It’s almost ridiculous how effortless it is to eat at any given time. In the most unlikely places, and for only a few bucks, you can get yourself a snack.

Trip to the party store for birthday decorations? Candy and chips in the checkout lane.

Quick stop at the bookstore? Latte and muffin at the cafe.

Outdoor store for spring plants? Hot dog and soda on your way out.

Food is available everywhere. It’s like we’re trying to ward off hunger as if it were a communicable disease.

It’s not that we NEED food, nor that we’re even hungry.

It’s difficult to work up a voracious appetite channel surfing and ordering take-out. On your phone. On the sofa.

We are an overfed and overweight nation. (1)

We’re also a sedentary nation. (2)

But hey, that doesn’t stop us from snacking!


The term “snack” doesn’t have a consistent definition. (3)
For nutrition researchers and makers of snacking guidelines, a solid definition would help. I myself would find it useful when teaching people about snacks. But what I find even more interesting is the motivation behind snacking.
It’s not always what you might think.
Several factors impact our desire to snack. Hunger, location, social/food culture and environment, cognitive factors and hedonic eating.
Those are all fascinating, but in the interest of this post, I’m focusing on environment.
“Social modeling” is how we learn behaviors by watching others in our environment. With snacking, here’s how it works. When we’re with other humans and those humans reach for snacks? We tend to follow suit.
How many times have you ordered pie with your coffee because your girlfriend did so first? You thought you were meeting only for coffee and catching up. Next thing you know, a warm slice of blueberry pie is snuggled up next to your cappuccino.
See? Social (snack) modeling at work.

You may not even be hungry for pie (or for that matter, anything).

But a companion’s food choice, even the portion size of the choice, can influence our own behavior.


Then there are the times when you don’t even need to PAY for your snacks. Because they’re FREE! Who doesn’t love free snacks?
Well, some office environments aren’t keen on free snacks. Turns out, that continuous supply of fatty, sugary, salty snacks contributes to employee weight gain. And poor health. DUH. (4) 
I’m sure there are other non-lovers of free snacks. But aside from that major example, I would say pretty much everyone else loves them. But do you know the high cost of those free snacks?


Inspiration for this post came when I did something I do every four weeks without fail.
I went for a haircut.
For close to 20 years, I’ve been on the receiving end of my hair salon making clients feel welcome and cared for. It’s one of the reasons (not to mention my fabulous stylist) that I stay.
They go the extra mile.
And littering that extra mile? Snacks. FREE snacks.
Coffee, tea, animal crackers, pretzels and other treats are there for the taking. Step into the waiting area and you can’t miss the promise of a salty, sweet, crunchy or savory bite.
Salon patrons scoop piles of goodies into snack bags. Scrolling through their phones, they mindlessly munch those snacks, waiting for their stylist to call their name.
For some of them, even though they’re not truly hungry? They can’t ignore the siren call of FREE snacks.
“Psst, over here! I’m the crunchy-salty bite you didn’t even know you wanted. Even better? I’m FREE. Come on, dig in. Take MORE!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-snack. Offering free snacks is a lovely gesture. Heck, feeding people is a lovely gesture. It’s a heartfelt way to nurture, nourish, celebrate and care for others.
What I am is:
  • an observer of human food habits
  • a seasoned, in-the-trenches nutrition therapist
  • a student of the psychology of eating behavior research
  • on a mission to help the breast cancer community thrive with healthy lifestyle habits



That hair salon is a business. I run a business, so I know how important it is to contain expenses and overhead. With no offense to that kind gesture, their snack budget won’t support organic hummus and wild-caught smoked salmon. Remember, enormous containers of animal cookies, pretzels, and neon-yellow fish crackers mean budget-friendly quantity not health-friendly quality.

  • Commit to this: Mindfully FUEL your body with whole food snacks for health and vitality. When you mindlessly FILL your body with “anything as long as it’s edible,” you miss an opportunity to practice good self-care. And honestly, do you even WANT those particular snacks? There’s nothing special about the food items I used as an example. You can buy them anywhere and eat them anytime. Let the snacks you choose be foods you love, and that love you back. 

You may not be hungry, but when you spot those free snacks? It’s likely you’ll eat them anyway. Remember how environment influences your decision to eat or not? True, physiological hunger is a result of a complex interaction of receptors, peptides and gastrointestinal endocrine and neuronal systems. Not the availability of free snacks.

  • Commit to this: Check in and assess your TRUE HUNGER before reaching for any food. Your body’s never-wrong hunger cues will tell you whether you’re HUNGRY or merely giddy at the thought of free food.

As your mother said, “You’ll ruin your dinner.” Let’s say you’re hungry and decide to have a “small snack” to hold you till your next meal. But it’s tricky figuring out how small that “small snack” should be. Eating too much of a low-quality snack leaves no room for a high-quality meal. And that’s a shame. Your body works best fueled with nutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Those are tough to find in free snacks.

  • Commit to this: Plan ahead and bring your own nourishing snacks. Recognize that you may get hungry while out taking care of business. Nuts and dried fruit are non-perishable and portable. Even when smashed into the bottom of your purse, they resist crumbling. Let them do the same for you.


Now, tell me in the comments below; can you easily bypass FREE snacks? Yes, with no problem? Hell, no?