Why Do I Still Want to Eat When I’m Full? 10 Reasons for a Hungerless Appetite

10 Reasons Why You Still Want to Eat even When You’re Full

You’ve just enjoyed dinner, yet find yourself wandering into the kitchen, craving for something more. That nagging question floats around in your mind, “Why do I still want to eat when I’m full?” Then your arm starts reaching into a bag of chips while your brain is wishing that you could just stop. The dilemma of eating past fullness — when it is the last thing you want to be doing — is something I know all too well.

The desire to eat when you’re full is driven by complex psychological and physiological factors. I personally struggled with this for many years until I decided to dig into my psychology instead of running endless circles around dieting. 

What I’ve discovered as an eating psychology coach, after looking at both my own eating habits and many others, is that all of us already know what “good food” and “good exercise” entails. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we compulsively do the opposite.

Today, we’re exploring 10 reasons why you still want to eat when you’re full. I’ll start with the most obvious and surface-level items before digging into the juicier bits of eating psychology. Originally published in 2018, this post is one of my favorites, so I keep it regularly updated.

Let’s unravel the intricate tapestry of eating psychology to answer the ultimate question: Why do I still want to eat when I’m full? 

Why Do I Still Want to Eat When I’m Full? Looking at Hormones

Hunger and satiety are crucial for our survival. At their most basic level, hunger and fullness are biological signals for energy regulation within our bodies. I find this a nice mental reframe that shifts food from being the source of a huge problem (as it can feel when you struggle with eating past fullness) to simply being a vehicle for life, sustenance, and energy.

From a physiological perspective, hunger feels like a powerful urge or craving for food — a sensation triggered by the body’s need for nutrients. Conversely, fullness or satiety signifies a state of contentment, a signal from the body that it has received sufficient nutrients and doesn’t need additional food.

Hunger and fullness are the two points at opposite ends of a metronome – one that never ends. As humans, we are constantly swaying between hunger and fullness throughout our lives. But for someone that struggles with overeating, it can feel like the metronome is stuck on one side: fullness.

From a biological perspective, hunger and fullness are managed by the central nervous system, which responds to a range of complex hormonal signals.1 Crucial hormones in this regulation include:

  • Ghrelin, often referred to as the ‘hunger hormone,’ which communicates to the brain the need to eat.
  • Leptin, produced by our fat cells (one of the many positive benefits of body fat), signals to our brain that we’ve consumed enough food. That’s right – physical fullness is just as much a state of mind as it is a physical feeling. 
  • Insulin, another pivotal hormone, helps regulate our energy balance by controlling the movement of fatty acids and glucose into and out of cells.

While the physiological aspect of hunger and satiety is relatively straightforward — eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full — the psychological aspect introduces a layer of complexity. Psychological hunger refers to the desire or urge to eat, even when our bodies don’t require energy from food. 

On the other hand, psychological fullness might be a sense of satisfaction derived from consuming specific types of food or “sticking to” a diet. This layer introduces a unique dynamic in understanding our relationship with food and our body’s signals.

10 Reasons Why You Still Want to Eat When You’re Full

Often, the impulse to overeat has less to do with the food and more to do with our psychology. However, this is not to say that food itself and our biology does not also play a strong role. As we just discussed, hunger and fullness are very much biological events that are constantly happening in our bodies.

Along with the importance of biology, I believe that the desire to eat when you’re already full is driven by emotion too. As an eating psychology coach that focuses 100% on psychological and even spiritual practices to help others stop overeating, I focus largely on psychology over food.

However, I actually find it quite fun to sift through scientific journals to learn more about the biology of hunger and fullness. This is fun to me because, through understanding more about the body, I can see with even more clarity how our behavior around food is mostly driven by psychology.

Are you curious to know the reasons why you may find yourself wondering, Why do I still want to eat when I’m full? Here are the most common biological and psychological causes:

1. You’re Mildly Dehydrated

The first step on our list is one that is easy to overlook: Dehydration can often masquerade as hunger. From a clinical perspective, mild dehydration and hunger share some similar symptoms such as lightheadedness, fatigue, and cravings for carbs and sugar.

From an eating psychology perspective, we may have a knee-jerk reaction to these symptoms that trigger us to eat even if we’re already full. For example, “Eating for Energy” is something that I discuss in-depth in my online course about eating psychology, Food Normal. It happens when we are tired or fatigued and instead of reaching for a nap, we reach for food to keep us going.

