Nutrition Articles

10 Reasons You Eat When You're Not Actually Hungry

And What You Can Do About It!

5.7KSHARES

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

  • 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
  • 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

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