You know you’re not hungry, but you still keep going back to the kitchen to look through the refrigerator and cabinets for something to eat. Or maybe you casually walk past the vending machine in the office to see if something looks good. Eating when you’re not hungry could be a sign of many things. Cravings, boredom and plain old bad habits are often the most common reasons.
The 4 Big Reasons Why You Want to Eat When You’re Not Hungry
Here are a few tips to help detour you away from eating (or eating a lot less) when your body doesn’t need the food!
This is a lot of information, and I hope you take a moment to read through it. The 4th reason is MOST LIKELY what’s happening to you.
It’s almost always the reason my clients had uncontrollable cravings.
1) If You Keep Going Back to the Kitchen Anytime of Day
Even though we should all eat right for our body type, everyone needs some amount of protein and fat in their diet to avoid feeling hungry, or the unruly need to snack. Opening and closing the refrigerator door, or obsessively thinking about what you’re going to eat next could be more that just boredom. Your diet could be missing some important nutrients, increasing cravings for food in general. Ask yourself these questions:
What fat and protein am I including in my diet? Every meal needs to include some amount of healthy fat and protein. A few good suggestions include:
- Handful of walnuts or cashews (fat + protein)
- 1/2 Avocado (fat)
- Tablespoon of olive oil or coconut oil on salads or vegetables (fat)
- 1 Hard boiled egg (fat + protein)
- Hummus with vegetables (fat + protein)
2) If You Eat At Night Long After Dinner
Eating before you go to sleep can throw off your insulin levels, increasing hunger when you wake up in the morning, and subsequently throughout the day. Think of insulin as your “fat storage hormone.” When we throw off insulin at bedtime, we’re also throwing off other important hormones, like human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our body repair and metabolize fat. If you have a gut full of food, insulin needs to take over, taking top dog over HGH.
When you cut back on eating before bed, you’ll not only manage your hunger and cravings, but you’ll feel much more energized the next day.
Anytime you eat in a way that makes this hormone work overtime, your body will pay for it. PRO TIP: Don’t eat 3 hours (or less) before bedtime. If you have to eat later, make the meal smaller, and make sure what you eat is higher in protein.
3) If You Eat When You’re Emotional
It’s easy to say, “go for a walk,” or “read a book” when you start feeling emotional or stressed and need a distraction from eating when you’re not hungry, but that doesn’t always work for everyone, does it?
The only thing worse than emotional eating – and this comes from a former emotional eater – is eating foods that actually add to the stress or emotional already being felt! Here are a few foods or drinks you can reach for without making yourself feel more stressed.
- 2 squares of a good dark chocolate (not milk chocolate)
- 1/2 cup plain low fat or full fat yogurt (not fat free) with berries + a little honey
- As many vegetables as you’d like with 2 – 3 ounces of hummus (this is a great recipe)
- 3 cups air popped popcorn with coconut oil on it
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- Camomile or another herbal tea with a little honey in it
All of these foods have some great nutritional value to them. The dark chocolate is filled with an army of nutrients, yogurt is a good source of probiotics, which help your gut and mood, hummus and veggies are a great source of fiber, protein and a little fat, popcorn with coconut oil is a great way to get fiber and a fat call medium chain triglyceride, eggs are a convenient way to get more protein and fat, and herbal tea is an easy way too ease tension while getting great flavor.
4) If You’re Legitimately Hungry…But Just Ate!
What the heck is going on? You ate literally an hour ago and the meal was pretty big, or at least big enough that you shouldn’t be snooping around for something to eat.
This is actually the least psychological reason, but most physiological reason for eating too much, or at all the wrong time!
Unlike the reasons mentioned above, this one is different. You’re probably hungry – not just craving something. It doesn’t mean you can’t control it. Let’s take a closer look.
Two things could be happening here:
- Your Gut Bacteria Could Be OffOur gut needs a good balance of beneficial bacteria to ward off the bad bacteria. When our gut doesn’t have enough beneficial bacteria, we can develop cravings that make our bad bacteria grow – like sugary foods.
And did you know that most of our body’s neurotransmitters are made in our gut? Neurotransmitters like serotonin, so it’s not surprising that when our gut is in an unhealthy place, our mood, motivation and desire to eat healthy follows. Read more about the gut-brain connection here.
