In today's food-obsessed world it seems almost normal to proclaim yourself to be a foodie who lives for food-related experiences. Countless artistic pictures of someone's lunch in Instagram, crazy news videos about a new food trend, more elaborate and more insane restaurants, giant burgers… you name it.
Sometimes it seems there's no escaping the food obsession.
But there's a line between being a food-lover who simply enjoys a fun experience once in a while and being so obsessed over your eating habits that food-related thoughts start consuming unhealthy portions of your mindpower.
When you cross that line, simple enjoyment turns into an obsession that takes over every single part of your life. Everything you do revolves around food. Are you eating enough macros? Are you eating too much? Is that extra banana good for you? What if you'd eat another meal? Are you allowed to eat that? What if you eat ice cream and go completely off the rail into a deep circle of binge-eating? What if you go out with your girlfriends and then undo your whole 3-week workout program?
These are just some of the thoughts that might circle your head when food and dieting, in general, is taking over your life. Food won't be about fuel or providing your body the best nutrition it needs in order for you to thrive in your healthy beautiful body. Food will be about keeping up with your diet plan's macros and making sure you eat every single gram of food according to that plan.
Otherwise, you might as well call it quits, or what?
This food obsession can become so powerful it will take over your entire life and slowly drive you insane.
There's nothing wrong with trying to follow a diet plan in order to find better ways to improve your health. But there's a difference between following a diet plan and driving yourself towards a cliff by trying to fit your life inside numbers. Eating a carrot should come from your desire to provide your body with a great source for vitamin A, not from the wish to get 100% of your daily vitamin A just to get a green light from your fitness tracker. You shouldn't avoid a yogurt just because you're afraid of some extra carbs. You shouldn't force yourself to eat something you don't like just because it fits into some sort of a plan.
This kind of approach to diet is called mindful eating – a state where you follow your own inner guidelines and your body's signs, not some numeric values that actually say nothing about you. We've become so obsessed with food, diet, exercise and “perfect” bodies that we've forgotten what food is actually about. We don't really take time to enjoy food nor do we listen to our bodies. Instead, we fill our bodies with anything we can get our hands on, as long as it fits the daily carb or protein goal.
Things get especially bad if we forget things to such extent that we'd rather force ourselves to drink powders and eat supplements, just to fit into those numbers, instead of listening to our bodies.
Does it work? Sure. It's no secret you will probably build muscle faster with higher protein intake. It's no secret you'll probably lose weight if you limit your food intake, whether it's limiting fats or carbs.
But at what cost does it work? At the cost of your sanity and mental health.
Many influencers have started realizing what the exercise and health-craze has done to them. By trying to follow some pre-determined diet plans, fitness trackers and Instagram celebs with apparently perfect bodies, they've forgotten to listen to their own bodies.
Even if you think you're eating correctly you might be obsessed about food and not actually listen to your body at all.
The point? Food obsession comes in many shapes and forms. You can be apparently in perfect shape but still, be obsessed with food. You might avoid going out with your friends if it doesn't fit your macros in your fitness app. You might eat things only according to the app since it fits the plan.
Or you might not be following a plan at all but still, find yourself constantly thinking about food. You might feel how an inner voice tells you: “please, buy that and eat it”. That feeling gets only stronger and stronger, until one point you give in.
So how to get rid of that nagging voice? How to stop obsessing over your diet? How to become mindful about eating?
It all starts with baby-steps. Most importantly, it starts in your head. Here are a few things you can do in order to snap out of the food-obsession circle.
1. Stop following apps, start following yourself
If you've been tracking your eating habits with different apps for a long time, this advice sounds as good as someone telling you to stop breathing.
But the training wheels really do need to come off at some point. That's all the app is – training wheels.
For some people, nutrition trackers can be greatly helpful but for most, they are a source of unhealthy obsession that only leads to deeper issues. Soon, you'll realize you skip meals or add more meals, just to fit into numbers. Even if you're not hungry (or, on the opposite, are hungry). If you don't listen to yourself and only follow a machine, nothing good ever comes out of it.
You, after all, have known yourself for your entire life. An app, well… doesn't know anything about you, other than your age, measurements and activity level. It doesn't take into account biology, your environment, your metabolism, your whole essence.
Don't run your life according to algorithms. Run it according to you.
2. Take time for eating
When was the last time you actually sat down and took the time to enjoy every bite of your meal?
We always seem to rush and just chow down as quickly as possible, so we could get back to our errands. Or even worse – we eat with one eye on the plate and the other one on the phone.
