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Obesity Presumption #5: Snacking Promotes Weight Gain

Obesity Presumption #5 in the myths, presumption and facts paper published in the New England Journal of Obesity, states that:

“Snacking contributes to weight gain and obesity.”

The underlying assumption is that snack foods are incompletely compensated for at subsequent meals, leading to weight gain.

However, as the authors note, neither randomised controlled trials nor observational data conclusively support this hypothesis.

This is not really a surprise, as snacking is not snacking is not snacking.

In other words, what really matters at the end of the day, is whether or not the calories consumed exceed the calories expended.

Indeed, some people may well find it easier to control their overall calorie consumption by snacking between meals, others may find that this simply leads to uncontrolled grazing.

The bottom line appears to be that this is not a question of whether snacking is good or bad – whether it is or not entirely depends on whether or not those snacks result in extra calories or are adjusted for in subsequent meals.

For some people, a healthy snack is probably the best way to ruin their appetite.

I wonder what my readers feel about this issue – does snacking help control overeating or simply make everything worse?

New York, NY


  1. I agree, I think it’s completely individual, healthy snacks help some people to control their overall intake of calories, but for others, snacking seems to lead to less control over eating and just adds to their overall caloric intake. Would be interesting to know if there are any associations with behavioural or psychological characteristics among people who find snacking helpful in controlling weight and those who don’t.

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  2. I recently began incorporating planned, scheduled carb+protein snacks into my day, factored into my daily caloric range, and it’s been wonderful in eliminating the hunger and cravings that would plague me. I have trouble eating enough at breakfast and lunch to last me through the day. I don’t have the capacity/desire for big meals during the day, and really do well on small, frequent meals+snacks. Going six hours between eating is not reasonable and leads to overeating anyway.

    With planned snacking I’m never hungry and rarely overeat at meals. I wish I’d been taught to eat this way instead of the harmful “snacking is bad” and “only eat at mealtimes” way.

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  3. I agree with Michelle. Pre-planned snacks help to balance my blood sugar levels so that I don’t get over-hungry, and am therefore far less likely to experience cravings, or over-eat at meal times. This is one of the strategies of the South Beach Diet, which it terms “strategic snacking”.

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