It’s midnight. I’m standing in my kitchen looking down at an empty tray of cookies, thinking to myself, “Why do I still want to eat when I’m full? Why do I keep doing this?!” It’s a frustrating pattern, to say the least. I used to regularly eat past fullness — until I started mastering my psychology.
Once I started addressing the psychology of overeating, I went from thinking the same thing over and over — why do I keep eating when I’m full?! — to navigating my behavior around food with clarity. Not with ease (because I’m not trying to sell you a quick fix) but with clarity.
We’re about to dig into the psychology behind the desire to eat when you’re full. I know it’s a frustrating cycle, so I’ll include some actionable advice with each step!
At the end of this post, there’s a quiz to discover your eating psychology STRENGTH. Yes, strength. Because even struggling overeaters have a strength around food — and I bet I can guess yours. Take the quiz now.
Psychological Reasons Why You Want to Eat Even Though You’re Full
When I’m full but still want to eat, I’ve found that it hardly ever has to do with the food I’m eating. Instead, it has to do with my relationship with my thoughts and feelings (aka. psychology).
If you’re new around here, this blog is the home of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: an approach to stopping compulsive eating rooted in purely psychological and spiritual practices.
From my work as an eating psychology coach, and from my own personal experience stopping binge eating, I’ve found that psychology plays a much larger role in our relationship with food than food itself.
Of course, food still plays an important role, and this list starts there.
Here are the top 10 reasons why you still want to eat when you’re full:
1. You’re dehydrated
Let’s start with the easiest part: Sometimes the desire to eat when you’re not hungry is simply caused by dehydration.
If you’re not mindful of your water intake, the next time you want to eat even when you’re full, try drinking a glass of water. Sometimes it will get rid of the desire to eat past fullness.
However, many of us already know these little tricks and they rarely help. (This is why I’m so passionate about the psychology of eating versus dieting!) Let’s keep digging.
Solution: Drink a glass of water and see where you’re at.
2. It’s not out of sight, so it’s not out of mind
Do you ever find yourself eating something just because it’s there?
Like when you’re working and suddenly the bag of chips on your desk keeps catching your eye, so you eat even though you’re not hungry?
This type of overeating is caused by poor environment design. They say, “out of sight, out of mind.” Sometimes having food within sight is enough to trigger the desire to eat even when you’re full.
Fortunately, the fix is easy: put food away. Take the time to put things back into the cupboards and drawers where they belong.
This is a superficial fix though.
After all, how many times have you put candy up on the hardest-to-reach shelf, only to later use a step stool to get it? (I bet we would all be raising our hands right now!)
Small fixes and “hacks” can only go so far. Let’s keep digging deer into the psychology behind eating past fullness.
Solution: Try rearranging your home and office to keep food out of view. Sometimes keeping things out of sight helps keep them out of mind.
3. Your friends pressure you to eat with them
Take a look at your social dynamics next time you’re wondering, “why do I still want to eat when I’m full?” Here’s a personal example:
There was an evening (many years ago) where my best friend invited me over for a movie marathon. I headed over in my sweats ready to be lazy. I also ate beforehand.
When she busted out the candy, I said I didn’t want any because I was full, and she got upset. While she did not say anything directly, she was visibly triggered.
It felt like she wanted me to indulge in the candy, even though I said I was full, because it would make her feel better about her own indulgent behavior.
And because I was a chronic people pleaser at the time, I ate the candy even though I wasn’t hungry. Has this ever happened to you?
If not eating upsets your company, there’s a boundary issue. No one should expect you to disrespect your body in order to make themselves feel more comfortable.
Solution: Surround yourself with friends that support the pursuit of honoring your body. Be ready for this to challenge any people pleasing tendencies!
4. You feel obligated to lick your plate clean
Do you tend to eat until your plate is clean, even if you hit the point of fullness mid-way through? You’re not alone!
The fear of wasting food is a biggie for most people. In fact, resistance to wasting food is one of the top psychological reasons for overeating!
This compulsion often stems from childhood where our parents trained us to lick our plates clean. Even once we’re adults, our childhood conditioning can still have a subconscious impact on our current behavior.
Plus, it doesn’t help that guilt is an adverse emotion. No one wants to feel guilty! And if wasting food is the source of your guilt, eating past fullness is a natural knee-jerk reaction.
Not only does it relieve the guilt, but it also provides the comfort and pleasure of eating too.
Solution: Dig into the subconscious reasons why we self-sabotage around food to address the root cause of eating past fullness. It always ties back to something bigger than food itself.
5. It’s a special occasion!
Special occasions are a common trigger for eating past fullness. It ties in with the fear of wasting food and the fear of missing out. We don’t want to be the only ones not having our cake and eating it too!
Celebrations are fun, and you deserve to live your life. But keep in mind that you do not need to eat to celebrate.
Next time you’re at a party thinking, “Why do I feel like eating even when I’m full?” look around and you’ll find your answer.
Solution: There are plenty of other ways to celebrate besides eating. Try hugs, good conversation, and confetti poppers! It doesn’t have to be food.
6. You’re seeking your (only) pleasure from food
Sometimes the desire to eat when you’re not hungry is actually just a desire for joy. We need joy. And when we don’t get joy from our lives, we compulsively seek joy from food.
