Obsessed with food? 3 ways to change this

‘What shall I have for lunch today? Maybe a tuna sandwich, or would a healthy salad be a better choice? But should I eat at all, as I ate too much at breakfast? I’m feeling bloated and I look so fat. But I think I’m hungry….at least I think I am.’

  • Are you constantly thinking about food?
  • Do you find yourself, judging, critiquing, over-analysing repeatedly, to the point of mental exhaustion?
  • Maybe you feel mystified as to why this has become such an overwhelming preoccupation?

How an obsession with food begins

This article explores how an obsession with food begins and how to embark on changing this.

1. When worth is disproportionately linked to body shape

In a culture, where thin is idealised and dieting is viewed as ‘healthy’, and bombardment of these messages from birth, it’s no surprise that your worth may be unduly influenced by these powerful ideas.

You may be dieting or following a wellness plan in the pursuit of body goals. You might be regularly weighing, checking and measuring to see if you’ve ‘succeeded’. Your ability to follow the plan or lose weight has become the primary factor in determining your worth as a person. And it’s extremely difficult to achieve success, as the goalposts are always moving.

Instead, step back and question this preoccupation. How else do you define your self-worth What about friends, family, work, hobbies, and interests? Touch base with your deepest values and imagine your 90-year-old self, reflecting on life’s joys and memorable experiences. 

Remember that health is not purely about a perfect diet or how your body looks but the broader picture including mental well-being, relationships and self-care.

2. When you’re not eating enough

Starvation studies show that preoccupation with food is an inevitable outcome of dietary restriction. Not only do starved human beings begin to dream about working as chefs, longing for proximity to food, but they also experience uncontrolled eating episodes, a plethora of food rules and feel guilty for eating too much. This is because restrictive eating triggers a primal survival instinct in human beings.

When deprived of food, the human brain will drive us to search and seek out food at all costs. It is impossible to override this biological drive. Even if you’re not actually eating much food, you will be thinking about it pretty continuously. These thoughts will intensify, the harder you pursue dieting.

Instead, work to give your body what it needs and return to intuitive eating principles. Understandably, you may need support to guide you with this, as diet culture can massively disrupt and distort a relationship with food. This journey might mean a radical acceptance of your natural weight and shape, rather than forcing your body to conform. It doesn’t mean rejecting health and self-care, but a throwing-out of the brainwashing and damaging ‘thin ideal’.

3. When food is no longer a pleasure and you are wracked with guilt

If you are following food rules, then it’s likely that certain foods are now forbidden, bad, unhealthy and wrong. Simultaneously, you may feel fearful and scared of these foods, whilst secretly longing to devour them. You might even have secret eating episodes where you shamefully eat these ‘forbidden’ foods, followed by a renewed devotion to your plan afterwards and a silent promise for this to never happen again. Understandably, it’s a pledge that is almost impossible to sustain, and you find yourself repeatedly back inside this shameful cycle.

Instead, work to honestly permit all foods back into your eating plan. You may fear gorging continuously on them, however, once you’ve navigated the novelty weeks of ‘I can eat absolutely anything’, you will begin to establish body trust and to actually consider, which foods that you find to be pleasurable.

When cake and pizza are permitted, you will not desire to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can start to feel neutrality towards food, without the emotional rollercoaster that food judgement brings. Food can become a legitimate pleasure and joy, as you consider taste, satisfaction and flavours in making food choices.

It takes time to restore your relationship with food and your body image. You need to be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself in this process. You may wish to seek out further support through counselling on this journey.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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