You can improve your gut bacteria by:
- Cutting back on refined sugary foods, like soda, cookies and candy
- Include more probiotic foods, including plain yogurt, sauerkraut or homemade pickles, kimchi or kefir
- Take a really good probiotic, like this one that’s commonly recommended
- Drink plenty of water, and cut back on sugary drinks that can ferment in your gut
2. You’re Throwing Your Blood Sugar Levels Off
When you hear someone refer to blood sugar levels, what they’re mostly likely referring to is hormone called insulin. Think of insulin as your “fat-storage” hormone – and it’s released from our pancreas.
Insulin acts like an anchor when we eat – no matter how healthy the food is. Insulin’s just is to pull down sugars in our blood so they don’t go out of control.
BUT when we eat foods that are too sugary, or convert to sugar in our body too quickly, or just too much food in general, insulin has to work really hard. Too hard.
The insulin anchor that helped to pull down your sugar is now a working too hard, pulling your sugars down really far. When this happens you get hungry! Some people refer to this as a blood sugar roller coaster.
Make sense? It’s important to understand.
- You eat.
- Food releases sugar into our blood.
- Insulin does it’s job to pull the sugar back to a normal level.
- A good meal that’s right for your body puts our a request for the perfect amount of insulin.
- A poor meal or snack that isn’t right for your body puts our a request for a lot of insulin.
- A lot of insulin leads to lower blood sugar levels.
- Lower blood sugar levels lead to hunger.
- You start looking for food again.
- Because you’re hungry, probably really hungry, you want something sugary.
- And so begins the cycle again.
Be careful. You need to start controlling this as soon as possible. Our pancreas won’t work forever like this. The result, at first, is high A1C levels, pre-diabetes, then ultimately type 2 diabetes.
We don’t have stem cells to replace a damaged pancreas. So once the damage is done, you’re looking at a lifetime of maintenance – which can be done through the care of a physician. But wouldn’t it be great if you never had to worry about this?
If you’re prone to feeling hungry frequently, and this sounds like you, then you might be able to manage your blood sugar levels by:
- Eating a meal that has a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat
- Avoiding refined carbohydrates, or starchy carbohydrates altogether
- Focus on fat and protein for all three meals
- Eat a protein with a complex carb for snacks, including carrots + hummus, a hard-boiled egg + berries, walnuts + plain yogurt
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated
- If you happen to gain weight in your belly, read more about my Apple-Shape Meal Plan (it will help), as well as the foods you should avoid
- Most importantly, see a doctor if you’re unreasonably hungry all the time. Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.
Practical Tips to Stop Snacking Altogether
After you’ve started establishing healthier eating habits, even if it’s not at the right time of day, it’s time to think about cutting out the mindless snacking when you’re not hungry altogether. Here are a few simple tips to help you cut it out.
Curb the Behavior: Of all the tips, this one – in my humble opinion – will work the best in the long run. Change the environment you’re in before the craving hits. If you know you usually hit the kitchen an hour after dinner, grab your laptop or iPad and head to your bedroom to work on your playlist for tomorrow’s workout. If you have a hard time avoiding pastries that are brought into the office at 9am on Friday, keep a protein-packed yogurt at your desk and avoid the break room. Do something different.
Write Down Your Health Goals: Even if you know what your goals are in your head, or you just wrote out your goals last night, do it again. If a bowl of chips or scoop of ice cream aren’t going to help you lower your cholesterol, boost your energy the next day, or [fill in the blank with your goal here], you’ll at least be more conscious of your choices.
Cravings Won’t Stop: If you crave, crave, crave all day long, chances are you’re a) not getting enough protein, b) not getting enough fat, or possibly c) eating too much sugar and starchy carbs (particularly “wheaty” foods). Eat a little more protein with a smidge of more fat with breakfast. This might do the trick. If not, add a little more protein at lunch. It make take several days to get it right.
Getting control of your cravings and bad eating habits could be the key to weight control! I hope these tips gave you some fresh ideas. If you have any suggestions, post them on my Facebook page, or leave a comment here.
The Belly Burn Plan: If you still want a little more explanation of what it takes to get your body into the best shape (yes, we can all have that), pick up my book The Belly Burn Plan. It’s a 6-week plan that helps you eliminate cravings, eat right for your body type and generally feel as amazing as you can.
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