7 Reasons You Eat When You’re Not Hungry & How to Deal

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
woman with birthday cake

There are many reasons why we might reach for a bite of food when we’re not actually hungry. Unfortunately, this kind of eating can lead to weight gain. Traci Downey, a Nutrisystem success story, says that changing her mindset to think of food as “fuel,” was a major key in her weight loss. While food can serve many purposes for us, its primary goal really should be energy—and thinking of it in those terms can make a difference in when and what you eat.

We’ve asked some of the other women who have lost weight with Nutrisystem to share why they ate when they weren’t hungry, and explored some ways to fight that temptation.

1. Because it’s there.

Eating while you watch a TV show or play a video game is a form of “mindless eating” in which you aren’t exactly paying attention to how much you’re consuming or whether you’ve passed the point of being full. Vanessa Washington, a Nutrisystem success story, says that mindless snacking during television time was a major reason she began to pack on pounds. She says that it was so easy for mindless eating to “take over” and she’s not alone. Researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think says that the average person makes 200 decisions about food each day but are only conscious of 20 of them. One way to stop mindless eating in its tracks is to stop eating directly from the bag. Portion out your food in advance of snacking and you’ll start to notice that you won’t eat when you’re not hungry anymore.

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2. Because you’re upset.

Cory Goodrich, a Nutrisystem success story, says that the first thing she used to do when she was upset was reach for chocolate to make herself feel better. “It’s easy to think ‘This day was so hard, I deserve a treat,’” Goodrich says.

But what she found was that the treat never made her feel better.

“I just kept stuffing more food in my mouth and then felt terrible afterwards,” Goodrich admits. “It would start a whole cycle of binge and guilt.”

Emotional eating is common—that cliché we so often see in movies and TV of someone pounding a pint of ice cream after a bad breakup is based on reality. But experts say it’s one of the main reasons diets fail. Researchers at the Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center found in a 2007 study that internal emotional triggers pose one of the largest obstacles to weight loss.

The key is to stop that vicious cycle in its tracks. Success story Ann Stack says that she “turned her emotional eating into exercise.” Instead of reaching for food when she was stressed or upset, she chose to work out. The resulting endorphins made her much happier than food ever did.

3. Because it’s easy.

Vanessa Washington admits that she would pull into a drive-through because it was fast, easy and tempting—even when she wasn’t that hungry. When unhealthy choices are easy to grab, it can lead to overeating. Teresa B., another Nutrisystem success story, says that at her largest, she was grabbing fast food on the regular—even for breakfast after working night shifts.

In our busy lives, convenience is tempting. Combat that temptation by making healthy choices just as easy to grab on-the-go. Keep a healthy snack like trail mix already packed in your car so that you can pass right by the drive-through. And have fruit and vegetables chopped in advance so they’re easy to grab in the refrigerator when you’re home.

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4. Because you don’t want to waste food.

A lot of us can’t stand the thought of perfectly good food going to waste—so we eat until our plate is clear. Morgan Root says she would often eat beyond the point of being full simply to avoid being wasteful.

“As a mom, I also found myself eating the food off my children’s plates when they were finished,” says Root, who has since learned to fight this temptation and become a success story.

You too can combat this concern by putting less food on your plate to begin with or making use of storage containers to preserve leftovers. You can also start off with a smaller plate so that you automatically put less on it. Dr. Brian Wansink’s research found that shifting from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch one resulted in a 22 percent decrease in caloric intake.

5. Because everyone else is.
Peer pressure can be quite tempting when it comes to eating. Lori B., one of our success stories, says that social eating was one of the primary reason she gained weight. “Taco Tuesdays” and birthday celebrations at work equated to regular splurges and Lori says she “felt bad” saying no. But she’s since learned that passing up the food doesn’t have to mean passing up the social celebration.

“You can say no to birthday cake and still have a half-scoop of the nonfat rainbow sherbert,” she says. “You can go to Taco Tuesday. Just pass on the endless chips and salsa but allow yourself one taco. Exclusion can lead to depression. You need a strong social circle.”

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6. Because it makes you happy.

Laura Avon, Nutrisystem success story, says that food has always made her happy—but choosing the wrong foods led to her weight gain.

“I used to eat junk food because of the instant gratification it gave me,” Avon says. “Then I would feel disgusting when I was done. The vicious cycle just made me gain more.”

She has since learned that healthier choices can make her just as happy.

“With Nutrisystem I learned that I can eat delicious healthy foods, feel fuller and satisfied, and lose weight in the process,” Avon says. “Instead of feeling disgusted with myself, I now feel energized, happy, and ready to conquer the day.”

7. Because it’s a reward.

Teresa B. says that she had to get out of the mindset of food being a reward in order to lose weight. She often treated herself—or her child—to a special junk food as a reward.

“After a pick-up at school, it was drive-through Happy Meals,” Teresa admits. “I rewarded with food.”

Coming up with non-food rewards is essential to creating a healthy mindset. Whether it’s treating yourself to a new book, a manicure or even better—a bike ride—taking food out of your personal reward system will help you and your family stay on track.