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How to Prevent Preventive Eating

By Michelle May, M.D.

Preventive eating is eating now to prevent hunger in the future when eating might be inconvenient.

OrPreventive-Eating you can think of it like this: Preventive eating is choosing to be uncomfortable for a couple of hours out of fear of being uncomfortable in a couple of hours!

Here’s an analogy we often share in our Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs to help people understand this. If you’re comfortable in a room but you put on a heavy coat now because you might get cold in an hour, you’ll probably get hot and uncomfortable in the meantime. Instead, if you wait until you feel cold, the coat will do what it’s supposed to do—make you warm and keep you comfortable. Hunger works the same way. If you eat now because you might get hungry in an hour, you’ll feel full and uncomfortable. If you wait until you’re hungry to eat, you’ll feel satisfied and comfortable.

What causes preventive eating?

Preventive eating is often a result of a fear of hunger. Perhaps there was a time in your life when you were insecure about having enough food. Food insecurity as a child, perhaps due to lack of money or inattentive caregivers, can affect your eating in the present. Sometimes a fear of hunger is the result of past dieting or restrictive eating for other reasons. As a result, you may perceive your natural feelings of hunger as unpleasant and try to avoid them. In addition, many “experts” tell you to eat on a schedule to boost your metabolism or to prevent hunger so you won’t overeat. This message feeds a fear of hunger–even though hunger is your natural guide for meeting your fuel needs.

What You Can Do to Prevent Preventive Eating

It’s helpful to remember that feeling hungry for a while won’t hurt you despite what many diets suggest. In fact, experiencing hunger will help you become more aware of your hunger cues and learn that you can trust your internal fuel gauge. As my grandmother used to say, hunger is the best seasoning!

Of course, being overly hungry is a potential trigger for overeating, so it makes sense to be prepared for hunger by keeping food on hand. Nutritious, delicious foods such as almonds, dried fruits, string cheese, and other convenient foods can be eaten discretely on a short break, between appointments, or after a meeting, eliminating the need to have a snack hours before hunger tells you to eat. If you are “food suggestible,” then you may find it easier to have healthy, satisfying choices rather than the foods that call to you even when you’re not hungry.

To combat the fear of hunger, assure yourself that you’ll usually be able to eat when you’re hungry. This may mean reminding yourself that food scarcity is no longer an issue and that you are an adult now who trusts your body’s signals of hunger. Even if you can’t eat the moment hunger strikes, remember that it’s better to be hungry for a little while than to eat preventively. Waiting to eat until you’re actually hungry means that food will be more satisfying without the side effects.


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Ashisha says:

    I am “thinking” about what little tasty pockets (like the plastic bags you gave us at the retreat) to have ready in my purse or bag for those times when I may not be able to
    have a balance meal. I want to be innovative, like the Mercer Miraculous Munchable Mix
    (raw almonds, dried fruit, salted peanuts, with an hint of sundrops)… could use more
    thought. Making handful portions will continue to show me satisfying sizes.
    I was doing my morning workbook study and discovered that being willing to “try” new
    things weakens my fear of failure.
    In gratitude,

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