It’s called hedonic eating.
When we don’t have time to participate in beloved hobbies, we are forced to get our joy the only way we know how: through food!
After all, hobbies are optional, but eating is necessary for survival. That’s why so many of us can get tripped up with hedonic eating.
Solution: Find your joy outside of food, and make it the priority it deserves to be.
The more detailed solution: You can dig even deeper in to eating psychology in my free ebook, The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating. Grab your copy here and continue reading this post after »
7. You’re comfort eating — and it goes deeper than you’re probably thinking
We all know that “comfort eating” is a thing. The easiest example is reaching for ice cream after a break up.
But here’s the tricky part: even though we know we are reaching for food to numb our discomfort, we don’t have the tolerance to sit with those emotions and hold space for them without reaching for food.
The ability to sit in the eye of the storm without getting swept away by it — that is the “spiritual” aspect of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness.
Many of us hate discomfort. We hate it so much that we fling ourselves from one compulsion (food) to the next (more food) so that we don’t have to deal with how we really feel.
I used to struggle with this, and it wasn’t until I created a specific tool — a tool that helps build emotional tolerance, or the ability to tolerate discomfort — that I finally stopped eating past fullness.
That tool is called the “Stop, Drop, & Feel.”
I recommend reading the full post to learn how it works, but in a nutshell, it involves holding space for your feelings at the precise moment where you still want to eat even when you’re full.
Solution: The best way to stop eating when you’re not hungry is to practice the Stop, Drop, and Feel method to stop eating past fullness.
8. You’re just tired
Phew, I’m exhausted from all this deep, psychological digging. Let’s touch on something lighter:
How many times have you come home from a long day and all you want to do is eat even though you’re not hungry?
You’d be surprised how often this is just physical exhaustion.
Solution: Take a nap! Don’t overeat for energy. Rest for energy.
9. You need to build more willpower — JK, you already have tons of it! Here’s why
While all the personal trainers at the gym are screaming at us to “have more willpower,” I actually think that most overeaters have TONS of willpower. Yes, really!
It just doesn’t feel that way because we use all our willpower on restricting our diet, and it’s a war we can’t win — because it’s a war against our biology. This is why I’ve found psychology to be a much more important piece.
Imagine how much you’ll be able to accomplish when you start using the willpower you already have on mastering your psychology instead of wasting it on diets (which are already rigged to fail).
Here’s a deeper dive into this concept, because it’s one of my favorite topics:
Solution: Take the willpower that you already have and channel it into the Stop, Drop, and Feel. This will help you develop the right psychological skills to stop eating when you’re full long-term.
10. You made sugar and carbs off-limits and now they’re the target of your binges
How many times have you made sugar off limits only to later binge on sugar?
When you tell yourself you can’t have something, like sugar or carbs, it makes that food extra special. That’s when the cookies and breads starts beckoning for you from the cupboards.
What we resist persists. The more we resist a specific food, the more we want it!
We all know this in our heart-of-hearts, but that might feel flimsy. Fortunately, clinical studies (aka, hard freaking science!!!) have proven that diets are linked to weight gain, not weight loss.
This is why letting go of the food rules actually helps you eat less, not more.
Solution: Embrace Permission to Eat. Stop making certain foods off limits! And to prevent weight gain / feeding frenzy fears, be sure to also practice the Stop, Drop, & Feel, which stops compulsive eating long-term.
Bonus solution: Do you think I can guess your eating psychology strength? There’s a quiz at the end of this post so that you can find out! Jump straight to the quiz here »
Use Psychology to Stop Unwanted Eating Patterns
Whenever you ask yourself, “why do I still want to eat when I’m full,” don’t waste your energy analyzing your diet. Instead, dig into your psychology.
A simple example includes putting foods away, “out of sight, out of mind.” However, most people have already tried these tricks to no avail. That’s because there’s something deeper at play.
When you already know what good food and exercise looks like, it means that food and exercise was never the issue. Turn your attention to the psychology of eating instead — like Permission to Eat and the Stop, Drop, & Feel.
Take all these concepts even deeper by grabbing my free ebook below. You will LOVE it, because it dives even deeper into the subconscious reasons why we reach for food even when we aren’t hungry.
Originally published June 9, 2018 // Last updated May 17, 2022
Cyndy Lou says
Sounds as if the advice could possibly work. Will repost the results. I’m desperate for help. Have a blessed day.
Kari Dahlgren says
I would love to hear how it went Cyndy!
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.
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.
Kari Dahlgren says
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
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).
Brenda. Thomas 9 says
Kara, your. Words. Have. Been. Such. A. Blessing. To. Me. Thank. You,
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.
Kari Dahlgren says
I’m so glad it helped! Thanks for the comment 🙂 xoxo
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
Kari Dahlgren says
Thank YOU for sharing Janie ????
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
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.
Miriam Fox says
So, I just like the taste and how it makes me feel so I want more.
Mary Kemunto Mose says
I eat even when am full hopefully I will change it
Kari Dahlgren says
You got this 🙂
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?
Kari Dahlgren says
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. I have heard good things about the dietitian Rachael Hartley [https://www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com/] and the clinic Center for Discovery [https://centerfordiscovery.com/]. I hope these resources are helpful for you!! xoxo