Thinking Too Much About Food?

Is food constantly in your thoughts? Even if you’re not having urges to binge, are you incessantly thinking about eating?

This post will help you learn to manage these bothersome food thoughts.

You can listen to a audio version of what follows at BrainoverBinge.com/subscribe (Scroll down on that page until you see the audio except from course Lesson 8: Food Thoughts)

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In addition to your struggles with bingeing, you may feel like food takes up too much of your brain space. If you’re around food, you may have a hard time focusing on anything else. Even if you’re not necessarily thinking about binge eating or feeling that impulse to eat very large quantities of food, you might be thinking about what’s in your refrigerator or what you’re going to eat next.

You may be at work and trying to get things done, and all you can think about is getting your lunch, even if you’re not hungry yet. If this is the case for you, you may find yourself eating just to make those incessant thoughts about eating go away. Eating might feel like it just quiets your mind for a minute—but then once you’re done eating—it’s possible that more thoughts start to pop up about what you’re going to have next. It can feel exhausting to be constantly thinking about eating or trying to talk yourself out of eating. Understandably, you want to be able to concentrate on the rest of your life and not just concentrate on food.

It’s definitely not your fault that you’re feeling this way and that you’re having these incessant thoughts, but it’s important to accept that this is simply the way that your brain is wired at this point in time. Getting upset at the food thoughts, or strongly wishing they would go away, or getting upset at yourself is only going bring more attention to these food thoughts. So as much as you can, try not to react emotionally to these thoughts. Notice them with a level of detachment, so that you’re observing these thoughts without so much judgment.

As far as why your brain seems to be so zoned in on food, there could be various reasons for it. One factor could be a natural tendency based in your genetics that does make you more attracted to food. Everyone is different, and some people do find food more rewarding than others. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It’s just part of a normal variation. The reason that you’re so zoned in on food could also have to do with past dieting and the fact that your lower brain is still trying to protect you—by encouraging you to eat as much as possible.

This fixation on food could have something to do with conditioning from childhood—if you were constantly given food—and now your body and brain still expects that constant supply of food. It’s possible that a partial cause could be some of the types of food that you’re eating, which may be causing drops in blood sugar and therefore some thoughts about getting more food to get your blood sugar back up. Another cause could be that the binge eating itself has trained your brain to make food a priority, even when you’re not bingeing.

But whatever the theoretical cause may be, you can learn to redirect your focus and change this habit of thinking about food too much—and  if the cause has anything to do with the types of food you’re eating, you can look at that as well. Even if the cause has some of its roots in you being more genetically attracted to food and rewarding experiences, that does not mean you’re destined to be constantly consumed with food thoughts. Knowing your tendencies helps you deal with those tendencies appropriately. Once you’re self-aware of whatever your susceptibilities may be, you can take steps to help yourself.

For example, if you’re naturally prone to anxiety or worrisome thoughts, you can be prepared for them and you can use strategies for calming yourself down in difficult moments. If you’re naturally more prone to focus on food, then you can be prepared for the thoughts to come up and you can use strategies that help you turn your attention elsewhere. This tendency is probably very common, but it does not have to interfere with your life. Everyone is susceptible to something, but your genetics and your brain-based tendencies are not your destiny. Your brain is plastic, it can change. You can teach it to function at its best, and take advantage of your strengths—and you can simply be aware of some of the thoughts and the behaviors that you’re at risk of engaging in, and then take steps to prevent that.

So far, I’ve basically explained some of the possible reasons you may be focused on food and why it’s important to accept it, and also believe that change is possible. I’ve also mentioned that learning to refocus your attention will be very important to changing this tendency. Through the rest of this discussion, I’m going to give you some suggestions for learning to shift your attention away from food and onto other things.

My first suggestion is to set the proper expectations.

Even when you bring your food thoughts down to a normal level, you should still expect to have food thoughts. Normal eaters enjoy eating, they look forward to eating, they certainly may have thoughts that pop into their head while they’re working or doing other things about what they’re going to eat next. They’ll probably look forward to their lunch break or look forward to getting home for dinner. Normal eaters also have feelings of desire surface when they have these food thoughts. They may think about how delicious something is going to be. They’ll definitely look forward to eating a great dessert. If their favorite food is around at a party, they may be thinking about it more than they would like to.

These examples are just to show you that you do not need to label all of your food thoughts as problematic. It’s normal to have a desire for food and thoughts about food. But I want that to have its proper place in your life and not feel like it’s taking over your mind. You’ll want to get to a place where your thoughts about food feel more fleeting, and less incessant. You’re certainly capable of bringing your food thoughts down to a level that feels much healthier to you, but make sure you’re not expecting them to go away completely.

My second suggestion for refocusing your attention is to notice when you’re not thinking about food.

