No Wellness Wankery

69: Do you feel OBSESSED with food? 5 tips to help you stop constantly thinking about food

July 18, 2023
No Wellness Wankery
69: Do you feel OBSESSED with food? 5 tips to help you stop constantly thinking about food
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever felt like your relentless thoughts about food are working against you rather than for you? Consider this your golden opportunity to shift that narrative. 

Thinking about food when one is hungry or making cooking plans is completely normal. But thinking about food constantly? That may be a sign that something is up. 

Understanding the reason behind your persistent thoughts about food is key to overcoming them. Keep in mind that foods differ in nutritional value, not moral value. Unfortunately, diet culture has led us to mistakenly attach moral judgments to certain foods.

And gee, does Lyndi understand that. At the age of 11, she was made to be scared of pasta, eating carrot noodles long before zoodles were even a thing. Lyndi started a food tracker, writing down everything she ate and obsessing over every mouthful. For over a decade, as long as she followed her regimen, she was fine. However, if she felt compelled to break her dieting rules, enter anxiety. 

In today's episode, Lyndi shares her tips to shift your focus and stop obsessing over food

Resources this episode:

If you are ready to share your real story on the podcast, please email - we would love to hear from you. 

And remember, your words have power. If you have read Lyndi's book Your Weight is not the Problem, leaving reviews for can inspire others to join us and kick diet culture to the curb.



Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of No Wellness Lyndi Cohen. I'm and I'm your host, and it's just me today. I'm writing solo because I wanted to talk about this idea, this pain that we all often have. If you've ever been on a diet, you might go. I know what it's like to constantly think about food, to lie in bed at night scrutinizing what I ate that day, working out how can I balance out what I ate today with doing something extra healthy tomorrow, or perhaps under eating, if you're in that disordered headspace. And so I think it's a very important thing, because what I realized is that as long as you are constantly thinking about food, your potential, your life is limited because your headspace is clogged up by all these dietary thoughts. And, more to the point, I think we think that constantly thinking about food helps us eat healthily, that if we have this anxious response to the food, we're thinking of all the things, if I think about how many calories I have and I think about the portion size, and I'm weighing up all my options and the hundred thoughts have passed my brain before I've made a food decision. We think this sort of perfectionism when it comes to food helps us eat healthily, that it protects us from letting anything unholy enter our body, but all it actually does is this preoccupation with food makes us feel crazy around food, obsessed with food, and then we end up wanting the very thing that we're telling ourselves we're not allowed to have. We know how this principle works the famous psychological study by Daniel Wagner that I talk about in my book, which is the white bear study, where adult participants don't think about a white bear. Don't think about a white bear. Don't think about a white bear. And what do you know? Within a few seconds and minutes, the participants were thinking of a white bear. So this is one of the challenges we have, and we need to start working with the psychology of eating a lot more than we currently do. Right now, we think it's as simple as telling yourself what to eat, and you're just going to follow along and do that. I wish we are not robots, so let's stop thinking that we are. 


I have personal experience with constantly thinking about food. This was, during my diet in Korea, a limiting factor for me, because my entire adolescence was I was so preoccupied by what I was allowed to eat and not allowed to eat that I think I limited myself. I've spoken to people who I knew in high school and they would say I would keep bringing the conversation back to food. And so if you could imagine if all I wanted to talk about was diet stuff and weight loss and food and calories, how limited my relationships would be, and perhaps if you're listening, thinking about the ways that this is influencing your relationships at the moment, maybe there are people in your life who are also constantly thinking about food, whether it's a mother or a partner who's really into fitness, and this is a way that you bond with them, but also consider ways in which it could be limiting factor for you. I would spend hours each day thinking about food and I just don't want that for you. I don't think you should be giving up your essence on food. 


Food is something that we eat for two main reasons, one of which is fuel, of course. Let's say you've got a presentation. It's okay to think about food ahead of that presentation. You might go all right. Well, I know I want to have a breakfast. That's going to keep me feeling satisfied, and so I don't get hungry during that presentation. I want a nice source of energy so I feel my best, I can concentrate. That's eating for fuel, and it requires a degree of thinking. And then there's eating for enjoyment, which might be hey, I'm going to a birthday party and I want to have something delicious, and there's cake and everyone's enjoying. Therefore, I'm eating for enjoyment. 


