I’m Not Hungry but I’m Eating Anyway. Why?
“I know I’m not hungry but I’m eating anyway.”
This is a common complaint we hear, especially locked in the house over the past year or so. You might be eating just because food is there, or you’re bored, or you’re not even really sure why but, it’s frustrating. It’s part of the guilt and shame you feel about being out of control around food. You’re probably thinking there’s something wrong with you, your appetite and willpower.
Today we’re going to unpack the most common reasons you’re likely eating when you’re not even hungry. Which is fine, by the way, if you are. Because, contrary to what diet culture would have you believe, you’re allowed to eat anything, at any time, for any reason.
Constantly eating when you’re not hungry means you don’t, in fact, have that comfortable, healthy, relaxed relationship with food. It means you’re probably not an intuitive eater. It probably doesn’t feel good. And you’re likely beating yourself up for it as well. If you were an intuitive eater you’d be eating:
1. Unconditionally without any rules
2. Mostly for physical rather than emotional reasons
3. Based on internal cues vs. external rules and circumstances
4. And mostly food that makes you feel good
So, if you’re constantly snacking when you don’t want to be, based on your environment instead of your own hunger cues, and eating in a way that makes you physically not feel well and also feel guilty and ashamed, it’s probably not ideal. But don’t worry, there’s plenty that can be done to shift that, which is what we’ll talk about today.
So let’s dive in.
If you’d like to listen to this week’s lesson over on the podcast, check it out right here:
4 Reasons You’re Eating When You’re Not Hungry
There are many reasons you might regularly think “I know I’m not hungry but I’m eating anyway.” Women’s relationships with food are complex but, after doing this work for some time now we’re going to share what we see most commonly and what comes up for us immediately when we hear a woman say “I know I’m not hungry but I’m eating anyway.”
1. Your Hunger & Fullness Cues are Numbed
When you ignore or try to trick or outsmart your hunger for a lifetime, those natural cues get harder and harder to hear until you’re totally disconnected. You may not realize that you are, in fact, just hungry.
Dieting tends to tell us that a normal amount of food is much smaller than it actually is. And so we think “I can’t be hungry, I just had lunch.” But in reality you didn’t eat nearly enough at lunch. And on top of that, it’s likely that you don’t know what hunger actually feels like unless it’s ravenous, uncomfortable hunger. There are many subtle cues, including thoughts of food, that are signs of hunger that we’ve ignored for so long they no longer register. You find yourself eating because you are, in fact, hungry, but you just don’t know what those subtle signs of hunger feel like in your body.
2. You’re Never Actually Satisfied
Dieting makes us feel like our favorite foods are shameful because we dread weight gain. So we wind up “healthifying” our meals. Substituting things. Or flat out not allowing ourselves to eat what we really want. We are not satisfied through calories alone. Fullness and satisfaction are different things. Eating is a full sensory experience that is meant to be pleasurable. So if you’re not eating what you want, you’ll never be satisfied. And if you’re never satisfied, you’ll always be seeking out more food to get there. If you’re perpetually unsatisfied, you’ll always be on the hunt for a little something to hit the spot and always eating even though you may not be physically hungry.
3. You’ve Become a Certain Type of Eater
Through months or years or even decades of consciously trying to exert control over food you’ve become a certain type of eater. You might be a professional dieter or a careful eater. You could be a chaotic unconscious eater, a waste-not or refuse-not or emotional unconscious eater. This means you’ve adopted an eating style based on internal rules or external circumstances that do not have anything to do with what your body actually wants or needs. If there is food around, you eat it. If you feel a certain way, you eat. If you can’t stand the thought of letting something go to waste, you eat. In this case, you’ll likely be eating quite often when you’re not hungry because you’ve trained yourself to eat for a lot of reasons that do not include your body’s hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
4. You’re Emotionally Eating
This, in conjunction with binge eating, is the most common complaint our clients have when they come to us. They eat to soothe, dissociate, or distract from, negative emotions. Emotional eating has been demonized in our culture because of our fear of weight gain. But at the end of the day, emotional eating isn’t harmful, it’s just ineffective. It might work in the short term to numb or distract but it doesn’t help process the actual negative emotion underneath and tends to compound it by adding a layer of guilt and shame on top of whatever triggered the eating it in the first place. In this case, you’re eating based on emotional states rather than your own hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
What To Do If You Regularly Think “I Know I’m Not Hungry but, I’m Eating Anyway”
We usually try to stop ourselves from eating when we’re not hungry in the moment through willpower and white knuckling it. I specifically remember all of my tips and tricks acquired through the careful advice of other disordered eaters over time. None of it ever worked. And I see it now as quite harmful.
Trying to stop yourself from eating in the moment, is like taking Advil for a tack in your foot. It would be much more useful to just remove the tack. In this case, removing the tack means fixing your underlying relationship with food and learning to eat intuitively.
You see, as an intuitive eater you eat what you want and whenever you want because there are no rules. You eat based on your body’s cues. You tune in and eat to enjoy food and to feel good. And external circumstances have very little impact on what you put in your mouth.
When You’re an Intuitive Eater…
- You are in tune with your body and its most subtle cues of hunger and fullness.
- You are eating foods you actually enjoy and are seeking satisfaction through your eating experiences.
- You are no longer eating based on rules or external circumstances, so you can be surrounded by desserts or potato chips but entirely disinterested if you’re not actually hungry.
- And since only restrained eaters tend to cope with emotions by eating, it no longer occurs to you to down a pint of ice cream when you’re sad. It’s just like, not a thing when you’re an intuitive eater.
Healing your underlying relationship with food by quitting the diets and learning to eat intuitively eradicates all these reasons you are probably eating when you’re not hungry.
Eating when you’re not really hungry is usually the result of either physical or mental restriction. Both forms have the same result in our behavior around food. Physical restriction numbs our ability to hear our body’s cues until they are screaming. And mental restriction leaves us obsessed with food and perpetually dissatisfied. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’ve just been trained through dieting into a relationship with food that doesn’t connect to your body’s own needs.
If you find yourself thinking “I’m not hungry but I’m eating anyway” reguarly it may be time to investigate your underlying relationship with food and your body. Be sure you’re giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, honing your ability to listen to your body, and focusing on your internal cues for guidance around when, what and how much to eat instead of the rules built up in your head from a lifetime of dieting.
And if you’re ready to dive deeper, just jump in and take our free master class. It will walk you through the 5 shifts you need to make to start to heal that underlying relationship with food and, you know, pull that metaphorical tack out of your foot so that you never find yourself eating when you’re not hungry or just because there’s food around.
To read more about the 10 actual principles of Intuitive Eating, grab a free cheat sheet to get started. It has a quick description of each principle to get you started.
And if you’re ready to get some help with all of this, book a free Breakthrough Session with one of us today.