You know about Pavlov and his dogs who would salivate at the sound of a bell. But did you know that same response is making you eat foods you know are bad for you, when you’re not hungry?

Consider this:

You’ve been busy working. You look up and it’s 1:45. Suddenly you’re starving. Why? You weren’t hungry 5 minutes ago.

You’re at the movies or watching your favorite TV show. What are you eating? Why? You likely aren’t actually hungry.

You meet some friends at a restaurant for an after-dinner drink. Someone orders appetizers and you realize after the plate is empty that you just ate a second dinner of all fried food. Why?

Habit. We’ve trained our brains to eat even when we aren’t hungry. We eat when the clock says to, not when our stomach says to. We eat in front of the TV or at the movies because, well that’s just what we do. We eat in social settings because that’s the norm.

Do you even remember what it feels like to actually be hungry? To eat when your body says you should and to stop when you’ve had enough. If you’re like most Americans the answer is no.

The only way to eliminate a Pavlovian response is to disconnect a time or an activity from eating. Ask yourself these questions:

Am I actually hungry?

That question is harder to answer than you’d think. Because your brain is all too happy to say “Yes!” If you aren’t happy to eat an apple or some raw broccoli, you aren’t hungry.

When did I last eat?

If the answer is less than 3-4 hours ago, you likely don’t need another meal or a fatty/sugary/salty snack right now. Assuming of course you ate a good, nutritious meal 3-4 hours ago. (Side note, you never NEED a fatty/sugary/salty snack).

Why am I choosing to eat this?

Too often we don’t think about the food choice we are making. It is simply a habit triggered by what is going on around us. If we can catch ourselves eating without thinking we have a chance to make a choice. Healthy or not, but at least we are making a conscious choice.

Is there a whole-plant food I could eat?

Whole-plant foods such as fruits, veggies and starches are high bulk and low calorie. Their volume fills our stomachs so we can’t eat anymore before we eat more calories than we can burn. Replacing the animal-based proteins, fats and the junk-food carbs you eat out of habit with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and plant starches (yes even rice and potatoes) will make you think about what you are eating. That’s a good thing!

Be smarter than a dog. Put an end to Pavlovian eating. Your gut and your butt will thank you!

Feel like eating runs your life and you want it back?

Click here to book a Jump Start consultation with Dr Robyn. She will help you unravel the hold salt, sugar and fat have on your waistline.

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at