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Nutrition Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

10 Reasons You Eat When You're Not Actually Hungry

And What You Can Do About It!

-- By Erin Whitehead, Health and Fitness Writer
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We've all done it, and sometimes we don't even realize when it's happening. Maybe you graze when you're bored, or reach your hand into the office candy jar each time you pass by. Perhaps when you're feeling sluggish in the afternoon, you head to the vending machine for a pick-me-up. All of these are opportunities to eat for reasons other than hunger. No matter why food calls your name, one thing rings true: We have all eaten something when we weren't truly hungry. While that's OK from time to time, too much eating without thinking can really hurt your weight management goals. And depending on what you eat, hurt your health, too.

Take a look at these 10 situations that encourage you to eat when you're not hungry, plus tips to cope in a healthier way.

To Cope
Emotions are a common eating trigger. Happy? You might eat a treat to celebrate. Sad? You might eat to soothe yourself with comfort food. Angry? You might take it out with a fork instead of the person who really caused it. But if you turn to food for emotional reasons, you won't resolve the underlying issues. It may help to track your eating habits in a journal, noting your emotional state when you headed for that snack. Writing it down may help you make a connection you hadn't seen before, like the fact that you eat when you're lonely or angry. Then you'll know for the future to look for a different outlet, such as calling a friend when you're lonely or turning to that punching bag when you're mad or stressed. If emotional eating is a known problem for you, check out SparkPeople's 10-step guide to overcoming emotional eating.

Out of Boredom
Sometimes you're not emotional—you're just bored. For many people, eating seems like a good solution when there's nothing better to do; whether you graze at home on the weekends or entertain yourself with lavish dinners out. But eating can only last for so long—and then you have an afternoon to fill! If you know boredom is a trigger for your emotional eating, have a list of strategies in place to keep yourself busy and entertained when you don't have anything else to do. Catch up with an old friend, write an old-fashioned snail-mail letter, write in your journal or blog, volunteer in your community, take up a new hobby or read a book you've always wanted to read. Better yet, make your boredom-buster an active endeavor, such as trying a new class at the gym, playing an active video game, going for a walk with the dog or flying a kite. Eating won't sound as appealing if you have a fun alternative to occupy your mind and your body!
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About The Author

Erin Whitehead Erin Whitehead
is a health and fitness enthusiast who co-founded the popular website FitBottomedGirls.com and co-wrote The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (available May 2014). Now busier than ever with two kids, she writes about healthy pregnancy and parenting at FitBottomedMamas.com.

Member Comments

  • I too am struggling with this. But learning the triggers is extremely important: tv after 8 pm is one such thing.

    My next "go to" articles are the ones on emotional eating (SP Guide) and whether you can cheat and still lose weight.

    Because I have 15 lbs to lose, I'm going to have to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible so that I avoid all manner of self-sabotage so that I can actually get to my goal. I like what the article I read before this one said in the last line: ultimately, as an adult it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY what you put into your mouth. My husband may bring it into the house, but HE DOESN'T FORCE FEED ME. - 4/12/2014 5:38:07 AM
  • MOURERMA
    I definitely over-eat when I'm bored. So I started doing jig saw puzzles whenever I feel bored and "hungry." I actually download them to my ipad so I always have one handy. So far it worked well. I haven't been eating while I work on a puzzle and between tracking and no longer grazing in the evenings I've lost 15 pounds. - 4/9/2014 12:19:32 PM
  • I suffer from all 10 of these! - 2/22/2014 3:04:18 PM
  • Eating when I'm not hungry is always my biggest problem, and those snacks tend to be the ones with the most sugar.

    I also have to say that the picture of the taco at the top of the article is making me hungry. - 1/23/2014 12:59:23 PM
  • I'm really struggling with this issue and I appreciate the tips. My worst time is at night. I find myself wandering out to the kitchen to find something salty or chocolate. If I don't buy them, my husband does so there is always something there. I know I need to get better control over myself or go out somewhere every night where food won't become a temptation. - 1/14/2014 12:13:03 PM
  • I took 20 minutes to eat my food today at lunch time and I feel really full. I did not eat more than usual and I feel great. The tip from yesterday was to take longer, at least 20 minutes to eat. It works! - 1/2/2014 2:00:25 PM
  • I always want to eat before bed, i've found that chewing gum really helps me, especially the fruit flavored ones (i love juicy fruit). - 11/29/2013 3:34:25 PM
  • When I catch myself wanting to eat when I am not hungry, one of the first questions I ask myself is "am I thirsty?" I have found that many times, that is the culprit! - 10/7/2013 12:26:02 PM
  • For me, my issue is that I get an urge for something sweet before going to sleep. Just realizing that is probably why the scale will not budge. - 9/25/2013 1:54:23 PM
  • JUSTUS711
    I eat when I'm not supposed to because I want a "taste". I love to cook, thus, I am always looking for new recipes, and watch cook shows continuously, making it difficult to keep off that ugly cellulite. UGH! - 9/25/2013 12:44:27 PM
  • Don't forget procrastination! I often eat to avoid doing something I don't want to do. Then I have two problems.

    I also have eating trigger situations, like sitting at my desk grading. It provides distraction in a way that enables me to stay at the desk. But I need to work on that, either by eating something like cucumbers and celery or something healthy. If I let myself get up to walk around, then it's hard to make myself sit back down and focus on the work. Tough one. - 9/25/2013 11:23:50 AM
  • Pretty sure I fit into all of these at some point or another... - 9/25/2013 10:23:08 AM
  • boredom for me. - 9/14/2013 6:58:09 AM
  • I can't help but notice that the majority of these issues are emotionally driven.
    To cope: Anger, sadness, stress, anxiety.
    Boredom/Food is there: An underlying anxiety to do something, anything, other than have to just "be" with yourself and your feelings.
    Other people eating/food pushers: Wanting to be liked or fit in.
    Special occasion/I deserve it: Food equals love/celebration. Why do you deserve it? What else is happening in your life that you need to make up for with food?
    Clean plate syndrome: Guilt.
    If you can relieve the underlying stress inducing emotions, most of these issues take care of themselves. I know I had to take a good hard look at why food was such a reward and comfort before I could lose the weight. I had to ask myself all these questions. Food was definitely fulfilling an emotional role in my life. - 9/7/2013 12:03:59 PM
  • CANUCKSFAN2
    I agree with most of what is said here, but I won't agree with your comment that you should bring your own food to a celebration, unless you have a dietary restriction that the host doesn't know about. The reason being that it smacks of rudeness of what the host has prepared and honestly some would feel offense to the fact that a guest won't partake of the food that has been prepared. A good host would take into account that some guests won't want to eat certain foods and have certain restrictions. You are there as a guest and honestly having a bit of fat in one's diet, within reason, is actually good for a person and not as bad as some individuals make it out to be. If you don't want to have those sort of foods and you know that they are going to be served at a particular event, simply don't go or if you can't avoid going, don't eat certain foods. - 9/6/2013 1:27:48 PM