Why Am I Always Thinking About Food? How to Overcome Food Obsession

how to stop thinking about food all the time using psychology, not diets

There’s a popular saying among those of us that struggle with compulsive eating: “Everybody has eat!” Meaning, unlike some problems where we can avoid the issue completely, you cannot avoid food. We need to eat to live. And when someone is struggling to lose weight and ends up yo-yo dieting and therefore always thinking about food, it can end with feelings of self-defeat, constantly wondering to yourself, “Why am I always thinking about food?!”

Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize how prevalent food obsession is in our culture today. Because dieting and undereating are so common, there are many factors at play that contribute to the cycle of always thinking about food. Not only does the human body have a biological reaction to dieting that increases thoughts about food, but there are many psychological factors, too.

By the end of this article, I hope you will understand the complex reasons why you do the things you do around food. You are not broken, and you are not the only one feeling obsessed over food. By the time you get to the end, you will know exactly what to do the next time you catch yourself wondering why you’re always thinking about food.

Biological Factors Behind Obsessive Food Thoughts

Biology plays a significant role in our thoughts about food. Fundamentally, our brains are wired to prioritize eating and energy intake for survival. In order to make sure that we eat, our bodies deploy complex processes within the brain and endocrine system (our hormones).

Let’s dig into several different biological factors that often fuel the pervasive question, Why am I always thinking about food?

Hunger and Satiety

Hunger and satiety are controlled by complex hormonal signals. Hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, and insulin work together to regulate your feelings of hunger and fullness to make sure that you eat enough to sustain your body.

Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone,” signals your brain that it’s time to eat. After eating, your fat cells produce leptin, which tells your brain that you’re full and should stop eating. (This is one of the many positive benefits of fat that society seems to have forgotten about thanks to diet culture and fat phobia.)

When the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness become disturbed — through lack of sleep or high stress, for example — it can lead to increased thoughts about food. This is the highly technical answer to, Why am I always thinking about food? Now, let’s dig even deeper.

“Hedonic Eating” and Dopamine

Hedonic eating refers to eating for pleasure and reward rather than for energy and nutritional needs. The biological basis for this type of emotional eating lies in the brain’s reward system.

Within the brain, there is an intricate network of neurotransmitters and neural pathways that reinforce positive behaviors – like eating – by associating them with feelings of pleasure. The central player in the reward system is dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.

When you eat delicious foods — particularly “hyperpalatable foods” which are those high in sugar, fat, and/or salt — your brain releases dopamine. The surge in dopamine then triggers a sense of pleasure and satisfaction, reinforcing the behavior and encouraging you to repeat it in the future.

If you feel like you're always thinking about food, hedonic eating may play a role. The release of dopamine and the associated feelings of pleasure are so powerful that your brain begins to seek out these rewarding experiences, even when you’re not physically hungry.

You may find yourself thinking about food more often as your brain attempts to recreate the pleasurable experiences associated with eating.  It doesn’t stop there, either.

If you regularly consume hyperpalatable foods, your brain can start to down-regulate (suppress) dopamine receptors in an attempt to maintain balance. In other words, your brain becomes less sensitive to it — a process is known as desensitization

As your brain releases less dopamine in response to hyperpalatable foods, you then need to eat more to experience the same level of pleasure. This can lead to cravings for carbs and sweets; and if you’re on a diet trying to limit these foods, it can make you feel like you’re always thinking about food. 

Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies may cause your body to send signals in the form of cravings or constant thoughts about food to prompt you to get what it’s lacking. As a theoretical example, if you are following a ketogenic diet and thus avoiding carbs, your body may become deficient in B vitamins (which are often found in carbs) and your body may crave carbs as a result.

Although research is limited, I think we can all intuitively agree that this would lead to a balanced diet, which is the goal.

Why Am I Always Thinking About Food? Psychological Factors

Now that you understand the biological factors behind food obsession, let’s dig into some eating psychology so that you’re empowered to shake yourself free. From my experience as an eating psychology coach, biological factors are the tip of the iceberg, and the psychological factors are the 90% hidden underneath the surface. Dig here, and you are sure to discover something interesting.

Here are some psychological factors that could be at play when you’re wondering, Why am I always thinking about food or feeling obsessed with food?

