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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

  • 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
  • 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