Should You Stop Snacking To Avoid Gaining Weight? What 13 Scientific Studies Say
Most articles will tell you to stop snacking if you want to lose weight. It's as if snacking is the devil incarnate when it comes to weight loss.
But have you ever stopped and thought about whether or not they're right?
Does the research back up the claim that you should stop snacking at all costs? Or can you graze to your heart's content and still shed those unwanted pounds?
In this article you'll discover what 13 scientific studies concluded about the subject of snacking. And the results might surprise you... A LOT!
So before you stop snacking altogether, in fear of dieting sabotage, you might want to take a few minutes and read on.
And if you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of "Should You Stop Snacking To Avoid Gaining Weight? What 13 Studies Say", click the play button below.
Here's Why You Might Want To Stop Snacking
How often do you drift through the day in a snack-induced trance? Mindlessly shovelling handfuls of food into your mouth, one after the other. Occasionally, taking a brief moment to breathe before maximum sustenance-acquisition resumes.
For some, it's as easy as snack-sized pork pie to control their eating behaviours. But you're not one of these strange snacking-immortals. In fact, the notion to stop snacking seems your only option. Otherwise, you'll end up gaining more and more weight. And that's the opposite of your goal.
So is mindless grazing to blame? And should you stop snacking, right now?
Stop Snacking If You Can't Control Calories
Energy balance governs whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight over the long-term. So if you're snacking is causing you to progressively gain weight, then you're in a calorie surplus.
Despite what you logged in MyFitnessPal. Or what you think you ate. If your weight is going up week-after-week, then energy balance is tipped in the wrong direction.
Tracking everything you eat accurately could be one way to bring things in-check. And you can use my free online calorie calculator to help with that. But not everyone wants to count calories. In fact, the majority of the world would rather eat a rat's testicle than weigh and measure everything they ate. So judging your daily intake as a habitual snacker can be tough.
For example, this 2019 study looked at snacking and its affect on energy balance. And note, participants weren't tracking calories here.
The study looked at results from the National Health And Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) in the US, between 2007-2014. In total, 3,777 people were included in the analysis (1,917 men and 1,860 women).
On days where subjects snacked, men consumed 493 kcals from snack foods, on average. In comparison, women consumed an average of 360 kcals from snacks.
Both men and women reported reduced food intake in subsequent meals, often skipping meals altogether.
However, these reductions did not offset the energy increase from snacks. Men finished snacking days in an average surplus of 239 kcals and women 219 kcals. As a one-off this isn't anything to be alarmed about. But if your natural tendency is to snack in this way, you may be eating more calories than you realise.
Although, even this evidence doesn't mean you should stop snacking immediately...
Here's Why You Might NOT Want To Stop Snacking
A rummage around the snack drawer of nutritional research shows what you snack on may be the most important factor of all.
Let's dive into a few studies to help you make better choices when it comes to snacks.
High Protein Snacks Could Work In Your Favour
Protein is the most filling macronutrient. Not only does it help fuel the gains, it helps keep hunger at bay for longer. In fact, almost twice as long as a carbohydrate-based snacks, and almost three times longer than high fat options. So, a high protein snack could work in your favour when it comes to controlling calories.
For example, a 2013 study showed that an afternoon snack of Greek yoghurt, with 24g of protein, reduced hunger and increased feelings of fullness.
"In conclusion, an afternoon snack of Greek yogurt, containing 24 g protein, led to reduced hunger, increased fullness, and delayed subsequent eating compared to lower protein snacks..." Douglas et al, 2013.
And yoghurt seems to have mystical powers when it comes to appetite suppression. Several studies have shown a reduction in hunger and, in certain instances, a reduction in calories consumed in subsequent meals.
Therefore, if you choose wisely, snacking could promote feelings of fullness and reduce calorie intake. So maybe you don't need to stop snacking after all.
High Fibre Snacks Might Also Work
And it's not just high protein foods that can help turn snacking hell into snacking heaven.
High fibre foods also seem to help control your urge to mindlessly munch your way through the day. This study concluded that a fibre-enriched yoghurt was more filling than regular yoghurt.
"...a trend for the following ranking was found: fibre-enriched yogurt > regular yogurt > banana > crackers > water. Overall, the fibre-enriched drinking yogurt tended to be more satiating than the other foods." Almiron et al, 2009.
Although, bear in mind, water has zero calories, so it doesn't hurt to drink more water as a means to increase fullness.
So when you make considered decisions, snacking can work in your favour. And therefore, it doesn't have to be the nightmare dieting scenario people make out.
What About High Carb And High Fat Foods? Should You Stop Snacking On These?
But what about high carb and high fat options? Should you stop snacking on these? Or can you make wise choices and still lose weight?
The answer is simple. High carb and high fat foods aren't necessarily a recipe for a snack-induced diet implosion.
Here's a few examples:
- Popcorn is more filling than potato chips (or crisps for my UK brethren).
- Fruit sugars may contribute to feelings of fullness.
- Peanuts may help to reduce calorie intake by up to 21% in subsequent meals, compared to potato chips.
Once again, it comes down to what you choose to snack on, rather than whether or not you should completely stop snacking.
The Bottom Line On Whether Or Not You Should Stop Snacking
There's a clear difference between controlled and mindless snacking. And whether or not you should stop snacking will be determined by your current behaviours. It's likely that your snack choices have a greater impact on your overall calorie consumption, than your choice about whether to snack or not.
Nutrient-dense snacks appear to be associated with weight loss or weight maintenance and should be your go-to snack options. A slight lean towards high protein and high fibre foods may also help increase fullness and suppress appetite.
But that doesn't mean you should completely avoid energy-dense options. While popular perception might be that these options are "bad", the evidence is mixed. Studies either show weight gain or no effect on bodyweight.
Ultimately, if you struggle to control your urges, then steering clear of high calorie, processed snacks might be a good idea. But that doesn't make them "bad" or off limits.
Advice On Snacking
Here's 5 tips to approach snacking in a way that will support your efforts to diet, rather than hinder them.
- Be mindful of your snacking habits and stop snacking out of boredom.
- Ensure main meals are nutrient-dense and as filling as possible.
- When snacking, opt for mainly nutrient-dense options. And prioritise high protein and high fibre options for their filling effects.
- Prepare your own snacks at home, ie yoghurt and fruit, to avoid impulse purchases that are potentially high in calorie.
- Don't fear high calorie, processed snacks. But keep them to a minimum.
So, to answer the exam question. No. You don't have to stop snacking. In fact, snacking in a mindful way, could help you lose weight and achieve your goals.
What's your view on snacking? Has this article changed your mind and given you something to think about? Let me know in the comments, below.
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