- 17 fabulously easy tips and tricks to stop mindlessly eating
- Below are 17 tips to help you stop and overcome mindlessly eating.
- Why Do We Eat When We’re Not Hungry?
- How feeling full can make you want to eat more
- The hypothesis: Eating in a context
- Feeling full triggers food cravings
- 14 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry
- 1. You’re not eating enough protein
- 2. You’re not sleeping enough
- 3. You’re eating too many refined carbs
- 4. Your diet is low in fat
- 5. You’re not drinking enough water
- 6. Your diet lacks fiber
- 7. You eat while you’re distracted
- 8. You exercise a lot
- 9. You’re drinking too much alcohol
- 10. You drink your calories
- 11. You’re overly stressed
- 12. You’re taking certain medications
- 13. You eat too fast
- 14. You have a medical condition
- The bottom line
- Emotional Eating and How to Stop It
- Do you eat to feel better or relieve stress? These tips can help you stop emotional eating, fight cravings, identify your triggers, and find more satisfying ways to feed your feelings.
- The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
- Identify your emotional eating triggers
- Find other ways to feed your feelings
- Pause when cravings hit and check in with yourself
- Indulge without overeating by savoring your food
- Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits
- Are You a Hedonic Eater?
17 fabulously easy tips and tricks to stop mindlessly eating
Mindlessly eating is when we eat without thinking about what we are doing. (Emotionally eating is eating to change the way we feel. It’s eating when we’re not actually physically hungry.)
Below are 17 tips to help you stop and overcome mindlessly eating.
(At the end, you’ll find two very useful questions to help you change the way you think about emotional and mindless eating.)
1. Finishers: We love finishing things! That’s why it’s so hard to leave things on our plates; like that last bite we don’t even want. Our clue that we are done eating is that our plates are clean. Try leaving a piece of food on your plate. Even better? Start with less. We can’t eat what’s not there.
2. Perception: In a study when people thought they were drinking “cheap” wine, they ate less and stayed at dinner shorter. But the group with the “good” wine (they were the same exact wines) stayed longer and ate more and said the meal was better. The lesson? Don’t always judge a wine bottle by its label or a restaurant by its exterior.
3. Eating: The first bite is always the best so try to reduce your portions. Out to dinner? Tell them to pack up 1/2 of your food for home even before they bring out your plate to the table. Say no to bread. This way you don’t even have to look at it. (Here are tips about the best restaurant options for healthy food.)
If you have to constantly look at it, you’re going to keep asking yourself the question, “Do I want a piece? Do I really not want a piece?” Save yourself. At home, put food in the back of cupboards. Make it harder to get to. The idea is to make it harder to do the things we don’t want to do, and easier to do the things we really want to do.
I love places like Costco…but we have to be careful. It helps to take Costco size things and put them in smaller containers. In general, when food is out of your sight – it’s out of your mind.
4. Awareness: Are you really hungry when you eat? If you’re not hungry but choose to eat anyway — say out loud, “I’m not hungry but I’m going to eat this anyway!”
5. 20 percent: Try adding 20% more veggies to your plate and take away 20% of the entree.
1/2 plate: Try making half of your plate veggies. I find that eating veggies and salad with each meal really helps me to feel full.
6. Forgotten: There was a great study where 1 group of people ate chicken wings and their bones were kept in front of them. In the other group, the plates were cleared every 15 minutes or so.
Who do you think ate less? The group who saw all of their bones.
Bonus: You can do the same with wine. Always serve new glasses of wine and be sure to leave the old glasses out and the bottles too! *This can apply to any food that leaves evidence.
7. Just cut it: Mindless eating is when you eat and are no longer hungry. The “I’m full but I can eat more.” Be satisfied and just say, “Done!” (Ginny has a great story about how a custom diet helped her stop making poor food choices and lost 33 pounds. If you’ve ever wondered, “What should I eat when losing weight?” take a look.)
8. See all you can eat: Like the chicken wings – serve yourself in the kitchen and try to eat in another room. With snacks always pour or put the snack into something. Otherwise, the hand always reaches into that bag, without even realizing it.
9. Servings: We generally eat 92% of what we serve ourselves. Obviously, we aren’t feeling whether we are hungry or not. We’re judging by our plates.
Trick: Use smaller plates, dishes and glasses. Sounds silly but it does work.
10. Chop sticks: It takes 20 minutes to digest and realize the effects of the food you ate. Hence, you keep eating when you are no longer even hungry.
Solution: Make it harder to eat. Use chop sticks, eat with your other hand (and laugh a lot!).
Bonus: Try pacing yourself with the slowest eater at the table. Put your fork down after every bite. And try starting last and finishing last.
11. Groups: When you are with 1 other person you’ll eat 35% more, with a group of 4 it’s 75% more and with 7 or more it’s 96% more! Be careful next time you’re in a group.
