graze eating

Is Graze Eating Hindering Your Weight Loss Efforts? How To Manage It!

May 10, 2021

Graze eating is defined as frequent picking or snacking on small amounts of food in an unplanned manner throughout the day.[1]  Graze eating can feel either:

  1. Mindless:  With mindless graze eating, you may not be paying attention to your snacking, but by the end of the day, you realize that snacks have added up to a large amount.
  2. Loss of control: When graze eating involves a loss of control, you may realize that frequent snacking is happening, but feel unable to stop.

How Graze Eating Hinders Weight Loss

Whereas small, planned meals and snacks throughout the day can fuel your metabolism and help with weight loss, graze eating undermines weight loss efforts. Graze eating makes it difficult to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

You may not feel hungry enough to consume regular and more nutritious meals, nor full or uncomfortable enough for your body to signal you to stop eating. People who struggle with graze eating often report being drawn to high-carbohydrate, sweet, and calorie-dense foods. 

Graze eating can be particularly problematic after bariatric surgery.  Though the smaller stomach size makes it difficult to binge eat or eat a large amount of food in one sitting, it is quite possible to eat too often.

For example, whereas one could not comfortably eat a whole bag of chips in one sitting after surgery, it would be possible to eat the whole bag in one day, but just one chip at a time. In fact, it is common for those who struggled with binge eating before surgery to shift into graze eating after surgery,[2]   and for those who had a tendency to graze eat before surgery, continue to do so afterward. [3] 

Graze eating is associated with weight regain after surgery,[4]  so it is important to address for long-term success.

Five Tips for Reducing Graze Eating


Keep a food diary

If you did absolutely nothing else, keeping an honest food diary would be the tool that helps you the most. 

The reason this is important is that graze eating often occurs outside of awareness. Tracking everything (including just small handfuls of snacks) helps you become more conscious of your patterns. When you know you are tracking everything, you are more likely to check in with yourself about whether you are hungry before you eat.  

Many people benefit from the convenience of apps for food tracking, and others keep track simply with a pen and paper. There is not just one method that is best for everyone.  The key is to keep a food diary without judgment

If you use the food diary to judge yourself, you will either stop tracking when graze eating occurs and tell yourself an unhelpful thought such as, “I’ll just start over tomorrow,” or your guilt related to graze eating may drive you to continue to eat. 

Rather, view your food diary as the “you are here” sticker on a road map: just a piece of data that will help you understand where you are so you know where you need to go. The knowledge you gain from food diaries will be incredibly valuable in helping you to understand what changes you need to make and what new strategies seem to be helping you to improve your eating habits.


Make eating more of an event

Graze eating usually occurs when we are distracted or busy.  You may find you tend to graze eat while working, cooking, taking care of your children, or watching TV. You may also find yourself eating quickly and while standing. 

To break this habit, start giving eating your full attention. Sit at the table for all meals and snacks, with your food (even snacks) served on a plate, and remove all distractions. You will likely find that you are more satisfied with a smaller amount of food when eating more slowly and mindfully.


Manage your environment

Take inventory of the snacks in your home and work environment.  Evaluate which foods are satisfying (i.e., you can eat a small amount and move on) versus those that feel stimulating (i.e., you find you always eat too much of them). 

Keep healthy, satisfying, convenient snacks readily available. Consider keeping stimulating snacks out of the home and away from your work desk. Leave cash and credit cards in the trunk of your car to reduce the likelihood you’ll stop at the vending machine.


Create “speed bumps” for yourself to check in

Graze eating often involves eating directly from packages, and when those packages are large, it becomes difficult to judge how much has been consumed.

Eating from individual serving-sized bags or small containers of snacks provides you with “speed bumps” to check in about hunger/fullness after a more clearly defined portion. 

If after your first portion, you still want more, wait at least 20 minutes before deciding on another portion. This lag time will allow your brain to catch up with your stomach’s fullness cues and “pump the breaks” on what could otherwise be an impulsive decision.


Address underlying emotional triggers

Graze eating is often triggered by emotions such as stress or boredom. It is important to realize that if you’re not physically hungry, food will not truly meet your needs but will only provide a temporary distraction to numb the emotion. 

When you have an urge to eat, check-in with yourself about your underlying emotions, and what those emotions are telling you that you really need.

If you’re stressed, you are yearning for something relaxing to do, such as meditating, reading, or taking a bath.  If you’re bored, you are yearning for something stimulating to do, such as taking a walk, doing puzzles, or making a craft.

Be sure you have all items you need (e.g., books, craft supplies) to manage your emotions without food readily available and in plain view. Use these strategies often, even when you are not bored or stressed, to form healthy habits that you can turn to when you need them to manage your cravings.

Overcoming graze eating can be challenging, but you can do hard things! You’ve got this!

And if you realize you need extra support, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Mental health professionals specializing in eating disorders or weight management can provide you with additional support for improving your relationship with food.     


[1] Conceição EM, Mitchell JE, Engel SG, Machado PP, Lancaster K, & Wonderlich SA. (2014). What is “grazing”? Reviewing its definition, frequency, clinical characteristics, and impact on bariatric surgery outcomes,) and proposing a standardized definition. SOARD, 10(5): 973-982.

[2] Mitchell JE, Lancaster KL, Burgard MA, Howell LM, Krahn DD, Crosby RD, Wonderlich SA, & Gosnell A (2001). Long-term follow-up of patients’ status after gastric bypass. Obesity Surgery, 11(4), 464-468.

 [3] Conceicao EM, Vaz A, Pinto Bastos A, Ramos A, & Machado P. (2013). The development of eating disorders after bariatric surgery. Eating Disorders, 21(3), 275-282.

[4] Colles, S. L., Dixon, J. B., & O'Brien, P. E. (2008b). Grazing and loss of control related to eating: Two high‐risk factors following bariatric surgery. Obesity, 16, 615–622.

graze eating
Kasey Goodpaster


Kasey Goodpaster, Ph.D. is a clinical health psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Purdue University, and completed her clinical internship with a focus on health psychology at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital. Dr. Goodpaster also completed a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic with a specialization in bariatrics and weight management.