One of the most incredible things I experienced when I cut the carbs and sugar out of my diet was not being hungry all the time. I was one of those people that always had to have a snack nearby because I always felt like I needed to eat something. Once I switched over to a low carb, higher fat diet I found I could go long stretches of time without eating or even thinking about food.
However, I also learned that sometimes I ate for reasons other than hunger. This really puzzled me for a while because it seemed like I would conquer one reason for my obesity, only to be confronted by another. I learned that decades of shoving food into my face at every opportunity had really done a number on my ability to recognize true hunger and eat accordingly.
So I did a little research on reasons why I would eat besides hunger and began the long journey to conquer each one until I could master my food intake and only eat when I was truly hungry. I hope you find this list as helpful to you as it was for me.
4 Reasons Why You Eat Besides Hunger
Mistaking thirst for hunger is a very common mistake people make but might be more common on a low carb or ketogenic diet. The reason is you are already susceptible to dehydration when cutting out the carbs because excess water is stored in glycogen in muscles. As glycogen stores are depleted, less water is stored and your body begins calling for more water.
If you are coming off a lifetime of constant snacking and drinking, you might not be able to tell the difference between a hunger and thirst signal from your body. The problem becomes worse if you find yourself drinking a lot of diuretics like coffee or diet soft drinks because those fool us into thinking we aren’t thirsty while dehydrating us. I’ve got nothing against coffee (in fact I love it!) but you need to follow it up with equal amounts of water.
The cure for this is pretty simple. Drink primarily water throughout the day and when feeling a pang of hunger, drink some water first and see if that takes care of it.
For more information, read my article on why you should drink more water on the Ketogenic Diet.
This is the one that does me in time and time again. When I get stressed, I get hungry. It has taken me years to know exactly what to do when this happens and even now, if I slip up in my diet, this is the reason almost without fail.
When we get stressed, we want to feel safe and comforted and food makes us feel that way. It’s no wonder that the foods we connect with our childhood are called comfort foods. For me the stress that does this is almost always work related and lack of sleep related. In fact if I get less than 5 hours of sleep before I go to work, I have started making it a habit of talking to myself about the temptations that will inevitably come up and how to handle them. Donuts in the break room and a lack of sleep are an absolutely deadly combination for me.
The solutions for this are anything that reduces stress so exercise, proper sleep and meditation will work. Also proactively doing things that will reduce stress like sticking to a budget, handling problems at work quickly instead of letting them fester and being productive with your time work as well.
This was another common one because I always felt like I needed to be doing something and often that “something” was snacking. It was mindless and probably added 1000 calories or more to my diet every day. Even once I went low carb, it was a challenge to not have some nuts or pork rinds between meals.
This one is a little tricky to deal with because you often don’t realize you are doing it until you are in the middle of doing it. The best way to handle it is to remove snack foods or your access to snack foods from your immediate vicinity. Something that worked for me was I stopped carrying any loose change because it made hitting the snack machines easier. I also made sure there wasn’t any food in any of my drawers at work or in my pantries.
After a while, I was able to conquer this one but it was challenging mainly because of the mindlessness of it. You can also try replacing that “boredom time” with something else like a video game on your phone or something healthier like going for a walk or doing some stretching.
Chewing releases endorphins
Eating is fun and it usually makes you feel good while you’re doing it. I don’t think there is any getting around that fact. And for some reason, the worse a food is for you, the better it makes you feel. We know that sugar especially causes the secretion of dopamine that gives us a feeling of happiness.
Fortunately, I can tell you that this fades over time as the long term serotonin you get when you start seeing the pounds come off and your body get back into shape begins to make you feel better than the short bursts of dopamine from sugary foods. Until you get there though, you will have to exert a little will power until you start seeing those changes. Chewing sugarless gum might help as well but the best remedy is to not eat anything between meals so your body gets used to this new normal.
You might also be interested in an article I wrote a few years ago about becoming a Keto Hedonist as it addresses replacing dopamine producing foods with a serotonin producing lifestyle.
So there are 4 reasons why we eat besides hunger and how to deal with them. How many of these have you experienced and what did you do to deal with them? I would love to know in the comments below!