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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 You're Tired
The dreaded afternoon energy lull can drive even the most disciplined of us to food—especially sugary treats. But that sugar rush might be followed by an even worse crash. Instead, take a walk around the office, head outside for some rejuvenating natural light, or drink a cup of coffee or a tall glass of cold water. A change of scenery might be just the ticket to battle the afternoon lull.

Because the Clock Says So
Do you pull out your lunchbox when the clock strikes noon, just because it's time for lunch? Or head to the kitchen at 6 p.m. just because that's your typical dinnertime? Don't just eat when the clock tells you to! When mealtime hits, use it as a cue to check in with your current hunger level. Are you actually hungry? If so, whip up that healthy meal. If not, wait until your body tells you to eat, and ignore the clock.

Because It's Free (Or Cheap)
Everyone loves to get a good deal. But don't eat up just because something is free (think free samples at the grocery store) or super cheap (buy-one-get-one-free sodas or all-you-can-eat buffets). Always check in with your body's hunger level before you automatically fill your plate with a freebie.

Because You Can't Say No to Food Pushers
If you're a people pleaser, it can be hard to say no, especially when friends or family offer you scrumptious food. And sometimes people who push food don't take no for an answer. Have excuses lined up in your bag of tricks—and be honest. "I'm not hungry" works well, as does "I'm trying to lose weight." If you end up with a piece of cake (or a whole cake to take home!) despite your protests, remember that you're in control (it's rare that people will try to force feed you). You can always set the fork down or share the cake with neighbors or co-workers, or simply eat just a small portion.

Because You Suffer from Clean Plate Syndrome
Most of us have grew up hearing, "There are starving kids who would love to eat that" to get us to clean our plates as kids. And for many of us, the well-meaning notion to prevent kids from wasting food and encourage them to eat their broccoli has stayed with us into adulthood. Do you still feel obligated to clean your plate, even when you're not hungry enough to comfortably finish it all—especially at a restaurant where you're paying a premium for a meal? Fortunately, most of us live with modern amenities like refrigerators and microwaves that make stowing away almost any meal for another time easy. (See, no waste necessary!) To prevent overeating, take stock throughout your meal to gauge how hungry you are; you might find that you don't need those last few bites after all. If that doesn't work, use smaller plates at home to eat less! And lastly, get over your fear of leftovers. I've met countless people who say they simply don't eat them. Why not? Many foods taste better the next day or two, and most things can be refrigerated and eaten without sacrificing flavor or texture.


If you eat for reasons other than being hungry, check in with yourself. Knowing what true hunger feels like can help you recognize when you're eating for other reasons. If you can't avoid the specific triggers that cause you to eat when you're not hungry—and there's no way to avoid them all—knowing these strategies will help!
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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