Whenever I find myself wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” the next question I like to ask is, “Was I hungry to begin with, and am I eating past fullness?” Because eating large amounts of food can indicate that your body needs fuel, or may indicate a medical issue, as you’ll soon see. If you’re eating past fullness in particular, it could indicate a psychological drive to eat beyond satiety.
Sometimes eating large amounts of food is simply due to biology. When you skip meals, for example, it is normal for the body to ask for plenty of fuel. However, when compulsive eating is involved, biology is often just one facet. While it’s still important, our psychology often accounts for the majority of the reasons why we eat past fullness.
This article digs into various biological and psychological reasons why you might be wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” — and how to navigate these moments of uncertainty.
Why Am I Eating So Much? Starting with the Basics
To help you identify the reason why you feel like you’re eating large amounts of food, we will start by digging into some light eating psychology. Then we’ll explore some essential medical disclaimers and finish with an even deeper exploration of eating psychology.
Here are the first places to check if you ever find yourself wondering, why am I eating so much?
1. You haven’t eaten enough throughout the day
Not eating enough is the most frequent mistake I see as an eating psychology coach. When you skip meals and go for long periods of time without eating, your hunger may come strongly and suddenly.
If you are currently restricting calories or following a diet that limits your food intake, it could be the reason why you feel like you’re eating large amounts of food. Your body is getting much-needed and over-due fuel.
It’s also important to get an objective look at how much you’re eating too. What may appear as eating large amounts of food might actually be a normal amount of food. However, a culture obsessed with dieting has trained many of us to eat as little as possible; skewing our idea of what ‘normal eating‘ even is.
2. You skipped breakfast and/or lunch
If you want to lose weight, standard advice is to eat less than your body burns. However, in an attempt to speed up results, many of us end up eating far too little, and we end up binge eating as a consequence.
Skipping breakfast or lunch can be a trigger1 for binge eating. Your body works hard to keep you alive and this takes calories. Formally, this is known as your basal metabolic needs — aka, the number of calories required to sustain essential bodily functions while at rest.
When your body doesn’t get those calories from your diet, we like to think we use fat as fuel. This is what the ketogenic diet promises — but it is misguided at times. If you’re too stressed, your body actually prefers to use your muscles as fuel and it will slow down your metabolism2 so that you stop using as many calories.
3. You’re replacing food with coffee which is linked to binge eating
Personally, when I drink coffee, I end up running around and accomplishing many tasks and errands — which is great — only for extreme hunger to hit as soon as the rush of energy wears off. I find myself wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” and then realize that I simply haven’t eaten enough.
4. You exercise at a high intensity
Did you know that over-exercising can actually lead to overeating? Intense exercise can sometimes act as an appetite suppressant. This is highly debated4 in the medical community, so you’ll need to figure it out for yourself. After you work out, do you feel ravenous or is food off your mind?
And if you don’t eat after your workout, your hunger may come suddenly and trigger that moment of self-doubt: why am I eating so much? While it might feel like overeating, the truth is that you just worked out and your body needs fuel!
Whenever intense exercise is involved, it’s important to be kind to your body and nourish yourself with a variety of macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) after your workout.
5. You’re not eating enough dietary fat
Fat keeps us satisfied because it takes longer to digest and it helps stimulate the production of hormones5 that signal fullness. Eating too little fat causes us to crave more food to feel satisfied.
Therefore, if you find yourself wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” take a look at how much or how little dietary fat you’ve eaten — it could be the latter that’s triggering your appetite.
6. You’re stressed
Stress is another trigger for overeating. It increases your appetite6 because the stress hormone, cortisol, increases hunger and food cravings. In particular, stress causes us to crave “hyperpalatable foods”7 — aka, foods that are high in sugar, fat, carbohydrates, and/or salt.
Whenever you find yourself reaching for hyperpalatable food and eating large amounts of it, consider how much stress you’re dealing with. Then read-up on my tools to help cope with stress eating like the Stop, Drop, & Feel.
7. You’re dehydrated
Sometimes dehydration causes us to crave food even when we aren’t hungry because thirst can be confused for hunger.8 Personally, whenever I find myself craving fruit — and I’ve already had enough to eat throughout the day — I’m usually just dehydrated. Because as soon as I drink a cup of water, the craving for fruit goes away.
