One of the biggest secrets to controlling your thoughts about food is understanding what triggers your food thoughts and behaviors.
So many things can trigger food thoughts, and they’re often unique to you. To find a solution, you need to pinpoint the source of those thoughts.
Many times, that sounds easier than it is. It requires you to do some digging beneath the surface and some real self-research.
It’s also important to note that what works for someone else may not work for you. It might take a little patience and trial and error. But you’ll figure out what works for you.
1. Avoid attaching shame to the thought of food
Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with thinking about food.
But everyone has a different relationship with food. For many people, the thought of food may trigger feelings of guilt, shame, and frustration.
If you feel shameful about your feelings about food, then you might put yourself down whenever you think about food. You might assume that doing this will encourage you to stop thinking about it.
But research has actually found that the opposite is true. Some studies show that feeling guilty and shameful about your food choices or weight can lead to overeating and actually make it harder to lose weight.
A small 2019 study focusing on college-age women found a link between feelings of shame toward food and an increased likelihood of binge eating behaviors. Intuitive eating, on the other hand, can be helpful in protecting people against these feelings.
Intuitive eating is a dietary school of thought that does away with strict dieting. Instead, people who follow this method are encouraged to listen to the needs of their bodies and nurture self-respect and patience.
A 2014 study (focusing on dieters’ relationship with chocolate cake, no less) found that while guilt can sometimes motivate people to change, it can also lead to feelings of helplessness and a loss of control.
The researchers found that guilt didn’t help people eat more healthfully. Participants who associated guilt with chocolate cake had more trouble controlling their eating behavior and were more likely to gain weight.
So, instead of criticizing yourself for thinking about food, try to focus more on what’s going on that’s making you feel so bad about it.
PSA: This can take time. Be kind to yourself.
2. Don’t exclude certain foods outright
If you’re constantly thinking about, say, ice cream, you might think the best thing to do is just not to allow yourself a simple scoop ever again. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Not so much. A small 2017 study suggests that restricting certain foods might actually make you think about them more, not less.
Research has found that eliminating foods and being super strict about what you eat isn’t sustainable for a long time.
If there’s a certain food you think about more than others, don’t eliminate it completely. Instead, eat a small amount of it. You’ll likely stop fixating on it because you’ve already had it.
3. Listen to your body
Your bod knows.
When allowing yourself to eat a small amount of something you’re really craving, you have to listen to your body. Learn to trust your body’s hunger and fullness cues instead of second-guessing yourself.
Understanding when you’re hungry and need to eat is important because it ensures you’re not depriving yourself of calories.
In other words: Eat when you’re hungry. And eat enough calories for your body to stay satisfied.
4. Eat healthy snacks that fill you up
Again, depriving yourself is not the way to stop thinking about food, which is why snacks can be so essential. The key is to choose snacks that are filling, satisfying, and nutritionally dense.
Research suggests that eating nutritious snacks can help you control your appetite and avoid overeating during your next meal. Whole foods that are high in protein, fiber, and whole grains can help keep you feeling full longer.
5. Drink plenty of water
Water just hits different. #H2OhYeah
Staying hydrated is essential for your overall health. But a small 2019 study suggested that drinking enough water each day might also help reduce cravings for salty foods.
Another small study (involving only 49 people) found that drinking a lot of water throughout the day suppressed hunger in a similar way across several weight groups.
But drinking water wasn’t linked to a significant change in the energy intake of participants with overweight or obesity, when compared to those with lower body weights.
And a small 2018 study found that participants who drank water before a meal ate less than those who didn’t drink water with their meals.
6. Keep a food journal
If it goes in your mouth, it goes in the jotter pad.
Keeping a dedicated food journal isn’t just a way to monitor what’s going in your mouth but also a way to better understand your thoughts and feelings about food. It might also help you see what triggers you to think about food even when you’re not hungry.
Try using a food journal for at least a week. Write down everything you eat and make note of any potential triggers around you at the time you’re eating, such as how you’re feeling, where you are, and who you’re with.
7. Distract yourself until the urge stops
You should never avoid legitimate hunger cues.
But if you’re thinking about food when you know you’re not hungry (for example, if you’re full from a large meal but suddenly find yourself thinking about a snack), you might want to simply distract yourself until the thought goes away.
8. Try mindful eating
Mindful eating means actively being aware of the full mind and body experience you have while eating.
So, instead of sitting down to eat dinner while scrolling through social media, you would sit down with no distractions, eat slowly, and think about how the food makes you feel.
A 2017 study involving 348 people found that mindful eating can limit impulsive food choices.
And a 2017 research review concluded that mindful eating is effective for weight management. It makes you more aware of your body’s cues to eat rather than external cues. This review also noted that mindful eating could be helpful for problematic eating behaviors.
9. Exercise or move around
Looking at images of food can trigger food obsession. And certain types of exercise may be the key to changing how your brain responds to those images.
A small 2014 study on 15 healthy men and a small 2013 study involving 37 people examined the effects of food images on the brain. Both found that photos of high calorie foods stimulated the brain’s reward centers less after exercise.
These findings suggest that exercise might help reduce urges to eat high calorie foods. But these studies are tiny, and more research is needed on this topic.
Exercise may not limit your appetite, but it has plenty of other health benefits that make it worth trying. You don’t need to do a 45-minute cardio session every time — a brisk walk could be enough.
10. Ask for support from a pro
If you feel like you think about food, body image, or eating habits so much that it’s interfering with your daily life, there’s no shame in asking a medical professional for help.
A physician, registered dietitian, or psychological practitioner may be able to help you work through mental blocks and triggers and figure out some solid ways to stop thinking about food so often.
There are two reasons we think about food so often, and both are more scientific than just “it tastes good.”
Your brain regulates hunger and food intake with two separate but interrelated pathways: the homeostatic and hedonic pathways. Only one of these pathways needs to activate to make you think about food.
Here’s a look at how they work together (and apart).
The homeostatic pathway is in charge of regulating your…
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