Nutrition Articles

10 Reasons You Eat When You're Not Actually Hungry

And What You Can Do About It!

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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

  • GRANNYGRUNTZ
    *This hint can help a little. *Drink an 8-oz. glass of room temperature water PRIOR to eating a meal. *The water will fill your stomach enough, hopefully, *AND, hopefully, you will NOT eat as much? *Worth a try! - 8/25/2015 5:59:20 PM
  • Not seen, is not eaten, watching TV or reading magazines or internet OR SURFING SPARKSPEOPLE we are exposed to so many food cues via advertising it gets in your subconscious. - 8/23/2015 3:58:02 PM
  • Leptin. I was just researching Leptin and how it affects hunger. WebMD article: http://www.webmd.
    com/diet/obes
    ity/the-facts
    -on-leptin-faq?page=1.
    The true culprits are refined sugars and tryglicerides that inhibit our "feeling full" hormones. Interesting article... - 8/23/2015 11:44:49 AM
  • The one reason not cited is thirst!!!!

    Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Feeling "hungry" have a tall glass (10-12 ounces) of water. - 8/23/2015 11:16:20 AM
  • I eat, or nosh, when I'm reading. So I try to keep reading snacks that are actual food that I'm allowed to have, say grapes or Cheerios.

    My way of coping with occasional sweet-stuff cravings is to make mini-cake. There are 4" cake pans designed for children's parties, etc. I'll use a recipe for a "mug cake", make one micro-mini cake in the microwave or the toaster oven, and share it with my husband. I got my 'treat' craving satisfied, but then it's all gone. Unlike making a batch of cupcakes, no more of them are hanging around saying "eat me!" My other trick is to go ahead and make the batch of cupcakes or lemon squares, etc., and take the whole thing to a meeting or a guild party. I get one, and everyone else gets the rest. - 6/30/2015 9:36:16 AM
  • ETHELMERZ
    I'm "responsible", but also human, easier to scold during those times when you do it, but it doesn't last forever! Look at statistics. The "thrill is gone", and then we have to struggle to get that feeling that boring salads are good again. - 5/17/2015 8:13:47 AM
  • TOWERS2000
    ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE?

    If the food isn't there you can't eat it. Don't let "stuff" into your house to tempt you in the first place. I clean my house (sometimes too much , but that another story) to get rid of germs & surface dirt for health reasons. Clean out your fridge. Clean up your shopping list.

    I reconsider what I put into my shopping cart just before checking out. Consider removing ALL items that are self-destructive. Remember, if it isn't there you can't eat it.

    It is written "Drink Responsibly" so consider "Shop Responsibly" - 5/17/2015 4:05:55 AM
  • I just love to eat! I love the taste of food. Lately I have been making HUGE salads with spinach, celery, radish, cucumbers, onions, etc. It really fills me up and does not have a lot of calories. I'm learning not to want the bagels, breads, pasta, and found that I can eat within reason, but it's still tough sometimes.... - 5/16/2015 6:04:41 PM
  • Oh boy am I ever a boredom eater!?!?! That has probably been the hardest habit to break!! - 5/16/2015 5:09:59 PM
  • ETHELMERZ
    But, I DO feel better after eating something, same as any druggee, so, that's why even knowing the reasons and triggers, we over eaters still do it, statistics don't lie. Start a diet, stop a diet, over and over. Healthy food does not satisfy as well is the reason, no satisfaction factor! Some expert needs to admit this!! - 5/16/2015 8:24:38 AM
  • It is very important to realize all the triggers, or hot buttons, that get pushed for us to respond by eating when it really is not wise. No one can eating anything in whatever amount at anytime and survive.

    If we know ourselves well enough, we learn to use the times our button(s) get pushed and we can intentionally do something else. Including drinking some water. Many people confuse thirst for hunger.

    Know thyself, is not just good advice. It's a treat! Why? Because you are actually an interesting person to know. Did you consider that?

    Peace! Out... - 5/3/2015 10:40:33 PM
  • The article covers the usual reasons most people eat when not hungry but fails to address eating disorders. People with BED and Bulimia get overwhelming feelings of hunger and compulsions to eat which are NOT always linked to any of the reasons listed. Your brain may be sending out the faulty messages, and it may have nothing to do with environmental or emotional factors. - 9/28/2014 10:51:28 AM
  • Great article- I do every one of those things! Very good reminder why the extra calories add up...and up. The strongest one for me is because food is just there. - 9/26/2014 4:48:50 PM
  • I wonder if imagining having eaten something really registers as having eaten. I assume this only works when not hungry. Sometimes I think about past things I have eaten and ask if I had long term satisfaction. If the answer is no then I ask why a bag of chips will be more satisfying this time. - 9/25/2014 8:51:56 AM
  • I have a big problem with the "in plain sight" topic, I don't buy the crap, I can say no at the store, but unfortunately I am staying with my parents and they buy the stuff, and even if it is put away, it still calls to me O_O - 8/7/2014 11:32:01 AM

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