On the saddest things about eating when you’re not hungry is that you’re missing out on meeting a valid need. Food is primarily for fuel, so if you’re not in need of nutrients, eating is not an appropriate response. Figuring out what you want that isn’t food will make your life happier and reduce the amount of unwanted eating you do.

Emotional eaters misuse food in various ways. Do you eat to distract from feelings? Often you expect to be upset because of something that happened and therefore eat to prevent internal distress. The fact is you might really be fine with the feeling, but in the past you’ve found a particular emotion, say, loneliness or rejection, difficult, so you eat prophylactically. Or, you may already be upset and eat to minimize feelings. You might be afraid that if you hurt intensely, you’ll never stop or that emotional pain will make you dysfunctional. Either way, you look to food to take the edge off your feelings.

Do you eat to avoid doing “unpleasant” tasks? Right around tax season, I can almost hear the amount of food being chomped on in this country. When you have a task you don’t want to do, especially when you keep telling yourself how odious it is, you might look to food to be doing something other than it. You know you will need to do the task at some point, but as long as it’s not this minute and as long as you have another activity to do, such as eating, you can rationalize delay and postponement.

Do you eat to for stimulation? More and more I notice that it’s nearly impossible for most people to do nothing. It may feel odd and uncomfortable, terribly unfamiliar, and therefore you might think that doing nothing is bad. We live in a culture of excess stimulation: we need to be engaged in activity for mind and/or body whenever we’re not asleep. Down time might feel downright weird, so you fill it up with activity in the form of feeding yourself. Actually doing absolutely nothing is very nice once you get used to it!

Do you eat so your mind will stop buzzing? You may feel overwhelmed when unwanted thoughts careen around your head—the things you did and didn’t do and have to do and might have to do. One way to shut off these thoughts is through eating. Unwanted eating also leads to negative self-talk about what or how much you’ve eaten which then replaces all the other thoughts you were running from in the first place.

Identify the major reasons you engage in unwanted eating and brainstorm ways to meet these needs. If you’re not hungry, one thing you know: food can’t be the answer.