Wellness & Wisdom Blog

Why am I Eating When I’m Not Hungry?

May 28, 2024
Wellness & Wisdom Blog

You’ve just finished a satisfying meal and feel like you couldn’t eat another bite. But then you see the wait staff swing by with a molten chocolate lava cake, and suddenly you feel … strangely hungry again. What’s going on?

We eat for all kinds of reasons. Quite frankly, if people ate just because they were hungry, I’d be out of a job. Sometimes our hunger is physiological—our stomachs are growling, we feel empty, and it’s been several hours since we last ate. Our bodies need food. But sometimes our hunger is psychological—in other words, it’s in our heads. Our bodies don’t need food, but our brains want food. This is a classic description of a craving. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between true, physiologic hunger and cravings. Below is a list to help you STAHL (Sense, Tired, Anxious/Angry, Habit, Lonely) before you order that molten chocolate lava cake:


enses. Do you want to eat because the food smells good? Or it looks good in that advertisement? Because you know it will taste good? This isn’t necessarily real, physiologic hunger. Ask yourself when you last ate. If it was within the last two hours, and you weren’t thinking about food until you saw that commercial, then chances are, you want to eat because of your senses. If you frequently eat in response to your senses, try limiting your exposure to these stimuli. Drive a different route home to avoid passing your favorite fast-food joint. Chew sugar-free peppermint gum while you’re grocery shopping to dull the scent of fresh bread coming from the bakery. Be creative!




ired. Is it late at night? Are you feeling the munchies while watching TV? Believe it or not, our brains will encourage us to eat when we’re feeling tired. Our brains know that food means energy, and energy is going to help us stay awake, whether it’s to catch the late-night news or defend ourselves from that saber-tooth tiger (our brains have no idea what’s going on—only that we are tired and we are staying awake for some reason). It might be better just to call it a night. Side note: Getting enough sleep can help us better regulate our appetites and give us more resilience in the face of cravings






nxious/Angry. Do you want to eat to help calm down? Or avoid unpleasant feelings? This is better known as emotional eating, or eating in response to what you feel (and sometimes we eat when we are happy too!). Honestly, our brains just want us to be happy. We feel what we perceive to be negative emotions, and our brains know that eating will cause feel-good hormones to flood our bodies, thus calming us or even helping us avoid those feelings altogether. Emotional eating can be a tough battle, but it may help to give yourself permission to feel these feelings. Anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness—all of these feelings are normal, human emotions. Take several deep breaths, sit quietly and ride the wave of emotion. Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if you didn’t eat in this moment. Remind yourself that this, too, will pass.




abit. Do you want to eat popcorn just because you are watching a movie? Or eat pizza with a friend just because that’s what you always eat together? This is called habitual eating—we start to associate the act of eating with something else. In extreme cases, it might be wise to avoid the situation altogether. For example, if you are unable to make it through the lobby of a movie theater without buying popcorn, perhaps you should invest in a subscription to Netflix. But sometimes it can be helpful simply to make a “food-free zone” in your TV room: You may watch TV, and you may have a snack, but you cannot do them together! If you want a snack, turn off the TV and have your snack in your kitchen. You might decide that the inconvenience of getting up to munch may not be worth it!



onely/Bored. Is it the fourth time in an hour you have opened the fridge looking for company? When you don’t know what to do, do you head to the kitchen? Again, eating is a pleasurable activity. Food can provide good company, especially when we have little else to amuse us. If this sounds like you, it might be a great time to take up a new hobby or write up a daily schedule to provide structure. It can also help to keep a list handy of small tasks that need to be done , so when a craving from boredom hits, you can be productive instead.



Cravings can be a nuisance, particularly when we can’t tell the difference between them and true hunger. Practice STAHL-ing before you eat, and recognizing cravings will become much easier.

Tara Farley


Tara Farley, a highly skilled Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) at MEMC, is dedicated to improving the lives of her patients through the power of nutrition. She earned her Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. Tara specializes in metabolic health, weight management, and bariatric surgery, working diligently to assist patients in achieving their health goals. Her passion lies in witnessing patients transform into healthy, fit, and happy individuals, knowing that she played a part in their journey, and celebrating them and their incredibly hard work.

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The views and opinions expressed on the Wellness & Wisdom Blog belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. The Wellness & Wisdom Blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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