12. Nice restaurants: You are likely to eat more with low lights, soft music, muted colors and an attentive wait staff. Use the staff to learn more about how the food is cooked and ask your server about which dishes are healthiest. (Read more about how to prevent temptation while out to eat.)
13. Distractions: If you eat while you work or read or watch TV, or do anything in addition to eating, you’re going to eat more. Smell the roses. Live in the moment. Taste your food. Pretend you’re a food critic and have to write a review of the taste, texture, smell, etc.
14. Brands: We experience them as better because we expect them to be better. Set your expectations low and all food tastes better.
15. Perceptions: Add two words to any dish and people will think the food is really better. Calling peas, “Power Peas” encouraged kids to eat nearly double the amount they usually do.
Great bonus! Spend the last 15 minutes of prep on your food in the kitchen during a dinner party and people will think you are working hard and the food will taste better to them.
16. The health halo: Watch out for Subway or any other “healthy” eateries. Most people, because they think they are eating healthy, will get a soda (plus a refill), cookie and chips and the most unhealthy sandwiches. The calories will add up and before you know it, you’re “healthy” meal isn’t so healthy.
17. Business parties: Only 2 items of food on your plate at 1 time. Chow down on healthy food first like veggies. While talking set your food down so you don’t mindlessly munch. When you enter the room, remind yourself of the purpose: Business or food?
*18. Habits. Excellence is simply a habit.
Start now. Not later. Consistency is the key to looking sexy and staying healthy. MBT-ers know that getting the body we want and being healthy and fit is about 3 things: Eating right. Exercising. And doing those two things consistently.
Two Powerful Questions to help you change the way you think about emotional and mindless eating:
1) “Am I using this food or am I eating this food?”
2) What’s really bothering me? What am I really hungry for?
- How To Stop Mindless Eating: 5 Easy Steps To Take Back Control
- Learn more about how to tell if you’re emotionally eating.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that solves the lack of consistency faced by chronic dieters. Sign up for his free mini course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Eating to Ease Stress
From infancy on, eating is soothing. Emotional stress plays perhaps the best-known role in the urge to overeat. Who hasn’t grabbed a bag of chips, chocolates, or the always-tempting muffin to calm their nerves? There are very real chemical changes that occur as a result of stress, and the body’s stress response, with its intricate cascade of hormones descending from brain to body, has a lot to do with our tendency to reach for food.
Stress has been shown to increase one’s perception of hunger and how much one eats. It may be that the brain’s hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which governs the stress response, is overactive in some people during times of stress, and could influence the drive to eat.
When people receive an injection that stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol, they don’t necessarily report feeling more stressed afterwards, but they do eat more snack foods than people who did not get the injection. The hunger hormone, ghrelin, is now known to be what links stressful events with the urge to eat.
ENVIRONMENTAL TRIGGERS TO EAT
The outside world provides plenty of cues that can trigger eating at times we might otherwise not even think of food. And not all of those triggers are even food-related.
Food, Food, Everywhere
Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor in the department of child & adolescent psychiatry at NYU’s Child Study Center says the sheer abundance of food these days is a major culprit in our eating behavior. Food is advertised and promoted in the unlikeliest of places. Sitting at your computer, a pop-up ad for a restaurant or a brand of snack foods can set off that eating cue within us.
Subtle changes in the dining industry over the years also make overeating more likely: Plates and utensils in restaurants are significantly larger than they were 50 years ago, and when we are served more, we eat more. Therefore, the glut of external cues and the relatively recent attitude that more is better can be important factors in overeating.
Eating Is Social
People have gathered around tables of food for centuries. But social eating carries risks. When we eat to please others, to remain part of the social group, we tend gain weight. In fact, people pleasers tend to eat more than people who are less interested in doing right by others. Our natural urge to do what those around us are doing, and not set ourselves apart or alienate other people by declining to eat, can contribute to overeating.
Eating to Mirror Others
Another aspect of social eating is in our tendency to mirror. Mimicry is an important form of social communication: we often mimic — or mirror — other’s gestures or behaviors to form a connection, or to show them that we like them. One study found that even people who meet each other for the first time over a meal tend to match each other’s eating behaviors bite for bite. It’s likely that this is an unconscious phenomenon, says study author Roel Hermans of Radboud University Nijmegen. Even if the phenomenon is subconscious, being aware of the tendency to mirror is key in breaking it.
Why Do We Eat When We’re Not Hungry?
Everyone knows that overeating is unhealthy. Weight gain, heart disease, abdominal pain–it’s all common knowledge at this point. Yet, all too often we find ourselves eating when we aren’t hungry, a behavior that most would agree is just a “bad habit,” but nobody means that literally or scientifically. However, research shows that eating when we’re full may be controlled by the same neurological system that controls all our habits, and this finding may be the key to understanding the cause, and the cure, for overeating.