Emotional Eating

Emotions can significantly influence our thoughts about food. Many of us turn to food for comfort, relief, or distraction when we’re stressed, anxious, sad, or bored. This can lead to a cycle of emotional eating, where food becomes a coping mechanism, and thoughts about eating can dominate your day.

This particular area of eating psychology is my speciality. I personally think that boredom eating, for example, is just a surface-level issue; and if you dig deeper, you’ll stumble upon something more meaningful than boredom (like anxiety or fear). 

Regardless of what the emotion is, the compulsion to eat when you aren’t hungry usually does not go away until we fully allow ourselves to feel these feelings. If you find yourself constantly wondering, Why am I always thinking about food?, this could be the reason why.

The Restrict-Binge Cycle: How Restriction Fuels Food Obsession

Another strong cause of food obsession can be dieting itself and the restriction that comes along with it. Even if we restrict our diets with good intentions (often, to lose weight) it can lead to an unintended and often unexpected consequence: feeling like you’re always thinking about food – especially the specific food(s) that are being avoided. 

For example, if you’re trying to follow a ketogenic diet by limiting carbs and sugar, and you find yourself constantly thinking about food – particularly carbs and sweets – your diet is likely the culprit. Our bodies and brains are wired for survival. When we severely limit a primary source of energy — which is what carbohydrates are — our bodies respond by sending strong signals to replenish this energy source. These signals can lead to constantly thinking about food or obsessing over food. 

Calorie Counting and Its Impact on Food Thoughts

Calorie counting is arguably the most well-known method for weight loss. However, when calorie counting becomes obsessive it can have unintended psychological and biological consequences, leading to an unhealthy preoccupation with food.

When a person consistently consumes fewer calories than their body needs for its basic functions — often a result of stringent calorie counting — the body may enter a state commonly referred to as 'starvation mode.' In this state, the body conserves energy due to perceived scarcity, leading to slower metabolism and other physiological changes.

From a psychological standpoint, constant calorie counting can make you feel like you’re always thinking about food. It can also diminish your relationship with food, where it no longer feels like a source of nourishment and joy and instead feels like a numerical value that must be controlled. If this resonates with you, it could be the reason why you’re wondering, Why am I always thinking about food?

Social and Cultural Factors for Always Thinking About Food

Social and cultural factors are a subset of psychology, but I’m giving them their own section because these ones are a little less out of our control. While we can work on our psychology and work on ourselves to overcome many of those blocks, we can’t really control the world around us.

However, it still helps to be aware of the cultural factors that can influence food obsession so that we can do our best to control what we can control and let go of what we can’t control.

Here are some cultural factors that influence obsessive thoughts over food: 

Food Advertising

We live in a society where food is constantly marketed to us. From TV commercials and billboards to social media ads, we’re bombarded with images and messages about food. This can make it difficult to stop thinking about food, especially when advertising is designed to make food look particularly tempting.

Let’s use fast-food advertising as an example. These ads are often crafted with high-definition, close-up shots of juicy burgers with perfectly melted cheese. The food is displayed in such a way that it triggers our brains to start thinking about how delicious it would taste; and if you’re someone that’s trying to limit calories or stick to a diet (where juicy burgers are not allowed) it can make you feel like you’re always thinking about food.

Cultural Significance of Food

In many cultures, food is more than just nourishment; it’s a way of bonding, celebrating, and showing love. If you hold any of these values, it could be the reason why you’re always thinking about food. 

I personally find this a particularly challenging area, because I value time to bond with others (as a highly social creature) and yet I don’t like eating out often. These days, I can find balance between nourishing social connection and ways to honor my body; but back when I was yo-yo dieting, the cultural pressure to constantly go out and be social – always while eating – was a huge reason why I was always thinking about food.

This phenomenon is even more prevalent in Italian culture where food is deeply ingrained in daily life and traditions. Italians place a strong emphasis on enjoying meals as a time for family and friends to come together, leading to frequent thoughts about what to prepare for these gatherings. In this context, thinking about food is not just about the act of eating, but also about the planning, preparation, and social interaction that revolves around meals.

How to Overcome Food Obsession & Constant Thoughts About Food

As someone that used to be a yo-yo dieter, I know how deep the struggle can go when you’re always thinking about food. Food can, quite literally, occupy your brain 24/7.

