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

  • 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
  • Biggest trick of all: Get your mind OFF the food. Now. Do whatever it takes. Don't fight it. Look away instantly and get away from it if possible. Tell yourself that you'll go ahead and indulge if you still want it in 15 minutes. In 15 minutes you'll either have beaten it or you'll indulge in a smaller amount.

    I'd sure like to see that research about imagining eating it helping avoid it. That sounds like pure horse hockey to me. Personally I know of NO better way to ensure I'll give in to any temptation than by imagining I'm giving in. That's stupid. - 7/30/2014 12:12:38 AM
  • I need to memorize every word of this! - 7/21/2014 7:34:06 AM
  • NSHEATHER
    I find that I eat when I am in fact thirsty. I like the idea of keeping a journal to judge the triggers. Hats off to those Spark followers who have never had a problem. I envy you! You don't realize how fortunate you are to not struggle with over eating or grazing. - 5/26/2014 8:33:02 PM
  • Excellent article. As it should be though, a short article is not going to explore in any depth certain things… like lack of sleep under the tired category. “Lack of sleep, tend to eat”. It’s Allergy season and that means I have trouble sleeping. Toward the end of the day, I am hungry, irritable, groggy… and I eat what’s there. I have not found a decent solution for getting my sleep during allergy season… tried many things, but always, the same issues keep me awake. Got to get my sleep!

    - 5/26/2014 12:03:00 PM
  • ELAINEINTOKYO
    I suggest reading Fat Chance by Lustig. You may indeed eat for all these reasons, but you may have out of whack hormones. You may be Leptin resistant, which keeps you from feeling sated and it is not rare. I often don't understand why I eat sometimes in the same situation. I have never believed I only eat for emotional reasons or because it's there. But if it's there I will sometimes eat it. It may be time to take control, but you may not be in control for reasons that many in the diet industry don't want you to understand. we still live in a blame the victim society when it comes to weight - 5/26/2014 7:45:35 AM
  • DADKAJ
    'Because it is free'... samples in the supermarket. My most recent experience was like this: before leaving home I made sure I was not hungry. I brushed my teeth and carried water with me to quench thirst if it came. Trips to big supermarkets can take hours. There we encountered a man offering some chocolate dessert with ice cream. My man had one portion but I refused. Then he told me it tasted artificial and that he did not enjoy it. GREAT! I saved myself the mess in my clean mouth with balanced taste buds, few calories and sugar (and perhaps some other additives) and a disappointment that I had put in my mouth something that I actually did not need or want after all. Or I visited parents few weeks ago, thee were cakes. I did not touch a single one. Instead I focused on healthier things, creamy yogurts for example. They also had some sugar in them (the plain were not in sight), but still better than cake, is it not? Learning the wasteful empty taste of these processed bombs makes it easier to avoid eating them if one can stop for a second and imagine in advance, what the effect will be. One can save themselves not only calories, but also the guilt and disappointment from another failure. Stuff your stomach with healthier things and the cravings for that rubbish will slowly disappear. Making sure that people are well nourished also helps. Well nourished body does not seem to crave for unhealthy stuff, but there are exceptions with disrupted energy intake regulation and these need to undertake a more professional approach. The majority of the rest of us just have to learn the basics and be mindful. - 5/26/2014 4:57:41 AM
  • DADKAJ
    'Because the food is there' - I have a simple trick to cooperate: It is not for me. Full stop. Well brought up people do not take food of other people, do they? Even when they are craving it. It can be the thirst, or other reasons for craving... proteins help to fight physiological reasons for craving for something. I have bought few packs of muesli bars of several sorts - aimed to eat them as snacks when on the go. Then my low-carb trial came along and those bars will probably age there and will be thrown away after several months. What a waste, but I said to myself: they are not there for me. So taboo. Simple! In addition, I have learned to recognize the emptiness of their sweet calories. I do not enjoy them anymore... Fruits, vegetables, fermented dairy, greens... that is what I like to eat. - 5/26/2014 4:40:12 AM
  • 1105GRACIE
    Whoever wrote the article probably never had an eating issue. Sometimes you do things without a thought! If you could be that rational chances are you wouldn't have a food problem in the first place. - 5/26/2014 1:45:33 AM
  • LUANAALGER
    Ha! I don't think I have felt hunger pangs in at least 20 years, quite honestly... I could go for days without eating and still not feel hungry, so I essentially always eat when I am not hungry. I think I totally slaughtered my metabolism well over two decades ago... So, now what? :-( - 4/23/2014 4:37:19 PM
  • 29011976
    What if i will feel hungry later and food is nowhere to be seen especially when people are already asleep? This thought makes me to eat even if am not hungry. - 4/23/2014 8:40:35 AM
  • 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

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