In a study, thirty-two healthy volunteers were asked to sit in front of a computer screen and press a button whenever an image appeared on the screen signaling them to do so. When they pressed the button, a machine next to them released either a Fritos corn chip or an M&M. They ate whichever snack the machine ejected. Half of the subjects did this task for only two sessions of eight minutes each, while the other half did twelve eight-minute sessions. The second group had six times as much practice with the task as the first group and was more likely to eventually start pressing the button out of habit. With this in mind, we’ll call this group the habit group and the first group the non-habit group.
To determine how the development of habits affects our eating behavior, the researchers were interested in the activity of a certain brain region known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, located in the mid-lower section of the frontal lobe. A major function of this region is to anticipate the value of an expected event. This is important in the brain’s reward pathway, which manages positive and negative reinforcement of behavior. For example, when we are sitting hungrily at a restaurant and the waiter approaches the table with plates of food, neuronal fireworks light up the brain in anticipation of the meal. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is firing away because it detects high reward. Once we are full, however, the response is vastly diminished. If the waiter were to bring another plate of food, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex would barely respond at all. The low response devalues the experience of eating, discouraging us from continuing to chow down. In short, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex participates in a feedback loop: It positively reinforces eating when we are hungry, but that very act of eating eventually causes the ventromedial prefrontal cortex to discourage us from eating and to recognize that we are full.
Using fMRI (a technique that monitors brain activity in real time), the researchers compared the responses of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the habit group and the non-habit group. In the non-habit group, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was activated before each press of the button in anticipation of the snack, encouraging the subjects to eat. But that was while they were hungry. Next, the subjects ate a big meal. Now full, they pressed the button on the machine and the fMRI showed that the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was diminished. The participants were not hungry, so the projected reward of eating an M&M or a corn chip was minimal. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex downgraded the reward value of the snack to discourage further consumption.
The habit group was tested next, and things went a little differently. While the participants were hungry, their ventromedial prefrontal cortices again showed a big signal, indicating that they assigned a high reward to the food. But what would happen once they were full? This time, the fMRI results revealed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex activity was just as strong as it was when the subjects still had their appetites. The anticipated reward value of the snack was not downgraded, even though they were full. The feedback loop was broken. Apparently, because the subjects were pressing the button and eating the snacks out of habit, their brains failed to dissuade them from eating. In fact, by maintaining the reward signal, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was doing the opposite: positively reinforcing the behavior of eating without being hungry. The development of habit changed the act of eating from something dependent on the need for nourishment and transformed it into something automated.
This may explain why we often eat despite not being hungry. We let our habit system take over, and our eating becomes automatic. But how do we permit the habit system to seize command? Can we control it? Think of it this way: There are two systems for directing our behavior, the procedural habit system and the thoughtful conscious system. Consider how we drive a car. When driving a new route, we are completely consciously aware of our decisions on the road. But after driving a common route, such as to work, we might not even remember the trip. We can drive on autopilot, especially if our minds are busy thinking about things other than driving.
The conscious system can drive, and it can reflect on the events of the day, but it can’t do both at the same time. If the conscious system is preoccupied, the habit system is assigned the driving duties. By passively allowing thoughts to flood our minds (what we might call “spacing out”), we take our conscious system out of commission and the habit system takes over.
The habit system can similarly take over the process of eating. This often occurs when we are distracted by something, such as television. The reason doctors discourage people from eating in front of the TV is because it leads to overeating. When we watch TV, we allow the television to monopolize our conscious attention. Therefore, if we are doing something routine while watching, such as eating potato chips, the habit system will take control of that behavior. Just as a preoccupied driver may navigate on autopilot, the preoccupied diner may thoughtlessly consume five bags of chips while the mind is distracted by watching sports or an episode of The Bachelor.
When we allow our minds to be preoccupied, our ability to consciously control our behavior is suspended, and our behavior seems to follow a preprogrammed course. But we can choose to take control at any time, seize our brain circuitry from the habit system, and make healthier decisions.
For more about the hidden brain patterns that explain our behavior, check out my book: NeuroLogic: The Brain’s Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior. Available now!
How feeling full can make you want to eat more
A new study examines the feeling of satiety and concludes that it can serve as a “context” that may condition us to want to eat more.
Share on PinterestCraving food even when we are full could be explained through behavioral conditioning.
Diets often work for only a limited period of time, and once the diet is over, most people relapse into overeating. But why is that?
Researchers now suggest that the answer is behavioral conditioning. Because we have conditioned ourselves not to eat when we feel hungry as part of the diet, this does not mean that the achievement will last outside of the context of dieting.
