We all eat food when we are not physically hungry, but if we do too much of this over time, it can tip our eating out of balance and ultimately lead to weight gain. This sort of eating is called non-hungry eating. Non-hungry eating is when we eat for reasons other than true physical hunger. It can include things like overeating at a party because the food is just there, grazing during the day due to boredom, picking at left overs even though we have finished a meal, and bingeing to help with emotional stress.
Did you know that eating an excess of 50 calories per day can lead to a weight gain of 2-3kg per year. Whilst 50 calories is not much, we do know that people can easily knock down an extra 300-400 calories per day related to non-hungry eating, and it is this type of eating that we don't even register we have done, if asked to keep a food diary.
Recognising why we are eating when we are not physically hungry is the first step to stop the amount of non-hungry eating that we do. Maybe we eat because the clock says its lunch time, or we are tired or bored, maybe it is because you have been taught from a young age to finish everything on your plate. Other reasons include emotions that are difficult to cope with and food may be used as a way of coping or reward. Some foods give us a boost of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter in our brain that makes us feel happy, however the effects of the serotonin don’t last any longer than the time it takes to eat the food!
Reducing the amount of non-hungry eating we are doing can be one of the first steps in helping to control weight both short and long term. Here are some tips to try:
- Use a hunger/fullness scale and stick this on your fridge or pantry to help remind you to 'check in' with your hunger levels before you go to grab something.
- Try spoiling yourself with something non-food related, such as your favourite magazine or a massage.
- Research shows that exercise is an even better way to produce ‘pick-me-up’ hormones. So instead of grabbing a chocolate bar or a bowl of ice-cream grab your runners and go for a walk or hit the gym. Not only will doing something completely different help distract you it will also give you a chance to get some clarity and work through the problem logically.
- Omega 3 fatty acids, especially DHA, can help to improve depression. Aim to increase your consumption of DHA by eating fish three times per week or alternatively take fish oil supplements.
- Don’t keep treat foods in the house. Often it is too easy to just grab something because it is just there. Avoid keeping treat food in the house and instead stock your house full of nutritious quick and easy meals and snacks. If you want to treat yourself, allow yourself to physically go out to the shops and purchase a small amount when you want it. That way, you know that you’re not eating it just due to convenience.
- Non-hungry eating can just be a habit. For example, do you have a couple of glasses of wine every night, just because that’s what you’ve always done? Do you pick at the crusts off the kids sandwiches when making their lunches just because it is a bad habit that you have developed. Keep a food diary so that you can consciously see which foods you are eating and at what time of day.
Most coaches of elite sporting teams will say "if we get our processes right, the wins take care of themselves" similarly by focusing on your thinking, attitudes, coping mechanisms and behaviours we can allow weight loss to come as a result.