All of us think about food. We think about what to eat for breakfast, what to cook for lunch, and what to have for dinner.
However, some people can’t stop thinking about food to the point where it becomes a problem.
That’s why we asked experts to share their insights on how to stop thinking about food.
Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five-Point Plan for Success
Sadly, many of us have a love/hate relationship with food – often obsessing about what we want to eat yet feel we shouldn’t, or feeling upset about what we’ve already eaten and feel was excessive or not allowed.
Have a good fun food ratio
Adopting the advice that’s now endorsed by most evolved nutritionist of adhering to an 80-90% healthy food/10-20% fun food ratio is one way to build a better attitude towards eating. Realizing that no foods are forbidden enables us to be more at the moment when we eat.
Allowing ourselves more non-food pleasures, whatever they may be, is also important
We need to have more in our lives that’s rewarding so that eating is only a “side dish” among many activities that bring us joy. So take up that hobby you’d been considering, try that new sport or learn a new language. Don’t worry about your performance. Just do it for fun. It’s time to expand your repertoire of pleasures.
Readers learn how to become aware of the difference between eating in a healthy way and eating emotionally -neither to satisfy hunger, nor for enjoyment, but in a desperate attempt to distract oneself from painful thoughts and feelings.
When we handle stress well away from the table, we’re free to relax and really savor our food when we choose to eat. Proven techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindful Eating are presented in an innovative, easy to remember the way.
Certified Dietician – Nutritionist
Before coming up with a strategy on how to stop thinking about food, we must examine what we are actually hungry for. We have evolved as humans to biologically crave sugar and fatty foods to survive times of famine.
If you think about it, weight has remained remarkably stable in humans, up until the 1980s when obesity started becoming a problem. This is when hyper-palatable, processed food items became widely available. Hyperpalatable foods typically contain large amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. This taste combination physiologically stimulates hunger hormones, despite meeting caloric needs.
In nature, the only naturally occurring food that could really be categorized as hyper-palatable is breast milk. Intuitively speaking, you can imagine what type of primitive response this type of food would elicit in someone.
Science has explored this and demonstrated that the combination of flavors in hyper-palatable foods causes a release of endorphins. Specifically, a large dopamine response, encouraging you to eat this food again. This is very similar to drug addiction.
In animal studies investigating this concept, when rats are given hyper-palatable foods, they develop changes in the brain and behavior similar to that which occurs with drug abuse. You can actually desensitize your body’s satiety hormones and require more and more of the same food to get a normal satiety response. This is especially true for high sugar foods, which is why they are frequently consumed by people when trying to ameliorate unpleasant feelings.
Food companies take advantage of this knowledge and design foods that will get us addicted. We are also bombarded by food marketing everywhere we look and societal activities are often planned around eating. Keeping this in mind can help put food in perspective.
Staying away from hyper-palatable foods can minimize the chances of feeling addicted to food
If someone is already in the habit of seeking a dopamine release from food, I first encourage them to ask themselves if they actually feel hungry when experiencing a food craving.
Becoming aware of your true feelings when you are compelled to eat is extremely important in changing habits. Individuals who end up preoccupied with food are often times participating in emotional eating.
This is easily revealed with journaling feelings before and after eating. I encourage individuals to reference these journal entries every time they are tempted to eat when they are not hungry. This promotes personal awareness when it comes to food.
Also replacing the activity of eating out of emotion with something the person enjoys and will bring them pleasure; such as music, art, exercise, etc, can be instrumental in shifting habits.
Psychological reframing can also be helpful in eliciting change. Shifting your perception from “I can’t have this food” to something like “I choose not to have this food because I deserve to have a healthy body” or “I choose not to have this food because I will feel bad after I eat it” can be incredibly helpful with retraining our brains on how we think about food.
Related: The 15 Best Books on Food Addiction
Author | Psychotherapist | Eating Disorders Therapist
Understand why you are thinking about food
Does it happen often? Do you not eat enough and, therefore, are chronically hungry? Are you bored with little else to distract you? Are you depressed and think that food will lift your spirits? If you’re not hungry, it’s not the food you’re after, but something emotional is going on.