We can also look at this through a lens of intuitive eating. I personally believe that the human body already contains all the wisdom it needs to regulate a healthy weight and healthy body; and it communicates these needs through cravings and other biological markers. 

For example, sometimes I notice that I crave fruit when I am dehydrated, because both fruit or a tall glass of water both quench the craving. Since fruit has high water content, I think it makes sense that my body would crave fruit in response to mild dehydration. 

Everyone is different, though. Not everyone craves fruit when they’re dehydrated, and so it’s important to learn how to listen to your body since you will always be the #1 expert on you.

2. Poor Environment Design Can Trigger a Desire to Eat When You’re Full

Ever find yourself at a holiday party and wind up grazing on a festive snack just because it’s there? The act of eating just because food is present, even when you’re already full, may seem like a simple lack of self-control. However, it’s a behavior rooted in complex psychological mechanisms, including poor environment design.

As another example, you might be deeply engrossed in work when you notice a bag of chips on your desk. Despite already being full from lunch, you find your hand reaching for the bag again and again. This unintentional grazing isn’t due to hunger but can be attributed to the power of visual cues in our surroundings.

The saying "out of sight, out of mind" perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon: having food within our sight can trigger the desire to eat, even when our stomachs are full.

An easy remedy for this might be to clear away food items from your workspace. By storing them in cupboards or drawers, you reduce visual cues that may spark mindless eating. But it’s important to recognize this as a surface-level solution, addressing the symptom rather than the underlying issue.

After all, we’ve probably all experienced the scenario where we place tempting treats on the hardest-to-reach and highest shelf in the pantry, only to later retrieve a step stool to fetch them. These small environmental “hacks” have their limits and serve to highlight the necessity for a deeper understanding of the psychology behind overeating.

3. “People Pleasing” and Social Pressures Can Trigger the Desire to Eat When You’re Full

Next time you’re wondering, “why do I still want to eat when I’m full?”, take a moment to consider any social dynamics at play. Let me share a personal story to illustrate this:

Several years ago, I headed to my best friend’s house for a movie marathon. Prepared for a chill night, I wore my most comfortable clothes and happened to eat ahead of time – because I was hungry well before the movies were going to start. However, as the evening progressed, an interesting social interaction unfolded.

When my friend brought out a delicious assortment of candies, I declined her offer, explaining that I was already full. But instead of accepting my boundary, she seemed upset. It was almost as if she wanted me to join in on the candy feast, not for my sake, but to make her feel better about her own indulgence.

Being someone who always tried to please others at the time, I gave in and ate the candy, despite already being full. Does this situation sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself eating just to appease those around you?

According to an article from Psychology Today, “Studies show that people-pleasers engage in self-destructive behavior if they think it will help others feel more comfortable in social situations.” The article even goes on to explicitly reference food as an example: “For example, people-pleasers eat more when they think it will make other people happy.”

The lesson I took away from my experience is that, if the people you’re with are unsettled by your decision to stop eating when you’re full, it’s a sign of poor boundaries. Remember that it’s not your responsibility to disregard your body’s needs to make others feel more at ease. Paying attention to these dynamics can be a key role in learning to stop eating when you’re full.

Bonus: Get personalized advice to stop emotional eating by taking my quiz, What is your eating psychology strength? Even if you struggle with eating past fullness, we all have a strength around food, and I bet I can guess yours.

4. You’re a Member of the “Clean Your Plate” Club

As I shared in my recent post about the fear of wasting food, a large number of us have been conditioned since childhood to finish everything on our plate, even if we’re already full. This compulsion often drives us to eat past fullness in order to feel like we’re avoiding waste – even if eating past fullness doesn’t actually solve the problem. 

Recognizing and acknowledging this conditioning can help break the cycle. Give yourself permission to leave food on your plate. Also take appropriate measures to reduce food waste to begin with, but never sacrifice your health (i.e. eating past fullness) for the sake of obligation. 

5. Emotional Eating: The Epitome of When You’re Full But Still Want to Eat

At its essence, emotional eating involves consuming food when you’re not hungry — often ‘comfort’ foods — in response to emotions rather than actual hunger. It’s characterized by an almost irresistible urge to eat even when you’re full, with a preference for foods high in sugar or fat. 

Emotional eating is widely recognized as a coping strategy to manage negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or even boredom. Differentiating emotional eating from physical hunger is key.

Physical hunger is usually a slow-coming sensation that a variety of foods can satiate. In contrast, emotional hunger strikes abruptly and often craves specific food items.

