Do you feel like you have an wild amount of “food noise” in your head? Are you tired of feeling like your obsessive thoughts about food are ruling your life? Does thinking about what, when, and how much to eat consume your every waking moment? If so, you’re not alone. Many people who are unsatisfied with their bodies struggle with a cycle of obsessive food thoughts, trying like hell to keep it together, to eat light, to avoid sweets and salty snacks because when you eat them, you eat all of them.
This is all very exhausting. This kind of spiraled thinking can cause even more emotional turmoil, feeling even worse about your body, and clinging even tighter to any food rules you’ve created. It’s a vicious cycle.
Back in my college days, before I realized how dysfunctional my relationship with food was, I spent years going back and forth between obsessing about food rules, total chaos with lots of fast food and candy, and then and following strict (albeit weird) low calorie diets.
The more I underate, the more time I spent thinking about what I should and should not eat, or what, when, and how much I would eat next.me, circa 2000
As with anything related to your mindset and thoughts, it’s essential to understand why your brain and body work this way. In this article, we’ll explore why you might experience obsessive thoughts about food so you can understand what triggers all this food noise to begin with. Then, you can figure out what to do about it so you can finally figure out how to eat in peace.
Here are some ways that food obsession might show up for you:
- Thinking about food all the time, even after a meal
- Going back and forth between two options of what to eat
- Worrying about the timing of your meals
- Trying to strategize for how to perfectly time your meals so you can eat the smallest amount possible
- Finding it difficult to concentrate on other things in life – friends, work, play – because you’re worried about eating
- Feeling like you don’t think about much else besides what you’re going to eat and when
- Trying to constantly make up for what you eat with exercise – a tit or tat version of nourishing yourself
- Not wanting to engage in the things that you want to do in life because you’re worried about what food will be there
Finding the confidence to stop all the food worry is not always easy, but it is totally possible. And I would argue much easier than going on and off a cleanse every few months. By implementing the strategies discussed in this article, you can begin to cultivate a healthier relationship with food and rediscover the joy of eating without constant worry or preoccupation. You can learn to trust yourself with food, I promise.
If you want to work closely with a dietitian in order to calm down your food thoughts and stop feeling so obsessed with food, check out my offerings. I offer individual nutrition therapy and group intuitive eating coaching.
Why do we overthink our food choices?
I’ll cut to the chase – your brain constantly thinking about food is actually your body trying to tell you something. It is a lot smarter than you think it is. So we want to tune it to what it’s trying to tell us.
I know – you probably think you’re supposed to be ignoring that voice in your head that is constantly obsessing about food.
You may think, THAT VOICE IS THE PROBLEM. I think WAY too much about food. No matter what I try, the thoughts don’t seem to go away. When am I going to eat again? What should I have? I want to eat but I’m not hungry enough. Or am I? I shouldn’t be this hungry, I just ate, I’ll eat something light. Or nothing at all. Shit.
I want those chips. But I shouldn’t.
I want those donuts. But I shouldn’t.
Spending your entire ride home from work trying to decide if you should have a snack when you get home.
Do you sometimes gawk at the amount of your precious fucking time you spend worrying about this? Do you wish you could get back all those hours?
What do you think you’d be doing, be better at,
if you hadn’t been obsessing about food and your body for the last 20 years? Asking with love.
And because I believe you (we) are meant for more.
I know how overwhelming those thoughts can be. They can feel so confusing and shameful, riddled with self-disgust and self-neglect. They’re complex and wound up in feeling inadequate.
The promise that a new diet plan or cleanse offers can feel truly relieving on your brain. You – momentarily – can stop worrying about what you should and should not eat. Now you have a plan. But, let me assure you, going on a drastic diet is 1000% not the only way to quiet this constant chatter.
I want to help you understand why these thoughts happen so you can use self-compassion and your wise self to calm down and feel more confident with food. I am not going to be giving you the same old diet advice – tips and tricks to squash your hunger or ways to fill up with low calorie foods. Willpower is not the answer here. I only offer truly sustainable options with food. So please read this article with an open mind and try to learn something new.
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obsessing about food is due to restriction and conflict
Obsessive thinking about food represents a conflict of desires. Your brain wants one thing, you body wants another. It’s possible you’re stuck in a thought pattern that goes against what your body and psyche want and need. I’m not trying to get all woo here, talking about your psyche, but hear me out: your mind is a powerful force. Food is comforting. And constantly thinking about food could be a signal to listen up.
If you’re trying to move on with your life, to live free, happy, and healthy and stop thinking about food so damn much, it’s essential that you understand yourself and your patterns with food.
Constantly thinking about food looks different for everyone. It could be counting calories or macros, pouring over food labels, only allowing yourself to eat certain things or constantly comparing your food choices to others. These thoughts often stem from societal pressures, diet culture, and underlying emotional issues.
