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Why Do We Snack?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
October 8, 2023
October 8, 2023

The Problems With Snacking

When people grab some munchies between meals, they are often on-the-go, snacking while watching tv, just because the food is there in front of them, or while distracted. This actually has an effect on the brain - it can disconnect you from the traditional hunger and fullness cues that your brain sends! While snack-type foods usually tend to be convenient, processed, and oftentimes larger portion than we need, there’s a mental component there, too! What we choose to eat, and also how much, often tends to be done with less planning and care than a meal.

What Makes Us Snack?

Well, one obvious reason that we snack is because we are hungry. This is important, because people who snack because of genuine hunger tend to munch more healthfully than people who snack for other reasons. Factors besides hunger that give us those munchies feelings:

  • Emotional and physiological stress. People that eat out of emotion tend to eat higher fat and sugar snacks than those that aren’t emotional snackers, leading to higher risk of weight gain and other issues
  • Genes. Genetic variations influence a person’s taste receptors, and influence their snack preferences.
  • Social Messaging and behaviors we model from family. People exposed to social messages of health and limiting junk food tend to eat significantly fewer calories than those in households with different patterns and social cues and messages.
  • Physical environment. Do you live in a neighborhood with many convenience stores, fast food chains nearby? studies show that this availability subconsciously can influence your willpower to resist these foods, especially if this is similar to an environment that you were raised in.
  • Package sizing. The average package size for foods in general has increased in recent decades. When we are snacking from a bigger bag, its often harder to stop munching.
  • Distractions. Eating while distracted, like while driving or watching tv, is linked to overconsumption.
  • Presence of Variety. A higher variety of foods at an event, or even in your household is directly linked to the amount of calories that you are likely to consume. Have more snacks in your pantry? You may be more tempted to choose a little of everything, or grab something to munch on more often.
  • Time Of Day. Snacks eaten in the morning tend to be more nutritious! Simply put, we are more likely to reach for yogurt, nuts, or fruit to help jumpstart our day, whereas we may reach for more processed snacks in the afternoon or evening, simply to fill time, or while we are on-the-go.
  • Flavor Profiles. Much research on cravings suggests that we are constantly trying to balance flavors of sweet and salty (and other flavors, too!) on our tongue. When snacks in the afternoon are more savory, like chips, popcorn, cheese, or crackers, we tend to crave more sweet foods late in the evening.

Fortunately, when we practice some basic strategies to eating mindfully, we can become more aware of what we eat, why we eat, and how much we eat. And eventually, we will develop natural habits to snack by choice, and with purpose. Not by habit. Talk to your care team about ways you can control snacking and eat mindfully. Also keep reading for more great articles!

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