In fact, the new study – conducted by Mark E. Bouton and Scott T. Schepers, both of the University of Vermont in Burlington – suggest that the actual feeling of hunger or satiety can act as “cues” for eating behavior.
The findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.
The hypothesis: Eating in a context
“Basic research,” the authors write, “indicates that after a behavior is inhibited, a return to the conditioning context or simple removal from the treatment context can cause the behavior to return.”
In other words, once we move away from the context in which we learned to “be good” – whether that means eating fewer calories, exercising more, or giving up alcohol – we are prone to relapse.
But in dieting, could the actual physical state of feeling hungry (or, conversely, of feeling sated) work as such a context?
As study co-author Bouton explains, “One reason might be that the inhibition of eating learned while dieters are hungry doesn’t transfer well to a non-hungry state.”
“If so,” he continues, “dieters might ‘relapse’ to eating, or perhaps overeating, when they feel full again.”
The researchers conducted several experiments to test their hypothesis.
Feeling full triggers food cravings
In the main experiment, satiated female rats were placed in a box with a lever that, when pressed, released tasty sweet treats for the rodents.
The animals were conditioned to do this every day for 12 days. This phase of the experiment conditioned the rats to associate feeling full with receiving food.
After that, the researchers put the rodents in the same box, but when they were hungry. For the following 4 days, pressing the lever no longer released food for the starving rodents.
So, in this phase of the experiment, the rats were conditioned to associate being hungry with receiving no food.
The conditions were then repeated. The same rats were placed back into the box and returned to the condition of feeling full. The rodents pressed the lever much more often when they were satiated than when they were hungry.
As Bouton explains, “Rats that learned to respond highly palatable foods while they were full and then inhibited their behavior while hungry, tended to relapse when they were full again.”
The researchers performed additional experiments, placing and removing food from the cage both in the first phase and in the second phase of the study.
And the scientists found that the same pattern occurred, independently of the external stimuli – that is, of the food placed in the box.
These findings, the study authors write, “suggest that associations with hunger or satiety stimuli were learned more readily than associations with other potentially useful stimuli.”
Overall, the findings confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that internal states of hunger and fullness can act as conditioning contexts.
“A wide variety of stimuli can come to guide and promote specific behaviors through learning. For example, the sights, sounds, and the smell of your favorite restaurant might signal the availability of your favorite food, causing your mouth to water and ultimately guiding you to eat.”
“Like sights, sounds, and smells, internal sensations can also come to guide behavior, usually in adaptive and useful ways,” they add. “We learn to eat when we feel hunger, and learn to drink when we feel thirst.”
“However,” the authors conclude, “internal stimuli such as hunger or satiety may also promote behavior in ways that are not so adaptive.”
14 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry
Hunger is your body’s natural cue that it needs more food.
When you’re hungry, your stomach may “growl” and feel empty, or you may get a headache, feel irritable, or be unable to concentrate.
Most people can go several hours between meals before feeling hungry again, though this isn’t the case for everyone.
There are several possible explanations for this, including a diet that lacks protein, fat, or fiber, as well as excessive stress or dehydration.
This article discusses 14 reasons for excessive hunger.
1. You’re not eating enough protein
Consuming enough protein is important for appetite control.
Protein has hunger-reducing properties that may help you automatically consume fewer calories during the day. It works by increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger (1, 2, 3, 4).
Due to these effects, you may feel hungry frequently if you’re not eating enough protein.
In one study, 14 men with excess weight who consumed 25% of their calories from protein for 12 weeks experienced a 50% reduction in their desire for late-night snacking, compared with a group that consumed less protein (5).
Additionally, those with a higher protein intake reported greater fullness throughout the day and fewer obsessive thoughts about food (5).
Many different foods are high in protein, so it’s not difficult to get enough of it through your diet. Including a source of protein in every meal can help prevent excessive hunger.
Animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, contain high amounts of protein.
This nutrient is also found in some dairy products, including milk and yogurt, as well as a few plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Summary Protein plays an important role in appetite control by regulating your hunger hormones. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if you don’t eat enough of it.
2. You’re not sleeping enough
Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for your health.
Sleep is required for the proper functioning of your brain and immune system, and getting enough of it is associated with a lower risk of several chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer (6).
Additionally, sleeping enough is a factor in appetite control, as it helps regulate ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone. Lack of sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels, which is why you may feel hungrier when you are sleep deprived (7, 8).
In one study, 15 people who were sleep deprived for only 1 night reported being significantly more hungry and chose 14% larger portion sizes, compared with a group that slept for 8 hours (9).
Getting enough sleep also helps ensure adequate levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes feelings of fullness (7, 8).
To keep your hunger levels under control, it’s generally recommended to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Summary Sleep deprivation is known to cause fluctuations in your hunger hormone levels and may leave you feeling hungry more frequently.