Recognize that it’s only a thought and that you don’t need to attach to it
We can let thoughts pass and observe them. The more we do this, the more we are training our brains to ignore thoughts that will not lead us to take actions that are beneficial to us. Repeatedly not attaching to the thought of food will help you ignore the urge to eat. This is true unless you’re physically hungry when it is important to pay attention to this appetite cue and feed yourself.
If you have the thought of food and you’re not hungry, distraction also works
Find something to do that will engage your mental energy. Doing something physical doesn’t always work if your mind is still free to wander. Do a crossword puzzle. Make a to-do list. Pay bills. If you’re bored and looking for something to do, find something even more engaging that will occupy your mind more fully.
Pause and take a break from your tasks
Sometimes you think about food when you’re in the midst of a tough job and want a break. In this case, you’re not actually hungry but would find it beneficial to pause and take that break. Or you think about food to postpone doing an unwanted task.
This is another way our minds trick us into thinking it’s time to eat. In this case, focus on why you want to get a task done and how good you’ll feel when it’s completed.
Brooke Nicole Smith, Ph.D.
Mindful Eating Expert, New Mindful Eating | Yoga Instructor | Life Coach
In the short term, you can stop thinking about food by directing your thoughts to something else. However, in the long run, the most significant transformation happens when you give yourself full permission to eat anything you want.
This mindset shift makes thinking about food far less exciting. It can also be a critical step toward eliminating unwanted eating behaviors such as emotional eating and rebound binging.
Persistent thoughts about food are often caused, at least in part, by an underlying sense of scarcity.
Some people develop this sense of scarcity after the experience of not having enough food. However, for many people, the scarcity mindset is a response to voluntary restriction.
For example, if you decide to stop eating sweets, a cookie is no longer just a cookie, it’s a forbidden pleasure. As soon as it’s not allowed, it becomes precious and scarce.
Remember being a teenager – if your parents said you were not allowed to go out with the long-haired tattooed guy, that made him irresistible. When someone leaves warm chocolate chip cookies on the table near your workspace, it’s like stealing a few minutes alone with a tattoo guy – the cookies are talking to you.
Your decision to abstain from sweets promotes the cookie from ordinary baked-good to irresistible delight.
The way to stop thinking about the cookie is to give yourself full permission to eat it. No guilt, no shame, no drama. Just not just once. Not just today. And not just the cookie.
The way out of the scarcity mindset is full permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you’re hungry, forever
This may sound wild (and, for a little while, it might feel pretty wild). The magic is that, when you have permission to eat whatever you want, and you know that you always will, this cookie stops being special.
When you know that you can eat any cookie any time you want, the decision of whether or not to eat this particular cookie doesn’t feel like a big deal anymore.
There are no “wrong” choices here. That’s the magic. In a world where cookies are abundant and you can eat one whenever you want, no single cookie will occupy more than a few moments of your thoughts. And, you might be surprised by how few cookies you actually want, once you truly realize they’re always available.
Certified Health and Wellness Coach | Nutritionist | Founder and Managing Editor, Zivadream
Often times, even when we may not be hungry, our minds will wander to the thought of food. Stopping our minds from needlessly daydreaming about high caloric meals and sweet and salty snacks can be a difficult task. However, there are a few easy tips and tricks that can help you.
Eat more high-protein meals and snacks
Hunger is regulated by your brain, specifically by a section of your brain called the hypothalamus. The human brain considers a number of variables when deciding when and how much food is needed, which is communicated out through cravings, hunger pangs and wandering thoughts of food.
One of the most important factors in triggering hunger in the brain are the hormones in your stomach that increase or decrease in response to eating. By replacing high carbohydrate and high-fat foods with protein-packed snacks, you can reduce these hunger hormones and increase several hormones that make you feel full.
Consuming more protein can decrease levels of the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone, while simultaneously raising levels of the appetite-reducing hormones GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin.
Eat smaller meals more frequently
It may seem counterproductive that in an exercise to stop thinking about food in an effort to reduce food consumption, the suggestion is to eat more food. However, the idea isn’t to eat more calories, the idea is to spread those calories out in smaller batches over shorter intervals.
Eating smaller meals or snacks more frequently can help to reduce wandering thoughts of food. If you only eat a big breakfast, skip lunch and wait for a big dinner, of course, your mind will wander to thoughts of food mid-day — it’s only natural as your body is craving sustenance.
