Why grazing makes eating complicated and sets you up to fail
I lost weight when I stopped grazing
How I stopped grazing
This post explains why putting your food on a plate helps you lose weight.
Why I started grazing
As long as I was overweight, I figured I should eat less.
Following all my diet rules, tips and tricks meant making big changes to what I normally ate and avoiding many types of food. My meals became smaller and in hindsight, unbalanced.
I thought I was doing everything right.
Because I wasn’t meeting my body’s needs–though I didn’t know this–I felt hungry all the time. Which made me think about eating all the time. I thought I was addicted to food.
Eventually I’d get so hungry, I’d break down and eat something I thought I shouldn’t. Then feel incredibly guilty. And ashamed for not having enough “discipline.” (I didn’t know that weight loss is about building healthy habits, not willpower.) All of this left me not trusting myself, which made me feel anxious.
When I look back at the 10 years I was overweight, the more complicated I made eating, the harder it was to lose weight. But when I finally threw my arms up in the air, said to hell with it (!) and went back to the basics, I lost weight.
One of the first things I did was stop grazing all day. I wanted to write this post to explain what I did instead.
It’s painfully obvious, but a decision many people neglect to make. It’s especially important because one good choice leads to the next.
The only way to get rid of that panicky feeling was having a plan to correct it. So I’d decide to eat an even smaller amount at my next meal—it was a chance to get back on track and prove I could stick to my diet.
But this plan was self-defeating.
The more often I cut back my meals to make up for snacking, the hungrier I became between meals and the more I’d snack. Pretty soon I was just eating small amounts here and there throughout the day. And I continued to gain weight.
People would say “Oh, she just likes grazing.” So I began thinking, “I just like grazing.” Soon grazing became a normal, acceptable thing in my head. I was just somebody who preferred to eat little bits here and there, but never a full meal.
Without realizing, I’d become scared to eat an actual meal. I thought: If I can gain weight by eating small amounts most of the time, how much more weight will I gain if I eat a complete breakfast, lunch and dinner? I became afraid of feeling full.
I continued grazing because I didn’t understand how the body works, (like if you don’t eat enough regularly, your body goes into survival mode and slows down your metabolism) or that balanced meals made of whole foods (big enough to make you feel satisfied) help you lose weight.
Processed foods are full or sugar, salt, preservatives, artificial flavours and colouring that confuse your body so it’s hard to know when you’re full. Orange juice is a processed food.
By then I’d only eat fruit, diet pop (which confuses your body) and low-fat processed foods, like pretzels and rice cakes—always careful not to eat enough to feel full. And I continued to be overweight.
My life went on this way until everything got so bad I asked for help.
- I always had low energy because I never met my body’s needs with a variety of natural foods.
- I started thinking I had a slow metabolism. All my friends who were a healthy weight ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- I got into the habit of always eating or drinking something.
- I felt awkward eating with other people. Only comfortable eating small amounts meant making excuses. Soon I’d be hungry again. Meanwhile everyone else was busy getting on with their day.
- I was always looking for a washroom because I needed to brush my teeth each time I ate.
- I never really knew how much I ate. And worried all the time. So I’d try to under-eat to be safe, which always lead to overeating.
I lost weight when I stopped grazing
I hit rock bottom a few times during my recovery. Each time I found myself deep down a pit, with no idea how to climb out, I reached out for help. And each time I discovered an important piece of the weight-loss (aka healthy habit) puzzle. Remember, healthy habits help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Diets are short term solutions.
We are all in the gutter. But some of us are looking at the stars.
–Oscar Wilde, playwright
In my second year of university I asked for help. Help suggested I sign up for the school meal plan. Then I could get back into the habit of eating three balanced meals each day—rather than grazing. Here’s what happened and more information on how to transition from grazing to eating three meals a day.
I didn’t put it into words at the time, but it had become more important to me to be healthy rather than to look healthy. So many opportunities were passing me by. I was willing to try something I’d been frightened to do. To my surprise healthy habits translated into a healthy weight!
When I stopped grazing and started eating three balanced meals, made mostly of whole foods, I met my body’s needs. The result?
- I stopped thinking about food
- I reached and maintained a healthy weight
- I started thinking about my future
I became present. It sounds strange, but the world felt new again. Instead of being preoccupied by hunger, guilt and shame, I could concentrate on everything going on around me. I became grateful for the smallest things. It feels great to eat and get on with your life!
Until then I didn’t understand that our bodies function best when they’re in a routine. Think about how you feel when you’ve stayed up later than usual. Our bodies like eating patterns as much as they like sleeping patterns.
The great thing is the world already works around meals. Schools and offices break at meal times. Families and friends get together for meals. And restaurants serve meals on a plate. Stop grazing and focus on eating balanced meals.
Having breakfast, lunch and dinner gives your day structure. And feeling satisfied after a meal allows you to focus on your interests between each meal.
Eating three balanced meals made mostly of whole foods
helps you reach all your goals.
How I stopped grazing
When I started putting my food on a plate before I began eating, I stopped grazing. This approach also simplified the process of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Why? Building your meal before you begin, gives you a good picture of what you’re eating. Then you can:
- see if you have a balanced meal (so you can meet your body’s needs)
- see where you can improve your meal with more whole foods
- know how much you’re going to eat (grazing can go on forever and you can end up eating more than you mean to)
- discover (through trial and error) the approximate size your balanced meal needs to be in order to sustain you until your next meal
- brush your teeth after you’re done eating
- concentrate on your next task
Getting into the routine of eating three meals each day makes it easier to be aware of what you’re eating so you can adapt your choices and make progress toward your goals.
When you stop grazing and get into the habit of preparing a healthy meal before you begin, eating becomes a nonissue. Then you can accomplish incredible things between meals.
Here’s a printable Eatwell Plate. Affix it to your fridge. When you put food on your plate, or pack a lunch, try to match the food group proportions found on the Eatwell Plate. Then sit down and enjoy your meal.
What if you’re hungry between meals? Eat a balanced snack. But only after you’ve put it on a plate!
Then carry on with your next activity.
Work towards healthy eating, exercise and life goals.
A healthy weight will follow.
Whether your experience is more or less extreme, aim to eat three balanced meals each day. Figure out what you’re meal will look like before you begin. If you’re asking yourself: “How do I get there from where I am now?” Sign up for my weekly blog post (below) and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned. It will help you build healthy eating and exercise habits—or reach any goal.
I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
“I didn’t know I was broken till I wanted to change…”
Here’s a link to an article that explains the science behind why grazing sets you up to fail.
Sharing what I learned makes those 10 years worth it
Are you used to eating a bit here and there while you cook? Do you ever eat standing in front of the fridge? When else do you find yourself grazing? Identifying behaviours you’d like to improve on is the first step towards change.
Do you wanna get better?