Snacking All at Once or Over Several Days

The healthiest way to eat a high-calorie snack

Brownie Bites

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People often wonder whether it's worse to eat a whole pan of brownies (or a pint of ice cream, a package of cookies, or another indulgent treat) in one sitting, or spread it out over a few days. The truth is that eating too much in one sitting may lead to unhealthy binge eating behaviors, which can cause weight gain and exacerbate certain health conditions.

There isn't a ton of research that explicitly tells you that eating a high-calorie treat all at once is more detrimental than consuming it over a longer period. But we do know some of the risks of overindulging in sweet treats (and why it's still OK to enjoy them in moderation).

Overeating foods containing high amounts of added sugar may increase your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.

What Are Discretionary Calories?

Discretionary calories are commonly referred to as "empty calories." These are the extra calories you can spend on whatever you wish after you've met your nutritional needs for the day.

The number of available calories differs for everyone, but if the rest of your daily eating pattern is comprised of nutrient-dense foods, you may have calories left over for "extras" that could be used on treats (that is, food that are mostly fat and sugars), and still stay within your recommended daily calorie count. Consider brownies as an example.

Nutrition Facts of Brownies

The following nutrition information is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for one large brownie (about 3 inches square and 1 inch thick):

  • Calories: 227
  • Fat: 9.6g
  • Sodium: 160mg
  • Carbohydrates: 25g
  • Fiber: 1.2g
  • Sugars: 20.5g
  • Protein: 2.7g

Eating one brownie every day could fit into your discretionary calorie category. As long as you stick to only one, or maybe one-half of a brownie each day (though that can take a lot of willpower), the damage done by the brownies should be negligible.

In addition, you could still meet the American Heart Association's recommendation that no more than half of a person's daily discretionary calorie allowance should be spent on added sugars. Of course, you'd have to give up other sweet treats, such as cookies, candy, or that mocha latte.

Discretionary calories are helpful because they allow you to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation.

Overeating

What happens if you overeat and consume the whole pan of brownies? The reality is that eating all the brownies at once isn't a smart idea, especially if you have a health condition like diabetes or heart disease.

But eating them all in a few days' time isn't much better, either. In either case, you're taking in too many calories, too much fat, and too much sugar in a relatively short period of time.

Eating an entire nine-by-nine pan (about nine brownies) would amount to around 2,043 extra calories, mostly from large amounts of sugar and fat. This can be dangerous if you have a health condition such as diabetes.

Possible Benefits

On the plus side, eating a whole pan of brownies could give you a small boost in iron, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, and potassium, but not enough to make it worth the extra calories.

But what if you ate two brownies per day and spread out the chocolaty goodness into a four or five-day span? In this case, you'd get about 440 extra calories per day, which—unless you need a huge number of calories—is still going to be more than what's available for daily discretionary use.

Of course, you could up your physical activity for those days to make up the difference, but it would take a lot of exercise to burn an extra 440 calories.

A person weighing 154 pounds would have to walk more than four miles in an hour to burn that many calories.

Binge Eating

Eating a whole pan of brownies would qualify as an eating binge. If this is a rare occurrence for you, it may not cause any long-term damage. However, if you're prone to binge eating, then downing all nine brownies might trigger an eating behavior that's simply not good for you.

Even two brownies a day might establish an ongoing bad habit, especially if you find yourself seeking out sweet treats every single day once you've eaten all the brownies.

A Word From Verywell

Eating all the brownies in one day isn't a good idea, especially if you have a health condition. But it really comes down to your overall eating habits. When consuming the entire pan of brownies becomes habit-forming, you're dealing with unhealthy eating habits, weight gain, and other health problems.

Remember, a well-balanced diet that emphasizes real, whole foods and limits processed foods or foods containing excess sugar is a healthy choice for both your waistline and overall health.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paglia L. The sweet danger of added sugarsEur J Paediatr Dent. 2019;20(2):89. doi:10.23804/ejpd.2019.20.02.01

  2. Cookies, brownies, commercially prepared. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.

  3. American Heart Association. Sugar 101. Updated April 17, 2018.

  4. American Heart Association. Eating when not hungry. Updated April 18, 2018.