How to Stop Obsessing Over Food: 3 Smart Nutrition Ideas
When you’ve been on diet after diet, the rules about what you can eat and when you can eat it feel familiar. Comfortable, even.
But when you begin Intuitive Eating, you can feel lost at sea when trying to decide what to eat.
You might be wondering how to stop obsessing over food already. I can help!
My clients often share a common complaint with me when they begin their Intuitive Eating journey: they find that quitting diets and having no guidelines to follow around food makes them feel out of control.
If you want more information about Intuitive Eating, read my article, What is Intuitive Eating?
The problem is that resorting to diets will only prolong their misery so what are they to do? While I steer away from delving into too many nutrition guidelines early in Intuitive Eating work, I do have some smart nutrition ideas that I like to share. I deliberately wait to delve further into more specific info, when I guide clients on Gentle Nutrition, because focusing on nutrition too early can make that obsession continue.
After years of helping women heal their relationship with food and their body, I have found that these simple guidelines can be so beneficial.
The thing I love about these guidelines is that they are non-diet and Intuitive Eating aligned, and they also help to increase satisfaction with eating. Satisfaction with food isn’t just about having enough food to avoid hunger – you’ve probably done this on diets while avoiding many foods; satisfaction also takes into account other factors, like enjoyment, taste, texture, and eating environment into account. When we make our food and meal experiences more enjoyable and satisfying, our desire to seek pleasure outside of our regular meals and snacks decreases dramatically and we stop obsessing once and for all!
For more information about how satisfaction fits into Intuitive Eating, read my article, How to Discover the Satisfaction Factor with Food: Principle 6 of Intuitive Eating.
Why do you obsess about food instead?
There are several reasons why we obsess about food:
- We are not eating enough food, period. When your body doesn’t get enough energy (calories), complex hormonal secretions occur that make us increase our cravings so our bodies get what they need. As a result of these chemical changes, we think about food more often. That’s the obsession.
- We might be eating enough food overall, but avoiding or rationing certain foods. One very common example is when a client comes to me and describes their diet as ‘clean’ and then tells me they are addicted to sugar.
This belief around addiction is so strong that they banish any sweet treats like candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream from their house. But when they are at a party and encounter these foods, they either eat them and feel out of control, or continue restriction, but can’t stop thinking about it.
In this case, the sugary foods are forbidden fruit, novel items they must avoid. And just like a child who wants a particular toy, this person thinks about these foods All The Time! (One of the key tenets of Intuitive Eating is learning to make peace with all foods.)
Here are my smart nutrition ideas to help you stop obsessing about food:
First, I will explain my 3 main ideas in brief. Further down in the article, I will give more details and information, as well as advice on how to put these guidelines into action – because having the knowledge without a plan to actually use it isn’t very helpful, right?!
1. Eat 3 meals and 1-3 snacks every day.
Our bodies need fuel every 3-5 hours, so spacing out your intake with meals and snacks helps most people feel energized, clear-headed and pleasant to be around.
2. At each meal, include 3 or more food groups; at each snack include 2 or more food groups.
This recommendation helps with satisfaction in two ways:
- Having different food groups helps food taste more interesting and so we feel more satisfied
- Including different food groups helps give our body different macro- and micro-nutrients, which helps our food keep us feeling more satisfied for a longer period.
That means, no more episodes of feeling starving an hour after you ate!
3. Incorporate treat foods into your meals and snacks.
It’s important to normalize treats like chips, cookies, candy, pizza, and ice cream, so I highly encourage my clients to include them as a normal part of meals and snacks. The frequency of treats is something I like to individualize with my clients because we all have different health conditions and histories with these foods.
Now that I’ve explained my 3 main guidelines, let’s delve into the specifics of how we can put these ideas into action on your plate!
A new look at food groups to stop obsessing about food
My approach to categorizing foods into groups may be slightly different than other dietitians or government guidelines, which I often find are too rigid and can lead to disordered eating.
