Snacking may be America’s favorite pastime. Any excuse to snack will work for America: the big game, extra calories before or after a workout, boredom. When the question is asked, “Is snacking good or bad?”, the answer depends on the type of snacking and the foods being consumed.

Snacking is not necessarily a bad thing. “Grazing” is another way to think about snacking when you are eating proper foods and spreading them throughout the course of the day. Snacking is bad when you eat three large meals a day and mix in unhealthy foods, such as a bag of chips, candy, or soda between meals. These unnecessary calories make weight control very difficult. Another downfall of major snacking is the inability for your body to control blood sugar. Eating large meals and snacking on foods high in sugar and fat can overload your pancreas and eventually cause Type-2 diabetes and overall bad health. People with Type-1 diabetes, who are dependent on insulin, find it much easier to control their sugars when they consume five to six equally-sized smaller meals. The same is true for those without diabetes.

The snacking debate can be directly linked to weight control, because why else would anyone ask the question? Weight control is the balance of caloric intake vs. caloric expenditure. In other words, are you burning more calories throughout the day or week than you eat? To question whether snacking is good or bad is to question how you choose to eat your meals and get your needed calories. When you are active, you burn calories, so they become essential. The equation is simple: if you eat too much and don’t work out, remain fit or burn off the calories, you will gain weight. There are exceptions to every rule, and this equation can work differently for people with extremely high metabolisms and those with thyroid or other hormonal issues. These are special cases, however the majority of people who choose to “graze” throughout the day tend to have higher metabolisms than those who eat very large meals in one sitting. This isn’t to say that choosing to get all your calories in three larger meals will automatically cause you to gain weight or have a slower metabolism.

It all comes down to what works for you. It may be easier for you to eat three large meals, consume the proper amounts of calories, and do very little, if any, snacking. Others may find it easier to control their caloric intake by spreading their meals out to five or six smaller meals in a day. If you choose to do this, be sure they are true “small” meals to avoid consuming more calories than you would if you ate three large meals.

When you snack, be sure to eat the proper foods. As mentioned before, candy, chips, donuts, etc. have very little nutritional value and they will simply give you a quick burst which quickly burns out. Eat servings from each of the food groups, and if you snack, choose fruit, yogurt, cheese, peanut butter crackers, or similar foods based on your diet.

If you are a very active person, you will need more calories than a sedentary person. Spreading these out will aid in your workouts and energy level. When you build muscle and add mass, your metabolism increases, because you are constantly burning calories, and they need to be replaced in proper amounts.

Snacking can be good, but it can also be very bad. Be smart with your decisions and find the plan that works for you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a drill sergeant to your stomach and tastebuds. You can still eat chocolate and less healthy foods, but it’s all about moderation. If you snack on chocolate, and make it a small portion of your daily caloric intake, you can still find it possible to live an active, healthy and fit lifestyle. Too much of a good thing is sometimes a bad thing, and when it comes to your calories, too much bad food (which tastes so good, i.e. chocolate) is a bad thing.

So don’t beat yourself up about sticking to a perfect diet. Diets are often short-term plans that are hard to maintain. A constant lifestyle change that includes consistent exercise (calorie burning) combined with eating healthy foods (and small amounts of chocolate) and proper snacking (based on how you spread out your meals) is the perfect recipe for healthy living.