However, by eating a smaller meal or snack every 1-2 hours, your body is getting a constant and steady supply of calories. This will reduce those cravings and wandering thoughts of food.
Drink more water
Studies suggest that drinking more water can help reduce hunger pangs and keep cravings at bay, even if only temporarily. Drinking plenty of water can have a significant effect on the mental and physiological link between your stomach and brain.
When water is consumed it can temporarily spike levels of those hormones that make us feel full, including GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin. These hormone levels can temporarily increase following a significant amount of fluids hitting the stomach, tricking your brain into thinking you’ve consumed food.
It’s a simple, but effective trick, even if it is a temporary solution. However, if the water is consumed periodically and in proper amounts, it can help reduce prolonged cravings and thoughts of food.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, Joy from Fear
When it comes to not thinking about food, it’s important to realize that we live in a very food-centric culture. As such, it’s difficult to stop thinking about something (in this case, food), when advertisements for food products face us at every turn.
In much the same way as an alcoholic finds it difficult not to drink when alcoholic beverages are front and center, it’s often hard for food-oriented people to not get triggered by the array of food advertisements, restaurants, and food-centered gatherings.
But—as with alcohol—we often can’t avoid being exposed to the triggers, but we can learn to not to let ourselves be triggered into thoughts that are obsessive. Below are a few key tips that are very helpful for those who want to stop thinking about food:
Create a mantra that is not food-centric
This can be lines such as “I want to eat to live, not live to eat” or “I will train my thoughts to focus on gratitude, not food.”
Learn to listen to your body’s hunger signals
As we live in a society where food holds so much power—and often is eaten in provide comfort rather than necessary fuel–takes work to differentiate between hunger, thirst, and anxiety-driven food consumption.
With practice, you will tune into when your body is hungry. The more you practice listening to your body’s needs, the less you’ll be obsessed with “the next meal.”
When a food-oriented thought arises, distract yourself with a simple task, whether it’s doing five jumping jacks, practicing your Kegels, or taking a five-minute walk.
With practice, you will find that you can train your mind to let go of any thought pattern—even one as hardwired as thinking about food!
Eat a simple, basic meal in the morning and keep simple, basic snacks on hand
When you take the “flair” out of food, it becomes more of fuel—a bodily necessity—than an obsession. For example, a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with a few walnuts is a fabulous, no-frills breakfast—and it’s the type of meal that won’t leave you salivating for that next bowl.
Nicole Mareno, Ph.D., RN
Registered Nurse | Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor | Owner, Nurture Consulting, LLC
Physical/biological hunger is your body’s way of communicating your need for fuel. When your body senses that it needs energy, various hormones and substances are released in the brain that sends signals encouraging you to eat (e.g., you start thinking about food, you experience a hollow feeling in your stomach, you feel weak/fatigued).
When you provide your body with adequate energy, the signals are turned off until the body detects a need for energy (for most adults during waking hours this is every 4-5 hours). When you ignore or try to pacify hunger with no-to-low calorie drinks or food, it can progress to a ravenous state (primal hunger) and lead to binge or out-of-control eating.
Thinking about food periodically throughout the day is normal. Being preoccupied with food all the time is a sign that your body’s energy needs are not being met. This usually happens when someone restricts their total energy (calorie) intake, restricts macronutrient groups, deprive themselves of foods they enjoy, or a combination of all three.
If you find that you’re preoccupied with food and eating, it may be time to consider your relationship with food
Honoring your body’s need for consistent fuel is an act of self-care. If your eating pattern is inconsistent or chaotic and you are restricting yourself from foods that you enjoy, reestablishing a consistent eating pattern where you eat to satiation is a good first step.
Kimberly M. Daniels, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist | Your Weight is NOT Your Worth
I will say that the most obvious answer is to try to distract yourself and focus your life on other things
If it were that easy, though, no one would ever think of food! In my experience, people often use food as a distraction from aspects of their lives that are difficult to think about. If you’re in an unhappy marriage, hate your job, or are stressed about finances, it’s far easier–and more pleasant!– to focus on food.