3. You’re eating too many refined carbs
Refined carbs have been processed and stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, which is found in many grain-based foods like bread and pasta. Foods like soda, candy, and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbs.
Since refined carbs lack filling fiber, your body digests them very quickly. This is a major reason why you may be hungry frequently if you eat a lot of refined carbs, as they do not promote significant feelings of fullness (10).
Furthermore, eating refined carbs may lead to rapid spikes in your blood sugar. This leads to increased levels of insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting sugar into your cells (10, 11).
When a lot of insulin is released at once in response to high blood sugar, it quickly removes sugar from your blood, which may lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia (10, 11).
Low blood sugar levels signal your body that it needs more food, which is another reason why you may feel hungry often if refined carbs are a regular part of your diet (10).
To reduce your refined carb intake, simply replace them with healthier, whole foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are still high in carbs, but they are rich in fiber, which helps keep hunger under control (12).
Summary Refined carbs lack fiber and cause blood sugar fluctuations, which are the primary reasons why eating too many of them may leave you feeling hungry.
4. Your diet is low in fat
Fat plays a key role in keeping you full.
This is partly due to its slow gastrointestinal transit time, meaning that it takes longer for you to digest and remains in your stomach for a long period. Additionally, eating fat may lead to the release of various fullness-promoting hormones (13, 14, 15).
For these reasons, you may feel frequent hunger if your diet is low in fat.
One study including 270 adults with obesity found that those who followed a low-fat diet had significant increases in cravings for carbs and preferences for high-sugar foods, compared with a group that consumed a low-carb diet (16).
Furthermore, those in the low-fat group reported more feelings of hunger than the group that followed a low-carb eating pattern (16).
There are many healthy, high-fat foods that you can include in your diet to increase your fat intake. Certain types of fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and omega-3 fatty acids, have been studied the most for their ability to reduce appetite (17, 18, 19, 20).
The richest food source of MCT is coconut oil, while omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. You can also get omega-3s from plant-based foods, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
Other sources of healthy, high-fat foods include avocados, olive oil, eggs, and full-fat yogurt.
Summary You may feel hungry often if you don’t eat enough fat. That’s because fat plays a role in slowing digestion and increasing the production of fullness-promoting hormones.
5. You’re not drinking enough water
Proper hydration is incredibly important for your overall health.
Drinking enough water has several health benefits, including promoting brain and heart health and optimizing exercise performance. Additionally, water keeps your skin and digestive system healthy (21).
Water is also quite filling and has the potential to reduce appetite when consumed before meals (22, 23).
In one study, 14 people who drank 2 cups of water before a meal ate almost 600 fewer calories than those who didn’t drink any water (24).
Due to water’s role in keeping you full, you may find that you feel hungry frequently if you’re not drinking enough of it.
Feelings of thirst can be mistaken for feelings of hunger. If you’re always hungry, it may help to drink a glass or two of water to find out if you are just thirsty (23).
To ensure you’re properly hydrated, simply drink water when you feel thirsty. Eating lots of water-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, will also contribute to your hydration needs (25).
Summary You may always be hungry if you’re not drinking enough water. That’s because it has appetite-reducing properties. Additionally, you may be mistaking feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger.
6. Your diet lacks fiber
If your diet lacks fiber, you may feel hungry frequently.
Consuming lots of high-fiber foods helps keep hunger under control. High-fiber foods slow your stomach’s emptying rate and take longer to digest than low-fiber foods (12, 26).
Additionally, a high fiber intake influences the release of appetite-reducing hormones and the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have fullness-promoting effects (12).
It’s important to note that there are different types of fiber, and some are better than others at keeping you full and preventing hunger. Several studies have found soluble fiber, or fiber that dissolves in water, is more filling than insoluble fiber (27, 28, 29).
Many different foods, such as oatmeal, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, oranges, and Brussels sprouts, are excellent sources of soluble fiber.
Not only does a high-fiber diet help reduce hunger, but it’s also associated with several other health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (30).
To ensure you’re getting enough fiber, opt for a diet that’s rich in whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
Summary If your diet lacks fiber, you may find that you are always hungry. This is because fiber plays a role in reducing your appetite and keeping you full.
7. You eat while you’re distracted
If you live a busy lifestyle, you may often eat while you are distracted.
Although it may save you time, distracted eating can be detrimental to your health. It’s associated with greater appetite, increased calorie intake, and weight gain (31).
The primary reason for this is because distracted eating reduces your awareness of how much you’re consuming. It prevents you from recognizing your body’s fullness signals as efficiently as when you’re not distracted (31).
Several studies have shown that those who engage in distracted eating are hungrier than those who avoid distractions during mealtimes (31).
In one study, 88 women were instructed to eat either while distracted or sitting in silence. Those who were distracted were less full and had a significantly greater desire to eat more throughout the day, compared with the non-distracted eaters (32).
