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Understand Your Eating Triggers

By Staff | August 6, 2021 | Mayo Clinic Health Information Library

Do certain situations, moods or times of day prompt you to overeat? Use these examples to get ideas on how to overcome your common eating triggers.

Eating trigger: I can't resist junk food.

If chips and chocolate call your name, try these ideas:

  • Do not keep junk food at home.
  • Do not keep junk food at your desk, and avoid walking by vending machines if possible.
  • Keep vegetables and fruits available at the office so they're handy when you get hungry.
  • Eat three meals every day. Space meals at intervals that are not too long. You won't be as hungry, which will help you manage cravings.
  • Wait 15 to 30 minutes. Distract yourself with an activity — whether it's filing your nails, working on a crossword, or cleaning out the junk drawer. The craving may pass (really!).
  • Try healthier versions, such as baked rather than regular chips.
  • Practice moderation to prevent feelings of deprivation. So, allow some intake of junk food but buy only a small, single-serving. Have it after you finish your meal. Realize that you may want seconds, so plan ahead with a positive distracting activity.

Eating trigger: Exercise makes me hungry.

Don't negate all the positive benefits of exercise by loading up on high-calorie foods afterward. Instead, take this approach:

  • Most research has shown that exercise actually decreases physical hunger. So what you're experiencing may be psychological hunger: "Since I just worked out, I deserve to have 500 calories of junk food."
  • If you are experiencing physical hunger before you exercise, drink some water and have a small snack, such as half a whole-wheat bagel or a 100-calorie granola bar.
  • If you exercise after work, plan to eat lunch 3 to 4 hours before your workout. A healthy lunch will provide enough calories to sustain a late afternoon workout. But if you need an afternoon boost, have a banana, orange slices or a handful of grapes 15 to 30 minutes before your workout.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.

Eating trigger: I eat too much while socializing with friends.

Social support is important. Instead of isolating yourself, use these strategies when socializing:

  • To reduce hunger, eat something healthy before going to social activities.
  • If you're with friends at, say, a theater or stadium, order a small bag of popcorn (no butter) and work on eating it slowly.
  • Drink water or a calorie-free beverage instead of having a snack.
  • At parties, keep your distance from the food table. Focus on nonfood-related activities, such as selecting the music to play or talking with friends.
  • Treat yourself to only one or two samples of high-calorie or fatty foods. Fill up on vegetables and fruits, if you can.
  • Take some healthy foods to social events. Try a veggie tray, hummus and whole-wheat pita bread, or a fruit and veggie pizza with a whole-wheat crust.
  • If you can identify someone who is supportive, use that person to help you stay on track at a social event.

By planning ahead and bringing awareness to trigger situations, you can successfully manage these weight-loss challenges.

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