This is especially common when living in our world where restriction and diet culture are literally the air we breathe. This fascinating study looked at self-control and eating, as it seems everyone is trying to control their food intake, and everyone is also failing at it.
Research on thought suppression is also robust. Turns out trying not to think about food makes you… you guessed it. Think about food. Yes, my friend. The more restrained your eating, the more likely you’re going to obsess about it. And if your first thought is YEAH RIGHT. If I let go of restraint, I’ll eat everything in sight and keep gaining weight forever.
That’s very, very unlikely to last long. Food habituation is a real phenomenon. Once we give ourselves permission to eat the foods we want, we will stop obsessing about them and eat them in moderate amounts. Not the whole box of cookies, but just a couple.
To sum up, you will calm down soon. Be patient.
reasons we tend to obsess about food
Fear of weight gain
One common cause of obsessive thinking about food is the fear of weight gain or the intense desire to achieve a certain body shape or size. Diet and wellness culture promote unattainable beauty standards, this we all know. But even if we intellectually know this, it’s still hard not to engage in restrictive eating or excessive exercise to “fit in”. This constant preoccupation with food can be exhausting, not to mention harmful for health.
Overly identifying with a need to lose weight, or attempts to lose weight can lead to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and weight cycling. Weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, is an independent risk factor for cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and dyslipidemia.
Taking the pressure off of losing weight, and putting it on developing healthy eating habits can be a really useful mindset shift in your journey to stop thinking about food so much.
A second cause of obsessive food thoughts is physical hunger. Believe it or not, thinking about food is often the first sign our body gives us that it might be time to eat soon. It’s common to label this thinking about food as the problem if you’re trying to eat less, but it is actually your brilliant body’s way of getting your attention.
We have good evidence that restricting your calories actually increases the amount of reward that the brain experiences. This research shows that restriction actually creates an environment for you to be prone to overeating.
Getting in touch with your hunger, and not denying it when it arises will go a long way to quiet down your obsessive thinking about food.
Another factor that contributes to feeling obsessed with food is emotional distress. Many people turn to food as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or depression. This emotional attachment to food can create a vicious cycle where the individual relies on food to soothe their emotions, leading to guilt and shame afterwards. Even this type of thinking is often rooted in a restrictive mindset around food and a fear of weight gain.
Identify your “food noise” triggers and patterns
are using a diet mentality to think about food?
Do you have very rigid ideas in your head for what you should and should not eat? Or what you should and should not want to eat?
Are you always ordering the “healthiest” thing on the menu? Eating broccoli and kale for lunch 7 days a week? Are you only letting yourself eat “healthy” carbs like sweet potato but have arbitrarily decided that bread is off limits? Do you feel guilty if you order a burger or eat a frozen pizza?
Do you have an extensive history of not eating enough, and then eating ‘too much”?
Are you afraid that letting yourself enjoy food will be a slippery slope?
Even if your desire to lose weight stems from wanting to be healthier. Your body hates this.
On both a physiological and a psychological level, your body is reacting, rebelling, screaming because it’s being restricted from eating. These seemingly constant thoughts about food are your body trying to get your attention. Keep in mind your mind and body are not separate entities, like western culture likes us to believe. They are connected.
So thinking about food IS your body telling you it needs to eat.
I’m not suggesting that every time you think about food it is a direct experience of hunger. This isn’t black and white either. We think about food for reasons other than physical hunger.
How to stop thinking about food so much
Finding freedom from obsessive thoughts about food involves creating a balanced and sustainable approach to eating. Instead of following strict diets or rigid rules, focus on nourishing your body with enough food and of a variety that bring you joy and satisfaction.
There is a balance that can be struck between “too much” and “not enough”. Your body likes this much more than being on a cleanse, which means it will be sustainable for the long haul. There is no forced restraint, no depriving yourself of things you love, no forcing yourself to drive a different way home from work so you can avoid driving by 5 Guys. No making yourself as small as you can.
Here are a couple things to consider if you’d like to obsess less about food and make some space in your brain for the rest of your life.
Practice intuitive eating so you can trust your hunger
Intuitive eating is a healing food framework that encourages listening to your body’s signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. It involves honoring your cravings, trusting your body’s wisdom, and rejecting the diet mentality.
Intuitive eating is the opposite of dieting. Diets underfeed you. If you’re not sure if you’re on a diet, but you’re on some kind of plan to eat less, you’re on a diet. (If it looks like a diet and acts like a diet, it’s a diet.)
This kind of eating disconnects you from your hunger and insists you gaslight yourself into believing you don’t need breakfast. Getting in touch with your hunger is the first step in reconnecting to what your body wants, thereby quieting the obsessive thinking about food.
I hear clients all the time tell me they’re not dieting anymore, and once we start digging in, turns out they’re still restricting. Diet culture is a sneaky beast. If you tell me you’re not hungry until 2pm but you’re waking up at 9am, I’d tell you, lovingly, that you’re wrong. You’re hungry! You’re either not hearing your hunger, not trusting it, or are so busy doing other things that you’re not noticing it.
