Snacking or a lack of structure can undermine a balanced diet – even when that diet consists of healthy foods. If you’re like me, your eating habits may have (or may still) change in retirement. I went from a fairly disciplined eater to a free-range grazer. Because I’ve tended to eat healthy food over the past several years, I didn’t think grazing was a big deal. However, if you let it get out of control as I did, it can be a big deal.
I adopted the Mediterranean Diet long before it became the go-to diet for healthy aging. I was perfectly content eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, a little red wine, and nuts. And I especially loved almonds; lucky for me, eating almonds can be included as part of a balanced diet.
When I was still working full-time, I was able to maintain a fairly balanced diet. I would take a small handful of almonds to work for a snack along with fruit or a salad for lunch. When I came home at night, I fixed another healthy meal, usually with a little red wine. On weekends, I sometimes became a bit carefree with my eating and would do a little mindless grazing. Otherwise, I kept my diet healthy and portions balanced. My life had been fairly structured.
It is Easy to Become a Retired Grazer without Structure
Once I was no longer working full-time, I no longer had the same structure in my life as I did when I was working. It was easy to mindlessly start snacking between meals.
A lack of structure is one of the main challenges many new retirees face. Some studies have suggested that lack of structure can change our eating behaviors and lead to some weight gain—especially for women.
I began supplementing and sometimes substituting regular meals with grazing. Because I love almonds so much, a handful here and a handful there – no big deal –almonds are healthy, right? I also continued my evening glass of red wine. Even though some reports have now come out against any wine consumption, I’m sticking with the studies that supported a glass each evening.
Look at all the Health Benefits of Grazing on Good Food
About three months ago, I discovered cocoa-dusted almonds at Costco. Wow – I had discovered two perfect foods rolled into one. Let’s just start with the almonds: According to Joe Leech in a 2018 Healthline article, almonds are just about the perfect food. He reports that almonds have all kinds of health benefits, including fiber, fat, vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese. They also are packed with antioxidants. In addition, almonds reportedly can help control blood sugar. Further, Leech cites studies that suggest almonds can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, among other benefits.
I’ve read other articles that suggest almonds are even good for our brains. What’s not to love about almonds? And then there’s chocolate. I’ve found articles that suggest dark chocolate is associated with lower blood pressure, a healthy heart, and improved vision. (It’s really not that hard to find articles supporting whatever you want to believe.)
Heavenly Grazing with Devilish Consequences
Can you imagine how delightful cocoa-dusted almonds taste with a good glass of red wine? This had become my go-to treat in the afternoon – a handful of cocoa-dusted almonds and a nice, full glass of wine. (Disclaimer here – reviews suggest that some people had found these cocoa dusted almonds too bitter for their taste.)
Three weeks ago, my husband and I planned to go out to lunch together. I decided to wear a favorite pair of pants that I’d worn just months earlier. At first, I tried to convince myself that my pants shrunk in the dryer. Of course, the truth was that even though all the almonds I had eaten were healthy, they were also full of calories.
How to Maintain a Balanced Diet
A serving size of plain, lightly salted almonds from Costco is a ¼ cup and contains 180 calories, or the same portion for cocoa dusted almonds is 190 calories. A single serving of red wine is only 5 ounces and has 127 calories. I measured 5 ounces of wine into a glass and was shocked at how little it actually was.
After I realized that even grazing on ‘healthy’ food like almonds can throw my overall health off balance, I’ve had to make some changes. I still like to snack, but I am now using a measuring cup for my almonds and placing ¼ cup of them in a plastic bag each morning. I can still nibble – but not by the handful. As for the wine—I am using a smaller glass. I sip more slowly and enjoy the entire 5 ounces.
Bottom line: Without structure, it is much easier to become a free-range grazer. Becoming mindful and developing an appropriate amount of structure around eating can help all of us maintain a healthy balance.