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Food Obsession – How To Stop

By Katherine Kimber, Registered Dietitian | April 17, 2019
how to stop food obsession

Are you wondering how to stop thinking about food?

Or why you can’t stop eating when full? 

Food obsession is common, all-consuming and exhausting.

I have been there myself, and as a Registered Dietitian, I work with 100’s of people to help them move away from it. I know that swinging between “diet land” and “doughnut land” is no fun.

In this article I am going to cover; what food obsession is, how it comes about, and how to stop food obsession.

What is a food obsession?

Food obsession can be:

– Always thinking about, talking about and planning your next meal

– Only allowing yourself to eat certain foods and labelling them “good” and “bad”

– Not being able to concentrate on tasks, especially if you know the “bad” foods are in the house – basically, always thinking about food and wondering how to distract yourself from eating.

– Not enjoying social occasions if there are “bad” foods present.

– Declining those social occasions in the future, because of the stress of not knowing what you can eat. 

– Constantly thinking about how you can train yourself to eat less.

You might identify with one, some or all of these. This can feel debilitating and confusing!

So where does food obsession come from?

Obsessing with food can occur if we have rules around our eating (which can be subtle and subconscious), whether these are self-inflicted rules that we’ve picked up over the years, or from an external source (e.g. a diet/pursuit of weight loss) (1).  

Restriction can be physical or emotional.

a) Physical restriction: when the food is “forbidden/not allowed” and you physically are told to not eat it (by yourself or others). E.g. no lunch before 12 ‘clock, no carbs after x time, a points, calorie or meal limit.  

b) Psychological restriction: when certain foods are labelled as “naughty” or “bad” and we carry guilt and anxiety for wanting to eat them, or actually eating them.   

If you’re in the latter, chances are that diet culture has taught you to label foods as “good” and “bad”. This is where we feel “good” for eating a salad, and “bad” for eating a cookie. Placing a moralistic value on foods can interfere with our relationship to food in a negative way. 

What happens when we restrict as a result of these food rules? 

More often than not, food restriction leads to feeling deprived which leads to binge eating (2). Before you know it, you’re in the continuous restrict/binge cycle that looks like…  

a) Restrict: eat less than usual/eat only certain types of foods/try to be “good” or “healthy”/cut out certain foods or food groups/fill up on low-calorie foods. 

b) Struggle: feel obsessed with food, feel hungry, constantly think about the food, and more annoyingly, the food you’re actively trying to avoid.

c) Binge: cave into cravings, eat more than usual, feel out of control, eat all of the foods you’re actively trying to avoid.

d) Feel bad: feel guilty, ashamed, full of regret, tell yourself you’ve got no willpower.

e) Repeat: start back at a).

Sound familiar? 

The initial restriction can make us become totally obsessed with that food.  This food obsession can cause a bucket load of different emotions too.   

Obsession with food can affect our mood and our relationships. It can affect our energy levels and desire to exercise. It can cause tainted memories of special occasions because you weren’t able to truly enjoy yourself because the food that was present controlled you. It is time-consuming. It can make you feel alone, lost and helpless.    

It can make you feel as though there is No. End. In. Sight.  

This is no way to live.   

So how can I stop food obsession? 

The crux of it is giving yourself permission.

Because when we label foods as “good” and “bad”, we feel “good” for eating a salad, and “bad” for eating a cake. When we let go of this moral value and see foods as neutral, we get to actually taste the food and ask questions like “am I hungry”, “do I want it”.

Diet Mentality vs Non-Diet 

It’s time to unlearn the food rules that have dictated which foods are “good” and “bad”, so that you can finally enjoy all foods in the that makes you feel good. This sounds scary, I know. The biggest fear is that we will just eat ‘junk food’ all the time if we eat our ‘forbidden food’. Whilst it may feel that is the case in the short term, this dissipates as time moves on. This process is called habituation (3) – it’s a scientifically proven thing!  

I am going to use a non-food example to explain habituation. 

Imagine buying a new top that you love…

When you first wear it, it feels exciting!

Maybe you even wear it more than normal at first, however, after time it heads into the draw with all of your other clothes. It still feels nice to wear at times, but you’re not obsessed with it like you were at first. The same happens with food. When we allow it in, we get used to it and whilst it may still taste good, it becomes less exciting.  

Let’s look at an example…

Say chocolate is your “forbidden” or “bad” food that you feel obsessed with. You need to be specific about the brand, type and flavour of chocolate. Because if you’re introducing chocolate buttons, chocolate biscuits, chocolate toffees, chocolate icing all at once it will take you 4 x as long to become habitualised to it. Be specific about the brand a flavour!  

Next, plan out when you would like to practice eating it whilst giving that chocolate your undivided attention. Perhaps at a time when you’re not too vulnerable (I.e. stressed, tired or hungry). 30-60 minutes after a meal is a good time. 

Practice eating that food paying attention with all the senses.

As an intuitive eating coach, this is where I guide my clients through a mindful eating exercise. It’s amazing to hear what flavours, textures, smells and emotions people notice when they pay attention. Eating mindfully and without judgement allows my clients to identify firstly, whether they actually like the food, and secondly, how much of that food is necessary for them to find the point of satisfaction.


In Summary

Stopping food obsession can take time, but it’s possible when we stop restricting ourselves. It takes time to feel comfortable allowing “forbidden” foods back into our life – particularly if we’ve been a victim of diet culture for many years. It’s not about training yourself to eat less, or finding more distraction from eating. It’s about getting your needs met, honouring your hunger, and giving yourself more permission. And this is not something that has to be done perfectly or all at once. It is a process to help you realise that you can trust your body and realise that food doesn’t have to control you. Once you stop restricting, the food obsession will diminish and you can start to enjoy all the fun things in life again.  

References 

  1. Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 96(6), 589-592. doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(96)00161-7 
  1. Derenne, J. L., & Beresin, E. V. (2006). Body image, media, and eating disorders. Academic Psychiatry, 30(3), 257-261. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/article/10.1176%2Fappi.ap.30.3.257
  1. Epstein, L. H., Temple, J. L., Roemmich, J. N., & Bouton, M. E. (2009). Habituation as a determinant of human food intake. Psychological Review, 116(2), 384-407. doi:10.1037/a0015074 

 

Welcome to Nude Nutrition

I am Katherine Kimber, a Registered Dietitian, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor with a first-class Undergraduate and Masters’s degree from Kings College London.

Are you fed up with not knowing what you should or shouldn’t be eating? Perhaps relying on external tools such as the time of day, points systems, calorie tracking or rigid rules to show you the way.

If you’re ready to get out of your head when it comes to food decisions, and more into your body then you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to strip the nonsense, so you can feel better in your body and figure out a sustainable approach to movement and nutrition.

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Miss G – “Reclaim Your Intuition” + ongoing support  

Sarah thought she was addicted to sugar, mostly chocolate. So much so, she was going to spend thousands of pounds to go to a sugar addiction rehab centre, leaving her 9 month old son behind. Her eating habits were out of control, and her weight was increasing rapidly. She thought a Dietitian would just tell her what to eat and was hesitant… however, realised this is far from the truth! She has now realised she does not have an addiction, now has normalised her eating, she can be around chocolate without needing to eat it, has more structure, more awareness, is more in tune with her natural hunger signals.

Miss M – “Reclaim Your Intuition” programme 

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