The (dietary) hunger games…and other common triggers for eating

Ok, shameless title I know but I have just started reading the books and couldn’t resist 😛

There are five common triggers for eating, in this post I shall discuss them, the reasons why they might appear, and how to devise strategies to combat these triggers if they are prevalent in a patient (or indeed yourself). It is always useful to get a patient to recognise why it is they are eating/feeling ‘hungry’ whether it be socialising, emotional, boredom, or due to actual tummy rumblings.

1. Hunger

The first reason we may think of for eating is due to hunger. It is important however that a patient can recognise and differentiate this feeling from other triggers to eating. Ways to recognise you are hungry are:

  • Empty feeling in stomach
  • Sharp sensation in stomach
  • Rumbling
  • Loss of energy
  • Irritability
  • Slight nausea and headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Usually hunger develops 3-4 hours after last eating episode

Strategies to deal with hunger in a healthy way are:

  • Regular meals, 3 a day, with healthy snacks such as fruit as a snack if needed
  • Keep healthy snacks available to reduce likelihood of snacking on less healthy foods
  • Eat food slowly at the table
  • Wait at least 20 minutes after eating a meal before deciding on eating anything else (to let your stomach communicate with your brain that you are full)
  • Drink plenty of fluids (ideally water or no-added sugar squash) during the day

2. Craving

Cravings are when we want to eat but are not actually hungry, and we crave after a certain food. Mostly these foods are of the high fat/sugar variety such as chocolate, crisps or sweets. Cravings are not like hunger therefore they do not continue to get worse as time goes on, in fact it has been said that most cravings disappear after about 20 minutes.

Strategies to deal with cravings are:

  • Think about why it is you are wanting the food
  • Have a drink
  • Have a healthy snack available
  • Ride it out for about 20 minutes
  • Use distraction techniques such as chewing gum, going for a walk, phoning a friend, brushing teeth, painting nails…
  • Make sure there are no high suagr, high fat foods in the house – if they’re not there, they can’t be eaten!

3. Thoughts

Unhelpful thoughts can both make it difficult to stick to goals and also prevent you from enjoying healthy foods:

  • It’s not fair that everyone else eats what they want
  • I’ve had a long day and I am too tired to cook a healthy meal
  • I’ve blown it all and eaten 5 biscuits

However the way in which you think about a situation can determine how you behave, and these unhelpful negative thoughts can be turned into helpful thoughts:

  • Every small step is a step closer to my goal, I shall not worry about everyone else’s eating, just my own
  • Even though I am tired, I will stick to my plan of making a quick healthy meal as I will feel better for doing it
  • A small lapse in eating does not mean a complete relapse

4. Emotions and Feelings

  • Boredom
  • Happiness – birthdays, festivals, weddings, celebrations
  • Stress
  • Unhappiness

Try to identify the thoughts behind the perceived hunger. Either talk through these feelings with a close friend, or write them down in order to help recognise certain triggers. Set limits and goals, especially around buffets and celebratory meals – don’t keep going back for more, don’t stand near the food, fill one plate and then put the plate away.

When dealing with boredom, stress and unhappiness, try to think of distraction techniques that can be used instead of eating: gardening, talking to a friend, pampering yourself, watching a film, cleaning, email someone, go for a walk.

5. Environment

Try to limit or stop these common environmental triggers to eating:

  • Having high fat, high sugar foods in the house
  • Eating whilst watching TV
  • Travelling past food shops on way to/from work or on a break
  • Socialising: nibbles, alcohol
  • Picking the leftovers from someone else’s plate
  • Picking whilst preparing food
  • Food shopping on an empty stomach
  • Eating snacks which you have bought for the children/other half
  • Buying unhealthy food as it is on offer
  • Not being prepared – not planning meals ahead, and not having healthy snacks to hand when feeling hungry


I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. By all means let me know if you can think of any triggers for eating that I haven’t mentioned!

One thought on “The (dietary) hunger games…and other common triggers for eating

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s