What to do when you can't stop thinking about food
Do you experience obsessive food thoughts? Here’s how to quieten the food noise.
Do you think about food all the time? It’s human to think about food periodically through the day, such as before a meal or when you are starting to get hungry. But, it’s not normal to be constantly thinking about food.
Sometimes referred to as “food noise”, constant food thoughts are exhausting and stressful. This is how you can learn to quieten the noise and have more headspace for life.
What is food noise?
Here's some examples of what food noise may feel like:
- Constant worrying about what you have already eaten.
- Continuous mental planning of what food you will eat later to meet a food goal.
- Constantly thinking about food when trying to be involved in other activities such as work or conversation with friends.
- Thinking specifically about your off-limits foods (“I won’t have cookies today, I won’t have cookies today”)
- Calorie counting, macros tracking or calculating your daily intake.
- Thoughts about burning calories through exercise.
Constant food noise takes up extra space in your mind that should be filled with other things.
It takes away your ability to focus on other areas of life such as self care, connecting with friends, intimate relationships, hobbies and even work.
Here’s some possible reasons you can’t stop thinking about food and what you can do:
You are not eating enough
If you are on a diet, or using food rules and calorie tracking to determine how much you need to eat, it is likely you are not eating enough.
The only way you can know how much you need to eat is by listening to your body.
The amount we are generally told to eat is not accurate. Plus, this also changes day by day. If you are using calorie counting or food rules instead of your body’s innate hunger and satisfaction cues, you are likely not eating enough.
Instead of trying to eat less, focus instead on eating enough. Having regular food through the day, snacks that contain energy for your body and eating to true satisfaction may help quieten the food noise.
You are mentally restricting foods
Do you have foods you never allow in the house for fear of out-of-control eating? Do you tell yourself you will never eat that food again, only to find yourself thinking about that food all the time?
Having banned or off-limits foods is mental restriction. Even if you end up still eating the food. And when a food is mentally restricted, you will think about that food more often and even eat it in larger amounts.
To stop constantly thinking about the crisps or cookies, you need to stop the mental restriction. To do this, choose a food that is off-limits and give yourself full permission to eat it. Allow it in the house and allow whatever portion size you like. Overtime, this food will stop having so much power over you.
You think of food as “good” and “bad”
Do you think of foods as good and bad or healthy and unhealthy? It may seem innocent enough but when we label foods like this, we create a food hierarchy in our minds. The bad or unhealthy foods become more appealing than the good and healthy foods so your brain craves for that.
Many clients I support to reclaim their food freedom, later realise they don’t even like some of the foods they couldn’t stop thinking about.
To stop thinking about bad or unhealthy foods that are always on your mind, start changing the language you use for food. Try neutral terms such as creamy, sweet, savoury, fun, yummy. Or my favourite, just call it what it is. “I am feeling like a donut”, instead of “I’m craving bad foods”.
You have some emotional triggers
Food comforts and provides a sense of safety. It is normal to use food for emotional purposes. If you have some deeper or recurring emotional dysregulation, sometimes food can become a bigger source of comfort than is helpful long term.
If you feel there may be an emotional element to your food noise, it’s important not to take away food as your coping tool as this can exacerbate both the emotional discomfort and food noise.
Instead, acknowledge the resilience of your body to find a coping tool. Explore other self care and coping tools that may further support you. Reaching out for therapy support is a great tool if you are able to access it.
You are disconnected from your body
Your body is the most accurate guide. If you are not attuned with and trust in your body then you will rely on societal information to guide your eating and other self care.
But, we are all unique and outside information will never be completely accurate for your body.
For example, if your body is trying to tell you it is hungry but you are not eating, your brain will keep thinking about food, even if you just ate the portion your meal plan told you.
You can support your body to get the nourishment it needs so you can quieten the food noise by switching the focus to working with your body through an approach such as intuitive eating.
Food noise is when your mind feels constantly taken over by food thoughts. Having a lot of food noise is linked with dieting, mental food restriction, emotional triggers and a disconnect from your body. Learning what your body is trying to tell you, such as through becoming an intuitive eater, will help you understand how to quieten the food thoughts and free your mind.
Written by Emma Townsin, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
Emma is the founder of Food Life Freedom and the host of the Food & Life Freedom Podcast. For personalised support to stop stressing over health and heal your relationship with food and your body, learn how you can fast track your way food and life freedom.
Intuitive Eating 4th Edition, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, 2020.
Anticipatory and reactive responses to chocolate restriction in frequent chocolate consumers. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26010325/
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