Non-hungry Eating – 15 ways you eat when you’re not hungry.

Non-hungry Eating – 15 ways you eat when you’re not hungry.

We’ve all been there. Looking at an empty plate, ice-cream tub, chocolate wrapper, or cake-tin thinking, “Why did I eat that? I wasn’t even hungry?”

Do you struggle with non-hungry eating? Or feel like you’re carrying more kilos than you would like? Being able to control your decisions about when to eat and when not to is the key to easy weight management, (obviously) However that is often easier said than done, you need to know how to manage those times that you feel driven to eat when you’re not physically hungry.

As humans we have many things that can drive us to eat that have nothing to do with whether we are actually hungry or not.

I’m working on creating the ultimate mindset solution to emotional and non-hungry eating, and I’m considering all the different types of non-hungry eating, so that I can help you to solve the deep and unconscious drivers that are causing you to eat when you’re not hungry.

Interestingly some of them are very driven by emotional pain or pleasure, and others are driven by time, place, or what you see, hear, smell and taste. Here’s some I’ve come up with so far, many of them overlap, and the fine points of distinction are key to understanding what is driving your eating, and how we can manage or limit it while still addressing the need that the eating was solving.


1. Numbing Eating

When you’re feeling a really uncomfortable emotion, like sadness, shame, disappointment, and you just want to escape into a food-coma to avoid thinking or feeling right now. This kind of eating can easily become a full-on bottomless binge, and it is less important what you eat, just that you keep eating until you are so stuffed you literally can’t fit any more in your stomach.


2. Distraction Eating

When you’re feeling a somewhat uncomfortable emotion, like tired, boredom, frustration and want a distraction from your emotion to break your state, you might find yourself getting up for another cup of tea and a cookie.


3. Tired eating

This eating is for a very specific purpose, when you are tired and fatigued you might crave something sugary to give you some energy. This can become a dangerous cycle as you quickly slump after the sugar rush. This type of eating also includes the “hangover breakfast” where you eat greasy, carb laden food to manage your tiredness and alcohol toxicity.


4. Comfort Eating

This type of eating is using food as an emotional support, comfort and substitute for love. When you are emotionally upset, you might crave a certain type of food that unconsciously represents love and support, or reminds you of a happy time or place. Maybe it’s lollies like you used to eat with your Dad on a special day out together, or a cake like your Nanna used to make. These foods have emotional significance and you crave very specific foods.


5. Stress Eating

Very similar to comfort eating, however with stress eating, you are less aware of an emotion, just a feeling of overall stress. You will crave specific foods, however the foods don’t make you feel any better, they just take the stress away for a micro-second while you’re eating, and then create more stress through guilt and shame.

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6. Reward Eating

This is where you use food as a reward for achievement or having done something difficult. This one can be problematic when you use food to reward a “good” day of eating or for going to exercise.


7. Punishment Eating

The flip-side of reward eating is punishment eating. This is driven by disappointment. This shows up a lot in weight loss programs, after dieting and being “good” for a period of time, you might step on the scales and find that you haven’t lost weight. Then your disappointment kicks in with your inner rebel, and you say to yourself “fuck it, this is never going to work anyway” and drown your disappointment in food. This can also be linked to numbing eating, as a punishment for other self-perceived failures of character.


8. See-food Eating

This one is more of a triggered habit than emotional eating, but it is a form of non-hungry eating, and needs to be addressed. You see a tasty food within reach and go for a bite before you’ve had time to even consider if you are hungry or even want it. This one is a killer with office birthday cake.


9. Secret Eating

This is when you indulge in those nutritionally void foods that you would not want anyone else to see you eat. Whether it’s you wanting to shield your children from seeing you eat a block of chocolate, or holding back from eating ice-cream in public because your are overweight and feel judged, or some other reason, this type of eating indicates a mismatch between your outward identity and your inner needs. Secret eating is often planned and anticipated.


10. Finish your plate Eating

This type of eating is programmed in childhood where you must “finish your plate”. Now, as an adult, this pattern will cause you to keep eating even when you don’t want to, and stop you from “wasting” food by throwing it away.


11. For-the-Chef Eating

This type of eating happens in extended families, or with people who are oversensitive to others’ feelings. It is linked to finish your plate eating, where you eat to please the person who cooked the food, even if you don’t feel like it or like it. The emotion that often drives the eating is guilt.


12. Celebration Eating

For thousands of years humans have used feasts to celebrate with each other. Often at a feast, wedding, or birthday party or Christmas dinner – you will eat more than you otherwise would due to the occasion, festivities and alcohol.


13. Just for the taste Eating

You know when your meal is SO good, that every mouthful is like a mini-orgasm! Sometimes you know you’re full, but your mouth just can’t get enough. So you keep going until it’s all gone. This eating is driven by sensory pleasure, taste, smell and texture of the food.


14. Auto-pilot Eating

This is when you eat at a particular time or place, and you eat as if on auto-pilot, as if you have no control over the decision. This might be needing the sweetness of chocolate or dessert after dinner, or automatically going for a snack at 3pm in your office. The habit is not necessarily driven by emotion but is triggered by the situation, it is an unconscious drive and difficult to consciously stop even when you know you are doing it.


15. Doped /Drunk Eating

This type of eating happens in an altered state, where prescription medication, recreational drugs, or alcohol have changed your biochemistry to impede your ability to know when you’re full, and /or increase the feel-good chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine that flood your body when you eat. Eating becomes a highly pleasurable experience and it is difficult to even know when you are full, or stop.


Thank you!

This list has been compiled with the help and feedback of my Goddess Body Quest ladies. Deep gratitude to all who commented and shared their stories and comments in the private forum.


Which ones do you do?
Am I missing any?

Consider the times that you eat when you’re not hungry, and check if they fall into one of these categories. Can you please verify if these categories resonate with you and your experience? I’d love to know in the comments which ones you recognise in yourself or your past experience with food.

Is there something I’m missing? Tell me the story of your eating and we can uncover where it fits or if I need another category.  I’m so excited to create this much-needed solution for you!!

Comments (6)

    • My pleasure Deb! That’s my mission to keep the articles coming to help you, and create courses that serve. Working on this one now. 🙂

  1. Just woken up eating is a thing for me. On automatic pilot, doesn’t matter the time of day. I can wake up from a snooze and feel like eating. I don’t know whether it is because a drop in blood sugar or because often when I wake up in the morning, I automatically have breakfast. Maybe it comes under habit eating. Not sure.
    I can relate to nearly all your categories, it is a wonder there is a time in the day I am not eating!

    • Thanks Libby! I know right! When I wrote them all down I was surprised at so many reasons that we choose to eat! 🙂

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