Depending on how many factors in this article resonated with you, there could be many steps available to you to break the cycle. I will do you the favor of skipping the obvious (like ditching social media to avoid unwanted ads) and dive straight into the juicy bits.

Here are some strategies you can use to shake free from food obsession:

Stop Dieting and Get Rid of the Food Guilt

A great way to stop feeling like you’re always thinking about food is to stop dieting. Diets often involve restriction, which can lead to a cycle of deprivation, cravings, guilt, and more episodes of binge eating. By ditching diets altogether, you are telling your body that it’s not in a state of deprivation and thus doesn’t need to obsess about food for survival.

If you’re afraid of eating without a diet because you think you’ll eat in an “out of control” manner, you are not alone. This is a common fear among dieters, and it’s why I have tons of resources to help you address the psychology of eating. Moral of the story: giving up dieting ultimately helped me stop compulsive eating – it did not encourage more of it.

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

Ensuring that you’re consuming enough food throughout the day is crucial. When we don’t eat enough, our bodies go into a state of scarcity, triggering survival mechanisms that can lead to increased thoughts about food. By eating regularly and including a balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in your meals, you can maintain stable blood sugar levels, stay satisfied, and reduce thoughts about food. 

This is one reason why giving up dieting helps you up-level your entire life. Once food stops occupying your mind 24/7, you get to move onto other things – things that are far removed from food and elevate other areas of your life, like relationships, career, and hobbies.

Avoid Diets That Cut Out a Specific Macronutrient

Diets that eliminate specific macronutrients – such as carbohydrates, proteins, or fats – are often unsustainable and can lead to nutrient deficiencies, cravings, and the restrict-binge cycle. Every macronutrient plays an essential role in your body, and they all are necessary for overall health. Rather than eliminating a specific macronutrient, focus on listening to your body to inform what you eat, which is likely a healthy balance.

Practice Intuitive Movement

Intuitive movement, like intuitive eating, encourages you to tune into your body’s signals rather than adhering to external rules. This approach involves engaging in physical activity that you enjoy and that feels good for your body, rather than exercising rigidly to lose weight or to compensate for eating. 

An example of intuitive movement is lifting weights if you like lifting weights or rock climbing if you like rock climbing, and taking a day off when your body is asking for it. When exercise becomes a practice of listening to your body instead of an external set of rules, it rolls over into your relationship with food.

You can use your intuition and listen to your body to inform what you eat and how you move. In time, this can help you stop feeling like you’re always thinking about food!

Know When to Get Professional Help

If preoccupation with food is causing significant distress, interfering with your daily life, or you suspect you may have an eating disorder, it’s important to reach out to a professional. Therapists, dietitians, and other healthcare professionals can provide personalized advice, support, and treatment strategies to help you navigate this challenge. 

It took me a long time to finally reach out to my therapist five years ago, and I wished that I had done it sooner. If you’ve ever thought about reaching out for help, do it. It can be a vital step in healing your relationship with food.

Climbing Out of Food Obsession and Constantly Thinking About Food

By now, I hope I have convinced you of the perfectly normal reasons why you do the things you do around food. In many cases, always thinking about food is a symptom of dieting, calorie counting, cutting out carbs or other macronutrients, or general dietary restriction.

On top of this, there are many other biological and psychological factors that play into our relationship with food. In other words, there are many perfectly understandable reasons for feeling obsessed with food. The good news is that, through self-understanding, you can work towards a better relationship with food.

If any of this resonated with you, then you will love my free ebook, “The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating.” You can download it for free below — and get 5 free email lessons to start healing your relationship with food.

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The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating

The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating will show you even more insight into the subconscious reasons why we eat past fullness — even when we really don’t want to! (It’s a free, 13-page, beautifully-illustrated PDF.)

When you sign up, you’ll also get a free 5-part crash course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness to catch you up to speed. It’s perfect if you’re new to my blog. Sign up below:

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If you’re ready to take things even deeper, check out my most popular workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do: A Workbook to Curb Self-Sabotage.

By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up. This is how you can discover your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating.

I swear by workbooks!!! There is something about separating our thoughts onto paper that allows us to dig DEEP at our subconscious blocks around food and weight.

If you like everything you’ve read so far, this is the perfect place to make massive progress. (It’s my bestseller, after all!)

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