Ever find yourself going about your day, not even thinking about food…when all of a sudden your appetite kicks in, and you’re at the drive-thru or rummaging through your pantry, looking for whatever it is you crave? That’s because feeling hungry often has little to do with whether your system really needs food and a lot more to do with some sneaky cues and behaviors you encounter without realizing it. These 6 are among the biggest offenders tricking you into thinking you’re hungry when you really aren’t.
1. Cooking shows
There may be a downside to turning to TV for recipe inspiration. A new study found that people who cook from scratch based on recipes they got off a cooking show weighed 11 pounds more than those who watched these shows but didn’t cook very often. The authors of the study, from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, think the extra pounds might have to do with how indulgent TV recipes are. When people make them at home and consume them, they think it’s okay to take in all the extra calories.
2. Orange-and red-colored foods
From a biological perspective, humans “tend to seek out vibrant colored foods, as these contain the most vitamins and minerals,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. “The response is subconscious…think about a time when you’ve walked through a grocery store and found yourself picking up a sack of oranges or bag of red peppers.” But that instinct works against you when you’re face to face with a plate of mac and cheese or gooey nachos. These dishes share a similar hue as oranges do, but they have way more fat and calories.
3. Food packages on your kitchen counter
You know the saying, out of sight is out of mind? That definitely applies to food as well, and it sums up the dangers of not putting your groceries away as soon as you come back from the supermarket or leaving out half-eaten boxes of takeout pizza. When you see these items, even in their containers, your appetite gets going, and it’s hard to resist consuming them.
“People tend to reach automatically for foods that are within arm’s reach,” Dr. Albers says. “If it’s there, you’re likely to eat it.” One study shows that people who keep soda and cereal on their counters weigh a startling 26 pounds more than those who opt to tuck them away in a pantry.
4. Other people eating near you
You’re having drinks with friends when someone orders a round of apps. You weren’t hungry at all before the order was placed, so why did you dig in when the food arrived at the table? We automatically match the pace at which people around us eat and “mirror” their behavior, Dr. Albers explains, and that’s true even if they’re at another table and you don’t know them. You could also blame a little social anxiety. “We’re simply trying to fit in and make a situation more comfortable,” she adds.
5. Large plates
If you’re served a heaping pile of food on a large plate, you’ll likely try to finish it, even after you’re already full. “We naturally eat more off of large plates and bowls,” says Dr. Albers. It’s a mean trick your eyes play on you. Larger plates cause us to think a serving of food is smaller than it actually appears. One study showed that people scarfed down 16% more cereal than usual when it was served to them in a bigger bowl.
6. A happy mood
You know about stress eating: tough day of work = pint of ice cream. But it’s not just negative emotions that lead us to dive into our kitchens. Positive emotions like joy, excitement, and even love can crank your appetite as well. It has to do with the fact that certain foods, like chocolate, trigger satisfying neurochemical responses in the brain. “We want to hold onto [those happy emotions], and another creamy bar of chocolate or crispy bag of chips promises to keep the good feelings rolling,” says Dr. Albers.
Also, when life is going well and you feel good, you’re more relaxed and less vigilant about your calorie intake. “People actually eat more when they’re in a happy relationship,” Dr. Albers notes.