Now, this constant thinking about food, though this is when it goes well beyond how much we actually need to think about food. Now that I'm a natural, healthy eater, an intuitive eater who doesn't diet, I'd say I think about food probably maybe 10 minutes a day. I don't know if that surprises you, but you know I have my general go-to breakfast. So I think to myself I'm going to wake up and I'm hungry, and then I'm generally going to make a decision pretty quickly, but it does not preoccupy my brain, and that's probably how I'm able to get so much done. There's genuinely not enough time at the day not to do this, and so I want to give you some tips to help you reduce this constant load of thinking about food. 


And one more thing I do want to address before I start sharing some tips is this idea we think we really do think that this constant obsession with food is helping us eat healthily, that it's helping us stick to our goals, but all it's doing is it's doing that white bear thing, it's making us come back to food, it's creating more of a good bad relationship with food and it's not working. Because if it was working, wouldn't you be at your goal weight by now? Wouldn't you have a healthy relationship with food by now? Wouldn't food be a non-issue? But unfortunately it's a bit of a slippery slope. The more you think about food, the more you think about food, and the more you think about food, the more people you follow online who also think about food. And a lot of the people we end up following online who are interested in nutrition tend to have some degree of disordered eating. 


There was a very interesting piece of research that came out that was looking at nutrition and dietetics students so people who become dietitians and nutritionists like myself and measuring how much disorder they have when it comes to food. And I think it was up to 97% of them had some degree of orthorexic tendency, so orthorexia being that preoccupation with being healthy to an unhealthy degree. So this isn't just oh, I want to eat healthy for that presentation, so I have good energy. This is a. I believe certain foods are bad and this impacts my daily life. It's limiting and it's actually unhealthy to be this way. So I just want to challenge that idea that this is helpful, because it's not, and I'm glad you're listening to this podcast. So let's talk about some things that we can do to create a healthier relationship of food. So you aren't like me using a food tracker when I was age 11, writing down everything I ate, obsessing over every single thing I put in my mouth, and you know that was me for a decade, following a regime that was very controlling, and I don't want that for you. 


Here are five tips to help you shift your focus away from constantly thinking about food. The first one first tip I have for you is you have to eat all the things. I know that might sound scary, but we've got to be able to do this to eat things like cake or cookies or ice cream with as much moral judgment as we eat something like a salad. There is no making up for food. There's no earning food. We're not dodging carbs, we're dodging food stress. So what I want you to start to do is start to focus on what you can have instead of the foods that you're not allowed to have. I always talk about this idea of crowding in the healthier stuff and actually we're going to crowd out the less healthy options. But those less healthy options absolutely need to be on your diet. It's like the white bear. 


If you're telling yourself I'm not allowed to have cookies, I'm not allowed to have ice cream, what are you going to end up eating? Probably the cookies and the ice cream. Then you're going to wallow in the guilt of having eaten that food, when really the obsession with food was setting you up too to do that. When we have these forbidden fruits, we really do think about them all the time and they become so heightened. So when we do finally eat them, they really light up our brain and release dopamine, making us, giving us that really high that we get after eating. So you might if you're a benjita, you might go. Oh, I feel really I actually love benjeting, I really enjoy the process and I really much understand that there's a whole bunch of brain chemicals that of course, you are enjoying that process. So we're getting that dopamine hit when we eat these foods, especially the more we've told ourselves we're not allowed to eat them. 


By eating all the things, the things that you are currently telling yourself you're not allowed to have. What we do is we normalize them so that they do not have the same impact on you when you do eat them. So I talk about this study in my book. I talk about macaroni and cheese study, which is they gave participants macaroni and cheese, they gave it to them every single day and they measured how much they ate. And, of course, on the first day of eating macaroni and cheese, everyone devoured macaroni and cheese. Hooray, mac and cheese is delicious, we love mac and cheese. And as the study went on, the participants began to eat less and less macaroni and cheese. Why is this? Because it was just another food. 


