Combat Non-Hungry Eating: 7 Tips to Overcome Sneaky Cravings

Non-hungry eating is common and sneaky. If you constantly eat for reasons other than hunger, you’ll find the following 7 ways to combat non-hungry eating helpful.

Do you often find yourself peering into the refrigerator or pantry just staring to find something to eat? You don’t know exactly what you want but you know you want something.

Or, maybe you always eat everything on your plate, even if you’re satisfied half or three-quarters of the way through your meal.

And how many of those times are you really hungry?

We often eat when we’re bored, lonely, stressed, or have a craving. Sometimes we eat out of habit, or for a distraction.

And you may even eat out of spite or rebellion against society, parents, spouses, and others you think are pressuring you in some way.

Yes, sometimes you are non-hungry eating just because it’s a birthday or some other social event.

It’s important to understand that eating when you’re not hungry is normal. Everyone does it.

We don’t eat just to satisfy our body’s needs, but sometimes for pleasure.

And that’s okay. You don’t need permission to indulge in a cookie your co-worker brought to work, or an ice cream cone when you’re at the beach.

simgle chocolate chip cookie on pink background

Unfortunately, though, it can easily turn into an all-day, every day thing.

Non-hungry eating is also one of the leading causes of weight gain.

Many people are just not at all tuned to their own hunger signals. Are you?

If you’re not–or you’re not sure, don’t despair. It takes some practice, but you can learn to recognize true hunger as well as satiety.

Recognizing Levels of Hunger

Below is a hunger scale I’ve shared before.

There are many variations of a hunger scale, but in general, and most of the time, you’ll want to be around a 3-4 level when you start eating, and stop around a 6-7.

If you learn to recognize these signals, and you can, you’ll be well on your way to more healthy eating habits.

The Hunger Scale

Hopefully you’re rarely at level 1, ravenous. This is when you would feel almost faint or dizzy with hunger. If you get to this level, it’s way too easy to eat too fast, causing indigestion, or eat too much.

Sometimes we cannot avoid being at a level 2, but if you find yourself there for a reason beyond your control, be sure to use some mindful eating strategies to avoid the pitfalls.

So how can you combat non-hungry eating? Here are 7 ways.

Allow Yourself To Feel Slightly Hungry Between Meals

It’s okay to feel slightly hungry between meals! Hunger is not necessarily something to avoid, assuming you’ve eaten a meal relatively recently and know when your next one is coming.

Actually allowing yourself to experience mild hunger can go a long way to reassuring you that you won’t die if you don’t eat immediately.

(Note: the assumption here is that you don’t have any health issues that would mitigate this).

Appreciate your mild hunger pangs as normal, and let yourself experience the feeling so you can better understand real hunger from emotional or just plain ol’ hedonic hunger.

Drink Water Or Another No-Calorie Beverage

Often when we feel hungry we’re really just thirsty. Surprisingly, most people don’t get enough water.

You can drink plain water, of course, but herbal tea works, too, either hot or iced. If you drink green tea, it’s known to even help with weight loss because of all its antioxidants.

It even helps in burning fat, both during and after exercise, AND boosts your metabolism. How’s that for a double-whammy!

It’s also helpful if you’re trying to limit the amount of coffee you drink.

There’s nothing wrong with coffee, but if you tend to drink it with a lot of cream and/or sugar, those calories can add up.

If you choose to try drinking more water, you can add no-cal natural flavorings to make it more enticing as well. But just plain old water is good, too!

If you aren’t already in the habit of drinking plenty of water, you may want to gradually build up so you’re not running to the bathroom all the time!

Brush Your Teeth Or Chew Gum

Brushing your teeth is an old “trick” that can help you curb mindless eating or snacking.

You may not always have access to your toothbrush, but you can sure start keeping one in your purse!

woman brushing her teeth

Or, lacking that, keep some sugar-free gum handy so your mouth can keep busy.

One caveat for this, however. Years ago when I had an diagnosed iron deficiency, I had too many sticks of sugarless gum in a short period of time.

Unbeknownst to me, this gum had Xylitol or something in it that caused gastrointestinal issues.

So go easy on the gum and don’t replace constantly for “fresh” flavor like I did!

But the old standby teeth-brushing does wonders for me at least. Who wants to ruin that fresh feeling with some food when you’re not even hungry?

