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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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Because Other People Are Eating
When you're out enjoying a dinner with family or friends, it can be easy to eat when you're past the point of fullness—especially if you're enamored in conversation and not paying attention to your satiation level. Perhaps more common, it's easy to indulge when others around you are eating, too. It makes you feel like you fit in, and that it's OK since everyone else is doing it. Research shows that our habits mimic our companions' actions in situations like these. You don't have to swear off happy hour with friends to watch your weight though. When your dining companions devour a second basket of bread or chips, or order dessert, don't automatically follow suit. Check in with your hunger level to see if you really need it or if you'll be more satisfied with the fun conversation. If you have trouble stopping yourself from reaching for more, use some of these dining out tactics to stay in control.

Because Food is There
Have a candy jar at the office that calls your name? Do you feel powerless to pass up food at a party, even if you've already eaten? When food is in plain sight, it can be so easy to grab a handful simply because it's there. It looks good. You like it. It's right in front of you. What's the harm? Any food that is nearby, visible and easily accessible is hard for anyone to turn down. If you're unable to nix the trigger food altogether, move the treats out of sight—you'll be less likely to grab a handful. So if you buy a bag of Oreos, put them on a high shelf in a cabinet—not on the counter. Instead of a clear candy jar, try an opaque one or move it to another location. (Alternatively, stock the candy jar with a healthier, more filling treat—like nuts or trail mix.) When you're already full and food is out at a party, stand with your back to the table or in another room. The flipside of this works, too. When you keep lots of other healthy foods in sight, like a bowl of fruit on the table, you're more likely to eat them.

Because It's a Special Occasion
If you work in a big office or have a big family, it can seem like every day is someone's birthday, anniversary, or shower. And if those celebrations often involve cake or alcohol, it might seem that every party is a calorie-laden minefield. If you don't want to have a piece of cake every day, don't automatically get in the cake line when it's your bosses' birthday—you can always show your face at the celebration without taking part in the punch bowl. Remember: Celebrations are about the people, not the food. If you do best without temptation, skip the gathering altogether or bring your own low-cal treat. Here's another tactic: New research shows that just imagining yourself eating a treat can decrease your desire to eat the real thing. Passing up cake or celebratory food on occasion just got easier!
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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 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
  • 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