Why Do We Keep Eating Even Though We're Full?

Drinking a glass of water before meals can help increase feelings of fullness, which encourages less food intake.
Why Do We Keep Eating Even Though We're Full?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 23 March, 2021

Despite the fact that we’re full, we often feel the need to keep eating. This is a phenomenon that, if it occurs regularly, can increase the risk of developing obesity and putting our health at risk. For this reason, we’re going to explain what the causes are and what to do about it.

We need to first understand that satiety can be caused by several mechanisms. Some of them are hormonal, whereas others are related to the depletion of stomach capacity due to the presence of food inside.

Sometimes we still want to eat despite being full

Stomach mechanoreceptors that induce appetite suppression can sometimes be activated.

However, this isn’t always able to decrease our desire to eat, as the smells, flavors, or other organoleptic characteristics of the food in front of us “invite” us to keep eating more and more. If we neglect the signal sent by the stomach to stop eating, then we can end up suffering from real stomach problems.

It’s important to realize that you can feel hungry due to physiological processes or for emotional reasons. Some people experience increased appetite when they’re subjected to stressful situations, derived from changes in the hormonal balance.

This class of people falls into the category of emotional eaters, and, if we belong to this group, then it’s quite possible that we’ll continue to eat despite being full.

However, this phenomenon is extremely bad for our health. Overeating generates excess weight, and this has been shown to increase the risk of developing chronic and complex pathologies in the medium term.

For this reason, it’s necessary to guarantee a balanced energy level in our diet.

If we continue to eat on a full stomach, weight gain is inevitable.
Overconsumption of junk food is common, increasing the incidence of some metabolic diseases.

Strategies to stop eating when we don’t need it

It’s essential to teach our bodies to avoid excessive food consumption when there’s no further need for calories and nutrients. There are a number of techniques that can increase satiety, beyond a simple distention of stomach mechanoreceptors. We’re going to tell you about them so that you can put them into practice.

1. Drink a glass of water before meals

We keep eating when we’re full and we still seem to have an appetite. If we’re able to increase the feeling of satiety, calming this appetite, then it’s likely that we won’t feel the need to continue eating. In this sense, the usefulness of consuming a glass of water before meals has been demonstrated.

Of course, it must be mineral water. Carbonated or sugary drinks can upset your stomach, as well as being harmful to your health. These have a large amount of simple carbohydrates and additives in their composition that compromise the body’s functioning.

Sugary drinks are risky: they increase the energy density of the diet without you hardly being aware of it.

2. Add more vegetables

Plant-based foods have a high concentration of fiber. Thanks to this substance, the feeling of satiety is stimulated, according to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Fiber can increase the volume of the stools, thus delaying the absorption of sugars in the intestine.

Thanks to this effect, there are two positive consequences. The first of these is that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is reduced, as the pancreas undergoes less stress by having to produce a lower amount of insulin.

On the other hand, maintaining stable blood glucose levels is one of the key mechanisms for prolonging the feeling of satiety. It should be remembered that hypoglycemia stimulates the appetite, and increases our preference for foods with high sugar content.

3. Avoid distractions while eating

Very often we just carry on eating despite being full because we aren’t paying enough attention to the act of eating itself. If we use our electronic devices when at the table, then this distraction may lead to us eating more.

For this reason, it isn’t advisable to eat while watching television or surfing the internet with your phone. The best thing is always to be focused on the activity at hand, in this case, eating.

Unfortunately, the food we often choose to eat when carrying out leisure activities, such as watching a movie or attending a sporting event, don’t usually have a high nutritional value. However, they do have a high palatability, and, for that reason, they encourage excessive intake.

4. Limit the consumption of ultra-processed food

Ultra-processed food stands out for its high palatability, determined by the content of simple sugars and trans fats. Both substances have been shown to be bad for health in the medium and long term, and so their presence in our diet should be very limited.

The problem is that this kind of food invites the person to continue eating despite not feeling particularly hungry. In this way, the energy balance is unbalanced, and this has a knock-on negative impact on health.

It’s important that products such as these appear as little as possible in our diet. All these hyper-palatable snacks and food can encourage excessive intake, which is something that should be avoided.

If we continue to eat ultra-processed constantly, overweight and metabolic diseases could appear.
Ultra-processed food is very common, and can be found in most supermarkets and fast food outlets.

5. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach

One of the mistakes that many people make is to go shopping when they’re hungry. This increases the risk that you’ll fill your cart with hyper-palatable products with a high sugar content, which makes it likely that the above situations will emerge.

We recommend that you go to the supermarket on a full stomach, while you’re still digesting the food. In addition to this, you should also make a list of everything you need before leaving home.

The less improvisation, the better. In this way, you’ll be able to avoid buying unhealthy products with a high sugar content, which can harm your health in the medium term.

Other strategies to stop eating when we’re full

In addition to taking care of the dietary aspects, we must realize that other factors can influence the sensation of appetite. One of them is physical activity. Exercise makes the satiety mechanism more efficient, as it regulates the hormonal system.

On the other hand, there’s evidence that shows that practicing sports is one of the best ways to maintain a good body composition. However, experts advise us to do it regularly.

At the same time, it’s vital to ensure you get enough sleep. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, sleeping too little or too much can increase appetite, in addition to causing a slower and less efficient metabolism.

This results in an imbalance in the body’s energy balance, which can favor weight gain. For this reason, it’s advisable to sleep between 6 and 8 hours a day, trying to reduce stress levels so that interruptions in sleep are minimal.

Try some supplements to stop eating when you’re full

There are certain supplements that have been shown to increase satiety, and so they’ll prove useful if, on a regular basis, we find it hard to stop eating when we’re full. Those that contain caffeine are the most effective ones, as this substance is considered to be anorectic.

However, you have to be careful with them because, in high doses, caffeine can become toxic. It can also create tolerance because the body gradually gets used to its intake, reducing its effectiveness.

If this is the case, then you should reduce consumption for one or two weeks, and then resume it after that.

Green tea concentrates may also be helpful when the goal is to create a greater feeling of satiety. In addition, these can stimulate the oxidation of fats, which produces a reduction in body weight. In this way, health improves in the medium and long term.

Surgical solutions

There are cases of people who aren’t able to control their appetite, due to different hormonal regulation problems. Surgical solutions have been prepared for such situations.

The most frequent of all of them is the gastric balloon, something which has become quite common in patients with morbid obesity. This will help to reduce the stomach capacity, in turn suppressing appetite and significantly reducing food intake.

Stomach reductions can also be carried out. However, these measures aren’t so effective, as this organ has a certain elastic capacity. Over time, it may return to its original size.

If the problem is hormonal, or the person has unhealthy lifestyle habits, then there’s a possibility of the person relapsing. For this reason, a complementary re-educational process is always recommended.

If we continue eating despite being full, it can harm our health

As you’ll have seen, it’s not at all advisable to continue eating once you’re full. There’s nothing wrong with doing this from time to time, for example, at a family gathering, or when on a holiday.

However, if you do this on a regular basis, then the risk of developing obesity could increase. You must remember that good eating habits are vital when it comes to modulating the state of health.

With the advice we have given today, we hope you will find a solution if you are currently experiencing this problem, and especially if you’re an emotional eater. Always try to focus on the act of eating itself. Avoiding distractions will be essential in order to consume the correct amount of food.

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