How many times during the day do you eat automatically without thinking, just because the clock tells you that it’s meal time? You’re not alone. Automatic eating is a habit engrained in many of us, and it comes from our upbringing.

Eating on a Schedule: A Sanity Saver for Moms

Let’s look at this from a mother’s point of view: As a mom, raising kids, it’s necessary to have some type of schedule. Without it, her life would be chaotic, with everyone eating at all hours. All of a sudden she becomes a short order cook. That’s insane. Isn’t it?

No use in pointing fingers. Nobody’s to blame. All Mom wanted was to get meals served and kids fed, and everyone eating at the same time so that she could catch a bit of a break. It makes sense. Doesn’t it? But now that you’re no longer under your parent’s thumb, you make the rules and you can decide when you’re hungry. You don’t have to stick to the old family traditions just because it’s always been done that way.

Here’s a partial excerpt from my book, “Lovin’ the Skin You’re In: The Juicy Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Friends with Your Body,” describing a bit of my experience and a more detailed explanation why eating on a schedule is really not necessary or useful for most people:

Myths & Fallacies Keeping You Fat!

Myth #1 – Eat on schedule – As a kid, I used to love spending time with my mom’s parents, my grammie and grandpa. When I would go out shopping with them, just around lunchtime, grandpa would take a look at his watch and say, “Oh boy, it’s 12:00. We should be eating now.”

Does that sound familiar to you? Have you been eating by the clock? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This is one of the biggest reasons why diets don’t work. Here are the reasons why:

Diets Dull Your Body Awareness, Keeping You Feeling Deprived and Fearful of Your Hunger

Your body has its own clock and way of telling you when it wants to eat. Most likely through years of dieting that sensitivity has been dulled down and anesthetized. This disconnect leads you to being vulnerable to getting triggered by food every time you see, hear, smell or think about it.

The Trigger that Keeps Getting Pulled: “Your Eyes Are Bigger than Your Stomach.”

Back in my Weight Watchers days, I was always hungry. Every time I saw food, I wanted to eat it. Everything seemed to remind of either food or my desire to eat it. When I was a little girl, my Nana did a lot of baking, and I loved her cookies. After she offered me a few, I always wanted to eat more. It was then that she would tell me, “Cookie, your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

That was her gentle and loving way of reminding me that I wasn’t eating the cookies to fill my tummy, but I was wanting to eat them to satisfy another part of me. Does that ever happen to you?

Maybe you recognize yourself in these types of situations:

  •  salivating as you pass the burger Drive thru
  • overbuying at the grocery store
  • feeling the need to eat the left overs while clearing the table
  • impulsively adding a candy bar or other ‘forbidden’ item at the grocery check out
  • picking at the kids’ plates and finishing up their leftovers
  • feeling compelled to get up and grab a snack every time a commercial comes on
  • wanting to eat everytime you see pictures of food
  • getting hungry when you smell food, ie, “I just have to get a popcorn at the movies.”

All these external cues reminding you to think about food are keeping you in a perpetually overstimulated state of thinking that you’re really hungry when your body is not.

Fearing Your Hunger Inevitably Leads to Overstuffing Yourself

I’m sure you’re familiar with the old saying, “Never allow yourself to get too hungry.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my Weight Watchers leaders say that to our group., “never get too hungry.” Hearing that so often led me to believe that I should always protect myself from getting too hungry.

I was actually afraid of getting hungry, even though I was over 60 pounds overweight. Consequently, I carried food with me all the time. I seized on every opportunity to eat even if I didn’t like the food, all because I had this pervasive fear that I never knew when I was going to eat next. That meant that I always ate something before I was going out so that I wouldn’t arrive ravenous. I actually ate a meal before I went to eat a meal. Ridiculous!