If the craving for fruit doesn’t go away once I’ve had water, I make sure to eat it. A fear of fruit is one of the ways that the popular ketogenic diet has created food aversions among the masses. When taken too far, it can spiral into an eating disorder known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
8. You aren’t sleeping enough
Although it may come as a surprise, sleep actually plays a role in our hunger by regulating the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin.9 Insufficient sleep has been shown to trigger higher levels of ghrelin10, which can increase your appetite when you are sleep deprived.
Next time you ask yourself, “Why am I eating so much?” check your sleep schedule. If you struggle with getting adequate shut-eye, it could be well worth a conversation with your doctor.
Why Am I Eating So Much? Looking at Medical Explanations
Before digging into the deeper psychological reasons behind the desire to overeat, it’s important to address a few more physiological causes first, because they are important. Here are some reasons to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about eating lots of food:
9. You have a medical condition
Sometimes, a large increase in appetite signals a medical condition such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. With diabetes, frequent hunger11 is a hallmark symptom; and with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid produces too many hormones, some of which regulate your appetite.12 Ask your doctor to screen you for any of these conditions, among others, for proper diagnosis and treatment.
10. It could be a side effect of medication
Certain medication like insulin (for diabetes) or antidepressants are known to increase appetite. If you’re taking any medications, check the side effects for changes in appetite.
11. You could be pregnant
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that a sharp increase in appetite could indicate pregnancy. If you find yourself wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” consider this possibility.
The Deeper Psychology Behind Why You’re Eating So Much
Now that we’ve sorted through the biological reasons for eating large amounts of food, let’s discuss the psychological reasons for overeating. To me, our psychology accounts for the majority of the reasons why we reach for food when we aren’t hungry.
Many of us are already aware of the biological reasons for eating large amounts of food. We got our thyroid tested, we get enough sleep, and we drink water. It can be even more frustrating, then, when you overeat anyway. Why am I eating so much when I’m doing everything right?
Here are some psychological triggers for eating large amounts of food:
12. You’ve become trained to think that normal amounts of food are too much
Sometimes we feel like we’re ‘eating so much’ when the reality is that we’re eating normal amounts of food. This misconception can happen after many years of dieting and eating as little as possible.
Long-term dietary restrictions can cause us to forget our body’s actual needs for proper functioning. (Remember that phrase, basal metabolic needs, that I mentioned earlier?)
To help with this, I like to calculate how many calories I need to maintain my current weight. This is a good exercise for people recovering from chronic dieting, because many of us have no idea how much food we actually need for weight maintenance, not weight loss.
Check out the online calculator from NIDDK to roughly calculate how many calories you need for weight maintenance. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you should be eating.
If this sounds unappealing because you would still like to lose weight, keep in mind that you can actually heal your metabolism by eating enough food, which can help you reach a healthy weight in the long-run.
13. You’ve been shamed out of eating regular, balanced meals
If you ever attempted to lose weight by counting calories, it’s likely that you were taught that it was ‘good’ to skip breakfast because it helps ‘save calories’ for dinner. However, this makes you predisposed to eating large amounts of food later. Especially if you have a busy life, you will likely develop extreme hunger before you realize it.
However, many dieters will still opt for low-calorie options even when faced with extreme hunger. They may choose a chicken breast with broccoli, which is regarded by diet culture as ‘perfect eating;’ but in the face of extreme hunger, it does not provide the energy the body needs to function properly.
Not only does undereating slow your metabolism, but it perpetuates the restrict-binge cycle. You may find yourself wondering time and time again, “Why am I eating so much?” when your body is simply trying to communicate its need for sustenance and adequate food.
14. You’re overeating for emotional reasons
What if you find yourself eating enough food to meet your body’s needs but still struggle with the feeling of consuming too much? When you eat large amounts of food beyond the point of fullness, it could be a result of ‘avoidance eating,’ a type of emotional eating driven by the need to numb discomfort or unwanted emotions.
To address avoidance eating and put a stop to binge eating, the powerful Stop, Drop, & Feel method can be immensely helpful. When you experience the desire to eat without genuine hunger, it’s time to employ this approach.
- Step 1: Stop and pause when the impulse to eat without hunger Promise yourself that you can still eat what appeals to you after going through the Stop, Drop, & Feel process, if that is genuinely what you desire.
