Many of us spend a ton of mental energy thinking about what to eat when to eat, how much to eat, and what all these choices mean for one’s body goals.
Stress, anxiety, guilt are some of the top emotions that are felt when it comes to eating under control. This invariably leads to one being utterly fed up with all this thinking and tracking about food leading to demotivation and mental fatigue!
It’s always harder to stop thinking about something. For example, when someone says “don’t think about an elephant”, predictably enough, the immediate thought is about an elephant. Similarly, “trying not to think about food” often has the exact opposite effect of the intended consequence.
How then do you stop obsessing about food and get your brain back on track? How do you “stop over-focusing” on what you eat, and when, and where, and how much? And most importantly - How do you find “food neutrality”?
The answer to the question is -” it all depends”. After all, one’s relationship with food is personal, and each person’s story is different.
Here are a few things that could help one move away from food obsession and toward food (and body) neutrality. Read on to know more.
There are 6 steps to the Freedom of FOOD
- Re-educate yourself about Food and Weight - The contemporary culture or narrative around food and weight is constantly changing. Unfortunately many big brands resort to advertising around diets and fear related to body image or insecurities, causing a skew in public perception. This culture/mindset needs to change. Get educated about anti-diet culture so that you fully understand how everything you’ve learned about food, weight, and health may need to be unlearnt first. REMEMBER, the process of re-educating yourself about food and health can be overwhelming, scary, sad, destabilizing, and uncomfortable all at the same time. It often requires a “re-feeding” phase in which you have to eat enough to “undo” the damage done physically and psychologically by dieting/restrictions. Be sure you have a solid support system in place as you move through this phase, you just might need it.
- Stop Dieting - It’s an impossible task to stop thinking about food when you are restricting yourself or not eating enough! If you’re restricting or controlling food intake or trying to always achieve a caloric deficit, you will invariably be thinking about, dreaming about, and obsessing over food all day for the rest of your life. There is no way around this, so if you’re interested in getting your mental well-being back for other stuff, you’ll need to give up dieting, restricting, and food control. Pro tip: if you’re thinking about food all the time, odds are that you’re just hungry and need to eat! Removing undue restrictions may help retrain your brain to focus on other aspects.
- Learn to listen to your body- Most often we fail at this because over time we have started ignoring all the signs our body gives us. Take some time to reconnect with your own body and learn to tune into the signals - including hunger and fullness and embrace them all. Your body is fully equipped with a “user manual” in the form of feelings and urges it triggers in you. For example, when you need air, you breathe. When you need to pee, you feel pressure in your bladder telling you to go find a bathroom. When you need food, you feel hungry. When you’ve had enough, you stop. This user manual is perfectly tailored for you, which makes it the best source of information than any external food plan, but it can be really hard to hear these signals if you’ve spent a long time tuning them out– and it can be even harder to trust if you’ve been taught that these signals are the enemy.
- Remove/Dismantle any moral attachment with food - Explore, identify, poke holes in, and re-program the meaning that you have set about food, weight, calories, body fluctuations, hunger, fullness, etc. In every single example that freaks you out about food and body stuff. Now in this case there are two components: the thing itself, and the meaning you’ve attached to that thing. You have tuned your brain to maybe associate hunger with danger, belly fat with being rejected, a certain number on the scale with being a failure, sugar with poison, or binging with weakness. Learn to detach the story about something’s moral value from the thing itself, and then dismantle and re-program the stigma around this story. REMEMBER food is neutral. Hunger is neutral. Belly fat is neutral. Sugar is neutral. Reframing this for yourself can be a huge step forward.
- Understand and recognise that you and your body are on the same page- Your body is something you can take care off. Get clear on the specifics that your body has been trying to protect you every step of the way, no matter what your food/weight journey has been. Your body has been and will always be on your side, whether that means protecting you from a perceived famine by making you binge after dieting, or helping you self-soothe with emotional eating. Recognizing that you’re on the same side as your body is such an important part of rebuilding trust, which gives you better access to your body’s “user manual.” Don’t forget that your mind has been on your side all this time too, for your mind helps you in ways you may not even be aware of. If any day you’ve been feeling crazy about food/weight, there is always a good reason. For many, obsessing about food helped protect them from feeling their feelings, or facing the scary prospect of not being enough as they were. See if you can identify the ways in which your body/mind has been trying to protect you, even as you treated them as the enemy.
- There is no wrong/right to eat - Give that idea up - Everyone is different —some people thrive with dairy, some don’t. Some feel best with lots of carbs, some with less. Each one has a different story with food and it’s amazing to see how each one’s body responds differently. You should know that and accept the fact that nobody is in your body, nobody knows how you should eat better than you. And even then, there is no endpoint or “perfect” way to eat. Appetite and cravings will fluctuate daily, with your cycle, with your mood, with stress levels, and with the season which is normal. There is no moral meaning attached to any of it. So the best thing to do is ditch the external rules, clear out the stories about what food means, and then consistently tune in and listen to your body to figure out what works best for you and keeps you happy!
Most importantly if you tune in, let yourself eat enough, and don’t attach meaning to what you eat, the obsession will fade away. Your body was designed to regulate your weight naturally, and if you follow the cues it gives you, that’s exactly what it will give you. But if you decide the “right weight for you” is much thinner than what your body wants to be naturally, or you’ve committed to a worldview in which what a person eats means something about their moral character or worth… then prepare to be obsessed by thoughts about food, all day, every day, forever.
We all know which one sounds right.
How about you?