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January 2012

Why a Mid-morning Snack Could Derail Your Clients' Weight-loss Efforts


When it comes to losing weight, it’s generally the culmination of numerous small actions—such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or choosing nonfat over whole milk—that end up making the biggest difference. Unfortunately, the reverse also appears to be true. New research suggests that something as benign as a mid-morning snack may hamper even the most dedicated dieter’s efforts.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association compared the dietary habits of 123 overweight-to-obese postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 75, who were randomly assigned to a diet-alone intervention or a diet-plus-exercise program. Both groups followed the same dietary goals of consuming 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day (depending on starting weight), with less than 30 percent of calories coming from fat. The second group also performed 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, five days per week.

The women were followed for one year and researchers discovered that those who avoided snacking after eating a healthy breakfast lost 11 percent of their body weight, while those who consumed a mid-morning snack (defined as any food or drink) lost an average of 7 percent of total body weight.

Researchers (and most nutrition experts) don’t believe snacking is inherently bad, and can, in fact, be an important tool for warding off hunger that can lead to poor choices. However, according to lead researcher Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Science Division, “Mid-morning snacking…might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger.”

In other words, not all snacking is bad, but it could slow down weight-loss efforts if it is done habitually or mindlessly rather than in response to true hunger. Interestingly, afternoon snackers ate more fruits and vegetables compared to the women who didn’t snack after lunch.

Rather than discourage your clients from snacking, instead urge them to follow the advice of most nutrition experts and choose nutrient-dense snacks that also include protein, such as low-fat yogurt, string cheese and small amounts of almonds or other nuts. And, based on this latest study, snacks should be timed according to hunger and not eaten too close to other meals, particularly in the morning.

Source: Kong, A. et al. (2011). Associations between snacking and weight loss and nutrient intake among postmenopausal overweight to obese women in a dietary weight-loss intervention. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111, 12, 1898−1903 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.09.012

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