Currently, all those foods that you have on your forbidden list, even if they're things that you think, oh, I'm allowed to eat that, but I'm only allowed to have a small amount of it that is also going to have the same impact of making you feel like it's forbidden and making you feel like you're going to eat a lot of it. But what the macaroni and cheese study does is it shows us how, by normalizing it, you can reduce how excited it makes your brain, the reward you feel when you do finally eat it, so that when you do eat it, you don't get the high like you currently do because it's not forbidden, and so by renormalizing it, I think a lot of people have this fear. Well, if I reintroduce it into my diet, I'm going to binge on it all the time. I really won't be able to stop then. But I do argue and I mentioned this a lot in this podcast. I talk about this idea that actually the exact opposite thing tends to happen. 


So where do you start here, if you want to have all the things? Well, a good first step is to write down a list of the foods that you currently feel crazy about. What are you lying about tonight, berating yourself over eating? What do you tell yourself? I'm not allowed to eat this, and if I eat this, it has to be this amount. Or, let's say, you're still in the mindset of letting yourself have a cheat day. What are you going toward? Because these are the foods we actually need to bring in back into your diet, to renormalize them and trust this process, because it might take a while for your body to go. You know what? I know that anytime I want cookies, I can have cookies, and so slowly, these cookies are going to lose control, or it could be something like pasta. You think I'm just going to demolish pasta. You have to sit down, eat the pasta, and not limited to I can only have a cup. I have to weigh out how much pasta I eat. 


You need to eat according to your appetite and if you are wondering if you're a binge or an emotional eater because this is all tied up and it's something that you should be addressing this is a very important thing for us to be handling, because if you have this toxic relationship with food, you can't really eat healthily until you address it. I have a free quiz that you can take. It's all about determining your relationship of food, to work out where your starting point is right now. I'll leave a link to that in the show notes so you can get into it. Let's talk about this idea of intuitive eating, which is my point number two, something that I really want you to be doing. So, ideally, what we're doing is we are waiting until we feel hungry to eat and then we're eating until we feel comfortably full. 


Now, if you're constantly thinking about food, it's probably Assign that you are operating from your head. You know all these rules in your brain are trying to tell your body how much it needs to eat, when it needs to eat, what type of foods it needs to eat. And Intuitive eating is the opposite. It's when your body is telling your brain when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat. Does that make sense? So, instead of you Following a meal plan with all these rules, brain to body directed, your body goes oh I'm, I'm a bit hungry, this is time to eat. And you kind of need to get your brain to step out of the way, because your brain is going to counteract your body and say you shouldn't be hungry, we just ate, or we ate so much of that last meal we really need to not eat today. All these kinds of food rules. This is your brain trying to sabotage you and it's really taking you further away from intuitive eating, which is the basic principle that your body innately knows how much energy it needs to function. 


In fact, when you look at a meal plan, a meal plan might be, let's say, silly meal plans, like 1200 calories, which is grossly under eating for a, for a grown adult, but anyway they tell you to eat the exact same things every single day, for every single meal, and the truth is you don't. You don't use the same amount of energy every single day. You, if it's rainy or if it's cold or if it's hot, you're gonna burn different energy. If you slept well, do you have the air con on? How much movement did you have in the morning versus the evening? How much muscle mass you have, you get the idea. There are so many different impacts on how much energy you are burning that day. 


And what I find very interesting about intuitive eating is that it helps you eat within 50 calories of how much you are burning on that exact day. It's your very accurate barometer to know how much energy you need. So we need to get our brain out of the way so we can start to tune into our body, and if you've been dieting for many years, this is very scary. I Understand that that is an incredibly scary thing, which is why I talk about intuitive eating exactly how to do it Inside my Keep it Real program, because if you are a binge or emotional either, you're gonna have all these food rules that are constantly clogging up your brain, making it tricky for you to go. 


Oh, am I hungry? You might not even know what hunger feels like anymore. So I'm introducing you to the. You know this idea of the hunger scale, getting to record it on the hunger scale. In fact, if you're not ready to do Keep it Real, you can do my free Five-day course for binge eating. I'll leave a note to that in the show notes as well, because that's a very easy way for me to introduce you to intuitive eating if you're not yet familiar with it, and if you, even, if you are going through some of those basics, because Just tweaking intuitive eating can actually help you eat so much you know you make it all make sense, because you might say, oh, I've tried intuitive eating. 


