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Can't stop eating? What's triggering your need to eat and what you can do about it.

Diet & Nutrition Education

Have you ever eaten when you‘re not hungry? Don‘t worry, so have I. We all do it at some point or another.

My mother used to tell me off because I‘d stand in front of an open fridge for what seemed like forever. Was I hungry? Nope, usually just bored.

Do you do the same? Do you eat when you‘re bored or lonely? Or maybe you eat because you‘re stressed or tired.

Maybe your hormones drive your hunger or maybe that dessert just looks way too good.

Eating when we‘re not hungry can often lead to overeating and sometimes binging.

If you really think about it, how are you ever going to satisfy your “hungry“ if you‘re not even hungry to begin with?

So what are these overwhelming impulses? Many professionals refer to them as “triggers“.

They work much in the same way as any switch would, powering the machine to do what it does.

For some, this can have undesirable consequences, especially if you are stuck in an overeating or restrictive eating cycle.

There are several different types of triggers:


Environmental triggers happen all the time. They are those amazing morning tea shouts, the birthday parties, the wedding cakes and everything in between.

They are stimulated by our senses. Which could also be an advertisement, or simply smelling popcorn at the cinemas.


A behavioural trigger is a repetitive behaviour that causes you to fall into the same problematic eating pattern.

This is me, standing in front of the fridge or someone who often eats in the car.


Physical triggers are responses to our body‘s needs. For example, sometimes if we are thirsty we will misinterpret it as a craving for food.

Some women find themselves hungrier before their menstrual cycle, or potentially craving certain comfort foods (including chocolate!).

Another common physical trigger is fatigue. When we‘re tired, our appetite increases and often we look for those foods which give us a quick pick up.


Cognitive triggers are the self-fulfilling prophecies. It‘s when we have unwanted thought patterns which lead us to overeating and other destructive eating cycles.

Thoughts include “I blew it, so I might as well keep going!“ or “If I eat one lolly, I can‘t stop.“

These beliefs are either true or not depending on the outcome but can be a powerful stimuli for the very destructive behaviour we are trying to avoid.


I don‘t think I need to go into too much detail explaining this one!

Stress, loneliness, sadness, and many more emotions often drive our need to feed when we‘re not actually hungry.

So, what can you do about it??

While the answer is simple, it‘s not always easy. Working through triggers involves determination, compassion and lots of practice.

What we really need to do is feed the need. So, if you‘re hungry for something to do, come up with some alternatives that you can rely on other than food.

If you‘re hungry for company, call a friend, I‘m sure they would love to hear from you. If you‘re hungry for calm, try a 5-minute meditation.

Overall, move away from the food, and find a place where you can sit, look within and identify what it is that your body truly needs.

Identifying your triggers and coming up with alternatives is really the best course of action to help with unwanted eating behaviours.

Though it takes some practice, I suggest starting with one trigger in your life and working to come up with an alternative that works for you.

Trying to combat all your triggers at once can be overwhelming and when it comes to lifelong changes, slow and steady is the best course of action for most of us.

So as long as we continue to avoid feeding what our true need is, the harder it is to stop overeating. And remember to treat yourself with the utmost compassion on your journey towards feeling amazing.

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The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is general advice. It should not, nor is it intended to be, relied on as a substitute for individual medical advice or care. If the contents of this, or any other of the blogs in this series raises any concerns or questions regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner.