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What is Grazing?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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In the fields of diet and nutrition, grazing is referred to as a habitual behavior of eating small meals and snacks all day without often sitting down to enjoy a full meal. The practice is often viewed as a negative behavior, because people are able to eat far more calories than they think without realizing it; it is possible, however, to eat this way healthfully and to actually use it as a weight loss tool. Many dietitians will ask their clients to keep track of the food they eat in a day to determine if their mindless eating habits may be having an impact on their weight and health.

Many people find themselves wandering into the kitchen or break room all day at work or at home to graze. When unhealthy snack foods are constantly available, they are difficult to resist, and many people find themselves eating more out of boredom and habit rather than real hunger. Then, when mealtimes roll around, grazers may not be hungry enough to eat a full meal, but will soon crave an unhealthy snack, like cookies or potato chips, and the cycle will continue.

There are many ways to stop this behavior, or to turn it into a healthy habit instead of an unhealthy one. The first is to make sure that the day is started with a healthy breakfast. Even if it is difficult to eat in the morning, it is important for people to eat at least a small meal, such as a piece of fruit, some toast with peanut butter, cereal, or oatmeal. Beginning the day with a sugary donut and cup of coffee will only set a person up to graze on unhealthy foods throughout the rest of the day, after the big boost of energy from the sugar and caffeine turns into an energy crash.

Mid-morning, people should plan to have a healthy snack. Again, a piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or a handful of nuts such as walnuts or almonds are filling but healthy foods. Individuals can drink a glass of water or a cup of decaffeinated tea to stay full. It is important to stay hydrated, and these types of healthy snacks will provide long-lasting energy. To encourage grazing on healthy foods, people should be sure the kitchen is fully stocked with them, and they are ready to eat. Fresh vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, or celery can be munched on all day without encouraging any weight gain, and require very little preparation.

Individuals should plan for a healthy, filling lunch, such as a salad or sandwich on whole-wheat bread, just to name a few. A snack in the afternoon of veggie sticks with hummus or whole-grain crackers will prevent cravings, and should be followed by a filling yet healthy dinner consisting of lean protein, vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrates. One way for people to prevent grazing in the kitchen at night is to allow themselves one small dessert, and then to brush the teeth. Once the teeth are clean and minty fresh, that might discourage continued eating before bed.

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Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Oct 17, 2012

Healthy grazing keeps me from overeating. Whenever I snack, I eat things like yogurt with granola or sunflower seeds.

I bring a bag of dried cranberries mixed with nuts to work for a snack. It's delicious, and it satisfies my hunger.

A small salad can make a great pre-dinner snack. Sometimes, when I'm cooking dinner, I get the urge to graze, so I throw together some spinach, celery, grapes, and Italian dressing in a small bowl. It's very nutritious, and it keeps me from eating a cookie.

By Oceana — On Oct 17, 2012

@shell4life – This kind of eating is what made my aunt obese. She was depressed about losing her job, so she ate everything in sight, and she continually snacked.

It became a kind of intensive grazing. It might be considered binge eating by some, but once she became really large, it was just grazing to her. She could eat all day and never get full.

She finally had gastric bypass surgery to stop the grazing. This was the only way she could lose weight.

By shell4life — On Oct 16, 2012

My friend is overweight, and part of the reason is that she is a stay-at-home mom. She eats like a grazing animal all day long, and I think part of this is due to stress.

Dealing with a toddler all day every day is stressful, but when she eats, she gets a momentary experience of joy. Unfortunately, she grazes on snack cakes and potato chips.

She tried grazing on veggies and whole wheat crackers for about a day, but she said that they just didn't satisfy her. I think her brain is seeking a pleasurable experience and a relief from stress.

By Perdido — On Oct 15, 2012

@myharley – The reason that brushing my teeth works for me is that the extremely minty flavor of the toothpaste makes everything I might eat afterward taste funny. So, if I find myself craving a chocolate eclair, I just go brush my teeth instead, because it totally ruins any pleasure I might have gained by eating the eclair!

By myharley — On Aug 28, 2012

The tip about brushing your teeth after a meal really works for me. I do like a little something sweet after I eat, but I usually eat much more than I need.

I find if I just go brush my teeth, I no longer have that craving. I don't want to ruin how clean and fresh my mouth feels by eating anything at all.

I don't know how practical it would be to brush my teeth every time I felt like grazing, but do know that it often works if I am tempted to eat something I know I shouldn't.

By John57 — On Aug 27, 2012

Some studies show that grazing is actually good for you and a healthy way to lose weight. The key is the type of food you are eating when you are grazing.

Eating frequently throughout the day keeps your metabolism working and it becomes easier for you to lose weight. I know several weight loss programs that encourage you to eat several small meals through the day instead of a couple big meals.

By golf07 — On Aug 27, 2012

Mindless grazing is what really gets me into trouble. Once I started actually keeping track, and writing down everything I put in my mouth, I was amazed at the amount of calories I was taking in.

I am one of those people who eats out of habit or boredom, not necessarily because I am hungry. What made it worse was that I craved sweets and junk food. This really doesn't keep you full for very long and just spikes your blood sugar higher.

I would also graze while I was fixing a meal, and once we were ready to sit down and eat I wasn't really hungry, but would eat out of habit.

It takes a lot of discipline to change my eating habits and cut back on my grazing. Replacing the junk food with healthy food does help, but I find that I still want to grab something to eat every time I pass through the kitchen.

By andee — On Aug 26, 2012

All of my kids loved to graze and I made sure I had healthy snacks available for them. Most kids I know are hungry every few hours, and as long as they have something healthy to eat, it shouldn't ruin their appetite for a meal.

When my kids were younger they never ate a whole lot at one meal. It didn't seem to matter if they grazed or not, they just didn't eat large portions of food at one sitting. As long as they have healthy choices available to them, I have no problem with them grazing during the day.

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