Grazing patterns, health and body weight

Are you are a grazer? Could grazing damage your health and success?

Grazing means different things to different people. "Grab something here or there. Nibble. Pick at. A little of this. A little of that. Sample. Taste. Repeat."

Grazing happens across the day and/or into the evening.

My definition of grazing is unplanned, unstructured and repeated eating events, usually of small amounts of food. Scattered eating events across any 24 hr period. These eating events may be in addition to, or replace, ‘traditional’ three meals a day.

What is well known about grazing and grazers from the scientific world?

  • Female grazers have a thicker waistline (central overweight).
  • Female grazers tend to be overweight or obese.
  • Grazing is associated with poorer diet quality in both men and women.
  • Grazers eat more non-essential foods (also called junk, discretionary, reward, occasional, treat foods).
  • Grazing may be a symptom of anxiety, stress or depression.
  • Grazing is not recommended after weight loss surgery. Grazers have poorer results after weight loss surgery.

What have I noticed about grazers and grazing patterns in my practice?

  • Grazing may be a sign that meals are too small, too late (delayed), or skipped.
  • Grazing may be a symptom of unstructured, unplanned or convenience dining (i.e. easier to grab something quickly than prepare a meal).
  • Grazers often report they only eat small meals yet can’t lose weight.
  • Grazers may truly only eat small amounts (in terms of physical volume) and appear to be small eaters.
  • Grazing foods tend to be compact and loaded with energy. By the end of the day, grazers have over-eaten in terms of energy but not physical volume.
  • Grazers may eat more kJs (cals) between meals than at meals.
  • Grazing patterns may confuse appetite regulation. Grazing doesn’t always leave you feeling full or satisfied. Grazing doesn’t always take hunger away. Subsequent meals aren’t necessarily adjusted down in size.
  • Grazing may be a sign of boredom.
  • Grazing may signal of avoidance (procrastination) or the need for distraction.
  • Grazers may not even notice they graze.
  • Grazing foods are easily forgotten and forgotten food equals excess food. Grazers don’t notice or remember the odds and ends consumed between meal times. The in-between grazing is stalling their weight loss success.

You may be a grazer and not even know it!

You may be a casual part-time grazer who has great structure during work time, but for whom grazing takes over after hours or on days off.

How to get to grips with grazing?

Work out why you graze. Is it a head, hunger or habit thing?

If grazing fills gaps in your day, invest spare time in non-food ventures and distractions. A hobby (new or rekindled), a project (nothing to do with your day-time job), physical activity, or another interest.

If grazing is a distraction from (or avoidance of) the job at hand, either switch tasks or take a brief break away from the space you are working in but don’t go via the pantry or fridge.

If you also experience anxiety, depression, stress, have a history of disordered eating (e.g. binge eating or bulimia) or recognise another potential mind trigger, seek extra help from a psychologist or doctor.

If traditional meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are too small in volume and energy content, your body may be genuinely hungry between meals. You need better structure and planning. Either increase the size and energy content of meals or add structure to between meal snacks. Don’t leave grazing choices to chance.

If you time meals to match a wall clock rather than your body’s clock, there may be a mismatch that leads to delayed meals, hunger and grazing. Rather than wait for conventional meal times dictated by the wall clock, work out when your hunger is greatest and aim to eat then. Plan structured between meal snacks if you still need something in-between. Eat to a rhythm that better suits your body. Stick with the same rhythm from day to day.

Even if you have no idea at all why you graze, it is time to tackle grazing head-on and shake it. Unplanned grazing and irregular meal patterns are not at all helpful for your health and body weight. They are damaging.

Start by slipping structure into your day:

1. Replace grazing with planned snacks and meals.

2. Include foods based on your nutrient needs

3. Manage how much and what you eat so that you don’t leave yourself over-hungry

You can do it.

Practical ways to do this?

Strip food-related stimuli from your day:

Steer away from all social media feeds that show pictures of food or glorify bodies. That’s just about everything! Instagram, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, recipe alerts, and fitness guru blogs ...

Store food out of sight. Clear food off the table, bench tops and desktop.

Change the screen savers on computers, phones and other digital devices if they have anything to do with food or body shape.

Put foodie and recipe magazines out of sight. Avoid browsing recipes and supermarket catalogues.

Improve your memory and recall of what you have eaten:

Memory and recall improve appetite regulation. Keep a tally chart or photo record of everything you eat and drink as the day progresses. The photos are a personal reminder and memory jogger. Memory is very important for controlling appetite and hunger.

It is best to have structure to your eating day than graze and nibble. It is easier to remember that you ate and how much you ate when you have a structured pattern.

Plan and pack daily snacks:

Refresh your knowledge about essential foods and how much your body needs for great health. Shop for these foods.

Subdue spontaneous and impulsive eating. Plan what you will eat between meals.

For convenience and speed, once a week, pre-pack non-perishables into portion controlled snack packs.

Each day, gather up an entire day’s worth of snacks into a plain paper bag (not a see through bag). Do this even if you work from home as though you are heading out to work.

Place the bag in a place dedicated to planned snacks. At work that might be your bag, a locker or desk drawer. At home, do not put the snack bag back into the pantry or fridge. You want to avoid ‘see me, eat me’ impulsive decisions that are usually too difficult to beat.

Use an esky bag for perishables to limit fridge foraging.

Contain your between meal eating to a planned amount and planned time zone. Choose the ‘snack of the moment’ from the pre-planned snack bundle.

Turn conventional meals into planned unconventional snack foods to add nutrition, volume and fill. Boiled eggs, cold meat, vegetables, and soups are perfect planned snacks.

Stretch out a couple of steps further:

Prepare lunch (or set aside ingredients) first thing in the morning. A sandwich, salad, wrap, eggs for an omelette, leftovers dished out into a lunch size portions. Lunch food sustains you. It doesn’t have to look over-the-top fancy or be worthy of a FB/Instagram photo moment!

Know what the main meal of tomorrow is going to be today. Last minute, afternoon supermarket shopping for tonight’s meal puts you in a very vulnerable position. Chances are you are mentally tired after a busy day, hungry because lunch was ages ago, in a hurry, and your guard is down; a time when impulsive snap food decisions supply grazing fodder for the journey home.

My professional experience shows that structured, consistent eating is much more beneficial to overall health and body shape than a grazing pattern.

To improve structure and give grazing the flick:

1. Work out how much of the essential foods you need.

2. Spread the essentials out across the day to match your eating style, preference and body’s hunger rhythm. Plan eating time zones rather than graze casually.

Pull out your copy of this=that and look at the photos in a fresh way. this=that makes it easy for you to improve structure and give grazing the flick. You see what you need and how much to have. You decide when to have the foods you prefer.

The flexibility of this=that makes it easy for you to get variety and consistency at the same time. Portion control and serve sizes are easy to see.

Snap up a copy today ...