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Do You Know Why You're Eating?The Trick to End the Struggle with Snacking and Overeating

How to tell if you're actually hungry or thirsty, stressed, bored, or if it's something more serious; and quick fixes for the most common ones.

reaching for donut

Food cravings are a mystery to a lot of people. Google is filled with search terms like:

Why do I crave _______ (salt, sugar, chocolate, ice, pickles, peanut butter, carbs, etc)?

Hungry or bored?

Hungry or thirsty?

Hungry or indigestion?

There is an easy way to tell where your craving is really coming from.

Here's the trick for snacking:

See if you can physically point on your body where the desire for food is coming from.


man holding stomach

If your stomach is rumbling and it's been over 2 hours since you ate a meal, it is either hungry or thirsty. A lot of people mistake thirst for hunger, so reach for liquids first. If you drink a bunch of fluids but your belly is still rumbling, then it is true hunger.

The (Empty) Stomach Fix:

2: If you are truly hungry then it's time to eat real food, as in a meal or hearty snack including protein and fiber and healthy fats.

What if I ate recently and I still feel hungry?

man holding full stomach

A note to my fellow fast eaters - it takes 20 minutes for a full stomach to actually register as full to our brains.

If you regularly feel stuffed - or go from feeling hungry to too full - then you are eating too fast for your body to keep up with.

Try eating a small to medium sized plate of food, then waiting 20 minutes before going to get your second portion. A lot of the time, you won't feel a need for the second helping.

The (Full) Stomach Fix:

1: Wait 20 minutes after you finish eating, and maybe drink a bit of a beverage (less than 12 ounces) while waiting.

2: If you still have the feeling of hunger pain in your stomach or chest, it may be indigestion instead.

It can be as simple as overeating and or overdrinking with your meal. Alkaline water is especially bad to combine with large meals because it dilutes stomach acid, where more acidic drinks may be less troublesome. The pain may be caused by eating certain inflammatory foods or too many carbs, or it may be something more serious like GERD or gallstones.



woman holding throat

If your stomach is quiet and not bothering you, check your throat. Some people describe the sensation as their throat "wanting" food.

You may notice that the swallowing sensation feels good or satisfying.

Cravings for ice cream, popsicles, fruit, milk and cereal, milk and cookies, and other cold or liquid snacks are common but it can be any food as long as the swallowing sensation is the priority.

Did you guess this one? It's thirst again!

75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, so this is a very common one that increases during the warm months - hence the ice cream and popsicle cravings you might have during summer time.

It is also common to get thirstier after dinner, which people misinterpret as the need for extra helpings or ice cream and popsicles.

The Throat Fix:

1: Drink fluids! It doesn't have to be water but ideally should be low sugar and all natural.

Cold liquid, electrolytes, and sour flavors like lemon or cranberry are better at quenching a strong thirst sensation. The acid in the tangy beverages are also useful to help with digestion after dinner.



cookie monster open mouth

If your stomach is quiet and your throat feels fine, try checking your mouth. It may be a specific craving for a taste or texture of a food, or the sensation of chewing or biting. It is commonly strongly flavored, often either sweet or salty (or both), and usually has a distinctive texture.

Other times, you may not have a specific feeling anywhere you can point to.

You just "want" a particular food, or instead find yourself rummaging around the cupboards, browsing for food you might be interested in.

woman searching in fridge

This craving is the sign of emotional eating, usually either stress or boredom.

Some of the most common activities where these occur:

Watching TV



Anything that requires you to stay still for a long time

The Mouth Fix:

1: Make sure you're eating enough protein, which helps us deal with stress better.

2: Whatever you were doing before you got the food craving, it's time to take a break.

If your brain is driving the craving, what it really craves is change, something different that is more engaging - we happen to find food very engaging but there are many other ways to engage our brains. ⬇️

If it's stress:

Get up and move around for 5+ minutes; switch to a more enjoyable task or simply get up and walk around outside or inside your house/office. You may find repetitive tasks like cleaning, coloring or knitting are soothing, but feel free to skip it.

An extra level of stress relief is to do something that takes your mind off of your previous task: talking to someone you like, or listening to a stress relieving podcast or audiobook or TV show, or comedy routine while you are moving around.

Being outside is another potent stress reliever: even 5 minutes outside can reduce your blood pressure by several points. Japanese doctors prescribe "forest bathing" for stress-related illness, and it's been shown to work.

If it's boredom:

Get up and move around for 2+ minutes - bonus point to switch to or add on a task that involves your hands. House chores or a hobby that requires hand involvement like building models is something our brains find very pleasantly engaging, but really engaging computer or phone hobbies or games can work as well. Or it may just be time to switch to a different TV show after you sit back down from your movement/stretching break.

A special note to ice chewers: check your iron levels.

Crushed ice is pleasant to chew on for many people, especially when thirsty, but if you have a consistent daily need to chew on ice - you are probably dealing with anemia. Known as pica, the desire for ice and other unusual or nonfood items like chalk, dirt, paper, glue, or uncooked rice can indicate a serious iron or B vitamin deficiency.

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