So, unfortunately, to truly stop thinking about food once and for all, you’re going to have to take a good hard look at what you’re trying to distract yourself from.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, the less we diet, the less we’ll think about food
I also find that the more people diet, the more they think about food. We seem to think that if we control all aspects of our eating by counting calories, tracking our food, and measuring our portions, the more calm and relaxed we’ll be about food.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth! The more we try to control our eating, the less control we actually have. Which leads us to think about it more and more.
Certified Diabetes Educator | Registered Dietitian, Balance One Supplements
When people are restrictive with their eating habits, such as going on very strict diets or not eating enough to meet their needs, they tend to think about food more often.
If someone loves bread and decides to go on a very low carb diet, such as a keto diet, they’re probably going to think about bread and how much they miss the texture, flavor, and smell of it baking.
The issue with restrictive diets or low calorie diets that they aren’t sustainable long-term; there have even been scientific studies proving that long-term weight loss isn’t maintained with the vast majority of diets.
Consider making small, realistic changes that can be a part of a sustainable healthy lifestyle
Cutting back on soda, going for a walk at lunch or choosing high-fiber foods are all examples of small changes that make a big difference when they are maintained long-term, and shouldn’t make you crazy thinking about food 24/7!
Nutritionist | Author, The Candida Diet
There are two primary causes of our tendency to be hyper-focused on food; mental and physiological, and these can also be intertwined. I’ll address the physiological reason, our diet, that we can’t stop thinking about food and how to stop it reduce the occurrence.
The areas of the brain which control cravings are also responsible for pleasure and memory. Therefore, if we have a history of rewarding ourselves or indulging in food to meet an emotional need our brain will crave these foods during similar times.
There is also a significant hormonal cause of cravings; serotonin and leptin. When an imbalance in these hormones occurs, as in times of high stress, we will crave high fat and sugar-laden foods.
Along those same lines, our diet can cause cravings. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed convenience foods create a state of inflammation in the body and poor gastrointestinal health. These two factors can lead to overall poor health, mentally and physically, which puts stress on the body and mind and inevitably leads to cravings.
So what can we do to stop cravings?
Cutting out processed foods in the diet will bring our bodies, mentally and physically, back into balance which will help to curb our cravings
Getting rest and reducing stress in our lives will help to balance hormones like serotonin and leptin which will give us a better chance and not giving in to our cravings.
Workplace Training Expert | Marketing Director, Moxie Media
When you can’t stop thinking about food, it can be difficult to curb stress eating, emotional eating, or overeating. It’s important to address the underlying stress, emotions, and habits associated with eating in order to develop a healthier relationship with food.
Overeating can be especially common in the workplace, where many people experience the majority of their stress.
Consider these tips to help you stop thinking about food and develop healthier eating habits at the workplace:
Avoid multitasking when eating
When you aren’t focused on what you’re eating, you’re less likely to register that you are actually full. This can easily lead to accidental overeating. Try to eat slower and consciously check in with yourself about whether or not you’re still hungry. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re actually hungry, consider drinking a glass of water before reaching for more food.
Choose better snacks
If you know you’re going to eat when you’re stressed, have healthier, more filling snacks on hand to help combat stress-related hunger pangs. Avoid eating sugary foods or consuming empty calories. An apple and a cheese stick is just one example of a better snack that you can choose.
Identify your stressors
Determine which task or deadline brings on the most stress and work from there. Once you’ve identified what stresses you out most and contributes to your overeating, then you can become more aware of your stressors and find better ways to cope with them.
Focus your attention elsewhere
When you let stress get to your head and overwhelm you, then you may use food as a coping mechanism. When you find yourself unable to stop thinking about food, consider going for a walk, meditating, or light stretching to help get your mind back on track.
Certified Personal Trainer | Health & Wellness Expert, Maple Holistics
Before you grab that pan of brownies, you need to determine if you are indeed hungry. We cannot live without food but must avoid unnecessary eating when you are simply thirsty, bored, or anxious.
One way to divert your attention away from food is a glass of water
If this is not enough, try a walk with a friend either in person or on the phone. Sometimes it is as simple as a distraction to clear your mind of food. If your drive is persistent, go ahead and give in but make a healthy choice.
Ignoring real hunger pangs and cravings is just as bad as constantly thinking about food. Create mindful eating habits so that you’re able to honor your body’s needs.