The truth is, by obsessing over a rigid eating schedule you are actually messing around with your body’s delicate metabolic balance. Eating by the clock will throw off your ability to know when you are actually physically hungry, because you’ll be walking around semi-stuffed. Think about it. If you’ve eaten your lunch and throughout the afternoon you’ve been snacking to ward off the dreaded hunger, by the time dinner rolls around you won’t know when to stop eating, because you began eating the meal when you were already full. In order for your internal satisfaction switch to trigger, it has to first recognize the sensation of hunger. It works on the basis of comparison. You can’t feel hungry, if you’re already full.

The Importance of Tuning Inward to Know When to Eat

In order to truly become free of food’s psychological hold on you, you need to tune back into your body’s feelings and sensations of hunger. I know that you probably don’t know what that is and how it feels, especially if you’ve been dieting for a while. That’s because diets encourage people to stay far away from hunger, and to avoid it at all costs. The implied message is that you just can’t be trusted around food because you have a feast beast lurking inside of you, just waiting to pounce and eat everything in sight. That’s a lot of hooey!

Your Hunger is Natural and Nothing to Fear

Your hunger is a completely natural and physiological phenomenon. It is entirely dependent upon when, how much and what you ate last — not on the clock.

Eat Foods that Are Satisfying and Delicious

If you’re eating all fat free and low fat foods, you’re walking around always feeling like there’s a hole in your stomach, verging on constant hunger, feeling perpetually unsatisfied. As a result, you’re probably eating too often, because you’re eating food that tastes like cardboard which doesn’t satisfy. When is the last time that you asked yourself, “What do I want to eat?” Usually we eat what we think we should eat, and do our best to avoid the foods we really want, but oftentimes those cravings are so strong, that we end up overeating and giving in anyway.

How to Wean Yourself of the Habit and Start to Tune Into Your Body’s Hunger

Next time before you eat, ask yourself, (a) when was the last time I ate, and (b) could I still have food in my stomach? If the answer is “Yes,” then don’t be so quick to rush to eat. That means that you’re not really hungry, and that sensation of hunger you’re feeling is not coming from your body, but your head.

Rather than grabbing the nearest thing and stuffing it down, try these tips:

1. Drink something. Have a glass of water or juice.  Oftentimes we confuse our hunger with thirst.

2. Satisfy your urge to chew  Some people like to chew gum, but that’s not something I enjoy doing, but you can give it a try. Doing this will satisfy your urge to chew on something and to feel something in your mouth.

3. Write it down. Journaling and writing down what you are feeling is a powerful tool to help you to get in touch with your emotions. We often eat because we feel overwhelmed. By having an understanding of that source of overwhelming emotion, it is easier to handle it head on, and you can avoid overeating. This is easier said than done and it requires some practice, but with persistence, you’ll get know without a doubt when you’re eating in response to overwhelm.

4. Deal with your stress – Since the real cause of your overeating and obsessive ‘food think’ is an imbalance in your body’s energy system, coping with the upsets in your life is probably the biggest factor in your ability to succeed in getting thinner without dieting. I tend to favor using energy coaching tools that are equivalent to emotional acupuncture without the ouch of needles. One of my favorite go to stress relief methods that I use often is Emotional Freedom Technique. EFT has its roots in the ancient science of acupuncture and by tapping on different parts of your face and upper body, you can eliminate negative emotions rapidly. This is because your body is a low level electro-magnetically charged system and when you have negative emotions, it is caused by a block in your energy. No matter what method you choose, know that unless you deal with the buggin’ you’s that are buggin’ you in life, you will never have control of your thoughts. In order to short circuit your tendency to obsess about food, you must find alternative ways to cope with your stress.

Are you deciding to eat based on what time it is? If it’s typically breakfast time and you’re not hungry in the mornngs, will you eat anyway, just because it’s meal time? Eating automatically or eating in response to external signals is a mistake that many people make, causing them to put on pounds and pack on inches. Despite having to stick to a schedule of eating in the past, as an adult, you can decide when your body is hungry and eat in accordance with that. By learning to trust your body and eat in response to your natural hunger, you will be able to get thinner naturally without ever dieting again. Andrea Amador is a Certified Professional Empowerment Coach dedicated to teaching women how to make peace with food and friends with their bodies. For more information, visit her site at