Common Triggers for Binging and Mindless Eating - When, Why, and What to Do about Them

When I ask my clients to food journal we often see a common pattern in non-hunger, problematic eating.  The good news with this is that because it’s often a habit, it’s predictable and therefore easier to anticipate and plan for.  While you may consciously wish you weren’t eating mindlessly in these times, a part of you is getting a need met. There is always a “gift,” a positive intention being met.  Once you know what positive intention is being met, it becomes easier to replace that routine.

Do any of these patterns describe you?  Here’s the real need and some suggestions on how to meet the need without using food.


You eat to transition between activities.  A common one is transitioning between work and being at home.

  • Real need: A clear routine that helps you wind down and relax, perhaps turn off your mind.  A sense of reward and relief.

  • How to meet it without food: Create  your own transition routine that helps you wind-down between the busy state of work/school and the relaxed state of being at home.  Some ideas include: preparing a cup of tea, meditating, and/or exercising.


You eat when you’re angry

  • Real need: The need to honor your anger and respect your boundaries.  Anger indicates a boundary or expectation of ours was not met.  For example, I once coached a woman who would get triggered to order drive thru whenever she thought about the last job that she was let go from.  It triggered her anger that she did not get a chance to defend herself before the decision. It had all to do with her feeling of being respected and heard at work.  Her anger was valid and pointed to her values - unfortunately, the way she was expressing it was costing her health and vitality.

  • How to meet it without food:  Honor your anger. In our society, women are often taught to suppress their anger and ignore their feelings.  Yet anger is an important signal that points to our sense of boundaries and values. Shout, scream, punch a pillow.   Listen to angry music. Journal. Let yourself really feel it and listen to what it has to say. If this is a recurring theme for you, it may be time to express your needs in relationships where your boundaries are challenged.


You eat when you’re bored

  • Real need: Excitement/adventure.  We all crave a certain amount of spontaneity in our lives.  If you’re feeling bored, it sounds like you need something fun and exciting to look forward to, especially after a long day of studying or working.  Trust me, if food is the only thing you have to look forward to - it would make perfect sense to reach for it after a long day.

  • How to meet it without food:  Plan some activities you can look forward to.  Seriously, take a short break from this post and write down at least 10 things you find really fun and look forward to.  Even short 5-10 minute will do as an effective break. Start building these “goodies” into your days and your weeks.


You eat in response to feeling low energy, such as daily tiredness or the afternoon slump.  In the case of long-term low energy (depression), you may use food as way to cope.

  • Real need: You're looking for a pick-me-up.  You also may need more sleep. 
    In the case of long-term low-energy, such as depression, this indicates a part of you is not looking forward to what the future holds.

  • How to meet it without food: Go for a brisk walk for 10-15 minutes.  Or do 50 jumping jacks. Getting your blood pumping will get your circulation going and wake you up more naturally

    If you’re sleep deprived, it’s also time to start making sleep more of a priority - whether that be getting to be on time or making sure your bedtime routine sets you up for success.

    If you're struggling with depression, the 2 tips suggested above are great options to begin to raise your energy.  You also may want to seek the support of a qualified coach or therapist to talk about the root causes of your low energy and depression.


You eat when you feel lonely

  • Real need: A sense of love and connection. Food is a “friend” which keeps you company.

  • How to meet it without food: Make your loneliness okay.  Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Call a friend who you want to catch up with.  Reach out to someone who’s energy you’re drawn to. Join a support group. If there’s a recurring theme that you feel this sense of loneliness, say it’s when you work or study from home, then perhaps it's time to find a group to cowork/costudy with. Or you can consider finding an environment where you are with people.  Go out there and get the love you deserve.

    It amazes we now that I do this coaching work, just how many of my peers shared that they struggled with food and were also starving for connection. Be brave and reach out - you just may be filling a need for them too!


You use food to punish yourself

  • Real need: A sense of significance.  In a strange way, beating yourself up may be the only way you pay attention to yourself.  This one may surprise you - but I have found a large number of people in our society are addicted to self-punishment.  It’s this sense of “guilt” that drives you to work harder, strive for more and more, and feel like you never have enough or are enough.  Food can become a way for you to punish yourself when you feel like you’re not measuring up but indirectly is way for you to actually pay attention to yourself.

  • How to meet it without food: Observe that voice of self-punishment as just a part of you.  Recognize the need is for you to finally pay attention to yourself. Acknowledge yourself for what you’ve done well and forgive yourself for your “shortcomings.” You’re human after all.  This is the opportune time to practice some self-love and self-care in whatever form you’d like.

You eat when you feel overwhelmed and stressed

  • Real need: A sense of groundedness, focus, and certainty

  • How to meet it without food: When we’re stressed, we are in our fight or flight responses.  Have you had any experiences where you were stressed and were able to shift to calm and centeredness?  Which techniques did you try? There are a million and one ways to center yourself but just for some ideas: meditation, EFT, going for a walk or exercise, talking to a coach, therapist, or friend.

Do you recognize any of these patterns in your life? They all are formed for a purpose. If you can learn to meet the real need that eating had been serving, you’ll be well on your way outsmarting the pattern and changing your habits for good!

Above all, love,