My goal is to avoid going down the rabbit hole of macros or calories, and also to push back against the rules of diet culture, while also promoting a style of eating that includes a wide variety of foods with no foods labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
For our purposes, I categorize foods into the following groups:
- Starches and breads – Bread, rice, pasta, tortillas, oats, farro, pretzels, pizza dough, other grains
- Protein – Meat, fish, poultry, beans, tofu, soybeans (edamame), vegetarian proteins, nuts and nut butters
- Dairy or non-dairy calcium-rich foods – Milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified orange juice
- Fruits and vegetables – any fresh, canned or frozen fruits or vegetables, including potatoes, peas, and corn
- Fats – oils, butter, avocado, salad dressings, nuts, nut butters, sour cream, whipping cream
- Treats – candy, chocolate, baked goods, chips, ice cream
Sometimes a food may straddle two food groups, like nuts (protein or fat) and beans (starch or protein). For our purposes, don’t stress about it! Just pick one and move on. The goal is getting enough food and also getting dietary variety, which helps keep our taste buds and our bodies feeling happy.
Note: I’d like to mention that no foods are banned in these guidelines. All foods are permitted, and in fact, encouraged.
Smart nutrition ideas in action to help you stop obsessing about food
The above ideas to include a variety of different foods in your meals and snacks might be great in theory, but what helps you feel more satisfied with food is by putting these strategies into action with your meals and snacks.
Here are some of my favorite meal and snack ideas.
Remember, my guideline is for you to try to seek three different groups at meals and two or more groups at snacks.
I’ve also created a PDF download for your fridge to help you put these guidelines into action. Download your copy here:
- Toast with butter, eggs and orange juice or fruit salad (starch, fat, protein, fruit)
- Pancakes with turkey sausage and a vanilla latte (starch, protein, calcium)
- Veggie frittata, English muffin, butter (protein, vegetable, starch, fat)
- Turkey and swiss sandwich on bread with potato chips and dark chocolate (protein, starch, fat, treat)
- Pizza with mixed salad with vinaigrette dressing (starch, protein, vegetable, fat)
- Hamburger with bun, fries (protein, starch, vegetable, fat)
- Fish tacos with slaw; side of rice and beans (protein, starch, vegetable)
- Salad with chicken, strawberries, pecans, cheese, vinaigrette dressing; crackers (vegetable/fruit, protein, fat, starch)
- Fried rice with chicken; sauteed mixed vegetables (starch, fat, protein, vegetables)
- Pasta with marinara; salad with Italian dressing; cookie (starch, vegetable, fat, treat)
- Steak; roasted potatoes; garlic bread, ice cream(protein, vegetable, starch, fat, treat)
- Tofu stir fry with mixed vegetables, prepared with oil; white rice; orange slices (protein, vegetables/fruit, fat, starch)
- Lasagna (starch, protein, vegetable, dairy)
- Apple with peanut butter (fruit, fat)
- Chocolate chip cookie with milk (treat, dairy)
- Yogurt, granola, fruit (dairy, starch, fruit)
- Pita chips, baby carrots, hummus (starch, vegetable, fat)
- Cheese sticks with crackers and grapes (calcium, starch, fruit)
- Potato chips with cheese sticks (treat and protein)
- Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole (starch, vegetable, fat)
- Ice cream topped with fruit and hot fudge sauce (treat, fruit) and/or topped with pecans (fat)
- Chocolate bar with pecans (treat, protein)
- Pretzels with hummus (starch, fat)
Hopefully these meal and snack ideas gave you some inspiration to make your meals more satisfying, both in taste and in satiety. When your body is nourished and you enjoy your meals, things become far less stressful in the kitchen. With practice, you’ll feel the need for the old familiar rules lessen. It won’t happen overnight, but with time, eating can become fun.
Obsessing about food is incredibly common in our diet and wellness-focused society. Remember that our bodies act at a biochemical level to increase cravings when we don’t eat enough.
Overcoming increased cravings and food obsession is not a matter of willpower! Eating regularly (at least 3 meals a day) and including all foods is your key to healing from obsessing about food.
Perhaps you’re looking for more individualized ideas to suit your particular needs? Schedule your Take Action Call with me today. We can discuss what your non-diet health journey would look like.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”