ARE YOUR CRAVINGS, SNACKING AND GRAZING HABITS SCUPPERING YOUR WEIGHT-LOSS GOALS POST-OP?
Grazing is the consistent, day-long consumption of low-value food items – in other words they are unplanned snacking. You know the kind of thing – finishing your child’s breakfast cereal; having a biscuit every time you make a hot drink; eating off-cuts of foods while prepping the evening meal; and finishing leftovers even when you’ve had your fill when clearing up later. Such grazing is defeatist behaviour that you need to guard against or tackle before it knocks your best intentions and regimen off kilter. If you didn’t do this before then you don’t want to start now.
Grazing and snacking is a common WLS post-op problem and can affect both pre- and post-op patients to varying degrees. Most will pin this at the door of boredom, distress, habit or for comfort. The problem with grazing is that we tend to underestimate how much we eat while we are doing it. As a surgeon friend said
‘YOU CAN FILL A BATH WITH A DRIPPING OR RUNNING TAP’.
Having a few grapes here, a couple of nuts there, a thin sliver of cake at work, a few crisps/chips in the evening, an alcoholic drink as a regular thing rather than treat, all can add up to a substantial amount of calories by the end of the day or week, and will eventually lead to a weight stall or weight regain. Many might also pick up a grazing pattern because it deals with unpleasant satiety ‘fullness’ experienced from meals with solid protein in them – it’s easier to eat a light snack or ‘slider food’ than a main meal of firm protein and vegetables.
This is a pattern of behaviour that may well have dogged and stalked you in the past and you no longer want or need in your new WLS life – using food to cope with unpleasant emotions or boredom is not something you want to encourage to take up again. The good news is that there are several strategies you can employ to prevent yourself from grazing. Read on for 7 tried and tested ones …
7 Effective Ways To Fight Grazing
1. Define Your Meals and Snacks:
As a new WLS patient you may not have a meal pattern that you recognise as being right for you. It takes time to get used to knowing how your pouch works, how much it can take in terms of food, what it can’t tolerate etc. This is quite normal and will be different for everyone. It’s ideal to look at a 3 meal and 2 snack scenario but it maybe that you prefer 6 small meals and no snacks instead. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and you follow the pattern and stick to it. If you’re approaching dinner time and are tempted to have something beforehand that will upset that pattern then remind yourself that your meal is coming soon and any grazing would just upset the pattern you have developed and maybe your appetite for the meal you have worked hard to cook!
2. Take Action Before You Start Grazing:
If this is subconscious then you need to start working on recognising and changing this behaviour before it becomes even more ingrained. If you’re a fridge opener for example catch yourself before you start to grab a little something to graze. Say STOP! either out loud or just in your head so that you can think about what you are doing. Then examine why you are doing it – are you bored, unhappy, or just eating because it goes with a familiar activity like TV watching. Whatever the reason, try and work out why you are doing it so you can pick up on these derailing patterns. If you identify it’s because you are bored for example then look for something else to do.
3. Relax And Distract Your Mind:
If you’re preoccupied with eating when you’re not hungry, then sometimes it’s your mind that needs a distraction. Try immersing your mind somewhere else to deal with this – listen to some music, pick up a book, have a shower or warm bath, or talk to a friend about something completed unrelated – anything to get you through this rough patch. It might also be worth exploring some meditation techniques – there are plenty free on the internet to help you relax. Try one or two to listen to in a quiet place.
4. Go For A Walk, Hit The Gym Or Do An Exercise Regime At Home:
This is a time-honoured and oft-repeated remedy and that’s because it works. Releasing those ‘feel-good’ hormones that come with exercise can quickly and effectively replace the ones you get from eating. So use exercise to replace that feeling you get with grazing. In effect you are getting a double whammy from doing this – you’re getting your exercise in and avoiding grazing at the same time!
5. Use Your Hands:
If your hands aren’t available for eating then you can avoid some grazing by keeping them busy. Take up some crafting activity, draw or paint, play a video game, throw a ball for the dog, do a crossword puzzle – just something so that your urge to graze is kicked into touch. Make it something you enjoy so that you get totally immersed in the activity and your urge to graze will be bypassed until the next meal comes around.
6. Connect And Join Up With Others:
If this tends to happen when you’re alone then proactively make plans with others for during these times when you have a tendency to graze. So, for example, it might be after you have put the children to bed; be on weekday nights when you’re at the end of a stressful day; or the weekend when you feel you deserve to let your hair down – why not choose to ring a friend then or meet them, pick up some sewing or knitting, go along to a support group; or go online for WLS group support. Human connection is very powerful and struggles can be minimised if you talk them through with like minded people. Chat to your group or tribe – they are facing the same challenges and may well be able to suggest and share some strategies they use.