I know it can sometimes feel that you’re thinking about food all the time, but I know that there are moments in the day when you’re not thinking about it. There are times when you’re focusing fully on your work or on something else in your life. I want you to notice that and see that your brain does have the capacity to go in other directions. Now, I realize that looking for those moments that you’re not thinking about food and then possibly saying, “Wow, this is great. I’m not thinking about food right now” can possibly have the unintended effect of making you then think about food. So try to do this in a way that you’re just observing your mind in a relaxed way, instead of constantly judging whether or not you’re thinking about food in that particular moment.

My third suggestion is to notice when your mind wanders onto other things that are not food, and then realize that the food thoughts don’t have to have so much significance.

I’m going to explain what I mean by this. Right now you may be thinking that when your mind wanders, food is the only thing that it’s turning to. But when you step back and observe your mind, you’ll notice that you have wandering thoughts of other things as well—but the difference is that you don’t take those other thoughts so seriously. You likely don’t get mad at those other thoughts that your mind is creating. You don’t criticize yourself for having those thoughts. You don’t think those other thoughts mean that you’re diseased or damaged. You just let those thoughts come and go.

Try to view your food thoughts as just one type of countless thoughts that run through your head during the day. When you view the food thought just like any other thought, you’ll see that you can have the food thoughts running through your head and still do what you need to do in your life—because that’s exactly what you do when you’re experiencing other types of thoughts.

My last suggestion for redirecting your attention is to simply refocus, refocus, refocus.

When you notice the food thoughts, you can redirect your attention back to the present moment and focus on whatever you’re doing or whatever you want to focus on. You may need to refocus a lot at first, but it will get easier over time. You could compare this to a meditation practice. When you do a meditation practice, your mind naturally wanders, and then you bring your attention back to a focal point or a mantra. And when you first start a meditation practice, you may need to refocus your attention on the mantra or on the focal point hundreds of times, even within just a minute—but it gets easier over time, and your brain starts to stay more and more focused on what you want to be focusing on.

It’s the same with the food thoughts. You may need to bring your attention back from the food thoughts onto something else many, many times before it starts to become more effortless and the food thoughts start appearing less and less. Your brain learns that the thoughts you focus attention on are the ones that are important to you, and will keep producing those thoughts over and over; but when you stop focusing attention on certain thoughts, the brain will learn that those thoughts have less significance to you, and the food thoughts will stop being so intrusive in your life.

One last thing I want to mention here is that, if you are struggling with incessant food thoughts—just make sure that you are eating enough food. Everything I’ve said here assumes that the problem does not lie in current restriction. If you are restricting and you start nourishing yourself well, you’ll likely find that a lot of these food thoughts simply go away on their own.

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More help:

If you want extra guidance as you learn to develop a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and weight, here are some resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, weekly group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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Ep. 89: The Mind & Binge Eating, 5 Common Patterns (with Dr. Amy Johnson)

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Ep 87: Start Desiring a Binge-Free Life

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Ep. 86: Stop Thinking “I Don’t Know How to Eat”

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Vacations and Traveling in Binge Eating Recovery

You may be planning to travel or vacation this summer, especially after not being able to go anywhere last summer. If you are trying to recover from binge eating, you may be wondering how to handle this. You may be concerned that being out of your normal routine, and eating foods you don’t usually eat will interfere with your efforts to become and stay binge-free. Also, summer vacations often involve wearing swim suits or other clothes that bring up some body image concerns or desires to lose weight.

I want to give you some simple ideas to stay on track in recovery during travel, so that you can enjoy your vacation experience, and stay committed to ending the habit—no matter where you are or what you are doing. It’s important to learn to deal with variations in your routine, because the point of recovering is so that you can live your life without feeling held back by the eating disorder. You definitely don’t want to have to always keep one set routine in order to avoid binges, because that’s very limiting and it doesn’t give you the freedom that you want.

Simplify: Focus on the Two Recovery Goals

My first tip for vacation or travel is to remember that regardless of your location or situation, all you have to do for recovery is two things: 1. Dismiss the urges to binge, and 2. Eat adequately. If you’ve followed my podcast, blog, or read the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, you know that those are the two goals of the brain over binge approach. Those two recovery goals do not change when you’re away from home or when you’re engaging in activities that you don’t normally do. You may think that you need to do something special for different situations, and there is definitely value in being prepared (which I’ll talk about next), but know that you are ultimately just trying to not binge and to eat enough to support your efforts to not binge. You don’t need to make things overly complicated.

You can prepare to stay on track in recovery during vacation by making plans that will help you with both recovery goals. This is especially helpful when it comes to eating adequately while you are out of your normal routine. If you can generally plan (in a flexible way) for where and when you’ll have your meals and snacks, it can allow you to you feel more secure knowing that you aren’t going to let yourself get too hungry, which can be a setup for that survival drive to binge. If you’re going to be with others and therefore not in full control of when and where you’ll be eating, then it can be helpful to have some food on hand that you can eat if you’ll be waiting a long time between meals.

