Why Do You Eat When You’re Not Hungry?

Eating when you don’t need to, or want to, may have a number of explanations.


It is something most of us do from time to time, and there are a number of reasons for it. It may be an unconscious response that has you reaching for that extra helping or indulging in a sweet treat

These are the seven most common triggers so which of these might be behind it for you?

1. Stress

Long-term stress floods your body with cortisol, a hormone that plays a part in your fight or flight system. In order to refuel your body after a stressful encounter, cortisol makes you want to eat more.

If stress is a near-constant state for you, those cortisol levels stay up and keep you reaching for the snacks.

2. Fatigue

When you don’t get enough rest, your levels of ghrelin (a hormone that makes you want to eat) go up. Meanwhile, your levels of leptin (a hormone that decreases hunger and the desire to eat) go down. These two hormones control feelings of hunger. The result: You feel hungry even if your body doesn’t need food.

3. Nerves

Eating is a handy outlet for the extra energy that comes with feeling edgy. Not only does it give you something to do, it also distracts you from whatever’s making you nervous.

But for some people, a way to manage stress is by not eating at all. This can slow your system down because your body thinks it’s starving.

When you finally do eat, you’re more likely to overdo it.

4. Anxiety

Anxiety has a strong link with eating disorders. Binge eating can be a way to help manage your worries and stress.

Other things, from genes, depression, and mood disorders to trauma, addiction, or abuse can make you more likely to binge as a way to manage your emotions.

5. Peer pressure

Not all emotional eating happens when you’re feeling down. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of a social event and ignore the signs that you’re no longer hungry.

Sometimes you might feel an obligation to go along with the group, not being the one who keeps saying no to food or snacks.

6. Alcohol

Booze lowers your inhibitions, and that includes good judgment about when and how much to eat. It also makes you more likely to eat less healthy things, like foods full of fats and sugar.

Studies show that drinking affects the part of your brain that monitors self-control, making it much harder to resist a tasty snack.

7. Power of suggestion

Sometimes all it takes is the power of suggestion to make you want to snack. A phone call from a friend telling you about a great meal they had, or the amazing cupcakes they found can be a trigger.

Don’t underestimate the power of advertising either as studies show advertising with food in it makes it more likely that you’ll grab whatever food you have on hand and start eating.

Reasons to change your behaviour

Eating when you aren’t hungry can cause weight gain and other health issues like blood sugar problems and diabetes.

This unhealthy cycle won’t end unless you become aware of your cues and find other ways to respond to them.

Start by asking whether you really need to eat.  Real hunger hits you slowly, and it can be easy to postpone.

Emotional or mindless eating comes on quickly and makes you crave specific foods. You may also respond to food availability and eat because the food is there.

This makes you more likely to overeat — and feel guilty afterward, too.

Helpful information: 

If you want to get a handle on dealing with mindless eating you need to find healthy outlets for your emotions, like exercise or meditation.

Get together with friends who can support you in your quest to eat more mindfully. And keep junk food out of the house. That’ll make it easier to be healthy if you do eat your feelings.

Dealing with stress and anxiety is also key, and there are a number of tools to help you do that. Hormone balance may also play a part too so check if you have signs of oestrogen dominance.