7. Practice, Practice and Practice Some More:
The chances are that your brain’s pattern of response right now is to graze. It may be very deeply ingrained and so it’s going to take a huge leap to change it. The good news is that the more you practice replacing grazing with one or more of the above strategies the easier and more permanent this new behaviour becomes. It’s hard at first and you may well have to invest quite a bit of time in redirecting your previous natural responses, but eventually, your new behaviours will become your natural ones and grazing will be a thing of the past
How To Handle A Snack Attack
Just because you have had WLS doesn’t mean you won’t be subjected to the ‘snack-attacks’ of old. Many patients report that the first signs that they are moving away from their trusted weight-loss regimen is the return of cravings, which they satisfy with snacking. It is reported that at least half of us are tempted by unhealthy snacks twice a day or more which is why our snacking habits could be scuppering our weight-loss goals. In fact a recent survey says 27% women say they nibble even if they are not feeling particularly hungry, with a third saying they turn to unhealthier options when they are bored. This was not on WLS patients but my bet is that there would be similarities. Does this sound familiar to you? If so then here are some ways to control or get on top of it …
TRY THE 3:2:1 FORMULA
The head of a health and nutrition company that produces healthy snacks recommends this formula if you are the sort who finds yourself picking at food throughout the entire day. The formula she says ‘ helps people make better food choices throughout the day by highlighting the recommended size and frequency of top-ups in-between meals’. The method includes:
- 3 balanced meals (including breakfast)
- 2 smaller snacks, up to 150 calories each (but WLS patients are advised to look at a maximum of about 100 calories)
- 1 additional larger snack but only if you’re exercising
You should snack when you’re hungry, but as a general rule of thumb, have a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, especially if you’re exercising. It’s best to snack at least an hour before your workout so that you have the essential energy required to do so.
DO CHOOSE A QUALITY SNACK
Always aim for feeling fuller with a healthy snack rather than a sweet treat . Avoid those that are calorie-laden and have a low-nutrient profile that are unlikely to have satiety value. So, for example, try not to opt for a square of chocolate (which can lead to you polishing off an entire bar) instead consider some protein and veggie sticks – like hummus and crudites, or a wholemeal cracker with a smear of nut butter – which will fill you up instead.
ARE YOU HUNGRY OR JUST BORED?
It’s so easy to eat and snack mindlessly. If you are constantly reaching for a snack then ask yourself if you are genuinely hungry or just bored? Be curious and explore why you’re craving something – by thinking things through you can help to differentiate between genuine hunger and eating for comfort. This chart might help …
WANT TO GET THINGS RIGHT? THEN TAKE NOTE
Research shows that by keeping a food journal you can double your weight loss. Those who kept food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. It seems that writing things down of what you eat, when and why you did, encourages you to consume fewer calories. I think it also helps to identify if you are picking up a grazing habit without being aware of it. By monitoring yourself closely for say 3 days you should pick up any issues then look at ways to resolve yourself or ask for help from your team. Your dietitian will be able to help with some personalised strategies.
For details of Bariatric Journal click here
KNOW YOUR SNACK ATTACK DANGER SPOTS!
You may have a sweet-tooth or yearn for something salty (or like me bounce between the two!) but the key with both is to know how you can make great swaps for them. In most cases a piece of fruit will satisfy or help with a sweet craving and nuts will help with a salty or savoury one. Both will offer more than a piece of candy or bag of crisps/chips. The key of course is to make these swaps genuine treats that you look forward to and that will satisfy your cravings. Look for savvy snack swaps – there are so many around from protein powerhouse crunchy snacks made with pea, soya or lentil protein to sweet mini protein bars with fruit, nuts and just a sprinkling of choc chips. Find your heroes! And better still – make your own – here’s a very simple one to start with …
A QUICK IDEA IF YOU’RE CRAVING A SWEET CHOCOLATEY TREAT
These fruit and chocolate bites are ridiculously simple to make, perfect for satisfying a sweet-tooth and can be portion controlled. Each one does have the bonus of being high in fibre too.
TO MAKE: Stuff 7 raspberries with a semi-sweet or dark chocolate chip (or chop your own no-added sugar into small pieces). Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.
CALORIES PER PORTION: 25
AND IF YOU’RE CRAVING A SAVOURY CRISPY BITE
Here’s an idea from my Return 2 Slender cookery book (details here) for Baked Salami Poppers.
TO MAKE: Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/gas 4. Spread a 70 g/3 oz pack thinly sliced French saucisson or salami (about 14 slices) in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crispy. season with salt and pepper and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Allow to cool before serving plain or with dips and salsas if liked.
SERVES 4 (about 3 poppers each)
WLS PORTION: ½-1
CALORIES: 73 PROTEIN: 3.6 g CARBS: 0.3 g FAT: 6.4 g
AND WATCH OUT FOR PORTION CREEP!
Portion creep is everywhere and ready to de-rail your best efforts in a slow but insidious or subtle way – check your portion and proportion sizes with our portion product friends if you’re unsure.
Bariatric Portion Plate and Cutlery (details here)
Home & Away Portion Control Box with Plate, Cutlery and Bariatric Bento Box (details here)