Myth: To lose weight, you need to avoid snacks

MythMyth

Should you avoid snacks to lose or maintain weight loss?

Chips, nachos and curls

Chips, nachos and curls

I have read and heard the claim that snack cause weight gain and should be avoided in weight loss many times.  Face it; the concept makes sense because if you eat more food by adding snacks, you will gain weight, but that is not necessarily a given.  So, what does the research show?  

A study from 2007 tackled this very question[1].  The researchers looked at the effects of mandatory snack consumption on energy intake and energy balance.  They assumed that an increase in calories would cause weight gain and thus create a positive balance (gain).  Their goal was to compare the effects of mandatory consumption of snack products on energy intakes and energy balance in adults and to assess the interaction between habitual level of snack product consumption.   The subjects included four groups of 18 subjects which were studied for two weeks. Subjects of the study consumed one type of snack product (high-carbohydrate, high-fat, or mixed composition). The study design was parallel for the type of snack product and within-subjects for energy level.  Subjects self-reported food intakes between days 8 and 14, and body weights were recorded on days 1, 8, and 15 of each intervention period.  Daily energy expenditure was estimated by heart rate monitoring.  Researchers found that daily energy intakes increased with snacking, but failed to result in weight gain because of an increase in caloric burn from exertion.

The bottom line:  Snacking without an increase in calorie intake over time will not result in weight gain.  This study was too short, and the caloric increase was associated with more exercise.  Research has failed to confirm this myth, so it is busted for now.  I would like to see a longer study performed to look at this further.  Although snacking and weight gain cannot be confirmed as a cause and effect, I would recommend that you limit snacking and if you do snack, it should be mindful.   

References

[1]
S. Whybrow, C. Mayer, T. Kirk, N. Mazlan, and R. Stubbs, “Effects of two weeks’ mandatory snack consumption on energy intake and energy balance.,” Obesity (Silver Spring), vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 673–85, Mar. 2007. [PubMed]
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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