Food & Nutrition

9 Feelings You Don’t Realize You Mistake for Hunger

Don’t reach for the cookie jar before diagnosing what’s really going on.



Ever notice how hunger strikes during your midafternoon slump or right before bed? “Feeling sleepy can create the urge to eat something to boost energy and stay awake,” says Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. “It kicks the digestive system into having a job and keeping awake.” The best solution is to take a nap or get to bed early if you can. But if you’re at work or out of the house, perk yourself up by taking a lap around the office or chatting with a coworker for a few minutes, she says. Avoid these eating habits that ruin your sleep.



When you’re stressed, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline pump through your body, leading to high blood sugar levels and more hunger signals. This isn’t a huge deal if it’s a one-time event, but constantly overeating because of chronic stress is bad news. “Many of us are working nonstop and not getting enough sleep or taking care of our bodies, and our bodies are in a constant state of stress,” says Angel Planells, MS, RDN, CD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson. “Overeating today or overeating tomorrow is not a big deal, but after weeks, months, or years, you’ll start to see weight gain.” These are other signs stress is making you sick.


iStock/Petar Chernaev

The body’s thirst signal is similar to the hunger signal, meaning you could reach for a snack when you should be reaching for a drink. “Try drinking one or two cups of water, flavored water, or tea,” Armul says. “If you’re still hungry five minutes later, it’s probably actual hunger.” To keep those confusing signals away, stay hydrated throughout the day by carrying a water bottle with you, she suggests. These are the surprising reasons you’re always thirsty.



When you’re feeling upset, you might turn to decadent food to comfort you. In fact, 62 percent of Americans eat to satisfy a craving rather than to fuel up, according to a 2015 survey by marketing intelligence agency Mintel. “When we eat for emotional purposes, we’re trying to temporarily fill a void, but ultimately we’ll feel satisfied while we’re eating, but after we eat, the feeling will still be there,” Planells says. “Then we feel guilty and wish we had more willpower afterward.” Mindfulness can help combat emotional eating, Armul says. Taking deep breaths, eating at a slower pace, and paying closer attention to feelings of fullness can help you from continuing past satisfaction just because it tastes good. Here are more quick tricks to stop emotional eating.

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