If you eat quickly, you'll distance yourself from food, causing digestion problems, slower satisfaction (since you go through it so quickly) and as a result, you might eat more than you would since you won't feel full.
If you eat slowly, you give your body time to acknowledge the food and you'll feel full soon, instead of shoveling down a huge amount of food, only to feel bad 20 minutes later. You'll eat less without even trying to eat less: your body will simply send you a signal when you've had enough.
3. Think about your body's needs
If you're struggling with getting rid of sugar-cravings or those mischievous thoughts about burgers and fries, there's one simple trick to get rid of your obsessions.
Think about whether your body needs that food you're craving.
The bottom line is that food is still fuel. We need it in order to survive and to thrive. The better fuel we consume, the more energetic and healthy we are. The healthier we are, the more we can achieve within our lifetime.
If you're craving for ice-cream, think about whether your body needs that ice-cream. Think about what that ice-cream does to your body. You'll quickly find that you don't really want to put bad fuel in your body when you realize what these things do to you.
4. Eat more nutrient-dense foods
You might constantly think about food simply because you haven't provided your body with sufficient nutrients. This obsession is your body's way of telling you to eat more nutrient-rich foods. There's a big difference between eating nutrient-dense foods vs eating empty calories.
What does that mean?
Empty-calorie foods contain a high number of calories per their portion, in comparison to nutrient-dense foods that have little calories, but tons of micronutrients. Empty-calorie foods are usually rich in sugar or fat but contain little to no vitamins, minerals or other essentials.
For example, about 50 grams of gummy bears (one handful) contains about 200 calories. However, in order to consume 200 calories from celery, you'd need to eat almost 1.5 kilograms of celery! A portion of fries might contain over 300 calories and no micronutrients while a huge plate full of broccoli contains around 30 calories and vitamin K, iron, folate, manganese, etc.
Your body goes through empty calories quite quickly since these are usually made of simple carbs that don't take much effort to break down. This means that you consume a huge amount of excess energy which doesn't get used, so it finds itself a home in your fat deposits.
If you include more nutrient-dense foods in your daily diet, you'll soon realize how your food obsessions are slowly fading away since your body is getting more nutrients, not just empty calories.
5. Figure out mealtimes that work for YOU
Society has built all kinds of rules. If you don't follow those rules, you might feel as if you're living in the wrong way and therefore, you might try to push yourself inside those rules.
One such rule includes mealtimes. We've been constantly told to eat breakfast at a certain time, to follow a certain mealtime plan and if we should ever steer away from that, we'll feel bad.
The truth is, all bodies work differently and everyone has different lifestyles. You can't expect to fit your unique self into a preset rule that is meant to work for a million other people. And you should never feel guilty because you're not following that societal plan.
Mindful eating means listening to your body. Figure out mealtimes that work for your body. If you feel hungry in the morning, eat. If you don't feel hungry, don't eat. But never force yourself to eat (or not eat) based on a mealtime rule that someone else has created. No one else can tell you what mealtimes work for you.
And even more – you don't need to force a certain daily regimen on your body. If one morning you feel hungry and the other one you don't, you don't need to force food down your throat. Only eat when your body tells you to.
6. Fill your life with more mental stimulation
Sometimes, we get obsessed with food simply because our mind has nothing better to do. In other words, you're bored, so you eat.
Getting rid of this kind of obsession is a bit easier though. All you need to do is to find stronger mental stimulation: something else that would occupy your time and mind, so you could focus on something other than food. Find a new hobby, read more, do arts and crafts – whatever works for you.
Try to avoid scrolling the internet or sitting behind the TV – these are notoriously good for creating food obsessions since you won't really occupy your mind.
7. Understand the causes behind your obsession
Lastly, but most importantly – you need to figure out what exactly is causing your obsessions.
Is it boredom? Is it lack of information when it comes to healthy food? Is it because of hormones? Or is it because you're addicted to something in the food?
Yes, you read that correctly – addicted. Food addiction is a real – and a very scary – disorder that can hit anyone. It's even said to be as strong as any drug addiction. Sugar is one of the most common causes of this addiction but the same could be said for many artificial flavor enhancers or other substances, starting from monosodium glutamate. Unfortunately, these addictive substances are so widely used you might find them from virtually everything, from ketchup to sausages.
If your obsession is related to certain substances, the only way to get rid of it is to avoid those substances. Instead of buying processed food (that most likely contains some iffy artificial flavorings or other substances), buy only fresh food and make home-cooked meals from scratch.
It might take time and considerable effort to get rid of food obsessions but in the end, the only thing you really need to follow is your gut feeling, quite literally.