Overcoming emotional eating is my specialty, because it has nothing to do with food itself – rather, it’s all psychology. My tool to stop emotional eating called the Stop, Drop, & Feel is perfect for this.

how to stop a binge in its tracks with the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️

It asks you to stop yourself before you want to eat when you’re already full, drop into your body, and feel what’s there. While it might seem too simple to work, it is much more difficult to actually put into practice; but when you do, you will witness just how powerful this method to stop emotional eating is.

When we practice making space for discomfort, we develop something that I like to call emotional tolerance. The more we are able to tolerate the normal negative emotions of life, the less we will feel drawn to eat when we’re already full.

6. I Still Want To Eat When I’m Full When It’s a Special Occasion

We often feel the urge to eat beyond fullness during special occasions due to a combination of the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the fear of wasting food. However, celebrations are about more than just food, and they can be enjoyed without eating past fullness.

However, I personally know how tempting it can be to see cake at a party. I used to become overwhelmed with a desire to not feel deprived by going without it, so I would still want to eat even if I was full. In hindsight, this is a manifestation of hedonic eating, where we eat for pleasure instead of hunger.

Furthermore, the other side of the coin is that overeating is a response to discomfort. Behind every desire to eat when you aren’t hungry, it is my belief that there is an uncomfortable feeling that you aren’t allowing yourself to feel. The Stop, Drop, & Feel tool is designed to help with this.

While some of my clients really relate to hedonic eating, I usually have to remind everyone that hedonic eating is rarely the entire problem. There are usually other uncomfortable emotions that need attention – which can even be as simple as a desire to avoid feeling deprived – which is where the Stop, Drop, & Feel comes into play.

Sometimes, in order to truly respect our bodies, we need to be willing to feel the let-down that come with stopping when you're full.

While it’s a bummer to show up to a party with cake and not have an appetite for it, we need to be willing to sit in that emotion without being swept into eating past fullness.

This doesn’t mean that you need to wallow in it, either. In fact, if you’re at a party, there should be plenty of other opportunities to find joy outside of food. Celebrations are about togetherness, joy, and creating memories. There is a balance to be found between feeling deprived and a desperate need to enjoy all the things.

7. You’re Using Food as a Reward System, Which Overlooks Hunger and Fullness

One often overlooked factor contributing to the question “why do I still want to eat when I’m full?” lies in the way we culturally and personally use food as a system of rewards and punishments.

As children, many of us were given treats as a reward for good behavior or achievements. On the flip side, we may have been denied desserts or favorite foods as a form of punishment. These early experiences can deeply entrench the idea of food as not just sustenance, but a tool for emotional regulation.

Intricately tied to this emotional aspect of eating is the neurotransmitter dopamine, often referred to as the “reward” chemical. When we consume food we enjoy — especially those high in sugar or fat — our brains release dopamine. This dopamine rush creates a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction, reinforcing the connection between the enjoyable food and the positive feeling.

As adults, we might subconsciously carry these associations into our daily lives. Perhaps after a long, challenging day at work, we reward ourselves with a dopamine-triggering decadent dessert even if we are full. Breaking the mental connection between food and reward or punishment is crucial to honor your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

8. The Restrict-Binge Cycle: The Reason Why You Still Want to Eat When You’re Full

Distinctly different from the reward-punish cycle is the restrict-binge cycle, which can also trigger a desire to eat even when you’re full, and it often takes the form of yo-yo dieting. After bouts of “being good” by restricting our diets (often far too much) we rebound with a binge.

The human body has built-in biological responses to dietary restriction that prevent us from starving.2 (It’s a good survival mechanism, really.) Not only does it make it hard to diet and biologically difficult to lose weight3 – it also illustrates the greater importance of eating psychology over dieting to begin with.

Get the juicy scoop: Discover the intersection between eating psychology and spirituality in my free 13-page (and beautifully illustrated) ebook, The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating.

9. You’re Bull but Still Want to Eat Because You’re Sleep Deprived

Quality sleep is fundamental to our overall health, including our eating habits. Lack of sleep can disrupt our appetite-regulating hormones and trigger increased cravings, especially cravings for high-carb and high-fat foods.4

Many studies have shown that lack of sleep increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and decreases leptin (the satiety hormone).5 Although a decrease in leptin would mean a decrease in perceived fullness – thus reducing the chances of wondering to yourself, Why do I still want to eat when I’m full? – it can still warp your sense of appetite and deepen the struggle of eating past fullness.