For the recovery goal of dismissing urges, there isn’t anything specific you need to do, but you can take a look at your patterns and determine when urges may be likely to come up on your vacation, and then develop plans to support yourself in dismissing them. For example, if you tend to have urges after meals and you find that it helps you to get out of the eating environment, you can plan to go for walks after you eat. Keep in mind that the activities you choose to do while you are experiencing urges aren’t meant to take the urges away, but doing something else can give you the time and space you need to connect with your higher brain and dismiss the urges. If you are new to dismissing urges to binge, you can learn the basics in my free PDF.

Don’t Let Negative Body Thoughts Lead to Binge Eating

If you travel in warm weather, or vacation at the beach, you may be concerned about what you’ll wear and how you’ll look. Even if you know rationally that you can enjoy yourself regardless of your weight or body size, you may have habitual negative body thoughts that pop up when you step out of your comfort zone with what you wear. It’s important to remember that it’s these body thoughts that you need to learn to manage, and your weight will take care of itself as you stay consistent with the two recovery goals. When you try to do the opposite—and attempt to manage your weight (with a restrictive diet), in order to get your body thoughts to go away—it has the unintended effect of making your binge eating worse, and making it harder to reach your natural healthy weight over time. (For thorough discussions about many weight-related topics, go to BrainoverBinge.com/Weight/)

No matter how you’re feeling about the way you look, and no matter if you’re comparing yourself to others, you can continue to eat enough food to support your recovery and to let your body heal. That doesn’t mean you should just let negative thoughts take over, because it’s definitely helpful to learn to stop being so critical of your own body. Being comfortable and confident does help you enjoy experiences more, but it’s not something that happens overnight; so for now, you can learn to enjoy experiences while having some automatic, habitual, negative body thoughts. You can dismiss and disregard the thoughts as much as you can, and you will get more skilled at this over time as the thoughts fade away. (Listen to Episode 40: Body Image and Binge Eating for more help with body image issues).

You also don’t have to feel great about your body to avoid binge eating. It’s possible you have a pattern right now of feeling unhappy with your body, and then having thoughts like, “I’ll never look the way I want, so I might as well binge.” When you learn to recognize thoughts like this as neurological junk, and when you don’t let those thoughts drive your actions, you are well on your way to a binge-free vacation, and a binge-free life.

Visualize Your Vacation Success

My next tip for you is to visualize or mentally rehearse how you’ll successfully handle challenging situations while you are out of your normal routine. For example, if you know that binge urges tend to arise when you feel negatively about your body, you can try to imagine having those body image concerns, and mentally rehearse what the thoughts urging you to binge might say. Then, you can see yourself (in your mind) not giving those binge thoughts any attention and refocusing on your vacation. If you’re someone who feels tempted to engage in restrictive dieting, you can also visualize yourself being successful at eating adequately in situations where you may be tempted to under-eat.

If you need a little extra help with this, I’ve created a recording to guide you in visualizing your success in dismissing urges (coaching track 4) and another one to help you imagine being successful at eating adequately (coaching track 11), and if you are a course member, I recommend that you listen to these two tracks prior to and during your trip, as well as other coaching tracks that help you stay on the path to recovery. If you are not a member, know that the course now includes an app that makes it convenient to listen on the go, and it’s only $10.99 per month for the coaching tracks plus over 100 other course resources to guide you toward freedom from binge eating. There is no long-term commitment, so you can get the course just for extra help on your trip and then cancel when you’re ready.

Allow for Flexibility

My final tip is to allow for flexibility and know that you do not have to be perfect on this vacation—or ever—and you can still avoid binge eating. This doesn’t mean you’ll give yourself excuses to overindulge in a problematic way on vacation, it means you need to realize that no one eats perfectly, and especially on vacation when you’re often eating out a lot. Your eating will be different than it is at home, and that’s okay. You can see this as an opportunity to learn that you can eat normally in any situation and eat normal amounts of any food.

If you’re used to eating healthy most of the time, and you won’t have the ability to cook or have access to your regular nutritious foods, this may bring up some anxiety. But, this is a great chance to teach yourself that you can be successful regardless of the types of foods you are eating. Eating in a way that’s less healthy than usual does not mean you’re binge eating or that you’re doing something wrong in recovery. It gives you so much freedom to know that you are capable of eating fast food, or convenience food, or delicious food at a restaurant, and still avoid going into an out-of-control binge. It’s impossible to eat in a perfect way your whole life, and vacation is a great opportunity to practice imperfection and still stay on track in recovery.

Focus on Living!

My last simple tip is the most important, and that’s to enjoy your vacation! Each time your brain tries to habitually pull your focus toward food, weight, or bingeing, you can consciously redirect your focus toward what truly matters to you. Focus on the people you are with, the sights you are seeing, the activities you are engaged in, and the pleasure of a break from your normal daily schedule. You deserve to live free of this habit, and you can start stepping into that binge-free version of yourself right now.

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If you want extra guidance as you use the Brain over Binge approach, here are some resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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Ep. 85: Drop the “Shoulds” Around Eating