Snacking Series: Do Snacks Lead to Weight Gain?

Welcome to our Snacking Series, where we’ve been debunking the myths around snacks and their potential impact on our health. If you’re new to this series, check out the first article that highlighted the definition of a snack as well as how snacks typically fit into our eating pattern. Today we discuss another myth about snacking: that it leads to weight gain.

Consider the following commonly used diet message: Eat 100 fewer calories every day to lose 10 pounds in one year! Or maybe: Walk 30 minutes per day and lose 5 lbs. in one year! These messages have good intentions but are ultimately not very helpful because that’s not exactly the way metabolism works.

For decades we were taught a simple equation for weight loss: if "calories in" are fewer less than "calories out," then we'll lose weight. And it's true that food intake and exercise habits influence weight. But as we learn more about the impact of stress, appetite hormones, sleep, genetics and many other factors, it's time to realize that this simple equation doesn’t always hold true.

So why is snacking so often used as a scapegoat for weight gain? The frequency of snacking among children and adults has increased in America since the 1970s, and so have our waistlines. From this correlation alone, the relationship between snacking and weight gain may seem undeniable. But as we know, a correlation often doesn’t tell the whole story.

Is there really a causal link between snacking and weight gain? This recent review suggests that it all comes down to satiety, which is another word for feeling full and satisfied after eating. Snacks that contain a mix of food groups, especially those containing protein and fiber, have been shown to increase satiety, which can prevent overeating. The consumption of healthful snacks likely affects satiety and promotes appetite control, which could reduce future weight gain.

That brings us to another component in this equation: mindful and intuitive eating. Mindful eating emphasize awareness while eating, and intuitive eating highlights honoring hunger, eating foods that promote satiety and not associating guilt with certain foods. Recent studies have found that intuitive eaters who don’t use weight as a parameter for success typically have lower BMIs and improved psychological benefits. While these studies don’t explicitly address snacking, intuitive eating is about tuning into hunger cues and preferences, which can improve satiety.

When it comes to snacks, some people eat mindlessly. Some people snack as a coping mechanism. However, choosing nutrient-dense and nutrient-diverse foods while incorporating mindful and intuitive eating techniques may help you be more intentional about your snacking habits and feel less out of control around food.

Next time someone tells you snacking leads to weight gain, don’t be fooled by their generalization. When it comes to food and health, there are many pieces to this pie.