Study Finds New Reasons to

Binge Snacking


It may be one of the hardest habits to reduce or eliminate for patients who want to lose weight, but snacking may be more than just a habit. A recent study from the University of Virginia demonstrated that the brain’s pleasure center and biological clock are linked, and that the pleasure brought by consuming high-calorie snack foods derails regular feeding routines and results in overeating.



Focus on Snacking

With the rates of obesity rising and 40% of adults in the US obese and 33% overweight,1 researchers have theories as to why this is occurring. Lack of physical activity and consumption of more convenience foods full of sugar and simple carbohydrates are likely contributors to the epidemic. However, it is snacking that may be a dominant source of the extra calories driving the rise in obesity.1 In the study, a mouse model was utilized to demonstrate how unscheduled snacking disrupts timed metabolic processes, thereby further contributing to weight gain.1 


What the study demonstrated

Study researchers demonstrated how dopamine signaling and obesity are related by way of a link between the brain’s separate biological clock and pleasure center. High-calorie foods that incite pleasure were found to disrupt normal feeding routines. The result was overconsumption in the mouse models utilized in the study, wherein the 24/7 availability of high-fat food showed that snacking, regardless of the time of day or night, results eventually in obesity.1


It was also discovered that mice who fed on a comparable wild diet in calories and fats kept their normal schedules of eating and exercise, as well as maintained a proper weight. In comparison, the mice who snacked around the clock on a high-fat, high-sugar diet became obese.1 Additionally, “knock-out” mice with disrupted dopamine signaling also maintained a normal eating schedule in spite of the availability of the rich diet.

What this means for your patients

Recommending that patients maintain set hours for eating, such as with intermittent fasting wherein one eats between set hours, may help to address after-hours foraging and snacking. Additionally, patients can “wean” themselves from the trigger foods and replace them with healthier alternatives. Ultimately, though, a behavioral approach may help address snacking by teaching patients hunger signals, as well as the addition of a supplement regimen to support their efforts to stay away from suspect snack foods.




Grippo et al., Dopamine Signaling in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus Enables Weight Gain Associated with Hedonic Feeding, Current Biology (2019),