Nutrition Articles

10 Reasons You Eat When You're Not Actually Hungry

And What You Can Do About It!

5.1KSHARES

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

  • 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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