Find A Distraction

Here’s where a previously-written list of alternative activities can come in handy. If you can anticipate times you may want to eat out of boredom or habit, have a list handy with things you can do instead, such as:

When you’re eating just out of boredom, take a walk, ride your bike, clean out a drawer or closet, write down 5 things you’re grateful for.

woman in jeans taking a walk

For habits, you need to figure our your habit cue. Maybe you’re used to grabbing the same snack when you’re watching TV.

Substitute marching in place, squats, or some dumbbell curls.

The obvious bonus here is that not only are you avoiding extra calories, you are exercising too!

And you don’t even have to make extra time for it.

If you can make this ONE habit change (which is really a twofer), you will be amazed at the changes in store in a short period of time.

Keep An Emotional Eating Journal

In reality, the key to stopping any unhelpful habit is recognizing that you have the habit. In order to do this, you have to practice some mindfulness.

The best way to understand why you eat when you’re not hungry is keeping a record of the circumstances surrounding when you do this.

pink bound journal with gold pen

An emotional eating journal can be as simple as a small pad you keep in your purse or at your desk or on the counter.

When you find yourself mindlessly reaching for some food–even if you’re already taken a few bites!–stop and get out your journal.

Record the time, the food, the category, and any notes.

The category part is the reason you are eating the food, such as for nourishment, fun, mindless, or emotional reasons.

In the notes, you can write any insights you have, such as were you angry? Sad? Bored, etc.

Once you see patterns to this, you can begin to use other, more helpful ways to deal with those situations.

Sign up for a free emotional eating journal.

Use Smaller Servings Or Smaller Dishes

This tip is actually pretty easy to implement and can be very helpful. If, like most people, you tend to eat everything on your plate, it stands to reason you’ll eat less if you start with a smaller plate or bowl.

What if you don’t want to, or can’t afford to replace all your dishes right now? Simply begin serving yourself slightly less than you normally would.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t measure out portions when I’m filling dinner plates.

But I generally have a set amount of potatoes or rice, etc. that I’ll spoon out.

Put that usual amount on the plate and then put a portion back into the pan.

I don’t care if you start with a teaspoon or tablespoon. This will eventually make a difference.

If you’re at a restaurant, use the oft-mentioned method of asking the server to put half into a to-go container before the meal is served.

Or, split an entree with your spouse or another person (if they’re game).

Practice Gratitude

I know, this one may sound crazy, but hear me out. First, let me say I don’t mean reciting positive platitudes over and over again.

But neuroscience says that being in a state of gratitude can actually help you stop overeating.

โ€œGratitude replenishes willpower,โ€ so says Susan Peirce Thompson, Phd. Thompson is a cognitive and behavioral scientist, and a firm believer in the power of gratitude.

If you are consumed with negativity about your body, your lack of self-control or willpower, finding things to be grateful for may seem impossible.

But try to find a few minutes each day, preferably at a regularly scheduled time and think of three things you are grateful for.

Eventually this can change your brain chemistry and make a real difference in not only your thoughts, but your actions and behaviors.

Start simply. What happened today that is a good thing that you can be grateful for?How about the fact that you woke up to a new day, a new beginning. The fact that you’re alive and breathing!

I know those may sound obvious, but they are some of the most basic things that we take for granted.

Maybe the sun is shining and the sky looks beautiful. Write that down! If it’s raining, be grateful that the rain is watering your lawn or flowers.

Beautiful flower garden

Can you be grateful that you have vision to see the beauty of the sun and flowers? That you can hear the birds chirping?

If you think about it a little, there are so many things to be grateful for.

And once you make this a habit, it will become easier to notice so many more things to be grateful for.

If you can find many things to be grateful for, instead of negatively thinking about how fat you are, or how you’re disgusted that you just ate a whole bag of doritos, you’ll be surprised at much more content you will feel and how much easier it can be to reach for a cup of tea instead of a pastry.

Try it. I think you’ll eventually agree.

You Can Combat Non-Hungry Eating

Non-hungry eating is normal. Everyone does it sometimes and it’s not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s when it becomes your normal state of being that it can turn into a real and ongoing problem.

Especially if you feel like you’re in a cycle of constantly being down on yourself for your weight or fitness, trying this and that diet, starting, stopping, failing and then beating yourself up.

Use these ideas as springboards to better ways to cope with eating when you’re not hungry and you’ll be on your way to conquering non-hungry eating!

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