Why do I keep eating when I'm not hungry? (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the one common reason why people feel like they absolutely have to eat even though they’re not hungry: I have to eat now, because I won’t have time to eat later! – (click here for my thoughts). This week I want to talk about a second common reason:

Concern #2: I have to eat now, because this delicious food won’t be here later!

First of all, I totally sympathize with you on this one. In fact, before I give you a reality check + some ideas about what to do, I just want to tell you a story of something that recently happened to me.

When I was in Asheville a few weeks ago, I was out to dinner and ordered a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce and fries.

There are few things I love more than bacon cheeseburgers with barbecue sauce and fries.

And yet, three bites in, less than ¼ of the way through this perfect, juicy burger, I realized I wasn’t hungry anymore.

But I wanted to eat more. I really, really wanted to eat more.

In a fit of frustration, I turned to my dining companion and basically whined, “I’m not hungry! I’m not hungry!” And then, I tried to reason with him (and myself, let’s be honest). “Maybe I should just have at least half the burger even if I’m not hungry. It’s so good, and it won’t be this good later.”

At which point he rolled his eyes at me.

So, kicking and screaming on the inside, I forced myself to implement the five-minute rule and went to the bathroom. I washed my hands in hot water and checked in with my body.

Physically separated from the bacon cheeseburger, that “I want to eat it!” frantic energy dissipated. I realized that my stomach was perfectly filled, and eating more would make me feel stuffed or numb, which I didn’t want. And I realized that though it wouldn’t be quite as good reheated the next day, I still like bacon cheeseburger leftovers quite a lot.


I tell you this story to say: if the thought of not eating super delicious food when it is right in front of you feels excruciating, I feel you.

But the question I would ask you in those moments (and the question I asked myself) is: What is your intention here?

Sure, you want to finish that burger/cake/sandwich/popsicle, but why? 

The only answer I ever get when I ask that question is: I want to eat this so I can feel good, so I can be happy.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t make me feel good to eat until my belly is overly full and I feel numb. It just doesn’t.

So if you desperately want the food, but just aren’t hungry, I’d lovingly urge you to ask yourself that same question (What is your intention here?). And then, try one of the following options instead:

  1. Get leftovers. I love leftovers. I am a leftover queen. I get leftovers almost every time I go out, which is partially because restaurant portions are large, and partially because I have a tendency to order three things. I know that for some people it can feel a little awkward to ask for a box, or to carry it with you back home or to your hotel or Air BnB, but I find that it’s 100% worth it to know that I can have the food later so I don’t have to eat it now.

  2. Promise yourself that you will come back as soon as possible and have it again. Okay, so certain things just can’t be leftovers. Coldstone ice cream in a waffle cone, for example. But could you promise yourself that you’ll come back next weekend, and have it again? Or if you’re on vacation, and will be gone by next weekend, come back the next day!

    Again, if you are someone who feels a little shy making requests of others or embarrassed at the thought of going to the same restaurant twice, it might take some courage to explain to your traveling companions. But again, if you nicely explain why and offer to be flexible on timing or on other elements of the day, other people are so much more accommodating than we often expect.

    And when you go back, you can make sure that you are nice and hungry, so you can eat as much as you like!

  3. Promise yourself that you will honor your cravings in a very serious way for the next several days.

    Sometimes you simply won't be able to get same food again. It was at a dinner party and your hostess keeps the recipe under lock and key, or you were at a conference and have no way of getting it.

    But even if you can’t have exactly the same food again, you can wait until you are hungry, ask yourself what you most want that is currently available to you, and give that amazing food to yourself. You can pay special attention to your flavor- and craving- related needs by going to a special restaurant for breakfast, or grabbing a sweet treat at a patisserie on the way home from work.

    This helps to send a message to yourself that as much as you possibly can, you will listen to your cravings and satisfy them. Which means that if during one specific meal, you didn’t get exactly what you craved, you'll be okay.

    Because on the whole, if you turn this into a habit, you will learn to trust yourself. You will know, without a doubt, that even if you don’t have something delicious right this second, that there will be multiple opportunities for tasty food for the rest of the day, and the day after that. And the anxiety abates, because you don’t worry that you won’t get another chance at that funnel cake or that ice cream bar. So you can handle a teensy tiny bit of deprivation.

    You know?

I’d love to hear: What do you do when you’re confronted by delicious foods, but just aren’t hungry? Would you try any of these ideas! Let me know in the comments so I can give you a big ol’ virtual hug.