Here’s a question I received when I asked readers to email me topics to blog about: How to get food off the brain. A trying issue with relevance to both under- and overeaters. As you well know, an obsession with food and weight can lead to highly disregulated eating and ruin the quality of your life. So, how to get food off your mind?
Food may be your main agenda because you’re used to thinking about it. You may not realize when your focus shifts to eating, weight, fatness or thinness or you may be all too aware of how these thoughts intrude and fill up the space in your head. Thinking about food and weight are bad habits born of anxiety. When you’re comfortable in your body and with your appetite, you have no need to obsess about them. To eliminate this preoccupation, stay aware of your thoughts and actively shoo them away. Because they are automatic, these thoughts will not toddle off on their own. Use the image of an eraser or activity replace the thoughts with different ones.
You can try brushing them off gently but, most likely, you will have to give them a swift kick out the door and put up a “do not enter” sign in your mind. When obsessive thoughts return, go through the same process. Banishment can take weeks to months. The worst thing you can do is to cave to obsessional thinking, reinforcing the neural pathways it travels. Basically, if you want to stop the behavior, you have to stop the behavior. After a while—okay, a long while—the neural pathways become less active.
Another way to rid yourself of food/weight obsessions is to understand your need for them. What makes you so anxious? Does going round and round on these subjects get you anywhere? If not, what might? Often we spend more time thinking about change in the future or what we could have done in the past than making uncomfortable choices in the present. That’s where you want to put your energy—in now—not in anticipation or hindsight. By making sure that you are present and aware to all food decisions, you’ll reduce the need to look back over them or anxiously anticipate future ones.
One more point: What would you be thinking about if not food or weight? In many cases, it’s larger, more thorny issues regarding work, school, relationships, health, lifestyle, mortality, life’s meaning—ie., if you’re uncomfortable focusing on leaving your job/husband/partner, your mind may fill up with musings about eating to make you more comfortable. By tackling dilemmas head on and resolving them, you won’t need to escape them. You can rid yourself of food obsession by taking a firm stand against it.