You really want to stop grazing, but for some reason you just can’t make yourself. Or, you do fine some days and other days you end up binge-eating your toddler’s animal cookies. You obsessively think about food: either when you’re going to eat again, what you’ll eat, or what you can’t eat. You can’t walk through the kitchen without grabbing a handful of cereal from the pantry.
You wonder, what is wrong with me? Why don’t I have any willpower? Why am I so weak when it comes to food? Why can’t I just get this eating under control?
Nothing is wrong with you.
There are a few reasons you are feeling the need to graze or snack excessively, none of which are “something is wrong with you”. Sometimes we snack for emotional reasons, sometimes we are feeling deprived. But the number one reason I see with my clients (and with myself) is that we are just simply under-fueled.
Your body is trying to tell you something.
It’s easy to under-fuel. If you’re not in touch with your body and your hunger signals, which is super common especially with busy moms, you might not be getting enough food at your meals. Whether it’s because you’re grabbing what you can on the way to work and scarfing it down in the car, or you’re too busy making food for your picky children that you don’t have the time to do anything but eat their leftovers.
Maybe you’re in the process of trying to shed the extra weight of pregnancy, and you think you need super low-calorie meals to reach your goals. Or maybe you’re pregnant or nursing and need more calories than you did before, but you’re just eating what you’re used to.
Whatever the reason may be, if you are not getting enough fuel, your body is going to send you signals that it needs some. And when you ignore it, it’s going to get desperate as your blood sugar drops and start screaming at you for fast, simple energy: sugar and simple carbohydrates.
So those cravings you’ve been beating yourself up for? It’s just your body’s protection against starvation.
Your body might also be trying to tell you that it’s not getting enough nutrition. So you could be eating plenty of calories but if they are nutrient-sparse rather than nutrient-dense, your body can send you cravings to get you to keep eating until it gets the nutrients it seeks.
What to do when cravings take over
So if you’re dealing with the urge to snack or are constantly dealing with cravings, the answer is not to strive for more willpower or beat yourself up. Your body is just trying to send you a signal, and all you have to do is listen to it. Skip the useless and harmful self-berating, and address the real issue.
(We’ll discuss emotional or stress eating in another article.)
Take a look at your three main meals.
- Are you getting enough protein and fiber from whole, unprocessed foods at each meal?
- Are you taking in mostly processed foods that digest quickly and leave you feeling even hungrier?
- Are you getting enough nutrients through fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats?
- Are you even eating three meals a day?
- Do you need more snacks between meals?
Address your nutrition and under-fueling issues, and I promise you will see a decrease in the cravings and grazing.
Here’s how this works in my life. I go through periods of increased and decreased activity, depending on if I’m training for a race or not. Many times when I increase my activity, I don’t increase my fuel/food intake enough right away. Suddenly, I won’t be able to make my toddler’s lunch without wanting to eat the peanut butter right out of the jar, or give him a snack without wanting to eat half of it. I can’t pass through the kitchen without scouring the pantry for sugary carbs. My snacks aren’t enough and as soon as they’re gone, I want more.
Once I increase my food intake at my three main meals, or during the periods when I’m not quite as active, these cravings just aren’t there. I will be making my son’s lunch and realize I have zero desire to eat his food. I don’t obsess over what is in the pantry. I don’t binge on weekends. I feel balanced and sane.
What if I’m working on a fat loss goal?
Do you think you have to be starving or feel deprived to lose weight? This is not the case. In fact, this is actually counterproductive to your goals, because our bodies’ signals to properly fuel are so strong and primal, they are nearly impossible to ignore, and we end up overeating anyways. You can eat enough to signal to your body that you’re fueled, but still create enough of a calorie deficit to drop extra weight.
ACTION: If you’re struggling with grazing, snacking, or binge eating, and think under-fueling at meals might be the culprit, sit down this week and write down what you eat regularly at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What is lacking? Where can you improve? Make a plan, grocery shop, and implement your plan. (If you need more help, I have a few openings for coaching available.) Once you begin eating more, notice if your cravings begin to cease. If you need ideas for healthy meals, click here.
Let me know how it goes!