It doesn't work for me. Maybe there are some things that I can teach you along the way that are gonna make the difference. So you get more of that food freedom. You only need to think about food just before you eat, thinking oh, you notice, oh, I notice I'm feeling hungry. A thought comes in your head oh, maybe I should eat soon, and that's when you can plan out going oh, what's gonna give me, what's gonna make me feel good, what do I really feel like eating? Because those things need to all be considered, which brings me on perfectly to point number three, which is you probably need to eat more, and I know that's counter to what you've been telling yourself. Probably it's all about trying to eat less and reduce and and portion control. 


But the fundamental problem I see with so many people and Keep in mind I've been doing this now for more than a decade. I've spoken to thousands of people about what they eat. In fact, the moment you tell someone you're a dietitian, they suddenly offer all this information about what they eat. And so I've gotten into Ubers before and I just start telling them I'm an accountant, because I don't know if I feel like hearing someone day on a plate every single time. I just want to go to the airport. 


Anyway, chances are you need to eat more because, from all these people who I've spoken to, the unifying thing that I hear from these all these people Is they're trying to eat Little during the day. They're trying to be good, they're trying to stick to all the rules that their brain is telling their body that they need to do. As a result, the body is feeling like it's not getting enough energy. I and so I know this sounds counterproductive, but when you start to feed your body with enough food, what you do is you switch off its desire to seek out more food. I know a lot of people who might have a salad for lunch and they get after they've eaten the salad, they go. I don't feel satisfied, they didn't fill me up. Or you eat lunch and an hour later you're going, but I'm hungry. I shouldn't be hungry, you tell yourself, even though your body is absolutely hungry, and the reason is you went so light during the day following these rules about what you thought you needed to eat. But you don't know how much energy you are burning that day and that's why we have that intuitive eating. Hunger is coming in to tell us we do actually still need food. 


Now, when we make a food decision, there are a few things we want to weigh up. Once again, I talk about this in my book your Weight is Not the Problem. I've mentioned it a few times. If you haven't read it, I would think I think it's a very good thing for you to go out and do. Your Weight is Not the Problem, it's a great one. I would say that my mom thinks that as well. 


But there are two things we really kind of want to manage. We want to get that physical satisfaction. So that is that you're feeling full, feeling comfortably full, after eating. But emotional satisfaction is equally important after eating a meal. So you might go, well, I should have a salad, but what's going to make you feel emotionally and physically satisfied might be a sandwich. So we need to get out of the way of our brain and once again what's really going to satisfy our body. And you might be surprised that you end up eating more during the day. And I always say to someone you know, inside my Keep it Real program we talk about this idea that sometimes eating a little bit more throughout the day helps you avoid a binge and you are a million times better in that situation. So it's kind of like this little compromise you're making little sacrifices, eating more than you probably think you should be eating because we don't trust our brain right now. 


It's constantly thinking about food, so it's not really the best guide. Let's start going, let's eat a little bit more and just experiment and see what happens, because you might find when you're physically and emotionally satisfied, you don't feel the need to go crazy around food. You don't constantly think about food. Once you've finished a meal, your brain can switch off, stop thinking about food and you're free to pursue other things in your life, but if you finish a meal and you're both physically and emotionally hungry, of course you're going to constantly think about food. I remember I would lie in bed at night and all I could think about was food, because I was physically hungry and I was emotionally hungry, or even if I had eaten a really filling dinner, if I was emotionally hungry, if there were all these foods that I thought were so off limits to me, forbidden, I would lie in bed at night and think about those, and those were typically the foods that I would end up binge eating on. 


And so, point number four what I want you to do is I want you to identify patterns. There are four questions I want you to ask yourself. The first question is why are you eating? Two is how are you eating? So, how are you eating quickly? Are you eating in a hurried state? Where are you eating? Are you eating on the couch or eating at the table? Where's the location you could be dashing to and from picking kids up? And I think this is the most important thing what foods do you find you're constantly thinking about, and are these the same foods that you feel out of control with? This takes us back to this idea that I talked about in point number one is typically the foods you have created. All these list these food rules around. So I'm not allowed to have cake, or I'm not allowed to have too much food, or whatever it is, carbohydrates. These are the foods that you end up feeling out of control with and, I think, realizing that if there is a pattern there, it's a sign that these food rules are doing the exact opposite, that they're actually creating a much bigger problem than they are solving, and so what you want to do is you want to take a curious, non-judgey look at some of these things around food, and I always find a useful thing. 


