Everything You Know About Snacking Is Wrong


Yes, no matter what your philosophy of snacking is, someone out there disagrees with you and can prove his point. Consumers are inundated with advice about what, when, where, why, and how to eat, along with other input promoting the exact opposite to all that advice. Snacking is one area where this happens a lot. According to its advocates, snacking can help a person eat less during meals because it stabilizes the blood sugar level and curbs the appetite.

A typical example of the frequency school of thought can be found at ABC News, which reported that “eating six small meals is best for weight loss” and, according to the British Journal of Nutrition, there is “no weight-loss difference between dieters who ate their calories in three meals versus six daily meals.” Remember that study with the 20 authors, that Childhood Obesity News mentioned in relation to the notion that small changes can make a difference? Those authors sifted through both the scientific literature and the popular media, for the purpose of either verifying or disproving myths about obesity, especially the ones that have society-wide implications. One proposition they looked into is the idea that, “Snacking contributes to weight gain and obesity.” Their answer? No. They say:

Randomized, controlled trials do not support this presumption. Even observational studies have not shown a consistent association between snacking and obesity or increased BMI.

That is a bold statement, and one that upsets a lot of applecarts. It gets worse, as at least one authority goes even further, and characterizes snacking as not just value-neutral, but actually positive. Here is the pitch:

Dr. Sanford Siegal knows that the best way to lose weight is not by starving but by eating—often! How often? Every two hours between wake-up and bedtime, to include nine small snacks and one generous meal. Why? Because less time without food means less time to get hungry.

Of course, every snack consists of the same thing—a 60-calorie cookie of Dr. Siegal’s invention, available from his website. There is even a shake mix that replaces two of the cookies. Another vote for snacking, if the snack consists of the right stuff, comes from four researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their feeling seems to be that kids are going to graze anyway, as shown by studies establishing that American children snack between two and three times a day, taking in as many as 200 extra calories. But this problem could be somewhat ameliorated by substitution:

Despite its likely role in childhood obesity, snacking may provide a mechanism for addressing this obesity problem and improving diet quality. Replacing one energy-dense snack each day with a fruit or vegetable could reduce caloric intake and decrease the prevalence of overweight and obesity…If done on a daily basis, all else equal, this simple behavior could result in about half a pound less of body weight at the end of a month.

But then, on the other hand, others have proven to their own satisfaction that small changes fail to make an overall difference. Maybe there is a correct snacking method— and probably some people who follow it with no bad consequences. If every snack or frequent meal or mini-meal consists of a carrot or a hunk of raw cauliflower, how bad can that be? Ah, if only.

The anti-snack camp has its own collection of studies to rely upon, such as the one published in the journal Hepatology, showing that small meals plus snacking can contribute to increased fat storage in the abdomen and liver. Also significant is a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, where participants took in the same number of calories, but one group ate them divided into three meals. The other group had three smaller meals plus three snacks, and the more frequent eating offered no fat loss advantage.

Dr. Pretlow falls into the anti-snack camp, and the W8Loss2Go smartphone app is designed to help kids switch over to a snack-free existence.


Dr. Pretlow’s paper, “Treatment of child/adolescent obesity using the addiction model: A smartphone app pilot study,” will soon be published by the journal Childhood Obesity (and also online, of course.)
Watch this space!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “6 Weight Loss Myths Debunked,” ABCnews.go.com, 07/02/13
Source: “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity,” nejm.org, 01/31/13
Source: “Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet,” cookiediet.com, undated
Source: “Gobbling Up Snacks – Cause or Potential Cure for Childhood Obesity?,” umn.edu, December 2012
Source: “Why frequent small meals can stall fast, lasting fat loss,” HuffingtonPost.com, 06/25/14
Image by Donald Lee Pardue

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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