Why we eat when we're not hungry

From dehydration to low blood sugar, we uncover some of the reasons you may eat when you’re not hungry. 

1.  You're stressed 

Who isn’t these days? And it’s not just making life feel like hard work, it could also be partly responsible for adding centimetres to your waist. 

When under pressure the body increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and this can ramp up your desire to eat – even when you’re not hungry. 

And if your stress levels don’t go down, cortisol levels won’t either, leading to a cycle of stress and too much food – and what are we typically  drawn to when we’re wound up? Food that’s high in fat or sugar or both.

Instead of tucking into chocolate when you’re under pressure, why not try stress-reducing techniques like meditation, or simply take a walk through the park, to keep those cortisol levels under control.

2.  You have low blood sugar 

Also called hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar can trigger feelings of nausea, dizziness, fatigue – and hunger, meaning you’re more likely to reach for a quick fix in the form of a sweet or fatty treat. 

True hypoglycaemia is usually only a problem for people with diabetes but fluctuations in blood sugar can also happen if you’ve missed a meal, you’re actively fasting, overweight and suffering from insulin resistance. 

Try keeping your blood sugar levels stable by having small meals every three hours rather than three large main meals.  

3.  Emotional eating 

Remember that biscuit or cake you loved so much as a child? Well, it’s probably the first thing you reach for when you’re feeling a bit low. 

Emotional eaters are often trying to escape unpleasant feelings like anxiety or sadness and will typically reach for a food they enjoyed when they were kids. This is more likely to trigger a release of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, causing the emotional eater to experience pleasure while eating. 

It may work in the short term, but the after-effect is often a feeling of guilt for having over-indulged. Try to come up with a soothing activity other than eating, like patting your dog, painting your nails, or having a relaxing, warm bath.
glasses of water

4.  You’re thirsty 

When you’re in need of a drink – of the H2O kind – you may feel sleepy and sluggish. These  symptoms are similar to the ones you get when you’re hungry, so the brain’s signals can sometimes confuse dehydration with hunger. Even mild dehydration can cause this reaction.

Try and stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water, and before you reach for that snack when you’re feeling hungry, have a glass of water first. 

5.  You can’t tell when you’re full 

There’s a hormone called leptin naturally found in our bodies that, when not working well, can make us think we’re still hungry when we’re not. 
 
Leptin helps you regulate your appetite and when your leptin levels rise, it sends signals to your brain that you’re full, so you’ll stop eating. 
 
If you have leptin resistance – usually caused by being overweight, the sensation of being full is blocked. Not good news to those of us who are battling the bulge! A doctor can provide advice about the best way to deal with this condition. 

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