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’re doing or the weekend get together, you’re contemplating your next meal or snack, the next opportunity to eat, or you’re chastising yourself for food you wish you hadn’t eaten earlier today. It’s not a comfortable musing about the tastiness of food, but rather a distracting obsession that unwittingly permeates continuously through your head, creating a vicious circle.

Are you constantly thinking?

  • ‘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 does this food preoccupation exist?

You have likely dieted in the past

At some point, you’re likely to have restricted food: not eaten enough, been a bit too super-healthy or had strict rules around eating. 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 so it is understandably more difficult to make decisions around eating.

What we learn from starvation studies

We know from starvation studies that, when food is limited, people become extremely preoccupied with it. They daydream about food all day, start hoarding or bingeing on food, or cut food up into tiny pieces and take hours to consume it. Starving is extreme, but any food deprivation will bring similar results, even on a milder scale, and a strong preoccupation with food often accompanies it.

The hangover effect from dieting

Even once you stop dieting and try to eat normally again, your relationship with food has now changed. Your thinking around food has undergone a dramatic shift and 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, low self-esteem 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 and maintain. Which begs the question, who really can eat a ‘perfect’ meal plan and sustain this over time?

Introducing intuitive eating - the break up with your food obsession

Intuitive eating - a non-diet, healthy system - has been gaining popularity as a refreshing approach to food and overall health. The key focus of this approach is to reconnect with your body. To listen and respond to its signals and cues, rather than restricting your food intake to chronic diets and confusing eating patterns.

Intuitive eating is a system to teach you how to get back in touch with the signals that your body is sending you about food intake, with basic science behind the method.

10 ways to stop food obsession

1. No diets. Recognise that another diet or 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 throughout the day. Have foods available that are nutritious and enjoyable, including protein, good fats and slow-release carbohydrates. 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, ensure you have foods available to eat – at home, at work and on the run. It’s difficult to make wise food decisions when you’re hungry and have an empty cupboard!

4. No food is forbidden. Begin to permit yourself your forbidden foods. If you label certain foods as good or bad, it’s time to let that go, but try and accept that some foods may be triggers for anxiety or overeating/bingeing. If chocolate is your ‘naughty food’, it may take some time to eat and enjoy chocolate in a calmer, relaxed state. To start processing these thoughts, plan the chocolate-eating into your day or week. Put it on a plate and enjoy eating it slowly with others. Remember to be kind in your thoughts and distract yourself afterwards so negative thoughts can’t creep in.

Sharing dinner with friends
5. Find body acceptance. Reconnect with your body as the amazing machine that it is, and one that needs taking care of with value and appreciation daily. Judge your body for what it can do for you, rather than beating it up for the perceived aesthetic imperfections so 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’re trying to change your weight.

6. Emotional eating. Recognise when and why you eat for emotional reasons. Try to keep a food and feelings diary to really identify the feeling that is encouraging your eating. When you long to turn to food, what is it that you are truly feeling and how else can you practise self-care without eating?

7. Self-worth. Your eating habits should not be a determining factor in your overall self-worth, and 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) by eating too much or the wrong things. 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’s 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 and ask yourself these questions, providing honest answers. 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’s 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.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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