Woman at open fridge with plate of donuts
Avoid Eating When You're Not Hungry

Nutritionist Fiona Hunter gives her top five tips for getting back in touch with your natural appetite and advice on understanding your relationship with food.

How To Avoid Eating (When You're Not Really Hungry)

By Nutritionist Fiona Hunter BSc

We all know, that when it comes to losing weight, there are no easy answers or quick fix cures. Old habits are hard to break and changing ingrained behavioural patterns is not something you can achieve overnight but by using behaviour modification techniques you can teach your body to respond differently to external cues. Here's some tips to help you get started:

1. Learn to Identify the Difference Between Actual Physical 'Stomach' Hunger and Emotional Hunger

When you're on a diet you should avoid allowing yourself to get over hungry because this makes it more difficult to control your appetite. It is important to eat regular meals. Before you eat anything in between meals ask yourself if you really are hungry. If the answer is no then find something other than food that will satisfy the emotion that is making you want to eat.

2. Give Food Your Full Attention

Focus on your food and eat slowly. Make the time to sit down and enjoy your meals at the table rather than from a tray balanced on your knee in front of the TV. If you don't concentrate on what you're eating, you are more likely to miss signals saying you're full. The brain takes 15 minutes to get the message that the stomach is full so if you eat too quickly your stomach fills up before your brain knows you're full and you end up eating too much. Eat slowly and consciously chew every mouthful well.

3. Avoid Temptation

Never go food shopping when you're hungry. Always write a list and stick to it and avoid buying things you know you won't be able to resist. If you find that your will-power disappears the moment you set foot in the supermarket try shopping online. At meal times don't put serving bowls on the table. If you know you won't be able to resist second helpings or picking at leftovers freeze or throw them away before you sit down to eat.

4. Learn to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food

Don't deny yourself the foods you enjoy or feel bad if you occasionally succumb to temptation — denying yourself your favourite foods will simply create negative feelings, making your diet more likely to fail in the long run. Learn to eat the foods you really want in smaller quantities. If you have a craving don't try to ignore it — if you do the chances are you'll end up eating more food, and calories, than you would if you gave in to the craving to begin with. Many people end up eating the food they craved, after attempting to eat their way around it, because what they ate hasn't really satisfied their need.

5. Change the Way You Think About Food

Studies show that successful dieters are those people who learn how to change both their eating habits and their attitude to food.

Understanding Your Relationship with Food

Before we can begin to understand the complex relationship that most of us have with food, we need to understand that we all eat for a variety of reasons — very often out of habit or to satisfy emotional needs rather than hunger…

We use food to celebrate, to relieve boredom, to make us feel better when we're unhappy or lonely. Certain people, places, moods and situations can also prompt us to eat. Sometimes we eat to satisfy hunger, but often it's to satisfy a psychological need rather than a physiological need. Often we're unaware of the psychological cues that cause us to eat when we're not really hungry. 

Identify Your Triggers

Keeping a food diary will help you to identify the triggers that make you want to eat when you are not physically hungry. Buy a notebook and divide the pages into columns with the following headings:
 

Date, Time Food Place Who, What, Why Mood Hunger
  what you ate where you were who you were with, what you were doing, why you ate the food your mood at the time how hungry were you on a scale of 1-5, where 1 = very hungry and 5 = not hungry

Keep A Record

Keep a record of everything you eat and drink and how you feel for a month. At the end of the month review your diary and make a list of all the triggers that prompt you to eat when you're not really hungry.
 

Date, Time Food Place Who, What, Why Mood Hunger
Thurs 8th, 10.30am Choc bar Office Working - hungry, missed breakfast Ok 2
Thurs 8th, 10pm ½ tube Pringles
Bottle white wine
Home Alone - watching TV - late home from work, no energy to cook proper meal  Bored / tired 1
Sat 10th, 3pm 3 choc biscuits  Anna's House  Anna got biscuits out - not hungry but couldn't resist  Ok 5

Think it Through

Once you've identified these trigger factors you can start to think about solutions and ways to avoid those situations in future. Using a technique that psychologists call behaviour modification you can work out strategies that will help avoid or change the way you behave when faced with these triggers.

If, for instance, you find that when you get home after work you're so hungry that you end up eating a family sized pack of cheesy snacks whilst preparing the evening meal — plan ahead — have a healthy snack such as a banana or yoghurt before you leave the office so you won't be so hungry when you get home.

If your diary reveals that you use food as a way of making yourself feel better when you're unhappy or depressed make a list of non-food related activities that will help lift your spirits when you're feeling low: rent a video; have a manicure; take a a long leisurely bath rather than reaching for a chocolate bar.

Avoid Eating When You're Not Really Hungry

We all know, that when it comes to losing weight, there are no easy answers or quick fix cures. Old habits are hard to break and changing ingrained behavioural patterns is not something you can achieve overnight but by using behaviour modification techniques you can teach your body to respond differently to external cues. Here's some tips to help you get started:

How to Avoid Eating (when you're not really hungry)

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