Three Ways to Feel Less Preoccupied with Food
In a society with such a strong emphasis on dieting and weight control, it can feel almost impossible not to feel preoccupied with food. I mean, we live in a world of “what I eat in a day” videos and a new diet creeping in around every corner. It's hard to escape!
So many people promote rules and limitations on food. However, no one ever stops to think that it may be the leading factor in why you are thinking of food 24/7.
The research indicates that in practice, the biggest cause of food preoccupation is undoubtably restriction and deprivation. Let’s face it, these principles are also at the core of dieting (and very common behaviors with eating disorders). From a historic perspective, this fixation on food during periods of restriction/ deprivation makes complete sense. Why? You may ask. Great question! Let’s dive in.
Your Body Has Your Back
Increasing food preoccupation in times of starvation or restriction is actually the brain’s way of telling a person that they need to eat and are in need of fuel, ASAP. The more your body believes it does not have access to food, the more signals it sends to your brain to think about food.
Interestingly, American physiologist Ancel Keys wanted to explore the effects of starvation and re-feeding to better understand how to help concentration camp victims after World War II. Keys found that those who had their food intake significantly restricted became obsessed with food. They were dreaming and talking about it constantly, and even started reading cookbooks for fun! These thoughts only subsided when their intake was increased, they regained body fat and became weight restored 1,2.
If you are restricting your intake, it is not uncommon to think about food for a majority of your day. You may find yourself thinking about your next meal while you’re eating another. Or maybe you’re scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram on food accounts constantly.
Want to feel less preoccupied with food? The good news is, you can!
THREE WAYS TO FEEL LESS PREOCCUPIED WITH FOOD:
Honor your hunger
This goes without saying, but if you’re hungry, give yourself full permission to eat. Our bodies are incredibly hardwired to send us hunger signals and to stimulate our appetites when it’s time for our next meal or snack.
Restricting our food intake and failing to respond to these signals dishonors your hunger. Additionally, this leads to becoming more preoccupied with food down the road. Nourishing your body consistently and listening to your innate hunger/fullness cues is one of the simplest ways to spend less time thinking about food.
Give yourself permission to eat
We’re talking ALL types of food, in varying amounts!
Diet culture (unrealistically) encourages us to control what and how much we eat day-to-day. However, the truth is that our bodies crave different foods and nutrients day-to-day, depending on a number of factors. These factors may include hormones, physical activity, periods of growth, mood, emotions, social factors etc.
Our bodies require different amounts of food day-to-day, depending on these same factors. A lack of appealing food choices creates a sense of deprivation and promotes a “food foraging” experience that never seems to result in satisfaction.
Give yourself the gift of keeping a variety of foods around, from soups to pastas to cookies or fruits and vegetables; you never know what or how much you might feel like eating. Finding satisfaction in your eating is what’s going to prevent you from feeling deprived, and in turn, to think about food less.
Experiment with "forbidden foods"
It's no surprise that the foods we restrict or “forbid” the most are also the ones we tend to think about the most. Part of the purpose behind having unconditional permission to eat is to prevent “getting sick” of a particular food.
When we begin to include forbidden foods, we begin to experience habituation, in which “the heightened novelty of eating a particular food wanes.” Lack thereof, on the other hand, heightens that desirability for the forbidden foods.
Try experimenting with these foods in more comfortable situations - such as with a meal or after consistent intake during the day. Eating these foods in a more neutral/ positive environment can help train your brain that you do not have to feel out of control when eating. More on that here.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The more we allow ourselves to eat, the less we think about food. No matter how disciplined or driven we are, we cannot outsmart our bodies when it comes to feeding ourselves adequately and consistently.
We encourage you to start honoring your hunger, giving yourself full permission to eat, and to challenge yourself with some of those “forbidden foods.” We’re willing to bet you start thinking about food less! And remember, our team is here for you to help navigate through this process - we’ve got your back.
- Kalm LM, Semba RD. They starved so that others be better fed: remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota experiment. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6):1347-52. doi: 10.1093/jn/135.6.1347. PMID: 15930436.
- TRIBOLE, EVELYN. INTUITIVE EATING: a Revolutionary Program That Works. ST MARTINS ESSENTIALS, 2020.