Eating When You’re Not Hungry

Coach Becs
It’s not uncommon to use food to manage emotions, it’s actually quite resourceful!

It only becomes a problem when this habit interferes with your health or goals.

The “hunger” you feel when you’re physically full is still a need for something! Maybe the need is to resolve stress, boredom, difficult emotions, or tiredness. So feeding it something else can be helpful. A short walk or a cup of tea, for example, can acknowledge the non-physical hunger and give you some space to assess what is actually happening.

You may discover there is a pattern – a lack of sleep, stress, boredom, a difficult relationship, or some challenging emotions;  food is simply providing some welcome relief!

We often think changing this habit is about “willpower,” but it’s actually neurobiology! Your brain wants to feel better, and it’s become accustomed to using food to do this.

Look for patterns (Do you eat for comfort after you get home from a stressful day at work? When you feel bored?) Finding the root of your emotional eating will help you learn some of the reasons why you need to seek relief from food.

Just remember you are taking care of yourself in the moment in a way that works for you. And that’s okay! And if you want to change this habit, then there are some different approaches you might try…

For example,  experiment with other choices that make you feel good. Before you choose to eat when you’re not physically hungry, you can try calling a friend, watching a favorite comedy on television, taking a walk, journaling, or engaging in a favorite hobby, which can all be alternatives to eating for comfort. (To start, it may be helpful to give yourself permission to eat for comfort after trying a new activity. Do something new first, to see if the “emotional hunger” passes, and remember that changes don’t need to be made all at once!)

Another approach is to slowly transition your brain to understanding that a new behavior is connected with comfort. For example, if you relax with chocolate chip cookies, then start drinking a cup of chamomile tea with those cookies. Over time, your brain will associate the taste of chamomile tea with the comfort of chocolate chip cookies, and eventually, the tea alone may have the same effect!

There are many different reasons why people eat when they’re not hungry. It may be that food scarcity has programmed your brain to get what it can when it can. It may be a way you’ve dealt with feelings of loneliness or a boring job. It could be how you’ve managed difficult emotions your entire life.

Sometimes, an attempt to radically change this behavior ends up causing more stress and then a greater need for quick relief, which can become a vicious cycle. You can take care of yourself and gradually take steps to make the changes you feel are right for you.

Pause for a moment, take some time to honor that you’ve been doing your best.

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