Another study found that people who distracted themselves with a computer game during lunch were less full than those who did not play the game. Additionally, the distracted eaters consumed 48% more food in a test that occurred later that day (33).
To avoid distracted eating, you can try practicing mindfulness, minimizing screen time, and silencing your electronic devices. This will allow you to sit down and taste your food, helping you better recognize your body’s fullness signals.
Summary Distracted eating may be a reason why you are always hungry, as it makes it difficult for you to recognize feelings of fullness.
8. You exercise a lot
Individuals who exercise frequently burn a lot of calories.
This is especially true if you regularly participate in high-intensity exercise or engage in physical activity for long durations, such as in marathon training.
Research has shown that those who exercise vigorously on a regular basis tend to have a faster metabolism, which means that they burn more calories at rest than those who exercise moderately or live sedentary lifestyles (34, 35, 36).
In one study, 10 men who engaged in a vigorous 45-minute workout increased their overall metabolic rate by 37% for the day, compared with another day when they did not exercise (37).
Another study found that women who exercised at a high intensity every day for 16 days burned 33% more calories throughout the day than a group that did not exercise and 15% more calories than moderate exercisers. The results were similar for men (38).
Although several studies have shown exercise to be beneficial for suppressing appetite, there is some evidence that vigorous, long-term exercisers tend to have greater appetites than those who do not exercise (39, 40, 41, 42).
You can prevent excessive hunger from exercise simply by eating more to fuel your workouts. It is most helpful to increase your intake of filling foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
Another solution is to cut back on the time you spend exercising or reduce the intensity of your workouts.
It’s important to note that this mostly applies to those who are avid athletes and work out frequently at a high intensity or for long periods. If you exercise moderately, you probably don’t need to increase your calorie intake.
Summary Individuals who regularly exercise at a high intensity or for long durations tend to have greater appetites and faster metabolisms. Thus, they may experience frequent hunger.
9. You’re drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol is well known for its appetite-stimulating effects (43).
Studies have shown that alcohol may inhibit hormones that reduce appetite, such as leptin, especially when it is consumed before or with meals. For this reason, you may feel hungry often if you drink too much alcohol (43, 44, 45).
In one study, 12 men who drank 1.5 ounces (40 ml) of alcohol before lunch ended up consuming 300 more calories at the meal than a group that drank only 0.3 ounces (10 ml) (46).
Additionally, those who drank more alcohol ate 10% more calories throughout the entire day, compared with the group that drank less. They were also more likely to consume high amounts of high-fat and salty foods (46).
Another study found that 26 people who drank one ounce (30 ml) of alcohol with a meal consumed 30% more calories, compared with a group that avoided alcohol (47).
Alcohol may not only make you hungrier but also impair the part of your brain that controls judgment and self-control. This may lead you to eat more, regardless of how hungry you are (44).
To reduce the hunger-inducing effects of alcohol, it’s best to consume it moderately or avoid it completely (48).
Summary Drinking too much alcohol may cause you to feel hungry frequently due to its role in decreasing the production of hormones that promote fullness.
10. You drink your calories
Liquid and solid foods affect your appetite in different ways.
If you consume a lot of liquid foods, such as smoothies, meal replacement shakes, and soups, you may be hungrier more often than you would be if you ate more solid foods.
One major reason for this is that liquids pass through your stomach more quickly than solid foods do (49, 50, 51).
Furthermore, some studies suggest that liquid foods do not have as great of an impact on the suppression of hunger-promoting hormones, compared with solid foods (49, 52).
Eating liquid foods also tends to take less time than eating solid foods. This may lead you to want to eat more, only because your brain hasn’t had enough time to process fullness signals (53).
In one study, people who consumed a liquid snack reported less fullness and more feelings of hunger than those who consumed a solid snack. They also consumed 400 more calories throughout the day than the solid-snack group (52).
To prevent frequent hunger, it may help to focus on incorporating more solid, whole foods into your diet.
Summary Liquid foods do not have the same effects on keeping you full and satisfied as solid foods do. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if liquids are a major part of your diet.
11. You’re overly stressed
Excess stress is known to increase appetite.
This is mostly due to its effects on increasing levels of cortisol, a hormone that has been shown to promote hunger and food cravings. For this reason, you might find that you are always hungry if you experience frequent stress (54, 55, 56, 57).
In one study, 59 women who were exposed to stress consumed more calories throughout the day and ate significantly sweeter foods than women who were not stressed (57).
Another study compared the eating habits of 350 young girls. Those with higher stress levels were more likely to overeat than those with lower levels of stress. The stressed girls also reported higher intakes of unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies (58).
Many strategies can help you reduce your stress levels. Some options include exercise and deep breathing (59, 60).
