11 Things That Can Make You Feel Hungry When You're Not & How To Avoid Mindless Grazing

Sometimes it's challenging to know the difference between hunger and mindless snacking, and when you have that sense of mindlessness, it can be hard to put the fork down. By recognizing when you're actually hungry and not just craving delicious foods, you'll be better able to control your mood and energy levels longterm. Feeling out of control in terms of your diet can sometimes lower confidence, in my opinion, as people generally like to feel as though they have a grasp on their lifestyles and behaviors.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on figuring out the signs that differentiate hunger from mindless snacking in the day. Often, times of boredom can be a major trigger for grazing, especially mid-afternoon and around the office. Unfortunately, eating too many extra foods in the day (when the body isn't hungry), can add up and sabotage exercise goals and personal health. It can also lead to an imbalanced mood if the snack of choice is high in sugar and unhealthy, processed fats. With too much grazing in the day, it might lower your productivity and weigh you down. Here are 11 ways to know when you're actually hungry and need to eat something, or when you're simply just wanting to eat food.

1. Artificial Sweeteners In Gum

A study in the journal Eating Behaviors explained that chewing gum can cause people to overeat or to experience an intensified appetite, even without true hunger. Because of the artificial sweeteners found in gum, chewing gum can make people crave foods high in real sugar and processed fats, such as donuts and chips.

2. Hunger Spikes Due To Alcohol

Over email with Bustle, running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer explains that alcohol can cause the body to crave food, even when it's not hungry, and this can lead to issues with weight management and digestion. Be careful when drinking, and don't overdo it when going out.

3. Stress

Over email with Bustle, certified healthy lifestyle coach Liz Traines explains that stress can activate cravings for foods high in sugar, sodium, and processed fats, and this can be mistaken for hunger. If you're more stressed than usual, try and find a healthy outlet to manage your stress, as opposed to reaching for that office donut.

4. Lack Of Sleep

"If we don't sleep adequately, it affects levels of hormones related to our appetite, potentially resulting in the urge to eat more," explains CEO of Restworks, Christopher Lindholst, over email with Bustle. These hormones are "insulin, ghrelin, and leptin" says Lindholst, and an imbalance can lead to grazing and overeating.

5. Your Period

Traines says that that time of the month can lead to some killer cravings, instead of actual hunger all the time. "We may have chocolate cravings or salty cravings, and it's okay to let yourself give in a bit, but don't make your period an excuse to eat poorly. It will make you feel worse, zap your energy and increase bloating," advises Traines.

6. Not Enough Nutrients

If you're not eating enough nutrients, like complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats, combined, your body might crave other foods due to the deficiency, explains Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, and spokesperson for America's Better Sandwich over email with Bustle. "The key though is to choose carbs that provide plenty of fiber, along with a little protein and healthy fat. My clients have always loved one slice of Arnold® Bread Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat bread with a TBSP of peanut butter, some slices of banana, and a drizzle of honey. This satisfying snack digests slowly giving you more energy to tackle the rest of the day," Gans says.

7. Thirst

Lemmer advises that thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Before eating (when it's after meal or at a time that seems strange for hunger, of course), think about when your last sip of water was, and reach for a glass. Wait a few moments before re-evaluating your hunger levels, and see if they settled.

8. High Sugar Intake

According to experts at WebMD, if you're eating too much sugar, processed, and high fat foods, such as baked goods, sweets, chips, and French fries, then your body will start to crave those foods and amp up its appetite, with or without real hunger. These foods are not filling and will just spike cravings.

9. Depression

If you're feeling more sad and depressed than usual, that decrease in mood and lack of happiness can cause cravings. If you notice that depression is making you eat more, consider seeing someone for help or trying some fun activities that can bring more joy and camaraderie back to your life.

10. Workouts

Lemmer says that some people over-estimate how much they're burning, and figure that in their minds, they can then eat whatever they want. Such mentality issues can lead to grazing, instead of stopping when fullness is registered. Also, while you need more calories if you're active than sedentary (which is totally normal), Lemmer says, you should also stick to healthier foods in order to perform your best and be aware that your appetite can fluctuate around your workouts.

11. Not Enough Protein

Over interview with Cosmopolitan, Joseph Colella, M.D., author of The Appetite Solution explained that not eating enough protein and B vitamins, like those found in meat, for instance, can lead to cravings for foods, as opposed to signaling true hunger. Eat more protein to avoid such confusion.

The Appetite Solution , $19, Amazon

Before picking up the fork and digging in at the slightest touch of "hunger," think about what the real sentiment is and how you're feeling. Is this hunger a craving? Are you bored? Are you thirsty? Thinking of these things first can shape things in better perspective.

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