Psychological predictors of opportunistic snacking in the absence of hunger

Eat Behav. 2015 Aug;18:156-9. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2015.05.014. Epub 2015 Jun 10.


Increased frequency of eating in the absence of homeostatic need, notably through snacking, is an important contributor to overconsumption and may be facilitated by increased availability of palatable food in the obesogenic environment. Opportunistic initiation of snacking is likely to be subject to individual differences, although these are infrequently studied in laboratory-based research paradigms. This study examined psychological factors associated with opportunistic initiation of snacking, and predictors of intake in the absence of homeostatic need. Fifty adults (mean age 34.5years, mean BMI 23.9kg/m(2), 56% female) participated in a snack taste test in which they ate a chocolate snack to satiation, after which they were offered an unanticipated opportunity to initiate a second eating episode. Trait and behavioural measures of self control, sensitivity to reward, dietary restraint and disinhibited eating were taken. Results showed that, contrary to expectations, those who initiated snacking were better at inhibitory control compared with those who did not initiate. However, amongst participants who initiated snacking, intake (kcal) was predicted by higher food reward sensitivity, impulsivity and BMI. These findings suggest that snacking initiation in the absence of hunger is an important contributor to overconsumption. Consideration of the individual differences promoting initiation of eating may aid in reducing elevated eating frequency in at-risk individuals.

Keywords: Eating frequency; Eating initiation; Inhibitory control; Overconsumption; Reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cacao
  • Diet / psychology
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reward
  • Satiation*
  • Snacks / psychology*
  • Taste
  • Young Adult