So many times in the past 20 years I have said to myself, I wish I was normal. I wish I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. I wish I didn’t care what the scale said. I wish I could eat meals like a normal person. I wish I could order exactly what I craved when I sat down at a restaurant and not thought twice about it. I long to be normal when it comes to food. But what is normal? Who made the rules of normal when it comes to eating? We grew up believing in three meals a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were taught that certain foods are breakfast foods, certain lunch, and certain were dinner foods.
After a little research I found a quote from a professor at Yale that said, “The number of meals eaten per day, along with the standard hour and fare for each, are cultural patterns no different from how close you stand when talking to people or what you do with your body as you speak.”
It made me feel better about being a person who has, since the beginning of time, had a very hard time eating a meal. Actually sitting down and eating a meal. One thing I know that is not normal about me is that I am not a structured eater at all. I graze all day long. I love to pick.
To me, the quintessential sign of a grazer is standing at the counter eating Rotisserie chicken off the bone and calling it dinner. GUILTY!
I know I actually hate to sit down for a full meal. It gives me anxiety. I don’t like having plans that involve meals. I’d much rather meet a friend for a cup of coffee or an exercise class than go out to dinner. There are nights when my husband will cook dinner, but I’ll have snacked so much that by the time I get home from work I’m not hungry enough to eat the meal. I rarely order my own meal at restaurants. I always prefer to split with my husband, aka pick off his plate. In writing this it may seem like I should be the tiniest person in the world because it sounds like I eat like a bird… but I don’t. The caveat to being a grazer is you never stop. I’ll pick off his meal at dinner and then we’ll go home and I’ll sit and watch Teen Mom 2 with an entire bag of Skinny Pop. Or worse, I’ll suck back a whole box of Australian licorice in one 30 minute episode of Modern Family. Night eating is always the hardest. That’s why Weight Watchers is tough for me. I hoard all my points until the end of the day, where I will graze and snack from the minute I get home from work until the minute I go to bed. And don’t even get me started about a family BBQ or football sunday. It’s picking all day long. Then I feel like shit afterwards.
So where does meal anxiety come from? Why do some of us have it and others don’t? Where does the need for us to graze come from?
My philosophy is always to get to the root of the problem. That being said, after some soul searching I concluded that I think we graze for four different reasons.
First, I think it stems from thinking a meal is too many calories. We think, if we skip a meal and have a small snack we’ll save calories. However, that small snack is never satisfying enough so we have another and another and then it’s actually the opposite. We probably eat ten times more snacking and grazing then we would if we just sat down and ate the meal.
Next, it’s hard to eat a meal because after a meal is done many of us feel like we need a little something else to eat. Like a piece of chocolate or an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s. When you eat a meal you feel like you should be done eating afterwards. But if you aren’t satisfied, the meal can’t end. Therefore, you snack. And when you snack, the chocolate or ice cream becomes part of our snacking routine and it feels better, more deserved because after all, we barely ate anything at dinner.
Another reason we graze, when you are so hell bent on losing weight you think that every calorie matters. Literally and every diet has taught us this. Therefore, when you eat a meal, you feel out of control. For example, I know olive oil is ALOT of calories, even though they are good calories, but when I come home and my husband made chicken stir fry and I don’t know how much oil he used, it stresses me out. I feel there are hidden calories in that meal that I cannot control. The same thing happens at restaurants.
The last reason I think we graze, it makes us feel like we “ate nothing all day” There are so many times I have come home from work after a crazy day and said, Geez I’ve eaten nothing today. When in fact I had a banana, 7 handfuls of pretzels, 2 lattes, a bite of cookie cake from an office party, a snack size bag of almonds, a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter and another handful of pretzels on my way to the train.
I do think eating meals is mind over matter. I also think it is a very important step to combating many of our emotional eating dilemmas and avoiding meals is a reason we fail when trying to lose that last ten pounds.
I am ready to go from grazing to structure, so I did something I thought I’d never do…I ordered a 30 day structured plan. It came in the mail on Friday night. With lots of instructions and I started this past Saturday. The reason I bit the bullet is because you have something to eat/drink every two hours if you want to stay on top of the plan. The three main meals are two shakes and one 400-600 calorie low glycemic meal.
And to ensure this isn’t JUST about losing a few more pounds, my therapist gave me one very important rule before I started:
- I MUST sit down at the table and have my one 400-600 calorie meal. In one sitting, as an actual meal.
Not gonna lie, it’s hard. To build a meal that’s 400-600 calories and eat it in one sitting is hard when you are used to eating tiny bites. But I believe when we observe the actual consequences of what we are doing by paying attention in the moment, we can begin to see who we are and what makes us tick. It takes all the focus away from calories, the scale, and our jean size and puts the focus on healing ourselves from the inside. It’s in these moments we can feel safe when anxiety takes over. It’s in these moments we change.
How amazing is it that people like us, who have beaten ourselves up for so long about how much we eat, can suddenly applaud ourselves for actually eating.
I will be posting all my meals on instagram @mondaydieter
Feel free to join the journey