Obsessed with food? 10 ways to change this
Maybe thoughts about food fill up your head all day long? Rather than thinking about the piece of work you are doing or the weekend get together, you are contemplating the next meal or snack, the next opportunity to eat, or you are chastising yourself for food you wish you hadn’t eaten earlier today. It is not a comfortable musing about the tastiness of food, but rather a distracting obsession, that unwittingly permeates continuously through your head.
- ‘What I am going to eat next?’
- ‘Will I be able to stop once I start?’
- ‘Have I eaten too much?’
- ‘Can I eat this with no-one noticing?’
- ‘Will this make me fat?’
- ‘How many calories in this?’
- ‘Is this healthy or clean enough?’
- ‘Those biscuits are calling to me from the cupboard’.
Why, you wonder, does this food preoccupation exist?
You have likely dieted in the past
I do not think I have met a client yet who describes this problem, who has not at some point dieted; restricted food; not eaten enough; been a bit too super-healthy or had strict rules around eating – whatever you want to call it. Once you put your body into deprivation mode and then override natural hunger signals, you start to lose touch with your body. Rather than listening to when you are hungry and then eating, you have adopted rules instead. You no longer trust your body and it is understandably then hard to make decisions around eating.
What we learn from starvation studies
We also know from starvation studies that, when food is limited, people become extremely preoccupied with it. They day-dream about food all day; they might start to hoard food or binge; they cut food up into very small pieces and take hours to consume it. Starving is the extreme, but any food deprivation will bring similar results even if on a milder scale and usually is accompanied with a strong preoccupation with food.
The hangover effect from dieting
Even once you stop dieting and try to eat normally again, your relationship with food has now changed. Pre-dieting, food was probably just food; now, your thinking around food has undergone a dramatic shift. You have unconsciously developed an ‘eating problem mindset’. Cake (or whatever food you consider to be ‘bad’) is now evil, guilt-ridden, fattening, unhealthy and full-of-sugar, rather than just an enjoyable food. Therefore, it is hard to eat cake without lashings of judgement and feelings of failure, guilt and inadequacy. Your self-worth has become intrinsically linked with what you eat. You have unconsciously set yourself a standard that is difficult to win at. Who can eat a perfect meal plan and sustain this over time?
10 ways to stop food obsession
1. NO DIETS. Recognise that another diet or super strict food plan is an unlikely sustainable solution. Getting rid of a food obsession involves starting to listen to your body again and then responding to signals of hunger and fullness. If you haven’t been in tune with your hunger for a while, tuning back in again will take a bit of time. It might also feel scary and hard to trust. Be patient and seek support if needed.
2. BLOOD SUGAR. Regular eating with three meals and three snacks can help keep blood sugar stable through the day. Have foods available that are nutritious and enjoyable, including protein, good fats and slow release carbohydrates in the meal plan. Having a general structure of eating in place will provide a good foundation as you begin to tune into your body’s natural hunger signals again.
3. PLANNING. You will need to put some time and energy into planning your food. This is not about creating a detailed programme that must be followed to the letter. Instead, it is ensuring you have foods available to eat – at home, at work and on the run. It is difficult to make wise food decisions when you have an empty cupboard and are starving hungry.
4. NO FOOD IS FORBIDDEN. Begin to genuinely permit in your old forbidden foods. Let go of the thought that certain foods are good or bad. Accept that some foods might be triggers for anxiety or overeating/bingeing for some time to come. If you see chocolate as a ‘naughty food’ it is going to take time to be able to eat it in a calmer and relaxed state. To begin with, plan the chocolate-eating into your meal plan. Put it on a plate and eat with others. Eat slowly. Be kind in your thoughts and distract yourself afterwards.
5. FIND BODY ACCEPTANCE. Reconnect with your body as an amazing machine that needs taking care of, with valuing and appreciating daily. Judge your body for what it can do for you, rather than beating it up for the perceived aesthetic imperfections. When you genuinely value your body, this will help you to change the way you eat as you self-care more. Berating your body destroys self-esteem and can be detrimental if you are trying to change your weight.
6. EMOTIONAL EATING. Recognise when you eat for emotional reasons. Keep a food and feelings diary to help with this. When you long to turn to food, what is it that you need? How else can you take care of yourself without eating?
7. SELF-WORTH. Your eating habits should not be a determining factor in your overall self-worth. After dieting, you might feel this isn’t true, feeling that you have either done well with eating (then self-esteem can feel good) or you have messed up (then self-esteem plummets). Work to build self-esteem based on your many qualities rather than simply your eating choices.
8. FOOD AS PLEASURE. Don’t make food your number one turn-to for feeling good. Ensure you have an abundance of other ways to find pleasure, relax and seek daily contentment. Food can be a part of this, but it is not helpful when it is the overriding pick-me-up.
9. QUICK FIXES. Let go of the dramatic overnight ‘dream conversion plan’. This places huge amounts of pressure on you and stops you making changes in the moment. Remember that little steps add up to a whole lot of change and this change can be sustainable. A drastic plan is likely to be abandoned after a few weeks, with a rebound rebellion of eating.
10. YOUR VALUES. Look at the larger picture. How fulfilled are you right now? Is food filling up a void with its effective ability to distract and occupy thoughts? Is there a part of your life which needs attending to? Are you living in line with your core values? Answering these questions could provide clues as to why your relationship with food is out of sync.
Changing your relationship with food does take time and it is not always easy at first. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get support though. Letting go of food obsession can help you reclaim your life again and counselling can provide a safe space to do this.
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