When I first began phasing processed foods out of my life, the most difficult part was the fact that I always felt hungry. Sure, I was eating three square meals a day, but I was always starving. I mean, we’re talking “OMG I HAVEN’T EATEN IN 3 MONTHS (or hours, whatever) I’M GONNA DIEEEEE” starving, here. It was bad.

So bad, that I tried a “modified” version of that “grazing” business that everyone was talking about. By “modified,” I mean it was literally eighth-hand information.. and I tried it. It was like diet advice passed down through a game of telephone. By the time it got to me, I was thinking it was acceptable to cook a giant container of macaroni salad and eat it all day whenever I felt like it.

Clearly, this did not work. I’d forget to eat, eat the wrong things or I’d eat too much while eating. Either way, this was all bad news for me.

Grazing is the idea of eating outside of those three square meals each day. I’m not sure where the idea to restrict ourselves to three meals a day came from anyway, but its highly impractical for someone who’s converting from foods that used to give us that “stuuuuuuuuffed” feeling. Sure, a properly-built veggie dish can and will fill you up, but what if your veggie dish isn’t “properly built?” You will be hungry, and you will be hungry much sooner than you would be if you were eating your old foods. And since hunger sometimes forces us to make decisions we wouldn’t make otherwise, it’s highly likely that you’d wind up reverting back to old foods… and old habits.

Yesterday, I wrote:

Once [a processed food] meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see what that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging.

This is why portion sizes have doubled and tripled over the past few years… the more processed our foods have become, the more we have to eat in order to remain full and the more our bodies compel us to eat because the foods lack the nutrients our bodies are looking for. That’s important. A processed food diet relies heavily on that “full feeling” to identify when we are “satisfied,” as opposed to the naturally-occurring chemical and neurological processes of the body that tell us to stop eating. So, in being ruled by both of those instead of just the natural processes of the body, our compulsion to overeat multiplies. All bad.

When I eat on a 6-meal schedule instead of a “three meal a day” ideal (which, if you ask me, isn’t ideal at all), I avoid that “hungry” feeling. We all know the “hungry” feeling. It’s that feeling you get when you think you might eat your desk,or you start wondering what your arm might taste like with a little A1 on it. The “hungry” feeling compels us to overeat because we’re simply shoveling food in our faces until it goes away.

So, it goes something like this. We start feeling like we’re “starving.” We get a plate of over-processed food. We start shoveling it in our faces hoping to curb that hunger. That food breaks down faster than it should. The chemicals in that food interfere with our ability to recognize that we’re eating and getting full. We eventually wind up eating too much and taking in too many calories. We become overstuffed (and wind up stretching out our stomachs, thus expanding how much food we need in order to achieve that “full” feeling we desire) and, well, overweight.

My black bean quesadilla,with pepers, onion, cheese, black beans, and a little chili pepper. Yum.

This is why I’m an advocate of grazing. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you should never feel hunger pangs again. If you do encounter a hungry feeling, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

Now… I have to admit. I hate the term grazing, even though it’s appropriate in this case in a nostalgic kind of way. Grazing usually applies to herbivores (like cows) who kind of just eat as they go along. You don’t see them going for extended periods of time eating, and then out of nowhere scarfing down an entire lawn’s worth of grass. It’s not necessary because they don’t do it. Their eating is not controlled by hunger.. it’s controlled by the fact that they need food to fuel their bodies. And while I don’t subscribe to the strict “food is fuel” mantra – I think food can be healthily enjoyed because I think all parts of life should be enjoyed – I do think it’s an important mantra to keep on hand.

If food is to be used as fuel – a proper energy source for your body – then why only fuel up three times a day? Kick it up a notch and go for more!

When I first began to successfully change my eating habits, I ate six meals a day. I ate a 7AM meal, a 9:30AM snack, a noon meal, 3PM snack, 6PM dinner, and a 9PM snack. It was truly what I was looking for. At 7AM, I’d have an omelette with peppers and onions. 9:30? Maybe a bowl of raw broccoli with french dressing. Around noon, I’d make a CLT on wheat (chicken, lettuce and tomato… #teamANTIbacon over here.) At 3, I’d give myself a spinach wrap with tomato and ranch dressing. Dinner was usually whatever I felt like having, and my 9PM snack was mainly a fruit. Completely unprocessed, well within my calorie budget. It worked out wonderfully for me.

As I said earlier, I went so long without feeling “hungry” that the rare days that I couldn’t abide by my schedule, my hunger pangs didn’t control me. I wasn’t compelled to overeat like before. I wasn’t drawn to crave processed food. I knew what a respectable portion size looked like, and I knew when it was quitting time at the table. I knew about the 20 minute time frame it takesmy body to recognize that it’s full, and I did what I could to take my time and appreciate my food. Life just became easier. I had more control. I’m never giving that up again.

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Do you eat on a schedule? What kind of eats do you enjoy? Let’s hear it!