How to Stop Thinking About Food (All. The. Time.)
Some days it’s hard to stop daydreaming about a bowl of ice cream or that delicious pan of brownies sitting in the kitchen.
We all crave sweet, sugary food from time to time and that’s perfectly normal!
But when you feel like food is taking complete control, what can you do about it? Let’s talk about how to stop thinking about food, why these obsessive thoughts pop up, and what you can do to tackle it.
And hi, I’m Miranda! A Registered Dietitian whose journey started as a Weight Watchers “success story” that quickly developed into a bad relationship with food. Overcoming this inspired me to help women like you find your own sustainable balance and ditch food guilt.
Help, I Can’t Stop Thinking About Food!
Did you know at least 8 parts of the brain contribute to your cravings (1)? If food seems to take over your brain, there’s probably a logical explanation behind it.
First, I’d like to point out that thinking about food is normal. You need it to survive and thrive, so it’s only natural your brain puts it top of mind when your tank is low on fuel.
Hunger can be physical: you need more fuel. Or, hunger can appear because of your emotions, or memories, or when used as a reward – like celebrating an anniversary with a delicious dessert (2)!
Feeling the need to eat is more complex than you may realize, but there are explanations for obsessive thoughts about food. Let’s look at a few reasons in depth.
Hunger Cues: inside and out
Hunger cues come from a lotta different places.
Internal hunger cues
Internal cues are physical signs from your body. These cues say “hey, I’m hungry” when your body is low on fuel and needs energy (3).
Hunger pangs appear because your body wants to maintain stable energy. These signs may include a growling stomach, shakiness, low energy, or feeling unfocused. When you need nutrients, your body starts producing ghrelin, the hunger hormone, to clue you in and urge you to eat (4).
(P.S. If you have been dieting for a long time, you may not notice hunger cues at all. But, by nourishing your body more consistently and enough, you can get those cues back).
We also can be interested in eating because of things going on outside of our bodies.
Have you ever watched a sad movie and wanted chocolate to comfort yourself? That’s an example of an external cue that urged you to eat even though you weren’t physically hungry.
Or maybe you’ve gotten a whiff of burgers frying on the neighbor’s grill and started to salivate. Maybe you weren’t hungry per se, but your tummy was grumbling at the thought of a savory burger and hot fries.
Without those external triggers, you might not have felt hunger for hours. But emotions, smells, and sights redirect your thoughts and bring on the cravings (5).
So now that you know what can influence your hunger, what can change to make you feel obsessed with food?
Why am I obsessed with food?
If you feel like food is all you can think about, this next section might help explain why.
Not eating enough or skipping meals
Your body has mechanisms in place to keep you from starving.
If you’re on a restrictive diet, forget to eat, or simply don’t recognize your hunger cues, your brain might be bombarding you with reminders to eat. Aka, it will make you think about food a lot.
When your work day is jam-packed, finding a meal isn’t always your top priority. A good rule of thumb is to check in with yourself every 3-4 hours to pay attention to hunger cues. When you don’t have time for a full meal, balanced snacks can help fill in the gaps. More on that in a minute…
Not eating enough filling nutrients
Alright, so maybe you do eat snacks but you’re still hungry! What’s going on?
Some foods are lower in satiety than others, meaning they don’t keep you feeling full as long.
The number of carbs vs fat vs protein, the texture, and even the solid vs liquid state of a food all affect how full you feel after eating (6).
For example, foods high in refined carbs (think croissants or cookies) are digested quickly and leave your body and brain wanting more. But, eating a high-protein food like a chicken breast boosts the feeling of fullness (7).
That’s not to say you should never eat carbs or fats, because they’re nothing to fear! But to feel more full, focus on eating complex carbs (ideally with fiber) so your stomach has “something to chew on” for longer. Bonus points if you pair those carbs with protein and fat too.
Not eating enough foods that satisfy
Choking down foods you loathe, or swearing off all carbs for the sake of “healthy eating” can leave you feeling hungrier and obsessed with what you crave. You might force yourself to eat something you dislike, then find yourself obsessing over the food you really wanted (and still want) instead.
Making positive changes to your diet and eating foods that make you feel good and support your health and wellness is a more sustainable approach to healthy eating. Making certain foods taboo and swearing them off is not. Studies have shown 35% of restrictive diets may actually become obsessive (8).
Instead of pinching your nose and forcing brussels sprouts down, consider swapping in a veggie that you enjoy and still delivers nutrients.
Sleep, stress, and sitting still
Researchers found lack of sleep is a culprit behind food cravings, especially for more fun and indulgent foods (9) To avoid this, it’s important to get at least 7 hours of sleep, according to the CDC (10).
