Identifying Non-Hungry Eating and Overeating Habits

Are you finding it difficult to navigate non-hungry eating cues and overeating habits? If so, you’re not alone. This is in fact very normal after bariatric surgery, and even in everyday life, however there are some strategies you can apply to assist with this.

Non-hungry eating occurs when you find yourself eating for reasons other than hunger. This can happen when you’re dehydrated, bored, stressed, anxious or even watching television and relaxing. It is especially important after bariatric surgery to identify these behaviours early so that alternative strategies are discussed to ensure it doesn’t impact your long-term outcomes.

Overeating occurs when you eat more than you need and you pass that point of ‘satisfaction’, it can quite literally be that one mouthful too much.

Identifying the source of these habits and putting healthy processes in place to overcome them is a great step to ensure you are listening to your body and taking care of your nutrition.

When beginning your weight-loss journey, whether that involves surgery or other interventions, it is important to identify these eating behaviours.


How do I know whether I am ‘non-hungry eating’ or ‘overeating’?

Many people struggle with non-hungry eating and overeating habits, and sometimes you can lose sight of how physical hunger and fullness feel.

Queensland Health has produced The Hunger Level Scale in which you can align your physical hunger or fullness sensations with the scale to determine your level of hunger.

The Queensland Department of Health suggests waiting until you’re at a level 3 to eat and to stop eating once you reach a level 6.

You feel starved with hunger pains, shakiness, and feeling lightheaded
You have slight pain in your stomach, finding it hard to concentrate and lack energy
Physical signs of hunger begin, and your stomach is growling sometimes
Physical signs of hunger begin, and your stomach is growling sometimes
Feeling satisfied
You can feel food in your stomach
Your stomach is sticking out
You feel bloated, your clothes feel tight, and you’re feeling sleepy and drained
You’re definitely full, your stomach is uncomfortable, you have no energy and feel physically sick.

Using this scale, you can identify when you are overeating, and identify when you should be eating rather than eating when you’re not hungry.


Managing non-hungry eating or overeating?

Some reasons that may trigger you to eat can include:

Your environment.

Have you ever been offered food at a party, and you’ve taken it out of politeness even if you’re not hungry?

Don’t feel pressured to eat! We suggest using The Hunger Level Scale outlined above to identify how you’re feeling before you eat, so you can then make an informed decision.

Eating as a habit.

Do you eat lunch when you’re hungry, or when the clock tells you it’s time? Sometimes we find ourselves in a schedule that doesn’t fit our hunger tendencies.

Regular meal patterns can be beneficial to your schedule, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to eat because it’s ‘mealtime.’ Identifying your physical hunger and fullness can help you to figure out when to eat.

Finishing a meal after you’re already full.

Being distracted while eating can increase the likelihood of overeating as you can miss your bodies signals of fullness, and thus you continue to eat past feeling satisfied.

The Queensland Department of Health has provided a beginner’s guide to mindful eating. Mindful eating may be eating at a table away from your TV, phone, desk, or workspace, and finding time to enjoy your meal.

Being conscious of what you eat during your meal can help you to identify when you cross the line between satisfied and non-hungry eating or overeating.

Eating to avoid wasting food.

Do you ever feel you have to finish off the meal to prevent wastage? If so, this can be a problem after bariatric surgery.

Access to affordable nutritious food can be difficult for many people, and the thought of wasting it can be hard.

Consider whether you are saving the food in front of you by eating it when you aren’t hungry, or whether that is also considered a waste by indulging in non-hungry eating.

Many foods at home can be frozen to prolong their life and be eaten at another time, or you can ask for a takeaway container if you are out, so you can finish your food at another time when you are hungry and will enjoy it more.

Emotional eating and eating when bored or tired.

Are you eating when you’re happy, sad, anxious or stressed to manage your emotions? Or is eating sometimes just something to pass the time for you?

This type of eating habit is considered psychological hunger, where you want to eat, but there are no physical signs that your body needs food.

Consider where you are on The Hunger Level Scale, and whether you have a physical hunger sensation. If it is something else, it’s important to try and address the boredom or emotion by doing something with your time to keep yourself busy.

Are you still feeling like you need guidance with your eating habits? Dr Scott Whiting and his multidisciplinary team can provide you with tailored advice and care to address your non-hungry eating and overeating habits.

Are you considering weightloss surgery?

If your BMI is between 30-35 without obesity-related health conditions, Dr Whiting will carefully determine your eligibility for surgical weight-loss interventions.

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