Australian study looks into how compulsive snacking can be a risk factor for gaining weight. Snacking between meals is a habit everyone does. Such compulsive snacking is either governed by our moods or by a need to eat something even when we aren’t hungry.

Cravings for snacks lead to unhealthy choices and ultimately to putting on weight. And while it may be easy for some people to lose weight, many find it a challenge.

Dr. Stephanie Fay, a researcher from Queensland University of Technology in Australia, has written an article exploring the role of snacking as a major cause of gaining weight.

The article was based on a study conducted at the Australian University in which the impulse control of the participants was measured along with their motivation to accept additional snacks even after they had consumed a snack previously.

Volunteers were first given a chocolate snack and were told to eat as much as they wanted. After they had consumed it to their fill, they were offered another similar snack.

It was seen that when the unanticipated second snack was offered to the volunteers, after they had eaten ample amounts of the first snack, 75% of them accepted the second snack and ate it as well.

It is usually hypothesized that energy rich foods and large portion sizes are the main reason behind obesity and weight gain. But a factor that is ignored is the frequency or the number of times food is consumed per the day.

The results showed that those accepted the second snack had better inhibitory control and were in fact making a conscious decision rather than an impulsive one. But those who ate most of the second snack were not only impulsive but were also more prone to rewarding themselves with food to feel better.

Another factor observed in these reward eaters was that they had higher BMI and were heavier. It showed that snacking repeatedly when hunger is absent could be a risk factor for weight gain.

Snacking typically consists of food that is delicious tasting but usually has very low health return. And cravings for such foods increase when on a diet. Snacks that are healthier options such as an apple, some nuts or a cup of yogurt are better nutritionally but a chocolate sundae will win hands down for a treat.

Dr. Fay concluded that, “Eating too frequently, especially when we’re not hungry, is a major potential cause of weight gain.” Snacking should be limited to once or twice per day, not all day whenever we feel like it. The article was published in the journal Eating Behaviours.