Summary Excessive stress is a reason why you may be hungry frequently, given its ability to increase cortisol levels in the body.
12. You’re taking certain medications
Several medications may increase your appetite as a side effect.
The most common appetite-inducing medications include antipsychotics, such as clozapine and olanzapine, as well as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, corticosteroids, and anti-seizure drugs (61, 62, 63, 64).
Additionally, some diabetes medications, such as insulin, insulin secretagogues, and thiazolidinediones, are known to increase your hunger and appetite (65).
There is also some anecdotal evidence that birth control pills have appetite-stimulating properties, but this is not supported by strong scientific research.
If you suspect that medications are the cause of your frequent hunger, it may help to talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options. There may be alternative medications that don’t make you hungry.
Summary Certain medications cause increased appetite as a side effect. In turn, they may cause you to experience frequent hunger.
13. You eat too fast
The rate at which you eat may play a role in how hungry you are.
Several studies have shown that fast eaters have greater appetites and a tendency to overeat at meals, compared with slow eaters. They are also more likely to have obesity or excess weight (66, 67, 68, 69).
In one study in 30 women, fast eaters consumed 10% more calories at a meal and reported significantly less fullness, compared with slow eaters (70).
Another study compared the effects of eating rates in those with diabetes. Those who ate a meal slowly became full more quickly and reported less hunger 30 minutes after the meal, compared with fast eaters (71).
These effects are partly due to the lack of chewing and reduced awareness that occur when you eat too fast, both of which are necessary to alleviate feelings of hunger (72, 73, 74).
Additionally, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly gives your body and brain more time to release anti-hunger hormones and convey fullness signals (72, 75).
These techniques are a part of mindful eating.
If you are hungry frequently, it may help to eat more slowly. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths before meals, putting your fork down between bites, and increasing the extent to which you chew your food.
Summary Eating too quickly doesn’t allow your body enough time to recognize fullness, which may promote excessive hunger.
14. You have a medical condition
Frequent hunger may be a symptom of disease.
First, frequent hunger is a classic sign of diabetes. It occurs as a result of extremely high blood sugar levels and is typically accompanied by other symptoms, including excessive thirst, weight loss, and fatigue (76).
Hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by an overactive thyroid, is also associated with increased hunger. This is because it causes excess production of thyroid hormones, which are known to promote appetite (77, 78).
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, may also increase your hunger levels. Your blood sugar levels may fall if you haven’t eaten for a while, an effect that may be exacerbated by a diet high in refined carbs and sugar (79).
However, hypoglycemia is also associated with medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney failure, among others (80, 81, 82).
Additionally, excessive hunger is often a symptom of a few other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and premenstrual syndrome (56, 83).
If you suspect that you may have one of these conditions, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis and discuss treatment options.
Summary Excessive hunger is a symptom of a few specific medical conditions, which should be ruled out if you are frequently hungry.
Excessive hunger is a sign that your body needs more food.
It’s often a result of imbalanced hunger hormones, which may occur for a variety of reasons, including inadequate diet and certain lifestyle habits.
You may feel hungry frequently if your diet lacks protein, fiber, or fat, all of which promote fullness and reduce appetite. Extreme hunger is also a sign of inadequate sleep and chronic stress.
Additionally, certain medications and illnesses are known to cause frequent hunger.
If you feel hungry often, it may be beneficial to assess your diet and lifestyle to determine if there are changes you can make to help you feel more full.
Your hunger could also be a sign that you are not eating enough, which can be solved by simply increasing your food intake.
In case you’re eating too quickly or distracted at mealtimes, you can also practice mindful eating, which aims to minimize distractions, increase your focus, and slow your chewing to help you realize when you’re full.
Emotional Eating and How to Stop It
Do you eat to feel better or relieve stress? These tips can help you stop emotional eating, fight cravings, identify your triggers, and find more satisfying ways to feed your feelings.
We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. And when we do, we tend to reach for junk food, sweets, and other comforting but unhealthy foods. You might reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating.
Are you an emotional eater?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
The emotional eating cycle
Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed. You beat yourself for messing up and not having more willpower.
Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings. But no matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can learn healthier ways to deal with your emotions, avoid triggers, conquer cravings, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.
The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
Before you can break free from the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.
Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
|Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger|
|Emotional hunger comes on suddenly||Physical hunger comes on gradually|
|Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly||Physical hunger can wait|
|Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods||Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good|
|Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.||Physical hunger stops when you’re full|
|Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame||Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself|
Identify your emotional eating triggers
The first step in putting a stop to emotional eating is identifying your personal triggers. What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.
Common causes of emotional eating
Stress – Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.
Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.
Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
Childhood habits – Think back to your childhood memories of food. Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? These habits can often carry over into adulthood. Or your eating may be driven by nostalgia—for cherished memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad or baking and eating cookies with your mom.
Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.
Keep an emotional eating diary
You probably recognized yourself in at least a few of the previous descriptions. But even so, you’ll want to get even more specific. One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your emotional eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary.
Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food Kryptonite, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. If you backtrack, you’ll usually find an upsetting event that kicked of the emotional eating cycle. Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward.
Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe you always end up gorging yourself after spending time with a critical friend. Or perhaps you stress eat whenever you’re on a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings.
Find other ways to feed your feelings
If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long. Diets so often fail because they offer logical nutritional advice which only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food.
In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.
Alternatives to emotional eating
If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
Pause when cravings hit and check in with yourself
Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. You feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now! Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.
Take 5 before you give in to a craving
Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.
Can you put off eating for five minutes? Or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait.
While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.
Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones
While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.
Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention.
To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating. HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can show you how.
Indulge without overeating by savoring your food
When you eat to feed your feelings, you tend to do so quickly, mindlessly consuming food on autopilot. You eat so fast you miss out on the different tastes and textures of your food—as well as your body’s cues that you’re full and no longer hungry. But by slowing down and savoring every bite, you’ll not only enjoy your food more but you’ll also be less likely to overeat.
Slowing down and savoring your food is an important aspect of mindful eating, the opposite of mindless, emotional eating. Try taking a few deep breaths before starting your food, putting your utensils down between bites, and really focusing on the experience of eating. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of your food. How does each mouthful taste? How does it make your body feel? By slowing down in this way, you’ll find you appreciate each bite of food much more. You can even indulge in your favorite foods and feel full on much less. It takes time for the body’s fullness signal to reach your brain, so taking a few moments to consider how you feel after each bite—hungry or satiated—can help you avoid overeating.
Practice mindful eating
Eating while you’re also doing other things—such as watching TV, driving, or playing with your phone—can prevent you from fully enjoying your food. Since your mind is elsewhere, you may not feel satisfied or continue eating even though you’re no longer hungry. Eating more mindfully can help focus your mind on your food and the pleasure of a meal and curb overeating. See Mindful Eating.
Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits
When you’re physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, you’re better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without emotional eating.
- Make daily exercise a priority. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress reducer. And getting into the exercise habit is easier than you may think.
- Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings.
- Make time for relaxation.Give yourself permission to take at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. This is your time to take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
- Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.
Are You a Hedonic Eater?
Eating for enjoyment or entertainment isn’t new. We often eat because food is available, it’s free, or we know it’s going to taste good, even if we’re not hungry. But researchers in Italy have identified a specific type of pleasure-driven eating they call hedonic eating. In a small study involving eight subjects scientists found that eating for gratification, rather than physiological hunger, triggers the release of hormones that up appetite, and therefore stimulate continued eating, even after satiety has been reached. In the study blood levels of hunger hormones surged after eating cakes, but not after eating bread, butter, and milk. While the connection isn’t completely understood, the hormonal reaction seems to occur with foods tied more closely with emotional, rather than physical, hunger.
I’m fascinated with this type of research because I devoted an entire chapter in my newest book to emotional eating. In my years of working with clients I’ve seen that losing weight or eating healthfully isn’t simply about nutrition knowledge or having the right plan or recipes. We’re practically taught from birth to turn to food to feel good or at least feel better, whether it be for comfort, reward, escape, or celebration. In my opinion understanding that connection is the foundation of transforming your relationship with food and untangling eating from emotions. But it’s important to acknowledge that there is a physiological component.
In another recent study published in Archives of General Psychiatry Yale researchers looked at 48 women who ranged from lean to obese. Each woman completed a standard food addiction assessment then, using MRI imaging, the researchers examined their brains when they were shown, and then drank, a chocolate milkshake. They compared these images to those after seeing, then drinking, a tasteless beverage. They found that both lean and obese women who scored higher on the food addiction scale exhibited brain activity similar to that seen in drug addicts. There was more activity in regions of the brain responsible for cravings and less in the areas that curb urges. For some people consuming, or even seeing, certain foods may trigger a physically driven need to eat.
So what can you do? There is no easy fix but the most important thing is to begin to understand your patterns. Start keeping a food diary to record your experiences, draw connections, and develop insights. In my practice I ask my clients to record not just what, how much, and where they ate, but also how they were feeling both physically (hunger/fullness) and emotionally before, during, and after meals.
This type of tracking may help you see that you tend to eat emotionally at particular times of the day, after interactions with specific people, or after becoming aware of certain emotions. When you see the patterns you can begin to change them, including testing out non-food coping mechanisms, or garnering support when you’re about to face triggers you can’t avoid. It’s not easy, but change is possible.
What’s your take on this topic? Do you find yourself eating beyond satiety in order to feel good emotionally? Please tweet @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.
- By Cynthia Sass