Can't Stop Thinking About Food? How to Stop Food Obsession
Feeling obsessed with food is such a common experience, I’ve even been there myself! I’m now - after many years struggling with my relationship to food - a Registered Nutritionist now who helps people with disordered eating.
And when I have my first appointment with new clients, most of them ask "how can I stop being obsessed with food? How can I stop constantly thinking about food!?" I completely understand that people hope there's an easy fix - but there's not. Our relationship to food is pretty complex and there's no magic pill to fix it. What I hope to give you in this article is an introduction to how I help my clients feel less out of control, and feel less obsessed with food.
In this article, I tell you what food obsession is, why you might be feeling obsessed with food, some of my tips about how to stop being obsessed with food.
What is food obsession?
In simple terms, it means constantly thinking about food to the extent that it's all-consuming and it feels like you just wish you're brain could be shut off for a while. It’s common, exhausting and can consume your thoughts to an uncontrollable level. But I also think it's important to think about food obsession in broader terms too, like how it impacts your whole life:
It can interfere with relationships - you might feel irritable, grouchy, or moody with loved ones because you're trying to be as "good" as possible and not eat bad foods. You might avoid meeting up with friends for dinner or at parties because you feel so out of control with food that you don't want to nibble on food while you're out and come home and binge.
You might avoid hobbies or feel too low energy to engage in hobbies because you constantly feel lethargic from your brain always be on food.
You might feel like you can't cook or prepare meals, and even after you've eaten a meal you are still thinking about food even when you're full.
Food obsessions can occur when you place rules around food, including when you eat, how you eat and what you eat. You might have formed these rules over your life time or they might have stemmed from an outside source. This could include the media or a previously tried diet.
Food obsession can present itself in different ways. This might include:
Being unable to concentrate on whatever you might be doing. Especially if you know ‘bad’ foods are close to you.
You’re always thinking, talking and planning your next meal.
There’s no enjoyment for you when it comes to social occasions because ‘bad’ foods are present.
Constantly thinking about how you can eat less each day.
Going to bed hoping the next day you will eat healthy.
What foods do you obsess over?
Think about when you restrict the food you eat. What way do you do this? Do you not allow yourself to eat after 8pm at night, or do you not allow yourself to eat foods you have labelled as ‘bad’?
These approaches can be split into two types of restriction…
Physical restriction – When food is not allowed and you physically stop yourself from eating.
Psychological restriction – this is when you have labelled certain foods as ‘bad’. This can lead to carrying guilt and anxiety for thinking about or eating a certain ‘bad’ food. You might still eat the food, but you feel filled with guilt when you do.
Why are you obsessed with food?
How does food obsession start?
Initially, restriction of foods doesn't often feel that bad - people often feel pretty excited, they're motivated, and things go pretty well for a while. And by a "while" I mean a few hours, days, or maybe even a few weeks. But, because diets are set up to fail (maybe no one has ever told you that!), you can read all about why dieting doesn't work here.
After the initial "excitement" of a new diet (ps. check out my whole article here about What Actually is Dieting?) it gets really tough. You might have a stressed day at work or with your kids, you might have a few late nights because your sleep hasn't been great - and then the diet/healthy lifestyle regime just isn't sustainable anymore. The whole things falls to the ground, but you still feel completely obsessed with that food we were restricting. This carries a whole load of emotions like guilt, shame and anxiety.
The feeling of deprivation caused by restriction (physically or mentally) can lead to binge eating, emotional eating, overeating, which often leads to further restriction and tightening the rules even further. You believe what you need is more control - but maybe what you need is less control?
Before you can blink this can lead to a continuous restrict/binge cycle. There are common steps of a binge/restrict cycle to help identify it in your own life.
1. Restrict Phase – A desire to lose weight leads to restricting foods, feeling guilty when you break rules/guidelines, and thinking about food most of the day. You’ll likely begin to eat less than usual, eat only allowed/healthy foods, cut out certain food groups, or attempt to fill up on low calorie food (e.g. only fruits/vegetables as snacks or snacking on popcorn or rice cakes.)
2. Struggle Phase – After restricting ‘bad’ foods for a while our body will begin to crave the foods we have been deprived of. You could begin to think about food constantly or even begin to feel obsessed with food, especially the ones you are trying to avoid.
3. Binge Phase – It all gets too much and you begin to cave into your cravings. You’ll eat more than usual and you will eat the exact food you’ve been trying to avoid. All because you’ve been restricting.
4. Guilt Phase – Now you’ve gave into those cravings you’ll start to feel a whole load of emotions including guilt, shame and regret. You might also tell yourself you have no willpower and begin to blame yourself.
5. Repeat - Now you’ll feel so guilty with yourself and the cycle will begin again. Restriction will be back in full flow and typically more extreme than before.
Food obsessions can affect your mood and relationships, both with ourselves and others. It can lead to feeling tired, and not wanting to exercise, or move our bodies. It can cause you to miss out on special social occasions and memories because you aren’t able to really enjoy yourself, as you are controlled by your obsessional thoughts.
The top reasons I see for people feeling obsessed with food
You believe you're obsessed with food - are you just hungry!?
You might be thinking that food obsession is a problem as it leads to you constantly eating junk food. Which may lead you to believe you really have a junk food obsession or addicted to food.
Being obsessed with food may mean you aren’t eating enough. To put simply, what’s really happening is that you are just hungry because you aren’t actually eating enough food with all the nutrients we need.
2. You are placing too much pressure on food
Food provides energy, nutrients and minerals we need to survive but when we place too much pressure on it, it can become our downfall. Food is also emotional, fun, social, exciting, and can keep our life interesting.
3. You’re currently dieting
Dieting is another form of restriction so food obsessions are relatively common while taking part in a dieting behaviour. Occurrence of food obsessions are a big reason why basically every diet attempted fails. Dieting isn’t as clear cut as it used to be. You might not even realise you are still giving time to dieting habits.
Dieting behaviours can pop up in many ways that you don’t immediately associate with ‘dieting’. They may include…
Eating in moderation
Not eating after 8pm
Always checking fitness tracker apps e.g. my fitness pal
Extremely regimented eating schedules
Dieting has evolved through the years with the influence of the ever changing fitness and wellness industry. Think ketogenic diet moving to the Atkins diet. The keto diet had everyone cutting out carbs, but as time has went on there is more awareness around the need for carbs. Therefore needing the change to the Atkins diet, which allows you to gradually increase carbs over a period of time. This is just diet cultures sneaky move to keep so many of us on the diet train.
So, lets recap. Food obsession can come in a range of different degrees. Even though it may start out innocently. For example counting your daily calorie intake to make sure you’re eating enough food. This can spiral without you even noticing and taking control over your relationship with food.
If you’re struggling with what you think is ‘food obsession’ reach out to me for a free chat about how we might be able to work together to support you.
Thank you to Yazmin Craig, BSc., ANutr. for supporting me in writing this article.