By tuning in to your body’s needs and desires, you can develop a sustainable and enjoyable way of eating.
If you experience the opposite, you are afraid to experience hunger so you eat before you feel hungry, perhaps eating “all the time”, this is for you too. Try out having 3 meals and 1 or 2 snacks, separated by time to let your body experience the nuances of hunger and fullness.
Explore your cravings and find satisfaction
Explore what really satisfies you, instead of following food rules or labeling foods and “good” or “bad”. This will reduce cravings and the likelihood that you’ll end up binging or eating more than you want or need. By honoring your cravings and giving yourself permission to enjoy all types of food, you can reduce the power of those cravings and develop a healthier relationship with food.
Spending years overly controlled with food will take a toll. It’s common for folks to forget what they truly enjoy eating, both physically and psychologically. Spend time asking yourself what you want, what sounds truly satisfying, and then follow a hunch. The only rule is that you are not allowed to blame yourself for whatever you decide you want to eat.
Giving yourself this permission can be scary if you’ve learned to distrust your appetite and your desires, but it is available to anyone, no matter your body size. Try it out, eat slowly, and see if you can learn something about what feels good in your mouth, in your body, and in your heart.
You should notice a calming down of the obsessive thinking about food in a short time.
Mindfulness techniques to stop obsessive thoughts about food
Obsessive thoughts about food can often stem from a lack of awareness and presence in the moment. By practicing mindfulness and incorporating mindful eating techniques into your daily routine, you can begin to quiet the food noise and develop a healthier relationship with food.
Use a mindfulness practice to check in with your body on a regular basis throughout the day. Make a plan to feed yourself something that you enjoy, something you have access to, something that is easy enough – at least 3 times a day.
Anxiety often fuels over-thinking about food, leading to a never-ending cycle of worry and preoccupation. Engaging in regular meditation can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety levels, making it easier to break free from obsessive thoughts. Try incorporating simple mindfulness meditation techniques into your daily routine, such as focusing on your breath or repeating a calming mantra.
Journaling can serve as a powerful tool for releasing these thoughts from your mind and gaining a new perspective. Set aside time each day to write down your thoughts, fears, and worries about food and your body. By externalizing these thoughts onto paper, you can create distance and gain clarity, helping you break free from the cycle of obsessive thinking.
Food noise is essentially the body’s way of communicating it’s needs to your brain. It’s trying to get your attention.
Reconnecting with your inner body cues is an essential part of becoming an intuitive eater. This will take time if you’ve been dieting for years and are really disconnected from your hunger. You may need to retrain your brain to hear and respect your body cues.
The experience of reconnecting with these is a huge psychic shift. It’s hard. If this feels impossible to you, if you feel wildly disconnected from your body, working with a therapist and dietitian to guide you can change your life.
nourishment and habituation
It can be really hard to finally decide that you want to quit dieting and make peace with food. Years of disliking your body, feeling obsessed with food, and missing out on life do take a toll, however. I work closely with individuals who are on the ledge of this very thing. Often, when folks start working with me, they are unsure if they really can quit dieting. It means they need to let go of the active attempts at weight loss and let their bodies find their set-point weight. It’s tough work.
But without a doubt, all of my clients find freedom. They find confidence that they are taking really good care of themselves, it just doesn’t look like diet culture always told them it would. And you can do this for yourself.
Letting yourself eat enough, every day, unconditionally is so worth it.
Finding peace with food and reclaiming the hours once lost to food noise is not only liberating; it’s life-changing. As we’ve explored the depths of food obsession, it’s clear that the journey towards a healthier relationship with food is both complex and deeply personal. But it’s also filled with hope. Understanding the root causes of your food thoughts—the fear, the hunger, the emotional distress—is the first step towards quieting the constant chatter. By embracing principles of intuitive eating, mindfulness, and self-compassion, you can begin to navigate away from the noise and towards a more peaceful, fulfilling interaction with food and your body.
Remember, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s about progress, learning, and growing in your understanding of yourself and your needs. It’s about making space for the rest of your life, for the experiences, relationships, and passions that truly nourish you. You deserve to eat in a way that brings you joy, not anxiety. You deserve to live free from the constraints of obsessive food thoughts.
If you enjoyed this, share it with a friend. The more people finding liberation with food and their bodies, the more permission we’ll all have to just be.
If you’re looking for help with quieting your obsessive thoughts about food, book a discovery call with me. I am accepting new clients for high-touch, focused individual nutrition therapy. My group coaching program, The Love Food Again Program, is also a great option for anyone wanting to find food and body freedom with a like-minded community of women+.
Food does not happen in a vacuum, and neither does your life. Join us.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps womxn find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.