Why Do We Eat When We Aren’t Hungry?

It’s 9:30AM and even though you haven’t felt hungry yet, you dive into your morning snack. At noon, it’s almost as if a silent alarm rings telling you it’s time to go eat your lunch. Before you hit your bed at the end of a long day, you find yourself staring into the refrigerator looking for the perfect late night snack. If this sounds like your day, you are not alone. Many of us find ourselves eating or snacking throughout the day without experiencing hunger.Woman eating pizza and watching tv on the couch

Why does this happen? More importantly, how can we stop the cycle without losing our minds?

When you are hungry, your brain views food as a “highly anticipated reward,” and the thought of satisfying that hunger lights up the feel-good parts of your brain associated with pleasure. For many of us, the habit of eating particular snacks or at particular times of day has led our brains to search out that reward without the hunger signal being present.

Is there anything we can do to prevent eating out of habit instead of hunger? Yes, but like breaking any habit it takes effort and consistency to reestablish your eating patterns.

  • Practice consciousness. If you eat out of habit instead of hunger, your body is reacting to an unconscious pattern. To break the pattern, you need to approach eating with more consciousness. For example, if you eat a snack while watching television, how much of your meal or snack are you actually enjoying? You might be lost in your favorite show or surfing through your phone instead of taking the time to chew and enjoy your favorite food. Avoid distractions that you associate with mindless eating patterns to begin to break the habit.
  • Reevaluate how you look at your plate. If you were told as a child that you had to clean your plate or finish your dinner before you could be excused, that mentality may have followed you into adulthood. Just because you made or paid for a meal doesn’t mean you have to finish what’s on your plate. Instead of diving in and eating quickly to finish your meal, slow down while you’re eating and pause between bites. Your body is always sending you signals to tell you when it needs more food and when it’s satisfied. If you’re eating too quickly, you might not be able to hear it’s call to stop.
  • Try chopsticks. This may be quite a creative experiment to stop mindlessly eating, but if you’re having trouble breaking your habit, put down your fork and try using chopsticks. The challenge of eating in a different way will force you to be more mindful while you are eating. Chopsticks also don’t allow you to take larger than necessary bites, forcing you to eat more slowly and thoughtfully as you go. If you’re not quite ready to go to that extreme, at least cut your food into smaller bites than you would normally take. The act of eating smaller bites allows you to eat less, while feeling more satisfied sooner.

Do you have any unusual habit-breaking tips? Sometimes it helps to think outside the box when we need to break a difficult habit!


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