Let's say, you do lose control around food, or even if you don't, you notice these thoughts that are constantly bubbling away in your lovely brain. Let's purge them from your brain. What I want you to do grab your phone, get the notes out and just start writing down these thoughts. I talk about this idea of not paraphrasing this, just writing them down. What we're going to be looking for? Little hints of you restricting, little hints of food rules, little moments where we go. Oh, that's why I feel crazy around this food. I can see that I'm only limiting myself to have a little bit and I'd say, oh, I can eat ice cream, but I can only have one scoop. Oh no, one day I ended up eating the entire liter of ice cream, something I've definitely done before, because I was telling myself I wasn't allowed to eat it. So are the foods that you are trying to control, that you're constantly thinking about, are they the same foods that you end up binge or emotional eating on? That you end up losing control around, because it's a sign that there's some work to be done here. And the last thing I really want you to do, number five and of course, there's so much more stuff we can do beyond this this is just some preliminary tips I have for you. I want to help you to get you started. Number five is just do one thing while you're eating and yeah, this is another way of me saying eat mindfully. 


When you're watching TV, it's very disconnecting from the food that you're eating. In fact, you kind of go and eat on autopilot. It's very confusing for your body to know how full you are. You tend to eat very quickly. I really enjoy eating in front of the TV. I'm going to put that out there. I really do, and a degree of that is going to be totally within the realm of normal. So let's talk about context Is occasionally you're eating in front of the TV or in a group setting. That's typically going to be okay. But if what the TV eating I'm talking about is typically happening alone, when no one else is watching, it starts with one thing it turns into a sprawling eating episode, maybe even a binge. That's what I want us to address. 


So if you notice that slight urge for a binge to come on, notice it and be okay, we're allowed to binge. Because going, oh, I'm not allowed to binge. Well, that's probably going to lead more to the binge. I'm allowed to binge. What do I really feel like? What's going to emotionally satisfy me? What's going to physically satisfy me? How hungry am? I See, if you can sit down at the table, even if you binge eat at the table versus binge eat at the couch, you're going to notice that that binge is not going to go nearly as far, it's not going to be as tangential as it has been before and it's going to be a huge improvement already. 


Now, irrespective of if you're binge eating or if you just feel like you're constantly thinking about food. I think all of these things are good starting places to be, and I'm just going to throw out an extra tip here is to just be mindful of the people you're following on social media. I did touch on it before that those people who are influences especially around nutrition. They've probably got into that area because they have a special interest in this area. It's very likely that they had some degree of disordered eating, but I don't think that's controversial to say. I think the research can back me up there. That's a very fair thing to say. And so just be mindful of who we're getting our health inspiration from, who is informing what you are eating? Because you could argue that all of this is just trivial and doesn't make sense, but it's not, because when food takes up your brain, it controls your mind. When every thought comes back to how many reps you did at the gym or how many calories you consumed, I think your life, your potential is limited and I don't want that for you. 


I hope you found today's episode useful. You can check the show notes. I'm going to leave all the links to things like my free five day course and the quiz if you want to take that in the show notes below. And of course, I love hearing from you. I really do. I don't know if you've noticed, in the podcast I've added in a new little format where we have real chats. So if you want to have a one on one chat with me something I don't actually do anymore, I don't see clients one on one, I just give support inside by Keep it Real program and inside Back to Basics app. That's kind of where my time goes, but this is a special opportunity that if you want that one on one and you're happy for other people to listen in on that conversation to benefit others who are also probably in a similar situation to you, I'd love to hear from you. You can us an email Make sure you spell my name, it's a bit of a tricky name or you can reach out to me on my DMs on Instagram and I'd love to hear from you. 


And lastly, if you haven't yet read my book, your Weight is Not the Problem. I think it's a really good thing to do and if you have read it and you loved it, a review on that book would be so amazing. I think it's one of those things that we think we don't know how we can help and we want to try and move the dial away from diet culture and do our little bit. I think leaving a review so that more people are more inclined to read a book like that, that's destroying the diet nonsense. I think that would be a huge help for me. It would also be a huge help that hopefully more people can learn about not dieting be healthy without it constantly taking up their thoughts. Thanks for listening.

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Intuitive Eating and Breaking Food Rules
Your Weight is not the Problem