Long-term stress leads to increased levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases your appetite for high-fat, high–calorie foods because they lower your stress temporarily (11).
Research has also shown a lack of exercise can actually lead to seeking food for pleasure as we talked about earlier (12). This study showed that adding a little exercise can go a long way in managing appetite and making cravings feel less intense!
7 ways to stop thinking about food all the time
Let’s look at how to stop thinking about food all the time now that you know some of the reasons why it happens in the first place.
1. Understand your hunger cues better
Ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is true hunger, boredom, or routine.
It’s so easy to get into the habit of coming home, turning on the TV, and grabbing a not-so-nutritious snack at the end of the day without thinking twice.
Something that helps many of my clients is food journaling, and I don’t mean a strict calorie-counting journal. Writing out your habits is a tool for noticing what you ate when you ate it, and how you felt before and after indulging.
2. Eat regularly
Life can get in the way and you don’t have to be perfect, but try to keep a regular eating schedule so your body “knows” what to expect each day.
Without a consistent eating schedule, you’re more likely to unintentionally overeat during your next meal to compensate for long stretches without food (13).
3. Pair carbs with a buddy
Simple, or unrefined carbs, can go down smoothly (and deliciously). But they’re digested so quickly that your stomach begs for more not long after.
If you want to get off the blood sugar roller coaster that can worsen cravings without swearing off carbs, here’s how!
To slow digestion and stay full, try to eat complex carbs that contain fiber, like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, beans, and fruit.
Another “buddy” that makes a great carb companion is protein. An example of this is adding a few hard-boiled eggs to your morning toast, or adding a slice of cheese to your crackers.
Healthy fats stay in the digestive tract the longest, so they can help you stay fuller for longer too. Pair your carb with mashed avocado, nut butter, canned salmon, or olives, just to name a few!
4. Eat meals that leave you feeling truly full
Instead of eating until you’re just ‘not hungry anymore,’ focus on finding foods that satisfy you and leave you feeling full. And I’m talking actually full… to the point where you feel content and the food thoughts go away.
To do this, consider building bigger meals if you need to. Increasing your protein and fiber intake never hurts either.
5. Snack if you need to
Many people need balanced snacks to tide them over in between meals. The key is eating the right snack for you.
Hyperpalatable snacks, meaning foods that taste delicious right away but leave you wanting more, can be super tempting (14). These foods pair sugar, salt, and/or fat, and don’t typically keep you satisfied until your next meal.
Some examples of these are:
- Sweet drinks
You can absolutely enjoy these foods, don’t get me wrong. But if you want to feel full, pair them with a more minimally processed snack that includes a protein, a healthy fat, or colorful fruits and veggies.
6. Make room for foods you love
There’s no need to restrict an entire food group, really!
You CAN and should eat carbs and fats. The key is to make most of your choices nutrient-dense… while still leaving room for that cookie you’ve been thinking about all day.
Restriction plays a huge role in overeating behaviors, both mental and physical. Despite some of the advice floating around the internet, I’ll always tell you, foods you love have a place. They help you enjoy your diet, and eating them regularly can help you build a healthy lifestyle that actually lasts.
7. Stay hydrated
Thirst cues can sometimes be mistaken for hunger cues… especially if you’re just starting out with learning your body better (15).
Now, that’s not to say you should chug water when you’re hungry. Definitely not!
But if you’re hungry and thinking about food all the time, and you know you’re getting enough on the nutrition side, increasing your water intake might help. Women need about 11.5 cups and men need 15.5 cups every single day (16)! Or, just aim for your pee to be light yellow most of the time. Easy!
8. Practice mindful eating
It’s amazing how fast a bag of jumbo popcorn disappears while you’re at the movie theater… and you don’t even notice until your fingers meet the bottom of the bag. When our mind is occupied, it’s impossible to give much thought to what we’re eating.
Try shutting off the TV, putting down the phone, and giving your full attention to your meal.
And I don’t mean, stare at your food and wonder “how many calories are in this?”
Instead, approach your snack with a curious mindset. Ask yourself “what do I like about this food?” Think about the texture and notice the small details you might have overlooked before. You might be surprised by the difference in how you fuel and feel.
Overcome food obsession and find balance
Thinking about food throughout your day when you’re hungry or when you see a delicious brownie; that’s normal. But if you think about it non-stop and you feel like it’s taking over your life, not so much.
If you’re constantly thinking about food, you don’t have to outsmart your thought patterns.
In fact, you can actually overcome them if you try to understand WHY they happen. Which means stopping the temporary band-aid solutions and learning to nourish properly.
For guidance on how to do this, download my FREE guide here. You can learn to eat healthier and stop obsessive food thoughts without cutting out your fav foods, and this guide will show you how.