you really want to go through with it, and the defined portion size helps you control your portion.
I think this is a serious problem because easy snacks such as M + M's are a typical part of office culture. It's a nice gesture to offer that pleasure to your employees, but ultimately it's one of the common features of our food environment that chips away at our health.
* Santa will know.
Photo credit: stormwarning (Flickr)