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Should You Nix Mid-Morning Snacking to Lose Weight?


In a year-long study just published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that women who reached for a snack mid-morning lost less weight, losing an average of 7 percent of their total body weight, compared to 11 percent for those who ate a healthy breakfast but did not snack before lunch.

The scientists say they think the result is primarily due to the fact that the mid-morning munchies are tied to recreational or mindless eating eating rather than true hunger. Based on what I see in my practice, that makes perfect sense. My one-on-one clients email their food journals daily, and in addition to tracking what and how much they eat, I also ask them to include when they eat, where they eat, why they eat, and their level of hunger.

Through journaling, many of my clients are able to identify that they weren't physically hungry when they reached for that 10 a.m. snack after an 8 a.m. breakfast. In response to why they ate, they often write things like, "I needed a break," "I guess I was procrastinating," "My boss was stressing me out‚" or "Someone in the office made cookies, so I had one." Making that connection is powerful, because you're able to see that it's not your body that needs fuel, but rather your mind that needs a distraction. If you can break the cycle by doing something other than eating, you can automatically slash your intake and see results without feeling restricted.

Now, I'm not saying snacking is bad; in fact, I'm a fan of it, but I do think that timing matters. If you've eaten a healthy breakfast, then two hours later your body will still be digesting and absorbing that meal and putting it to work. Eating again before your body has used up your breakfast (so to speak) creates a surplus, and any time your body doesn't have an immediate need for what you've consumed, the "leftovers" get sent straight to your fat cells. 

My rule of thumb is to be consistent: Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, and space your remaining meals no sooner than three and no more than five hours apart. This sort of timing helps regulate both your metabolism and appetite. And the pacing makes it unlikely that you'll ever wind up with excess, or on the flip side, that you'll get too hungry, which can slow down your metabolism and trigger rebound overeating. A lot of my clients aim for breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack at 4 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. After about a week of regularly timed meals, they often tell me that they feel mild to moderate hunger at those times, which is ideal. And by keeping a journal they're able to catch themselves reaching for food when they're not hungry and instead try out some alternatives, like taking a brief walk or calling a friend. Day after day, the combination of eating in response to hunger and finding non-food ways to cope with boredom or stress can have a huge impact on your waistline and your well being. 

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself reaching for food before lunch? If so do you know why? Please share your thoughts or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches




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