To some degree, we all think about and plan the foods we eat - but when do our thoughts cross the line into an obsession with food? Follow our tips below to improve your relationship with food and learn how to stop obsessing over food.
No matter the type of relationship we have with food, we all think about it every day to keep our bodies nourished and maintain energy to perform our daily tasks.
But food is about more than just simple nourishment. We use food as entertainment and a reason to gather and spend quality time with others. We grow and develop foods that give us pleasure.
But what happens when our eating becomes unbalanced and we develop an unhealthy relationship with food?
Many of us naturally and culturally tend toward overeating, especially since manufacturers design modern food products to confuse our bodies’ signals and keep us coming back for more and more.
“Why am I always thinking about food?”
If you’ve asked yourself this question before, or you just can’t stop thinking about food, read more below about food obsession and tips for not eating in excess or overthinking about your food.
What is Food Obsession?
We know we have to think about food throughout our day to some degree. The amount of time spent thinking about food differs for every individual.
Some people can think about food very little, while others need to plan and prepare meals for others in their household. Others use cooking as a hobby - they think about food often and enjoy discovering new ways to serve and enjoy food. Though these amounts are vastly different, they can all fall under the umbrella of “normal.”
You can reach a point when food thoughts become disordered; when it begins to negatively affect other non-food aspects of your life, such as your feelings, relationships with others, your other pleasures, or your job.
Signs of Food Obsession Disorder
“All I think about is food.” If you’ve ever had that thought, you’re not alone. Here are a few signs that you may have disordered thoughts about eating:
- You always think about food and have intrusive food thoughts when trying to perform other tasks;
- You will only eat certain foods or create specific conditions when eating them;
- You take a long time to decide on what to eat;
- You eat food in secret;
- You find eating out and diet flexibility distressing.
If you feel that you show some signs of an obsessive eating disorder, see your doctor immediately. Counseling can be a beneficial tool to improve symptoms and address the root issue causing the obsession.
How to Stop Thinking About Food: The 8 Best Tips
Many of us aren’t fully obsessed with foods but exhibit behaviors and negative thoughts and feelings about food that don’t serve us. For anyone with more mild symptoms of food obsession, there are tools you can use at home to start changing your relationship with what you eat.
#1: Build a Food Ratio.
It’s not possible to eat perfectly all the time. By putting pressure on ourselves to eat only healthy foods, we set ourselves up for failure and inevitable disappointment. We then begin to stress about making a mistake, which ironically causes more bad choices than we would have made in the first place.
Build some treats into your diet to make the space for moderation. One way that gives you a lot of flexibility is a food ratio - try eating 80% nutrient-dense foods, and 20% of the time allow yourself to eat whatever you want.
You’ll be able to enjoy the treats you want and still keep your body healthy, with the majority of its calories coming from nutritious foods. And you won’t feel bad when you have a treat, because it’s “allowed!”
#2: Don’t Make Any Foods Off-Limits.
Don’t make rules that restrict any food from your diet.
Sure, there are foods like most cookies or cake that don’t offer us a ton of nutrition, but restricting them altogether is a one-way ticket to make yourself even more obsessed with food.
Restriction turns on the part of our brain that was developed to avoid scarcity, which helped when finding food was tough but is no longer particularly useful for us.
Mentally, if you know you’re allowed to eat a cookie at any time, it instantly loses a bit of the sense of urgency, and you no longer feel you need to eat the cookie immediately.
If you’re worried about letting open the flood gates on treats, try the ratio method above to keep enjoying treats in moderation.
#3: Find New Ways to Destress and Enjoy.
We reach for food for several reasons, and many of them aren’t related to physical hunger. If you’re reaching for food to destress or curb boredom, it’s time to find some new hobbies and stress-management techniques that don’t involve food.
One of our favorite things to do instead of eating is to get active doing something we enjoy - we can burn calories, destress, and distract ourselves away from food all in one.
Try heading out for a walk around your neighborhood, enjoying a hike in nature, indoor rock climbing, or join a recreational sports league to meet new friends while you get active.
A regular yoga or meditation practice can help you destress and get in touch with your core and the present moment. Many of us always worry about the past or future. Food obsession lives in our minds in both of those places.
Seeing a therapist or counselor regularly can help you to build self-regulating techniques to destress and avoid obsessing about food.
#4: Eat Each Meal Mindfully.
Many of us rarely sit down for a meal free of other distractions, like our phones, televisions, or intrusive thoughts. We end up eating more food and barely remember the taste of our meals afterward.
Mindful eating involves staying fully present in the moment as you eat your food - noticing the smell, taste, texture, temperature, or any other sensation you experience through your five senses. It deepens your physical and emotional connection to your diet.
By slowing down to enjoy your food, you’ll eat more slowly and feel more satisfied afterward.
#5: Choose Foods For Health, Not For Weight.
If you’re obsessing with food because you want to lose weight, change your mind frame, and focus on health, not weight loss.
This can slowly change your mind from a negative-based thought process of “I need to eat this way, or I’ll gain weight,” to a positive-based mindset, where you’re eating well because you value your body and want to nourish it.
At first, your brain will push back against this change, as negative thought patterns can form very deeply within us. Don’t resist these negative thoughts, which can worsen them, but instead make room for the positive ones.
Slowly, with time and effort, you can begin to change thought patterns, focusing on the positive ones and lessening the negative.
#6: Journal Your Feelings
Try writing your current feelings in a journal shortly before or after you eat or when you get the compulsion to eat.
This exercise can be eye-opening and help you to notice behavioral patterns. Are you eating when you’re stressed? Or when you’re bored? Or when you want a reward? Catching and becoming aware of these patterns allows us to address the issue with non-food related rewards.
#7: Snack on Protein and Fiber.
Sometimes, we keep thinking about food after eating because we’re not getting enough of the right nutrients, and our body is being “starved” of one thing or another. Our brain, specifically the hypothalamus, has the critical job of determining if we’re hungry.
Hormones in our stomach send signals to the brain to regulate our hunger. You can learn how to stop snacking by eating the right foods that make your body crave less food overall.
Eating high-protein foods decreases the hunger hormone ghrelin. They also take longer to digest, which keep the stomach hormones satisfied for longer.
Fiber does much of the same - high-fiber foods take longer to digest and keep your body satiated.
Eat high-protein and high-fiber foods throughout the day to keep your body sending hunger cues at only the appropriate times so you can concentrate on other aspects of your life.
#8: Drink Water All Day Long.
Drinking enough water isn’t just essential for maintaining many of our bodily functions - it can also distract you from overeating. Try to regularly drink at least eight cups of water each day.
Drink a tall glass of water when you’re feeling peckish for a momentary distraction that can cure boredom and fulfill the emotional urge to eat something.
If you’re genuinely feeling hungry, sometimes you may simply be thirsty. By drinking a glass of cool water and waiting 10-15 minutes to see how your body physically feels, you can better determine what your body is trying to tell you.
Final Notes: How to Stop Thinking About Food
To recap, the best ways to stop over-thinking about food are:
- Eat whatever foods you want 20% of the time;
- Don’t put any foods or food groups off-limits;
- Find other ways to manage your feelings and stress;
- Eat your meals mindfully;
- Journal your thoughts before and after eating;
- Eat a balance of foods that are high in protein and fiber;
- And drink enough water.
Obsessing about food can be uncomfortable and distressing. If you feel that your food obsession is out of control, don’t hesitate to see your family doctor, who can recommend some next steps - you do not have to endure this alone.