10. You’re Restricting Carbs and Sugar, so You Crave Them Even When You’re Full

Carbohydrates are essential for our health and energy. However, the diet industry often villainizes them, which popularizes diets that restrict carbs and sugar such as the ketogenic diet. However, when you significantly limit carbohydrates and sugars, your body craves these crucial energy sources, leading to an increased desire to eat — even when full.

Biologically, cravings for carbs and sugar is a survival mechanism, which, when combined with an abundant food environment, can lead to eating past fullness.

Psychologically, restriction causes us to crave the very thing that we are making scarce: carbs and sugar. As the saying goes, “What we resist persists.”

Instead of imposing strict dietary rules and perpetuating the restrict-binge cycle, we can find a more balanced and sustainable approach that involves eating – and enjoying! – a variety of foods, including carbs and sugar. 

Best of all, when you couple this with tools that address your psychology and emotional eating, you can foster a healthier relationship with food and finally answer the question, “Why do I still want to eat when I’m full?”

How to Stop Eating When You’re Full: A Holistic Approach

There are many strategies to help regulate your eating habits and develop a healthier relationship with food. These strategies go beyond dieting and involve an overall shift in your lifestyle, mindset, and approach to nutrition. Let’s explore some of the most effective actions that you can take:

  • Stop Dieting: Extreme diets often lead to an unhealthy restrict-binge cycle, as we’ve discussed. Instead of dieting, aim for a balanced, nutritious eating plan that includes all food groups and leaves room for occasional treats.
  • Practice the ‘Stop, Drop, & Feel’: This technique can be a powerful tool in managing emotional eating. When you feel the urge to eat when you’re already full, stop what you’re doing, drop into your body, and feel what emotions are present. Acknowledging these emotions can help reduce the compulsion to eat.
  • Set Strong Boundaries: It’s important to feel comfortable saying ‘no’ to food, even in social situations where others might pressure you to eat. Remember, you have the right to listen to your body’s signals and respect your feelings of fullness.
  • Try Intuitive Movement: Regular physical activity is key for overall health and can help regulate your appetite. But instead of forcing yourself into a strict exercise regimen, try intuitive movement – physical activity that you genuinely enjoy and that feels good to your body.
  • Focus on Getting Quality Sleep: As discussed earlier, sleep plays a vital role in regulating your appetite hormones. Try to prioritize good sleep hygiene to ensure you’re getting enough rest. This includes keeping a consistent sleep schedule, limiting screen time before bed, and creating a calm, dark environment for sleep.
  • Seek Professional Help When You Need It: If you’re struggling with chronic overeating or eating past fullness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a registered dietitian or a mental health professional. These experts can provide tailored advice and strategies to help you navigate your unique situation. They are also the perfect accompaniment to eating psychology coaching for a well-rounded approach.

Remember, developing a healthier relationship with food is a journey, and it’s okay to take small steps and gradually incorporate these changes. Over time, these actions can help you tune in to your body’s signals, manage your eating habits, and ultimately, stop eating when you’re full.

Honoring Your Hunger and Fullness Next Time You’re Full But Still Want to Eat

Whenever you’re full but still want to eat, it’s important to dig beneath the surface. Sure, you could just be mildly dehydrated or simply need to put food out of sight. But for many of us, myself included, these small tips don’t go very far.

Instead, address your psychology with tools such as the Stop, Drop, & Feel. Practice setting boundaries with anyone that attempts to guilt-trip or push food on you when you’re already full.

To me, addressing your psychology is much harder than dieting because it involves difficult tasks like confronting other people or sitting still with our edginess. But since diets don’t work and only perpetuate the restrict-binge cycle, I think you will find eating psychology gets you much, much farther.

  1. Farr, Olivia M et al. “Central nervous system regulation of eating: Insights from human brain imaging.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental vol. 65,5 (2016): 699-713. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2016.02.002
  2. Müller, Manfred James et al. “Metabolic adaptation to caloric restriction and subsequent refeeding: the Minnesota Starvation Experiment revisited.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 102,4 (2015): 807-19. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.109173
  3. Pourhassan, Maryam et al. “Impact of body composition during weight change on resting energy expenditure and homeostasis model assessment index in overweight nonsmoking adults.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 99,4 (2014): 779-91. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.071829
  4. Prinz, Patricia. “Sleep, appetite, and obesity–what is the link?.” PLoS medicine vol. 1,3 (2004): e61. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061
  5. Mosavat, Maryam et al. “The Role of Sleep Curtailment on Leptin Levels in Obesity and Diabetes Mellitus.” Obesity facts vol. 14,2 (2021): 214-221. doi:10.1159/000514095

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The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating

The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating will show you even more insight into the subconscious reasons why we eat past fullness — even when we really don’t want to! (It’s a free, 13-page, beautifully-illustrated PDF.)