- Step 2: Move to a different room, if possible, and set a timer for just two minutes. This is your opportunity to drop into your body and become aware of how you’re feeling. Approach your emotions with curiosity.
- Step 3: Allow space for your emotions to coexist with you. Avoid intellectualizing or resisting them, as doing so may only intensify their strength. Instead, for two minutes, simply sit still with your most challenging emotions and truly feel them.
The effectiveness of the Stop, Drop, & Feel method lies in developing emotional awareness and emotional tolerance. By cultivating the ability to sit still with uncomfortable emotions, we build the resilience necessary to cope with our emotions without food.
15. You’re eating out of boredom
We’ve all been in the grips of boredom eating at some point, mindlessly reaching for more food even though we aren’t hungry. But what many of us don’t realize is that boredom is a secondary emotion.
A secondary emotion is fueled by another emotion. From both my own experience overcoming binge eating and from coaching many others, it seems that the primary emotion behind boredom is usually some type of fear. It could be the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) or the fear of falling behind. It is unique to everyone, but usually can be distilled down into some type of fear.
The good news is the Stop, Drop, & Feel is just as effective with boredom eating as it is with the other types of emotional eating. We just need practice turning our attention inward to develop the emotional awareness necessary.
The next time you find yourself wondering, “Why am I eating so much?” and you decide that it’s boredom eating, keep digging. Even if you don’t immediately stumble upon another emotion, practice with the Stop, Drop, & Feel can help you uncover more and more layers.
Steps to Navigate Periods of Eating Large Amounts of Food
Now that you know why you might feel like you’re eating ‘so much’ food sometimes, let’s talk about what you can do whenever that uncertainty arises. Although there were helpful tips sprinkled throughout this article, I think it’s nice to have them all listed together in the same place.
Here are some actionable steps to consider the next time you catch yourself wondering, why am I eating so much?
- Evaluate your eating patterns: Are you skipping meals or going for long periods without eating? Are you eating a balanced diet with adequate nutrients, including enough healthy fats?
- Ditch restrictive diets: Avoid falling into the trap of restrictive dieting, as it can lead to increased cravings, overeating, and obsessive thoughts about food. Do some research into the steps of giving up dieting and what happens after you stop dieting. It helps to be prepared.
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and honor them by eating when you’re genuinely hungry and stopping when you’re comfortably full.
- Heal your metabolism: If you’ve been restricting your diet and eating as little food as possible, it’s likely that your metabolism has adapted to your lifestyle. Fortunately, when you stop dieting and stop restricting your meals, you can begin the process of healing your metabolism.
- Address emotional triggers: If you struggle with eating without hunger, start to use tools that directly address the emotions behind compulsive eating such as the Stop, Drop, & Feel.
- Engage in stress-reducing activities: Pick up meditation, intuitive movement, or talking to a supportive friend. Relaxation is key to developing a healthy relationship with food.
- Seek professional guidance: If you continue to struggle with overeating or have concerns about your eating habits, consider reaching out to a qualified healthcare professional or an eating psychology coach. Providing yourself with extra support is a wonderful form of self-care.
Last but certainly not least, as you navigate the reasons why you feel like you’re eating large amounts of food, treat yourself with compassion. Compulsive eaters can be excessively self-critical (I know this, because I was like that too back when I was dieting) and you are worthy of your own compassion.
I hope this exhaustive list of reasons for eating large amounts of food helps you feel more normal — because it’s quite likely that you just haven’t been eating enough and/or you’ve been dieting too restrictively. Giving yourself some grace can make a huge difference.
Why Am I Eating So Much Food? The Answer Is Unique for Everyone
Understanding why we may find ourselves eating large amounts of food is a complex interplay of psychology and physiology. While biology certainly plays a role, it is often our psychological triggers that dominate our eating patterns.
Instead of labeling ourselves as simply eating too much, it’s important to use curiosity and compassion when approaching the question of, Why am I eating so much? We need to recognize that our bodies have natural hunger cues and dietary needs that should not be ignored.
Listening to our bodies, fueling ourselves adequately, and practicing the Stop, Drop, & Feel can help us establish a healthier relationship with food; one where we no longer feel out of control around food, but instead we feel deeply in sync with our bodies.
If those goals sound nice, then you’ll LOVE my free ebook below! It digs deep into the psychology of overeating:
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