Here are some reasons why you might eat when you’re not hungry—and what you can do about it.
Life and calorie control would be a whole lot easier if we only ate when we were truly hungry. Then it would simply be a biological drive that needed to be satisfied—like downing a glass of water when your throat is parched. It’s the rare person who doesn’t eat for reasons other than hunger. Most of us find ourselves eating when we’re not hungry from time to time.
Part of the reason is that there is so much context to eating—who you’re with, what the occasion is, how you’re feeling. So, food is more than simply a way to fill up your belly. Instead, the act of eating can become an emotionally charged relationship. If this sounds like you, here are some of the reasons that you might be eating, even though you hadn’t intended to, and what you can do about it.
For many people, this one tops the list. Perhaps you have your ‘go-to’ foods that ease the pain of a lousy day at work or an argument with a relative. Unfortunately, the soothing effect doesn’t usually last long. It’s often quickly replaced by guilt, because you ate something you shouldn’t have. Stuffing down your feelings with food isn’t going to make the problem go away. You may be better off trying to deal with any issues head-on. Call a friend, take a brisk walk to blow off some steam, or write your thoughts down in a diary instead.
I’ve never quite understood this, but I’ve had plenty of clients who reward themselves for doing well on their diet—with food. It’s fine to allow yourself to have a treat from time to time, that’s a natural thing to do. But if you only allow yourself a treat as a reward for being good, that treat becomes very, very special—and so desirable that you’ll want it again and again. Find another way to reward yourself. Maybe download some new music or get a massage.
Think of those times when you’ve said to yourself, “I should eat this because it was offered to me,” or “Mom took the time to make this for me and I don’t want to offend her,” or “I should eat these leftovers because it’s wrong to waste food.” Instead, put the leftovers away—that’s easy. While it’s not quite as easy to turn down food offers, you can try by simply saying, “Thanks, it looks delicious, but I’m not hungry right now.” Or you can accept, and take just a bite or two to be polite.
You didn’t mean to eat that stale donut in the break room at work—it was just there. You weren’t looking for candy, but that bowl of jellybeans on your friend’s kitchen counter was just there. Next time this happens to you, ask yourself this: “If this food weren’t in front of me, would I even be thinking about eating it?”
A group of coworkers asks you to join them for lunch, but you just ate. You had a healthy snack before heading to a friend’s house to watch the football playoffs, and there’s a buffet full of greasy snack foods. In situations like these, you might feel pressured to eat to be ‘part of the group.’ But I assure you that you can be just as sociable with a cup of tea or glass of sparkling water in your hand as you can with a plate full of food that you neither want nor need.
This one also includes ‘eating when you’re bored.’ You’re eating either because it keeps you from doing something else that you should be doing, or because you can’t think of anything else to do. Using food as entertainment can be dangerous. Instead, take a jog around the block, or get down on the floor and do some stretching and some sit-ups. Let exercise, rather than food, be your distraction instead.