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By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up. This is how you can discover your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating.

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20 thoughts on "Why Do I Still Want to Eat When I’m Full? 10 Reasons for a Hungerless Appetite"

  1. Cyndy Lousays:

    Sounds as if the advice could possibly work. Will repost the results. I’m desperate for help. Have a blessed day.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I would love to hear how it went Cyndy!

    2. Fatimasays:

      I think this is going to be very helpful because I am doing this from 5 years and I am only 14 and now its getting out of control. This is happening because a lot of people (my family, relatives and friends) told me that I need to stop eating that much and whenever they tell me not to eat, I eat more.

  2. Nickisays:

    Oh, I so hope this will do it for me. I have been yo-yo dieting for 70 years. I figured I would die still looking for a way to stay slim and now to control recently diagnosed diabetes. I have spent so much money buying diet plans and as soon as I drop weight, but never reach a decent BMI, I get discouraged and gain the weight again.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Nicki! You are amazing! We all know how tough the dieting yo-yo frenzy can be, so I wish you the best of luck as you begin this journey 🙂 please keep in touch and let me know how it goes. xo

  3. Karasays:

    I get the point, but feeling my feelings isn’t that easy for me. I don’t know if you’re familiar with mental health issues, but I suffer from BPD. Just letting my feelings come up is nearly impossible for me because they’re 9 times stronger than feelings others feel (this is scientifically proven).

    1. Brenda. Thomas 9says:

      Kara, your. Words. Have. Been. Such. A. Blessing. To. Me. Thank. You,

  4. Lynnesays:

    I love how straight forward and non-judgemental you are. That quote about food being wasted whether it went in your already full mouth or the trash (obviously paraphrasing) was like a light snapping on. It is spot on but something I had never thought of before. I’m so glad I found your page.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I’m so glad it helped! Thanks for the comment 🙂 xoxo

  5. Janiesays:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been bulimic for over 20 years and no one has ever told be to respect my body. It’s such a powerful thought- take yourself out of your body and see it as a living thing! Obvious, I know, but so many people forget about themselves. Thanks again. X

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thank YOU for sharing Janie ????

  6. Lynnsays:

    Thanks I fit into several of the categories. I will make an effort to become more mindful of what I am doing and feeling. Thanks

  7. Judisays:

    Stop, drop and feel. I am so going to try this. I am 55, and I can remember bingeing since I’ve been a small child, it’s embedded in me. It’s my coping mechanism. Thank you for this page. Maybe something will finally click with me.

  8. Miriam Foxsays:

    So, I just like the taste and how it makes me feel so I want more.

  9. Mary Kemunto Mosesays:

    I eat even when am full hopefully I will change it

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      You got this 🙂

  10. Charissays:

    What confuses me is that I have both a fear of eating and weight gain so am very underweight but binge. I know longer know if it’s caused by a biological lack or deprivation or bulimic withdrawal or emotional etc. It could be deprivation (mental and physical) but it could be bad habits? And what’s overeating for me could not be overeating but I have to recover and supposedly gain some weight yet I can only fit in so much food but don’t want to eat high calorie food. It all triggers binge urges. So I’m confused about what’s causing my binges at this point.
    I thought it was emotional but what if it’s biochemical?

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Charis! I am so sorry to hear what you are going through. It sounds intense, and no one should have to feel triggered by food like this. Because you are underweight, I highly highly recommend working with a registered dietitian or seeking help from an eating disorder clinic. NEDA has really good resources! I hope these resources are helpful for you!! xoxo

  11. Darren Morgansays:

    I need this badly as my stomach doesn’t tell my brain I’m full so I keep eating. Only time I stop eating is when I start sweating while eating. I’m 160kg now I need a gastric sleeve I think. I’ve tried everything

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Darren! I am so sorry to hear about your struggle. Feeling rock bottom is never ever easy. If you find energy or space to try anything from this article, try to focus on the Stop, Drop, & Feel above anything else. It’s a great starting place. Please keep me posted – I’d love to help!!

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